State Department Briefing by Jen Psaki, Dec. 11, 2014

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 11, 2014.


Summer and Fall at Prairie State College

12:58 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hello, everyone.



MS. PSAKI: Okay. I just have one item for the top. The Secretary is on his way to Peru right now, arriving shortly. In Lima, he will meet with Peruvian President Humala to highlight the importance of our growing bilateral relationship and congratulate Peru on successfully hosting the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. He will also deliver remarks about the U.S. commitment to address the urgent threat of climate change.

Additionally, the Secretary will meet with French Foreign Minister Fabius to discuss the upcoming Paris-hosted COP and a range of global security issues. He will then depart for Bogota later this evening.

Hello, Lara.

QUESTION: Hi, Jen. I’d like to start with the backlash to the Senate report on torture.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I understand the CIA director is giving a press conference shortly, so I’ll try to keep some of my questions short today. But as I’m sure you’ve seen, there’s been quite a response and many calls from not just people in the United States but around the world, and today, the United Nations in Geneva saying that there needs to be more responsibility put on people who had initiated the program, if not carried it out. And I’m wondering, first – I know you addressed this yesterday, but I just want to clarify – there’s been no discussion within the Obama Administration to prosecute any of the officials or people who were responsible, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Department of Justice has spoken to that, so I would refer you to them on any specific questions.

QUESTION: Correct. The investigation that was closed on that some years ago is still the final word on that. There’s no —

MS. PSAKI: I would refer to them, but there hasn’t been new information from them since then.

QUESTION: Fair enough. How would the United States react to requests by the ICC or other nations to extradite or otherwise prosecute people who were in charge of the program?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think most of these questions I’m going to refer you, on the legal front, to the Department of Justice, for obvious reasons. I will say – and I think it’s important to reiterate for everybody – that just last month the Administration made clear during a presentation in Geneva that we embrace the universal values enshrined in the Convention against Torture, which the United States signed in 1988 and ratified in 1994, and affirms the – and we also affirmed there the U.S. Government’s deep commitment to meeting our obligations under the convention.

Obviously, as we talked about a little bit yesterday, but it’s worth reiterating, these programs, which have been disclosed in the past – it wasn’t new that they were disclosed just two days ago – were ended five years ago. And this is a – this report and this release of this report was an opportunity to reflect on and look back at mistakes made in the past and hopefully move forward. That’s our objective.

QUESTION: I understand. The UN official who’s in charge of torture issues in Geneva said today that the United States releasing and discussing details about the program and discussing some of these things was really only the first step towards complying with the Conventions against Torture, that the United States needed to take more responsibility, needed to go after some of the people who were responsible in order to fulfill the other obligations. What’s your response to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our view is that we are in compliance with the Convention against Torture. Obviously there have been changes made, long before this report was released, to end these programs, which the President of the United States, the Secretary of State have said were not in our national security interests, are not who we are. Obviously I’m not going to stand up here and reflect on a retrospective of past actions or administrations, nor is that the question you’re asking me.

QUESTION: So just one more time to clarify: Would the State Department block any attempts by foreign nations to extradite U.S. officials or former U.S. officials who were involved?

MS. PSAKI: In general, I certainly understand your question. But since it’s a Department of Justice question – and we don’t even speculate on extradition requests anyway, regardless of the source.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Jen, in the aftermath of September 11, I know the Department of State launched a public diplomacy initiative of some sort – I can’t remember the name of it – but basically to reach out to the population of the Middle East, the Arab population, because a lot of questions were why they hate us, all these things, and so on. I wanted to ask you if there is anything that are you – that you are likely to do in response to this latest revelations of the report.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think I mentioned this a bit yesterday, but it’s ongoing.


MS. PSAKI: The Secretary of State, a number of senior officials in the Department as well as across the Administration are undergoing a range of diplomacy – diplomatic outreach to partners around the world. And they’re reiterating important points, including the fact that these – we believe these techniques were contrary to our values as a nation and were overall to our detriment, which is why the President, in his first few days in office, prohibited harsh interrogation techniques as one of his first acts. And obviously our interest is on continuing to move forward, move our relationships forward, and that’s hopeful – we’re hopeful that’s what we can do with our partners around the world.

