State Department Briefing by Jen Psaki, July 26, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–July 26, 2013.

Index for Today’s Briefing
  • UAE
    • Attack on UAE Embassy Compound in Tripoli
    • Continued Provision of Assistance to Egypt
    • Morsy
    • Chief Minister Modi / Visa
    • Longstanding Strategic Relationship between U.S. and India
    • Iran’s Nuclear Program / Ball in Iran’s Court / Role of Iraq in Talks
    • Sanctions
    • Working to Finalize Plans for Meeting
    • Settlements
    • Chief Minister Modi / Visa
    • Anti-LGBT Violence and Discrimination
    • Sen. Graham Legislation
    • Call for Snowden’s Return to U.S.
    • Special Envoy / Priority of Secretary
    • Instability in South Sudan / Secretary Kerry to Speak with President Kiir
    • Urge Both to Implement Sept. 27th Cooperation Agreement
    • Secretary Kerry’s Meetings at UN / Continue to Expand Assistance to SMC and Discuss Additional Options / Geneva 2
    • ARB Report / Assistance to Wounded Night of Attack



1:18 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Happy Friday afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. I know it’s a beautiful day outside, so we will try not to make this a marathon.

I have one item at the top. The United States firmly condemns yesterday’s attack on the U.A.E. Embassy compound in Tripoli. The United States conveys its solidarity to the Embassy’s personnel and to the Government of the U.A.E. We also stand with the government and people of Libya as they work toward a stable, secure, and prosperous future.


QUESTION: Okay. So, can you explain clearly, with clarity, the Administration decision, announcement yesterday on Egypt and the non-coup coup designation?

MS. PSAKI: I can, but let’s see. We believe that the continued provision of assistance to Egypt, consistent with our law, is important to our goal of advancing a responsible transition to democratic governance, and is consistent with our national security interests.

As you all know and we’ve all talked about, Egypt serves as a stabilizing pillar of regional peace and security, and the United States has a national security interest in a stable and successful democratic transition in Egypt. The law does not require us to make a formal determination – that is a review that we have undergone – as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination. So we will work with Congress to determine how best to continue assistance to Egypt in a manner that encourages Egypt’s interim government to quickly and responsibly transition back to a stable, democratic, civilian-led, and inclusive government.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you explain to me, or to all of us, how it took this crack team of warriors three and a half weeks to come up with a determination that essentially sounds like something that Sergeant Schultz would have said on “Hogan’s Heroes,” or that we might all know as being the motto that is underneath pictures of three monkeys covering their ears, mouth, and —

MS. PSAKI: I am not a big “Hogan’s Heroes” fan. (Laughter.) But —

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, if you don’t get the cultural reference, it’s, “I know nothing; I see nothing,” and —

MS. PSAKI: I understood the monkey reference.

QUESTION: — the monkeys – you got that one?

MS. PSAKI: I just wanted to make sure that on Hogan’s Heroes I wasn’t going to follow that analogy.

QUESTION: Okay. So how – it took three and a half weeks to come up with a decision that you’re going to ignore the law?

MS. PSAKI: It is not ignoring the law. It was a review of what is applicable under the law, abiding the law. We’re continuing to work with Congress. This is ongoing. Obviously, our relationship with Egypt and the aid we provide and decisions over that is an ongoing process. So today is not an end. As we’ve talked about quite a bit in here, certainly the circumstances that have happened on the ground are very complicated. And we wanted to take the time and do due diligence to review. But there’s no question that there’s a larger issue of our strategic interests here and our interests as it relates to regional peace and security.

QUESTION: Yeah, but has this ever been done – are you aware – surely the building is aware – if you have ever done this before?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I have not —

QUESTION: Since the law was enacted, can you name one time that you’ve chosen to basically ignore it? And also, I still didn’t hear any answer to the question as to why did it take three weeks to come up with this – come up with a determination that you’re not going to – that you’re going to apply the law in some cases and not others, and this is a case that you’re not going to apply it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that the American people would be appreciative of the fact that we took the time to evaluate, and what is applicable under the law, and take into account our important national security interests here. I’m not a historian, as we all know, and there’s a lot going on here, so I certainly haven’t reviewed historical references. But —

QUESTION: Well, is there a precedent for this? Do you know?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any historical references to point you to. But we’re obviously evaluating this as a specific situation.

QUESTION: Okay. Is your understanding of – that when you use the phrase “rule of law,” do you understand that to mean that you apply the law consistently? Like, when you tell or call on another government to respect the rule of law, do you understand that to mean that you – that you’re calling on them to apply the law consistently and not selectively?

MS. PSAKI: Well, when we have used rule of law, most commonly, as you know, we use it as it applies to giving people proper charges and evaluating circumstances like arrests.

QUESTION: Oh, no, I’m talking about the – just the – no, not in terms of a criminal defendant.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m talking about in terms of a government playing by its own rules.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, that is why we reviewed the law and we – our legal team reviewed – undertook a review.