QUESTION: What needs to be done – sorry, Jo, just a quick follow-up. What needs to be done, do you think, just to reassure people out there that this admission is not sort of an ephemeral bout of conscience or sorrow and so on, that it is actually – it will be, like, a bedrock for the future and so on, so it will not be involved in something like this, to assure people in the Muslim world and the Arab world that because you are in conflict – almost perpetual conflict – the events reoccur again and people are taken into custody, this practice will not be conducted again?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, our actions speak much louder than any report or any words. And the fact is these programs were ended five years ago and the President of the United States took the action to do that. And that certainly sends a strong message to the world.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: Can I ask exactly what your obligations under the Convention on Torture are? Do you have an obligation under the convention to prosecute people who’re found to be or believed to have used, employed torture tactics?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not in a position to give all legal analysis of obligations, and I’m sure that information is publicly available. We all – at this meeting just a couple of weeks ago, we underscored that all personnel are legally prohibited under international and domestic law from engaging in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment at all times and in all places. There are no gaps, either in the legal prohibitions against these acts by U.S. personnel or in the United States commitment to the values enshrined in the convention, and the United States pledges and re-pledged just a few weeks ago to continue working with our partners in the international community toward the achievement of the convention’s ultimate objective, which is a world without torture.

QUESTION: So if that’s the —

QUESTION: When did the United States sign that convention? Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: It was signed in 1988 and ratified and 1994.

QUESTION: So the U.S. by this – these actions violated those conventions during the period from 2001 to 2006.

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speculate on past administrations.

QUESTION: No, but I mean – yeah, just following up on that. If under – if you are legally prohibited from engaging in torture of other people and this was a convention that was signed in 1994, these acts were committed after that. That would suggest that, irrespective of whether an administration has changed, this Administration is in charge of looking after acts that happened previously, surely.

MS. PSAKI: And that’s why we ended the programs.

QUESTION: But what about the prosecution angle of it?

MS. PSAKI: I just am not going to have many more on the Justice questions.

QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to ask, then, on the – there’s also been calls in – from some human rights organizations as well that European countries who were involved or who allowed these black sites to exit on their soils should – on their soil, sorry – should also investigate and prosecute any individuals and officials who allowed this to happen. What would your reaction be to that?

MS. PSAKI: That’s not a call we’re making from the United States.

Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: The release of this report has triggered an increase on social media of jihadist threats against the United States. Does the State Department have any information on specific or credible threats?

MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for your question, Pam. Obviously, ISIL is one of the worst terrorist organizations that has consistently made clear they have an interest in going after Western interests and even threatening the United States. And it’s – they’ve been very active on social media, and now is no different. I did talk to our team before I came out here. Nothing has changed since yesterday in terms of the number of consulates and embassies who have put out travel advisories. That was seven yesterday; it remains seven today. We also are not aware of any specific or actionable intelligence against our embassies or staff regarding this report.

QUESTION: Have any of the embassies or consulates raised their level of security within the past 48 hours?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t speak to specifics on security, for obvious reasons, but again, those seven consulates and embassies are – that’s still the correct number in terms of those who have put out information, which, as you know, we do whenever that’s warranted.

Do we have any more on the report, or should we move on to a new topic? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can we move on on the – to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So as you mentioned yesterday, Secretary Kerry will be in Rome – will be leaving for Rome on Sunday.

MS. PSAKI: On Sunday, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you tell us exactly when the meeting is taking place? Is it on Monday?

MS. PSAKI: Where the meeting or when the meeting?

QUESTION: When, sorry.

MS. PSAKI: It’s still being scheduled, but I believe, because of flight times and time changes, it will likely be Monday.