QUESTION: But this —

MS. PSAKI: And this is an ongoing process.

QUESTION: But what you reviewed was the actual – you didn’t review the events that happened in Egypt. You reviewed the law and decided that you didn’t have to – and came to this conclusion, which is mind-boggling, I think, that you don’t have to use it.

MS. PSAKI: It’s not that we don’t have to use it; it’s we don’t need to determine – we don’t need to make a public declaration about whether this was a coup or not. That is what was determined.


QUESTION: Jen, how is it that in deciding that you don’t need to make such a determination, you are not flouting the spirit of the law?

MS. PSAKI: Well, given that our legal team was an important part of this process, certainly I would refute any notion that we were flouting the law. But it is important here —

QUESTION: I didn’t say the law; I said the spirit of the law.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would refute that notion. Our legal team was an important part of this process. But the context of this is certainly very important here, which is our – the stabilizing pillar that is Egypt and the important role it plays in regional peace and stability.

QUESTION: The reason I asked about spirit as opposed to the letter is that, like you, I’ve read the very short portions of the law.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And it does not – and you’re right, it does not oblige —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — an administration to make a determination. But it does seem that the spirit of the law and the way in which it has been previously applied was that it was implicit that an administration should make a determination as to whether a military coup occurred and that therefore, it should then decide to cut off aid. So I can see how in a narrow, legalistic manner you can argue that you have obeyed the letter of the law because there is no obligation —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — to make a determination. I do not see, nor have you explained, how what you have decided is in keeping with the spirit of the law.

MS. PSAKI: Well, the spirit of the law is a very theoretical question. I will say that there’s also an important context we have talked about here in the millions of Egyptians who had legitimate grievances, who expressed their concern with President Morsy’s non-inclusive form of governance and demanded a new, more inclusive, representative and responsive government. So that is an important context here too. What I was trying to answer for you is the context of how this decision was made. It’s not just looking at a paragraph. Certainly, abiding by our legal obligations is always a priority to the United States, and always something we’re focused on. But there is a greater context here in terms of our national security interests, in terms of the millions of people who’ve expressed their grievances in Egypt.

QUESTION: But isn’t – I mean, sorry, but isn’t abiding by your legal obligations not merely a priority, but paramount?

MS. PSAKI: Of course it is.

QUESTION: Okay, so then —

MS. PSAKI: And we have. And they’ve reviewed it.

QUESTION: — right, but what I still do not understand, and I think Matt’s line of questioning is an understandable line of questioning, which is —

MS. PSAKI: Certainly wasn’t suggesting it wasn’t. I answered the question.

QUESTION: Well, but you haven’t explained why this is in line with the spirit of the law, which clearly was crafted so as to require a U.S. Government to cut off assistance to another country’s government when its democratically elected leader was ousted in a military coup or in a coup in which the military played a decisive role. And that clearly was the spirit of the law. Why should you decide in this instance that you will not abide by what was clearly the congressional intent?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first let me say that obviously we are continuing to consult with Congress, and have on this specific decision as well. What I was trying to provide in answer to your question was the important context which is applicable to the spirit of what we’re trying to accomplish here, which is a stable, productive Egypt. Obviously, our national security interests are at play here. The voices of the Egyptian people are at play here. Those are all factors that go into this.

QUESTION: There’s a reason I’m interested in this, and I’m less interested in the spirit of what you’re trying to do here than I am in the letter and the spirit of the law. There are other ways that you could achieve what you’re trying to achieve in Egypt. You could have gotten Congress to enact waiver authority so that you could issue a waiver. You could have gotten Congress to change the law in some other manner so as to provide an exception. You could have gotten Congress to say, well, it doesn’t actually apply in the case of Egypt. But when you have instead chosen to do is to interpret the law in a manner that is, as Matt suggested, rather inconsistent with the way in which it has been applied in the past, where you have looked at the circumstances in a given country and then made a determination, and in certain cases it was a determination that a military coup had occurred and you therefore cut off aid.

Why, in this case, should you decide that what has been the spirit and historical application of the law should not apply?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I’ve answered why this is a unique case. But I will also say that we of course recognize this is a complex situation. Our review is ongoing, as is our consultation with Congress. If there are additional steps that need to be taken to ensure that we can continue our assistance consistent with the law and in a manner that also advances U.S. national security interests, we will consider those. So it’s ongoing.

QUESTION: Why not – I mean, you will recall that when the President took the oath of office for a second time, back in 2009, the justification for his having done so was that it was out of an abundance of caution. Why would you not, out of an abundance of caution to ensure that you were in keeping not merely with the letter but also with the spirit and historical application of the law, have found – of U.S. law – have found another solution, one that was manifestly, incontestably legal, where you got Congress to change the law, for example?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we do feel this is legal. That’s why our lawyers reviewed it. We did take the time, spent a couple of weeks, as you know and as Matt also pointed out, reviewing this and evaluated, as I’ve mentioned, our national security interests, issues related to regional stability, as well as the importance of the voices of the Egyptian people. And this was the determination that was made. I don’t have a further readout for you of those discussions.