QUESTION: Okay. And as you know, there is a lot of activity at the UN. There is also a lot of speculation in the Israeli press about the content of this meeting. So could you tell us if Netanyahu and Secretary Kerry will talk about the resolutions at the UN? And if, as the Israeli press pointed out, if Secretary Kerry would tell Netanyahu that in the event of a balanced resolution, the U.S. won’t put its veto against it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, the topic of the range of proposals that are out there and the growing number of countries that are pushing for action on this issue at the UN will be a part of their discussion, and it’s a part of the reason that they’re meeting. We believe this warrants discussion with Israel, as it does with the Palestinians, as it does with a number of partners in the global community. And the Secretary has found that face-to-face diplomacy is often very effective when it comes to these difficult and complicated issues.

There hasn’t even been a proposal tabled, so I’m certainly not going to get ahead of where that stands or where – what we think on different proposals, because we believe that these sort of discussions and diplomacy should be private.

QUESTION: Why are these discussions necessary now? I mean, given that there are a few proposals on the table, but if you ask anybody within the UN, they don’t think anything’s going to come of it with – immediately, and that it’s still a process over the next six months. Why is this meeting necessary now?

MS. PSAKI: Well —

QUESTION: Did something happen?

MS. PSAKI: It’s nothing more complicated, Lesley, than the fact that there are a growing number of proposals out there, a growing number of countries that are pushing for action. Obviously, the UN is the – are the experts on when action might happen, when a proposal may be tabled. As you know, the United – many in the United States, including the Secretary, and many in Europe will descend into holiday vacation for some time. So this is – the Secretary felt this was an important meeting to have while he can at this point.

QUESTION: Is this something that the Secretary’s concerned about, that he needs to have that discussion now?

MS. PSAKI: He thinks that, obviously, given all the activity out there, it warrants a discussion, and that’s why he’s traveling to Rome to have it.

QUESTION: Are you – have you been told by the Palestinians that they are for certain going to submit a proposal? Because you said no proposal – you have not seen any proposal, correct?

MS. PSAKI: There have been a range of proposals that you all have reported on that have been out there.

QUESTION: Well, I’m saying that – like in a final draft.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into specifics of our diplomatic conversations with the Palestinians. Obviously, they’ve said publicly they have an interest in doing that, so – but there are a range of options out there.

QUESTION: But you remain opposed in principle to any kind of proposal at the United Nations, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to prejudge. That’s not our policy, as you know. I’m not going to prejudge language we haven’t seen yet that hasn’t been tabled.

QUESTION: And does the United States still holds to vetoing such a proposal when it comes before —

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of a proposal that hasn’t even been tabled at the UN.


MS. PSAKI: Any more on this, or should we move on?


QUESTION: I do. Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: You want to finish?

QUESTION: Sorry, no, no. It’s okay. I’ll (inaudible).

QUESTION: Ireland’s parliament today decided to support a nonbinding resolution for an independent Palestinian state. It was immediately criticized by Jerusalem. But the reason why the parliament did it, they say, is because they wanted to jumpstart the peace process. Do you think that this is a helpful step in jumpstarting the peace process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a couple of other countries, as you know —


MS. PSAKI: — who have taken a similar step. And our general view is that the best way to jumpstart a peace process is for the parties to make decisions needed to get back to the table. And obviously, as we’ve seen over the last several months, the current situation on the ground is not sustainable. It’s the only way to have a lasting peace in the region. And our view is that these pronouncements are premature because we need to have the parties negotiate what the final outcome will be, even though we support the – a Palestinian state and we support the aspirations of the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: And also, at the same time, the foreign ministry in Jerusalem had harsh – very harsh words to say about this Irish action, saying that it gave voice to statements of hatred and anti-Semitism directed at Israel in a way which we have not heard before. Do you agree with that, or do you think that is at all helpful in this process?

MS. PSAKI: We wouldn’t characterize it in that way. Obviously, we would characterize it as I just stated it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: May I follow up on the death of Ziad Abu Ein yesterday? Because —

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I don’t have new information, but go ahead.

QUESTION: You don’t have any new information? Because an autopsy report was issued by the Palestinians, saying that he was actually killed as a result of the confrontation. Are you aware of that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are conflicting statements from different reports of autopsies. So the investigation isn’t complete yet, and we’ll wait for a full report to come out.

QUESTION: Okay. And you have not spoken, or the Secretary or anyone has not spoken to any Palestinian officials, including Abbas, about maybe not freezing security cooperation with the Israelis?

MS. PSAKI: Our team is in close touch on the ground. Our understanding is that the PA has not made a decision on security cooperation. So that actually has not happened.

QUESTION: Well, today, the Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that tomorrow they will issue a statement on this, stopping all security cooperation with Israel. Would the —

MS. PSAKI: Well, if that happens —

QUESTION: — (inaudible) discourage (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: — we’ll talk about it then. But we’ve been in touch with our counterparts, and this hasn’t happened.

Any more on this topic or should we move on?

QUESTION: Yes, can I go to —

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the Crimean leader that is – that went on – that was part of the official delegation of Putin to India?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. We are troubled by reports that the delegation accompanying Putin had – may have included Sergey Aksyonov. We understand that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has said they were not officially aware of his visit or his participation in the delegation, I guess I should convey. We’re seeking further clarification on that.

QUESTION: So you say he may have been? You don’t know for sure?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe it’s been reported that he’s there.


MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any information to refute that. What I’m conveying is that our understanding is that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs was not aware that he would be part of the delegation.

QUESTION: Not aware, or not officially aware?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details than that.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering how one would interpret “not officially aware.” I mean, were they unofficially aware?

MS. PSAKI: I really don’t have more details than that. But I don’t think we have any reason to believe they were aware. But that’s all the information I have at this point.

QUESTION: Would this be in any way a violation of any of the sort of ceasefire agreements that are not being properly met but are in place?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I would put it in those terms. I mean, obviously, India has – does not support and has been clear they don’t support the annexation of Crimea. But beyond that, I don’t think I’d put it in the terms of a violation.


QUESTION: Have you seen the statement that the Indian Government put out, a joint statement in which, if you see that they are going to cooperate on nuclear and then they’re going to do the business in national currencies, like bypassing the international currency dollar? So what is your take on the whole —

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t looked at the specific statement. We’ve seen press reporting on India concluding business, nuclear, and defense deals with Russia, but not confirmation of those agreements or specifics of what those agreements would entail. Our view remains that it’s not time as – for business as usual with Russia. But beyond that, we’d have to take a closer look at what these agreements entail.

QUESTION: So are you putting out an official protest or statement of —

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s what I conveyed. If there’s more to say, I’m sure we’ll add it.


MS. PSAKI: On India or – any more on India? Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Go ahead.



MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Were you able to get a readout about the Secretary’s meeting yesterday with the Saudi interior minister?

MS. PSAKI: I meant to do that for you, and I am sorry about that. Let me see if we can do that after the briefing.

QUESTION: Any reaction to the king of Saudi Arabia donated $88 million to the UN World Food Program?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly support contributions to the World Food Program and the generosity of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on this and other humanitarian endeavors.

QUESTION: On this topic, yesterday being International Human Rights Day and so on, did the Secretary raise the issues of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia with the interior minister of Saudi Arabia?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t – I don’t have a readout. I wasn’t in the meeting, Said. So we’ll see if there’s a readout we can provide to all of you.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, let me ask you this: I mean, Saudi Arabia is not a champion of human rights. Do you hold them to a different standard? Do you hold —

MS. PSAKI: Said, with any country —

QUESTION: — like different countries —

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. With any country in the world when we have concerns about their human rights record, we raise them.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: I just wondered if you had a reaction to the news today that the Hong Kong authorities moved in to clear the tent city and to end – effectively end the protests, arresting a number of the leaders of the demonstrations as well.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to – we’ve certainly seen the reports. We continue to encourage Hong Kong authorities and protestors to address their differences peacefully through dialogue. It’s important to note that right now, electoral reform in Hong Kong is still underway. The debate is ongoing and a second round of public consultations is likely to begin in the coming weeks. We encourage Hong Kong authorities and the people of Hong Kong to work together to ensure there is a competitive process for the selection of the chief executive through universal suffrage, and certainly, we’re continuing to convey this directly to authorities on the ground as well.