QUESTION: The problem is that you didn’t review what happened in Egypt; you reviewed how you could – when – excuse me – you reviewed how you could essentially abdicate the responsibility that was placed on you by this law in the first place. And I think that as I and others have suggested since July 3rd, the question of this review was always how are you going to be able to avoid completing it, or how are you going to be able to avoid enacting it. And I think it’s – it appears to be a very, very clumsily constructed legal copout to simply say that you don’t have to do it. There are no exceptions in the law, as it’s written, like the ones that you mentioned: broader national security interests. There’s nothing in that legislation that says anything about, well, if 20 million people are in the streets protesting, then it doesn’t count. You, for the first time – “you” meaning the government – for the first time since this law was passed, or presumably since the first time since you all stopped engineering coups on your own, and actually came out and overtly supported them —

MS. PSAKI: This is a very lengthy question.

QUESTION: — have decided that this law is no – doesn’t have to be applicable anymore.

MS. PSAKI: Let me just be —

QUESTION: This law is not universal; it doesn’t cover everything.

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I think there’s an important point here —

QUESTION: Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: — so let me just try to make this important point.

QUESTION: You are (inaudible). Are you —

MS. PSAKI: The legal decision that was made was that we have reviewed and we do not need to make a public determination on whether or not a coup happened or not. Moving forward, we are consulting with Congress. Of course, our legal obligations are an important part of that, and believe me, from all sides. And as determinations need to be made or steps need to be taken, legislative steps, we will endeavor to take them. This is an ongoing process.

QUESTION: So what other provisions of the law are you going to just pick and choose to apply?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I think I’ve answered. The reason the decision that was made –

QUESTION: Well, I still haven’t gotten an answer —

MS. PSAKI: — the announcement that it was —

QUESTION: — to why this took three weeks. This is something that could have been done on day one, day two.

MS. PSAKI: We wanted to do due diligence and take the time to review here. But this is ongoing. It’s not the end; this is a step in the process.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Jen, do you —

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one at a time, Said. So just let Jo and then I’ll go to you next if that works.

QUESTION: Do you concede that by utilizing what appears to be a loophole that your lawyers have found in the law, that the reputation and the influence that the United States has in other countries is thereby tarnished? If you are going to pick and choose which situations you want to see as unique situations, and therefore not applicable to the law, therefore you don’t have to make a determination about whether there was a coup, a leader in any other country or a military in any other country could decide that if – could decide that they will go ahead with removing a legitimately elected president because there’s no longer this fear that the United States will cut off military and economic aid.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d first refute the notion this was a loophole. It was not. It was reviewed by our lawyers and determined that we did not make – need to make a decision or determination, a public determination about whether or not this was a coup. The second piece I would convey is that I don’t think it would come as a surprise to anyone that our own national security interests, issues related to regional stability, the voices of millions of people, are all factors. Every scenario is different, but we are continuing to review. We do not anticipate that we are going to make an evaluation here. That’s not what I’m suggesting, related to a coup or not. But we’re continuing to review our relationship as it relates to aid with Egypt, and that’s ongoing.

So I would convey that to anyone who has concerns about the announcement.

QUESTION: Have you made a private determination? You keep emphasizing that you do not believe that you are required to make a public determination. Have you made a private determination?

MS. PSAKI: I’m – it’s – the laws – this is related to our public determination. I don’t —

QUESTION: But have you made a private determination?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more for you, Arshad —

QUESTION: Because the law —

MS. PSAKI: — on our private conversations.

QUESTION: — but the law doesn’t – just so you know, the law doesn’t say “public determination,” it says “determination.”

MS. PSAKI: Well —

QUESTION: So if you have a determination of any sort, then it seems to me one could plausibly argue you have not followed the law.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you for your legal analysis. We have determined that we do not need to make a determination about whether or not this was a coup.

QUESTION: Public or private?


QUESTION: (Off-mike) Senator John McCain said yesterday that there is no national security waiver in this law. Am I confused here? Because you keep saying that it’s in our national security interests not to make a determination here.

MS. PSAKI: So I think there’s some confusion about what we have announced. We’ve announced that our legal – we have determined legally we do not need to make a determination as to whether it is a coup or not a coup. Beyond that, we’re going to continue to work with Congress to abide by our legal obligations. If steps are needed, we will work with Congress to take those steps.

QUESTION: Does that mean that a determination could be made later?

MS. PSAKI: We’re not – that is not our plan, no.

QUESTION: So is the book closed on this determination?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re continuing to review our relationship, and in any country, of course. So I’m not going to look into a crystal ball with that, but of course we’re continuing to review. We’re not – there’s not a plan to make a determination as it relates to a coup.