QUESTION: Are you hopeful that this new round of dialogue or the ongoing dialogue will actually result in a competitive process, though?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re always hopeful. And we think it’s important to reiterate that that’s an important part of the discussion and an important part of the process.

Any more on this?

QUESTION: Hong Kong.

MS. PSAKI: On Hong Kong? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. So your support of universal suffrage is that, I mean, that you would support universal suffrage contingent upon approval by Beijing of candidates?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s what we said, no.

Do we have any more on China?

QUESTION: On North Korea?

MS. PSAKI: North Korea? Go ahead.

QUESTION: About the – recently North Korean-UN Ambassador Ja Song Nam sent a letter to a UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon. So regarding on their denies UN resolution on North Korean human rights. And I am wondering whether the U.S. thinks that the North Korean human right issues should be referred to ICC.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new on this in particular. Obviously, we speak out frequently about North Korea’s abysmal record on human rights. We did an event just yesterday on this issue to bring more light to the issues that those who have been held in – not held in North Korea, those who kind of have escaped North Korea, I should say, have undergone. So this is an issue that we shed light on a frequent basis, but beyond that I don’t have anything new on that particular question.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Have you seen the report out of The Washington Times about the – that Kim Jong-il knew indirectly – or ordering the abduction of foreigners?

MS. PSAKI: I have seen that. We all know that there was an abduction program targeting foreign individuals. We’re not aware of any secret document on a North Korean abduction program, which I believe was the only new information referenced in the story.


MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. There were reports that the moderate opposition in northern Syria, which the United States apparently was paying salaries for its members and so on – they stopped doing that. They were receiving $150 a month for each member, and apparently the U.S. stopped that altogether.

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

QUESTION: Okay. There is nothing new?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing new to add.

QUESTION: Who are they? Who are this group? I mean, because apparently they are joining al-Qaida and other nasty groups.

MS. PSAKI: I would encourage you to look into that as a reporter. Any more on Syria?

QUESTION: Not on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Syria?

QUESTION: Other topic.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.


MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — I’m not sure if you’re aware but some of my colleagues in various places across the world put out quite a comprehensive report in the last 12 hours, I believe, basically detailing a program that was sponsored and paid by USAID for kind of to create a youthful movement against the Cuban Government through hip-hop music. The leader of this effort was a Serbian music promoter. Documents show that USAID put Cubans and its operatives in jeopardy, despite warning signs. I have a couple of questions —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — that I’d like to put on the record.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: But do you have any response to the story at the top?

MS. PSAKI: I can just generally say that the United States promotes democratic values worldwide, including in closed societies. We supported a civil society engagement program, focused on music, as a means of legitimate civic communication. Supporting artists in civic engagement is consistent with our efforts globally and consistent with our efforts in Cuba to allow Cubans to express themselves.

QUESTION: Okay. The report found six instances where USAID contractors or Cubans working for them were either detained or interrogated. Who was informed about this? Who was out there protecting their safety?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the grantee, Creative Associates, which was, I think, outlined or referenced in the story, provided USAID assurances that it had security protocols in place – places appropriate to operating in a closed society and would strictly employ those protocols for all professionals traveling to Cuba. We recognize that ordinary Cubans run the risk of upsetting Cuban authorities by participating in community reasons – initiatives, I should say. And for that reason, these programs are managed with appropriate discretion. So it was the responsibility of the grantee.

QUESTION: Okay. One of the Serbian contractors was detained just a few weeks before Alan Gross was detained or arrested. The contractor had sensitive documents on his computer. This might have helped Gross’s lawyers or family in some ways and whether or not they should be worried about what was happening during the USAID program as – and caused his own arrest. Was his lawyers or his family ever made aware of this?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that. I can see if that’s something we can get more information on.

QUESTION: Okay. And last one. The program used a front company in Panama to hide the money trail. Documents frequently talk about cover stories and even about hiding the nature of the program from Cuban contractors who were working for them, and that put them at risk. How can you say these programs were not secret?

MS. PSAKI: Well, a range of programs that have been discussed, that have been under the same contractors, our Congress has briefed on them and individuals within the government who need to be aware of them are briefed on them. Obviously, there is sensitivity given this is a closed society and a society that has not always welcomed and encouraged open expression, and therefore there’s discretion – appropriate discretion is used, which was done in this case as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to go back to Syria, do you have something on this CNN report of this – the so-called French al-Qaida bomb-maker who was apparently killed in November but he has survived?

MS. PSAKI: I talked to our team about it and we really don’t have anything on it. I can follow up with them again and see if there’s anything to report on it.

QUESTION: Okay. Can we go to South Sudan?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So unfortunately, Monday it will be the first anniversary of the civil war. And despite the trip the Secretary did in May, despite the pressures your top diplomat put on the two leaders, despite the threats of sanctions, apparently there is no solution in sight. So is the U.S. considering putting sanctions against the president and the former vice president? And what would you respond to scholars and NGOs who say that the U.S. is – has no leadership in South Sudan, no leadership in the region?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, on the sanctions question we have a range of tools at our disposal that have been passed through an executive order several months ago. We typically don’t outline any individuals that we may consider. I’m not going to change that policy here. There’s no question this is an incredibly difficult situation on the ground. The Secretary was there in May, as all of you know, and he’s been engaged with the leaders since then very closely.

President Obama and Secretary Kerry have both sent a clear message to South Sudan’s leaders that their – there’s – they have an obligation to put the interests of their citizens above their own. They have called on these leaders to honor the January 23rd cessation of hostilities agreement, engage seriously and in good faith in the peace process. We’re supporting and engaging and observing – observing, I should say, observing the IGAD-led talks, providing direct support to the mediation process, and pressing all sides to make necessary concessions. While the United States certainly has a stake in this and we’re engaged in it because we care deeply about the future of the people of South Sudan, we’re also supporting an ongoing IGAD-led process, which, as you know, is composed of many African countries who also have a significant stake in the outcome here.

And I would just say simply – last thing, and then we – I know I may not have addressed all of your questions, but – just because the situation is incredibly difficult, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t continue, of course, using every tool possible to see if you can come to a more peaceful end. And that certainly is applicable to the situation on the ground in South Sudan.

QUESTION: What leverage do you believe America still has in South Sudan? I mean, you helped create this young nation. Do you feel you still have the means to be able to try and effect some kind of peace?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we do. Obviously, it’s not just us, and that’s important; it’s many countries that are in the region, many countries that are surrounding countries to South Sudan who also not only have a stake but have been very engaged and have been leading these negotiation efforts. It’s not just about leverage, it’s about what’s in the best interests of the people of this country. And I think that’s part of the – prevalent part of the message the Secretary is sending as well.

QUESTION: The U.S. had threatened sanctions against South Sudan even before the Secretary’s trip in May. Just going back to Nicolas’ question, I’m not sure I understand: Is the United States any closer to actually imposing sanctions on the country or its rebels or any individuals today than it was in May?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe we have put some in place —

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MS. PSAKI: — just not on the leaders that he – the specific individuals that he referenced. And so the fact is we have that ability, and it’s a broadly written executive order. But I’m just not going to get ahead, for a range of reasons, including we don’t predict that to give people a head’s up.


MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Very quick. Germany today announced that it was sending 100 soldiers to northern Iraq to train in the fight against ISIS. Is that something that we are likely to see more of from contributions from the coalition countries? Is that something that you expect to happen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly I think contributions on the military front are something that we expect to continue. Obviously, contributions in terms of training – and we certainly thank Germany for their contribution in that regard – are part of that effort. I would encourage you to look at Ambassador Brett McGurk’s testimony yesterday where he gave an update on each of the five lines of effort. Military is one of them, but it’s not just a military coalition. He also outlined what we’re doing as it relates to humanitarian assistance, to cracking down on foreign fighters, to cracking down on financing. Those are all important components.