QUESTION: But you wouldn’t rule that out? Right? It could happen?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not – it is not our plan, so —

QUESTION: So there conceivably could be some time in the future, in a week or two or so on, you come back and say it is a coup?

MS. PSAKI: No. That’s not —

QUESTION: So that —

MS. PSAKI: I’m actually saying the opposite of that.

QUESTION: The book is closed on that definition? It is not a coup?

MS. PSAKI: We have determined we’re not going to make a determination, so I haven’t said one way or the other.

QUESTION: You have determined that you —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, it’s a complicated —

QUESTION: We have determined that we’re not going to make —

MS. PSAKI: — situation in an important strategic relationship.

QUESTION: How is it the Administration believes they can base a policy on pretending that something didn’t happen? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Matt, our policy —

QUESTION: How does that work?

MS. PSAKI: Our policy is based on our national security interests —

QUESTION: Your policy —

MS. PSAKI: — and regional stability and many complicated factors that have gone on the ground here. We’re not looking at this a black-and-white case.


QUESTION: Just a point of clarification.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So national security interests influenced a legal decision in this case?

MS. PSAKI: Our national security interests influence our policy as it relates to aid with Egypt. As you all know —

QUESTION: No, no, but for the legal decision.

MS. PSAKI: — if a determination was made that this was a coup, then that would be a certain trigger. But beyond that, we reviewed the legal obligations and determined we did not need to make a determination one way or the other.

QUESTION: No. Sorry —

QUESTION: Every time a military removes a democratically elected leader around the world and you deem that this is in America’s national security interest, you’re not going to call it a coup?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re talking about one specific case, and that is what is —

QUESTION: But it sets a precedent.

MS. PSAKI: — what is happening in Egypt.

QUESTION: But it sets a precedent.

MS. PSAKI: We’re looking at each case. I’m not going to predict certain cases in the future. I’m talking about specifically Egypt and the events that have happened over the last couple of months and our evaluation as it relates to Egypt.

QUESTION: But it sets a precedent, and John McCain yesterday in Congress made very clear that this was not good for America’s reputation around the world if you start deciding that the law applies here and not there, and that does – I mean you can’t then go to other countries and tell them —

MS. PSAKI: The determination was made as to whether —

QUESTION: — that they have to apply the law.

MS. PSAKI: — we needed to make a determination on whether it’s a coup or not a coup. We’re continuing to work with Congress on abiding by our legal obligations. I am certain Senator McCain and conversations with him and others will be a big part of that.

QUESTION: But you just closed the book on that. I mean, what are you – continuing discussions with them on what? What are you discussing with them?

MS. PSAKI: On how – on our legal obligations —


MS. PSAKI: — abiding by that moving forward.

QUESTION: And in this particular case? In Egypt’s case? You’re talking with them?


QUESTION: So what are you hoping – since you have already made – I’m a bit confused.

MS. PSAKI: That we can continue our assistance and that it’s consistent with the law.

QUESTION: So you are talking with them on the ways to continue assistance?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: Not whether it’s a coup or not?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: That has been made?

QUESTION: But Jen, I feel as if I’m looking through the looking glass here, because you’re arguing that this building has decided that for national security interests, it doesn’t have to make a determination about whether it’s a coup. Two days ago, the Pentagon announced that it’s not sending four F-16s for which the Egyptians have already paid, but they’re not doing it except because they’re concerned about the situation on the ground. It’s a mixed message here. Is it a coup, or isn’t it?

MS. PSAKI: I did not – I don’t think it’s a mixed message. I think you’re combining a couple of things right now.

QUESTION: But this is all being done on an interagency process.

MS. PSAKI: Let me answer your question, and then we can continue discussing. The law does not require us to make a formal determination as to whether a coup took place. We evaluated the F-16s and determined in that specific case we didn’t – it was not appropriate to deliver those F-16s. We will continue to review. I have nothing to announce for you, no predictions to make for you, but that was a specific case. What I’m saying as it relates to national security is certainly that’s a factor as it relates to our overall relationship with Egypt, and the regional – the role in regional stability that Egypt plays. This is a complicated situation. That’s why there’s a complicated evaluation.

QUESTION: But given that the F-16s, I would assume, would not be used to drop warheads on the people who are protesting in Tahrir Square, doesn’t it, in a way, endanger U.S. regional security interests when you consider the ongoing instability that is flowing out of Syria, the ongoing concerns about issues inside Iraq, and the ongoing concerns about what Iran

may or may not be doing with its nuclear weapons program for Egypt’s military to not have those fighter jets for – to deal with these international issues?

MS. PSAKI: As you know, Roz, the —

QUESTION: It is problematic, and usually people would assume, as Arshad suggested earlier, that if you don’t send the weapons, which is the bulk of the $1.3 billion aid annually to Egypt, that you are, in fact, making this determination by your action.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would caution you in reading into the F-16s decision as indicative of anything else. Obviously the Department of Defense made the initial announcement. It is under their purview. I’m certain that factors related to security were taken into account. I would point you to them on more specifics, and we will continue to evaluate.