QUESTION: Do you expect that the Arab countries, your partners in the coalition – Arab partners in the coalition – to send in troops in northern Iraq to do the same thing as Germany, as you are?

MS. PSAKI: To send in troops for training?

QUESTION: To send in, I mean, soldiers so they can train and equip and help in the fight against ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, the United States is assisting in this effort on the ground. I’m not going to outline or predict for other countries what they may do.

QUESTION: Do you think these countries, like Saudi Arabia, like Jordan and so on, are holding back in terms of participating by – having troops there and training, because of any kind of sectarian affiliation, because of – they are Sunnis and they don’t want to —

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of countries, including the ones you mentioned, that are making significant contributions.

QUESTION: And my last question is on —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — Muqtada al-Sadr, who heads the Mahdi Army. He said today, he vowed, that he will protect all Shia places in Iraq. Now, he was, of course – was an enemy of the United States back in 2004 and -5, but would the U.S. help these militias in any way —

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen his —

QUESTION: — or look the other way —

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen his comments, Said.

QUESTION: — if Iran helps them?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen his comments. You know where we stand on Iran.

Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: Different topic.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: In Russia, the Duma has ratified a treaty on Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union, and Armenia would become a member of the union after the ratification procedures and member countries are completed, probably no earlier than January 2015. And this is after Armenia changed its decision to sign an agreement with the European Union in 2013, which followed a meeting between the president of Armenia and Putin. My question is: How do you see the future of U.S.-Armenia political and economic relations after Armenia eventually becomes a part of this EEU?

MS. PSAKI: Well, all countries have the right to choose their own path of economic integration and development according to their national interests. No country has the right to determine the political and economic orientation of another country, nor decide which alliances and trade agreements it can join. The United States will continue to work with Armenia to support democratic and economic reforms and preserve the progress made through the U.S.-Armenia relationship.

QUESTION: Jen, do you have anything, readout, today’s meeting with South Korean unification secretary and Acting Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Let me see if I have anything on that. I’m not sure I do. I believe it was happening sometime this afternoon. We can see if there’s anything we can get you after the briefing.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News feed, Pakistan. I have a couple of questions, if you’ll allow me.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. First of all, in India there’s a hardliner group who forced hundreds of Muslims to convert into Hindus, and there are reports that they are preparing to convert 1,000 Christians into Hindus before this Christmas. Do you have anything to say to —

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen that report. I’m happy to take a look at it and see if there’s any comment we have.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Secondly, about the Pakistan and United States. It looks like the relations between two – both the countries are getting better and better, and the mistrusts, I think, have been sorted out. I need your comment on the ongoing military operation against the terrorists because, well, recently Pakistan killed some top al-Qaida commander there and some Taliban commanders there.

And secondly, are you seeking Pakistanis’ support to get the Afghan Taliban on the dialogue table?

MS. PSAKI: Well, on the second question, we’ve always said that any reconciliation process in Afghanistan would be Afghan-led, Afghans talking to Afghans. Obviously, Pakistan has a stake in an outcome there. We certainly have discussions with them about Afghanistan and the future security and stability of the country.

On the first question, I’m not sure what you were asking me exactly. But on counter —

QUESTION: Pakistan recently killed some top al-Qaida commander, like al-Juma – al-Shukri and some more. So how do you – are you – how do you see that? I mean, it’s like helping to —

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation from the United States. I’d certainly refer you to the Government of Pakistan. We obviously work closely on counterterrorism operations, but beyond that I don’t have any other specifics.