QUESTION: But they specifically said – George Little specifically said on Wednesday this was because of the concerns that we have about the political situation in Cairo, full stop.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And so why is that not, in fact, a tacit admission that what happened three and a half weeks ago, in fact, was a coup?

MS. PSAKI: Because we’re making an evaluation case by case. That was the one case and one specific example I can point you to.

QUESTION: It seems like that sounds like you’re saying to the Egyptians we’ll parse out aid as we see we need to influence you with it.

MS. PSAKI: No. We’ve been very clear, and I’ll state it again here, that we don’t think it’s in our interest to cut off aid to Egypt. There was a decision made specifically about the F-16s.

QUESTION: But you are saying it will be on a case-by-case basis from now on?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re – no, I’m not saying that, and I apologize if that was what you thought I was conveying. We’re continuing to review. That means working with Congress, that means continuing to review moving forward. Obviously, this story is not done yet, so we’ll continue to review in the weeks and months ahead.

QUESTION: Could we have some more clarity about how you reached that determination? I mean, based on what? And if it’s not now, I mean, could you get back to us about how you reached —

MS. PSAKI: The legal determination?

QUESTION: Yeah, the legal determination that you don’t have to make a determination that it’s a coup, because it’s very opaque. I mean in the past, when there’s been a coup, you have cut aid, or you have found a legal way – very transparent legal way to continue giving aid to a specific country. For example, Pakistan after 2001, you get a waiver for the sort of so-called coup legislation. So why did you choose this path at this stage with Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we’re continuing to work with Congress on legislative steps that need to be taken, if they need to be taken. In terms of how we determine that we did need to make a determination – that is a bit of a mouthful, I will admit – I will – I’m sure I will – I am happy to check for you and see if there’s anything else specific to provide for you on that.

QUESTION: It certainly sounds like this review was focused on finding a way out of this – out of enforcing or acting in accordance with the spirit of the law, rather than on the actual facts on the ground and what happened. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: No. We are abiding by our legal obligations – has always been a very important factor here, as is our national interests and our national security.

QUESTION: Okay. So quite apart from the law, what do you call it when the military of a country overthrows the democratically elected president, takes him into custody, holds him incommunicado for weeks, and now comes up with – starts investigating charges that he was involved in a jail break and murder and that kind of thing? What – forget about the law. How would you describe that scenario?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we would say that there’s a need to move forward towards an inclusive process, and that we’re opposed to the arbitrary arrests, and that we’re focused on moving ahead. I’m not going to give it a one-word name. I don’t think there’s a need for that.

QUESTION: Well, maybe you could give it a two-word name with an apostrophe in the middle of it. Yeah? Coup d’etat?

MS. PSAKI: Well, if I come up with a good name for you, I’m happy to let you know.

QUESTION: Can you – can – I just don’t understand how – I mean, either say it was a coup or say it wasn’t a coup, but coming up with this – trying to avoid taking responsibility, it just seems – and avoid implementing what the will – what – the intent of what this law is supposed to be and supposed to do in terms of guiding foreign policy, I just don’t understand, one, how it took so long to come to this decision you were just going to ignore this, and two, what makes you think, as other people have asked, that this is not going to hurt your reputation, your image, your credibility abroad when you run – when you go around and tell other governments that they should respect the rule of law?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously this is a complicated situation. We’re taking each case, each situation case by case. We took the time to review and evaluate all of the factors here, our legal obligations, our national security interests, the impact on regional stability. I think that that’s a message that will be understood.

QUESTION: Really? If you can’t explain it to us, I don’t think you’re going be explain it – able to explain it to other people.

QUESTION: Take – Kim raises an interesting point, which is the Pakistan precedent, where after 9/11 the Bush Administration decided that it was important, in order to secure counterterrorism cooperation from Pakistan, to waive a number of laws, including the coup one, which had been applied to them. Why didn’t you choose that outcome, which might have been a cleaner outcome? Why didn’t you seek to get a legislative fix that would’ve allowed you to continue assistance to Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t know if there would be legislative fixes needed or not. If there are needed, we’ll work with Congress on that. I’m not going to peel back the curtain on all the discussions that happened over the past couple of weeks. As we all know, there were many discussions – interagency the Secretary was involved with, many senior-level national security officials, and I’m certain that many options were discussed.

QUESTION: And who ultimately made the decision not to make a determination?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, there’s a factor as it relates to the legal component, which our legal office here played a significant role in, and certainly this was discussed and agreed to through the interagency process.

QUESTION: But who decided? I mean, the buck stops somewhere. As Harry Truman said, it stopped with him. Does the buck stop with the President in this case, or with the Secretary, or with the acting legal advisor of the State Department, or who? Who made the decision?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to read out who was where on what and all the players involved in this.

QUESTION: I’m not asking that. I’m asking who made the decision.