QUESTION: Okay, my last question is —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — United States is supporting the Pakistani democratic government. We have seen a lot of statements on that. But there’s still a big protest outside the parliament house still going on. Do you have any concerns about that? It can create something – some problem for the democracy in Pakistan?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken to this in the past. Obviously, we work closely with the elected government there. That will continue. We also support peaceful protests around the world, so I’ll leave it at that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, a very quick one. This is my last question, on Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Go ahead, sure.

QUESTION: Not sure if you saw the al-Qaida leader in Yemen criticizing the Obama Administration for the rescue operation – attempted rescue operation last week. I won’t ask you about everything that he said, but he did indicate that there had been some communications between the United States and either himself personally or his group, and that he had been – first off, I’m curious if that’s true, if that’s something you can speak of. Specifically, he said that there had been some communications or he had made it clear that he wanted to do a prisoner exchange for some detainees at Guantanamo. Is that something you can speak to?

MS. PSAKI: Well, broadly speaking, I’m not going to dignify his claims with a specific comment. I will say in relation to your second question, without getting into any specifics, we don’t make concessions to terrorists and hostage-takers as a matter of longstanding policy. Granting such concessions would put all American citizens overseas at greater risk for kidnapping. Furthermore, paying ransoms would only sustain the very same terrorist organizations that we are working to destroy.

And as you know, because we’ve talked about it a bit in here, the reason we undertook this operation is because AQAP threatened to kill Luke Somers within 72 hours. And along with this information and an operational plan, we decided to move forward. So our policy certainly hasn’t changed. I don’t have anything for you on his claims.

QUESTION: And that stands for prisoner swaps, too?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: I mean, it’s interesting because the President obviously wants to shut Guantanamo down. This could be one way to clear Guantanamo out of its detainees.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s – as you know, there was about five, I believe, detainees who were sent to Uruguay earlier this week. This is something the President remains committed to, we’re working hard on through this building, and talking to a range of countries around the world. Our position, as you noted, remains material support for terrorist organizations – which includes ransom, but also includes prisoner swaps – is not something that we partake in.

QUESTION: But the biggest block of prisoners still – who’ve been cleared for release in Guantanamo are Yemenis. So I mean, if there was – if this Administration was favorable to the idea of a prisoner swap, then these prisoners have already been cleared for release. They just haven’t been released as yet.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s our policy, though. And as you know, many prisoners have also gone to other countries as well. So I can’t predict for you what will happen with those specific prisoners. That’s something, obviously, our Gitmo team works on.

QUESTION: I think it’s about 54 of them are Yemenis out of 67 cleared for release.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, but there are also – many of the prisoners who have been released have not gone to their home countries.

QUESTION: No, that’s true. But I mean, some of the Yemenis have gone home.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, but our policy is as I just outlined it. That hasn’t changed.


MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: When Kerry testified on the Hill earlier this week, one of the topics under discussion was the language that would be used for combat troops on the ground. Senate Foreign Relations Committee just passed a version of the AUMF using the language “a strict limitation on U.S. ground combat troops, except as necessary for the protection or rescue of U.S. soldiers or citizens, intelligence operations, spotters to enable airstrikes, operational planning, or other forms of advice and assistance.” Is this language that Kerry would support?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this just passed right before we came down here, and I haven’t had a chance to talk to him or the NSC about our view on the language that passed the Senate, so let me do that. I mean, his view and the view of the President and the Administration has been there’s no reason to preemptively tie the hands of the President, even though he’s been clear about what our policy is and what our plans are in this regard. But we will discuss and we can get something around to all of you in terms of a comment on the passing of the language.

QUESTION: Also something on Congress, a risk of another government shutdown. Are there contingency plans, or is it too early – is State Department making any contingency plans right now, given the —

MS. PSAKI: There are always contingency plans. That’s what we do. We’re like Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts here in the federal government. But obviously, as you know, the House and Senate are – still have a couple more days here, potentially, so we’re not going to get too far ahead of where they are on the omnibus.


QUESTION: Can you make a fire by rubbing two sticks together? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: I can’t personally, but I am fairly certain somebody in this building can, if I were to guess.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:37 p.m.)


Summer and Fall at Prairie State College