MS. PSAKI: This was agreed to by the national security team. Beyond that, I’m not going to – I don’t have anything.

QUESTION: Why are you afraid to say who made the decision?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not afraid of anything, Arshad. I’m just not – I’m not getting into more specifics than that for you.

QUESTION: What about wolves? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: I don’t like wolves, but I’m not afraid of them. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Could you comment on the list of charges that were levied against Morsy?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry. Can you say it one more time?

QUESTION: The list of charges – Morsy was charged with conspiring with Hamas. He was charged with rape and murder and all that stuff. Could you comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we, of course, are deeply concerned by reports that an Egyptian court has ordered the detention of Mr. Morsy. I can’t speak to the specific charges, but we do believe that it is important that there be a process to work towards his release. Clearly, this process should respect the personal security of him and take into account the volatile political situation in Egypt, and that’s where our focus is.

QUESTION: I know we’ve asked this question time and again. Do you have – do you know anything about his whereabouts? Are you asking about where he is?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more for that – on that for you, Said.

QUESTION: Are you interested to know what kind of – what is his status, whether he’s alive or dead —

MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly —

QUESTION: — or sick or injured or anything like that?

MS. PSAKI: We have conveyed publicly and privately that his personal security and treatment is of utmost importance.

QUESTION: But you have not tried firsthand to find out what kind – what is his condition?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have more of an update on it for you.

QUESTION: What about the legitimacy of the process in bringing these charges against him? Do you consider the high court a legitimate agency to have brought these charges about, or do you think this is all trumped up? And by “you,” I mean the Department.

MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly we’re concerned about arbitrary arrests. I don’t have anything specific on these charges, but we would like to see – believe that it’s important to have a process working towards his release. So I think that speaks to it.

QUESTION: I’m a little unclear as to why you’re deeply concerned about this, because it’s being done in – within the Egyptian legal process, whereas, as I believe the – his initial detention by the military was not legal under their constitution and their laws. So now that they’re going about doing it legally, why are you deeply concerned?

MS. PSAKI: We are determined – we are deeply concerned about his detention, and I think I outlined what we’d like to see happen.

QUESTION: You said you are deeply concerned that an Egyptian court has ordered his arrest. Okay?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, I did.

QUESTION: Now, that is a legal process going by the rule of law in Egypt, and yet you didn’t have much of a problem when the military extra-legally detained him.

MS. PSAKI: We did. We expressed a concern at the time.

QUESTION: Not about (inaudible).

QUESTION: Not about —

MS. PSAKI: The President in his statement on July 3rd. I’m happy to provide it to you.

QUESTION: Not about Morsy specifically.

MS. PSAKI: Yes he did, in the statement on July 3rd.

QUESTION: About Morsy’s detention?

MS. PSAKI: On his arrest, yes.

QUESTION: Do you still stand by your position – I mean, by your call for his release? Are you calling for his release?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just said we believe it is important there be a process to work towards his release.

QUESTION: But Jen, I noticed you called him Mr. Morsy, so has there been – divested of any presidential title —

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve said before we’re working with the interim government.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Egypt?

QUESTION: Just one more.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Because this Administration keeps saying it wants an inclusive government, but as someone pointed out yesterday in a congressional hearing, that’s kind of hard to do when leaders of a political party have been detained —

MS. PSAKI: You’re right.

QUESTION: — or imprisoned or being held.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So you’re not flat-out calling for them to be released so they can be part of this inclusive process?

MS. PSAKI: We have expressed in the past, and I’ll express it again, that it is very challenging to have an inclusive process if you have a number of officials from one party arbitrarily detained.

QUESTION: So if Mr. Morsy has now been detained and you’re deeply concerned about that, do you still stand by earlier statements that you would call for his release?

MS. PSAKI: Our position has not changed.

QUESTION: Madam, a change of subject. India?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: As far as this visa for Mr. – or Chief Minister Modi of the (inaudible) of Gujarat is concerned —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — it has become now a global issue and debate in India at the national level. And now it has also become a critical issue in India. My question is that when Mr. Rajnath was here in Washington – today he’s in New York and New Jersey – he told me that he will be meeting somebody at the State Department. Can you confirm whether her met somebody or not and if the visa issue was discussed or not? And finally, if the U.S. Embassy in Delhi or the State Department has told Mr. Modi team, Mr. Modi’s party that if he applies – or he can apply a visa and State Department will determine after his application.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve stated that publicly a number of times. Beyond that, I don’t have any private diplomatic conversations to read out for you. I’m happy to check further about the individual you mentioned, as to whether there was a meeting here. Do you have any more details on who they may have met with?

QUESTION: No, that’s the only thing that what you – how do you take this at State Department? Because it has become like a national issue and debate in India in the parliament, and critical issue. And how you think the U.S. Embassy in Delhi – of course, our good Ambassador Nancy Powell also must be under pressure, and she has been determining and also questioning – answering questions and all that. How —

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly as I said yesterday, if he applies, it will certainly be reviewed just as any application would be. But we wouldn’t speak about that publicly.

QUESTION: Do you issues visas under pressure?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Do you issue visas under pressure?

MS. PSAKI: No. We evaluate them case by case, and we wouldn’t speak to it publicly anyway. But of course, if he applied it would be considered.

QUESTION: Do you think this is going – some kind of U.S.-India relations in any way, critically or diplomatically? Any issue?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not. We have – the Vice President was just there and we have a longstanding, strategic and productive relationship with India.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you confirm, or have you seen the reports that Iran has expressed the desire for direct talks with the U.S. regarding its nuclear program? And if so, what kind of role will Iraq play in that, if any?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen reports. Of course, Iraq is a partner of the United States, and we’re in regular conversations with Iraqi officials about a full range of issues of mutual interest, including Iran. As we’ve said many times, we’re open to direct talks with Iran in order to resolve the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. And we work through, as you all know, the P-5+1 and Under Secretary Sherman just had a meeting, I believe a couple of weeks ago, with her counterparts. But it is – the ball is in Iran’s court to take the necessary steps to abide by their international obligations. And that has not changed.

QUESTION: Do you know —

QUESTION: What about —

QUESTION: Do you know if Prime Minister Maliki has offered himself up, or offered his services as an intermediary?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on that for you.

QUESTION: So you don’t know it’s that’s the case.

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything on it for you. I don’t have any more information on that.

QUESTION: So, the – you’re saying —

MS. PSAKI: It would also be – I would point you to the Government of Iraq and Iran on that specific –

QUESTION: Did you ask people in this building if that was the case?

MS. PSAKI: Of course we discuss these issues frequently. I don’t have anything more to tell you.

QUESTION: And they wouldn’t – and so they wouldn’t answer you. You got no answer?

MS. PSAKI: That – Matt – (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I don’t understand. The whole point of the story that she was caught talking, that the question is based on —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — is that according to notes taken from a meeting with the U.S. – with U.S. diplomats in Iraq, the Prime Minister made this offer. That’s the whole —

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to tell you, Matt. That’s all – I’m going to leave it at that.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary have a reaction to, like, the bipartisan group of lawmakers who are – want to tighten sanctions on Iran right now? Because I think there’s reports that —

MS. PSAKI: I know there’s been legislation out there. I don’t have any more specific reaction. We wouldn’t comment on draft legislation.

QUESTION: Is that something that the Secretary would encourage or discourage?

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we have a series of sanctions that we’ve put in place as it relates to Iran.

QUESTION: But tightening them at this time?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more for you on that.

QUESTION: Wait a second. You comment on draft legislation all the time.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any comment on this specific case.

QUESTION: You don’t have any comment on that specific legislation?

MS. PSAKI: I would just say that, obviously, the Secretary’s position is what I just conveyed, which is that the ball is in Iran’s court. We’ve continued to put in place crippling sanctions on Iran, and we are working through the P-5+1 process.

QUESTION: I mean, just to put a fine point on this —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — you do comment on draft legislation all the time. In fact, your colleague, Ms. Harf, talked about draft legislation in the House that would gut the foreign affairs budget. She called it – it would be catastrophic or something like that. So let’s not say that you don’t comment on draft legislation.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Change topic?

QUESTION: Can I go to the Middle East, please?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I wondered if you had any update on when the talks might be starting?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I have nothing to announce today. We remain in touch with both sides, we’re working to finalize plans for the meeting in Washington, but I have no announcements for you.

QUESTION: So there are rumors that Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat are already both in town. Do you —

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of that or know what their travel plans are, but we are still working to finalize plans.

QUESTION: So you’re hoping it could be next week, early next week?

MS. PSAKI: Well, when the Secretary made his announcement last Friday he said next week or the following. So we’re working to finalize that but don’t have any announcement today.

QUESTION: Could you explain to us one more time what the Secretary meant by calling countries, referring to Israelis and Palestinians? Full countries?

MS. PSAKI: He did not mean to imply a change in policy. Obviously, you know what we’re working towards here, Said, but he did not mean to imply anything by it.

QUESTION: Has – what is the reaction, whether in this building or are you getting a lot of reaction or a lot of flak, whatever?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Said.

QUESTION: So it did not cause any ripple effect or anything?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: So it’s easy to recognize the Palestinians as a country, you see? It can be done quite easily.

MS. PSAKI: I know. I understand. I know you all talked with Marie about this just yesterday.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) basically a slip of the tongue?

MS. PSAKI: I’m saying he was not conveying a change in policy, which I know is what you all strive to report on.

QUESTION: Well, I know. But so it was a mistake basically. What – why is it so – I mean, the guy’s human. It’s not as if he never makes a mistake in his life.

MS. PSAKI: I know. That’s true. He is human.

QUESTION: I mean, maybe – so this was —

MS. PSAKI: He’s working very hard.

QUESTION: So this was basically just a slip up?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I wouldn’t even characterize it that way.

QUESTION: Less than a slip up.

MS. PSAKI: I think this has been – more made of it than is necessary.

QUESTION: Alright.

QUESTION: Also, the Israeli press is saying that Mr. Netanyahu promised Mr. Kerry that they will not – they will only issue permits for a hundred or a for a thousand units in the settlements while the talks are ongoing. Could you confirm or deny that?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t – I’m not going to speak to private conversations. I’d point you to the Government of Israel on that. You know our position on settlements. That hasn’t changed. So I would point you to them for any more specifics.

QUESTION: Would the number of housing units and the settlements be something that the Secretary would discuss with that Israeli Prime Minister?

MS. PSAKI: You know our position, and I’m going to continue to abide by the – our desire to keep any discussions quiet in order to leave room to make progress.

QUESTION: Has this building decided whether Ambassador Indyk or some other luminary would be leading the U.S. in this process?

MS. PSAKI: Luminary, that’s such a good word.

QUESTION: Well, he is luminous.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any personnel updates for you today, Roz. But it is – remains the case that the Secretary is looking to put together a senior team and he is continuing to consider that.

QUESTION: Madam, can I just quickly go back to my question of visa please. Some BJP leaders in Washington said that there is a lobby going on against Mr. Modi. And also how seriously do you take the United States Commission on Human – Religious Freedoms Commission? Because they also have written a letter. And have – can you confirm any letter coming to the Secretary about Mr. Modi’s visa?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t. I don’t think I have much more for you on Mr. Modi, other than if he applies for a visa, certainly that would considered as through the normal process.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Question on Russia, if I could ask.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Reports and images emerged yesterday of ultranationalists torturing gay Russian teenagers, and of course this – they were finding them on social media networks. This obviously is taking place against the backdrop of growing concerns about anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in Russia after Vladimir Putin signed the anti-gay propaganda law into effect.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I know that State and other agencies have repeatedly criticized what’s going on there. Does the Secretary have any plans to directly address the deteriorating situation for LGBT Russians with his counterparts in Moscow? And can you talk a little bit about any conversations perhaps they’ve had previously on that issue?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any conversations to read out or predict for you. Obviously, he speaks to his counterparts regularly. You are absolutely correct – and let me reiterate today – that the United States, of course, places great importance on the protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. And that is – human rights in general is certainly an issue that comes up regularly and is a priority for the United States in our relationship with Russia and many other countries. So he does bring up the issues broadly and I’m sure will moving forward.

QUESTION: Aside from us publicly responding to what’s going on, is there anything more perhaps forceful the government can do to perhaps try to change what’s going on in Russia on that specific issue?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, we’d certainly call on Russia to uphold its international commitments regarding freedom of assembly and association and freedom of expression now and in the future, and that’s a message I’m certain we will continue to convey.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. be willing to repeat what happened in 1980 with the boycott of Sochi next year?

MS. PSAKI: That’s certainly not what we’re calling for.

QUESTION: Sorry, the opening sentence of your answer was the United States places great importance on the human rights of all people.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Unless they’re the elected president of Egypt. Is that the idea here?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve actually called for treatment —

QUESTION: Are there any exceptions?

MS. PSAKI: — and for a process for his release.

QUESTION: So this principle isn’t one that you’ll decide you’re going to opt out of?

MS. PSAKI: We support human rights around the world, Matt. I think you know that.

QUESTION: Can I – recalling – if you’ll recall that you just agreed with my statement that sometimes you do comment on pending legislation or draft legislation, I’d like to ask a Russia-related question.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: And this has – it’s not really Russia, but it’s Snowden and Senator Graham’s proposal from yesterday —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — that would require sanctions against any country that takes him in or helps him out. What does the Administration think of that?

MS. PSAKI: I believe – let me – I have something on this, I believe, Matt. Let me just check. And if not, I’ll get you something right after the briefing. Well, in this case, we have not seen the text of the proposed bill, but we feel that in general legislation imposing sanctions under these circumstances would not be helpful.

QUESTION: And is that because that you believe that it should be the executive branch’s prerogative to do this if and – to do it if and when you see fit?

MS. PSAKI: Sanctions?


MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to make a prediction about any —

QUESTION: Well, I mean, you said —

MS. PSAKI: — step we may or may not take.

QUESTION: I understand that.

MS. PSAKI: We just don’t think this particularly helpful.



QUESTION: Well, I understand that, but – I understand what you’re saying.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I would echo the why do you not think it’s helpful. But also, I mean, is it just – is it a general objection that you don’t want Congress legislating foreign policy?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe so. I’m not sure where you’re going with this.

QUESTION: I’m just asking. I mean, is the – if the objective is only that this is unhelpful, this specific thing is unhelpful, can you explain why you think it’s unhelpful? But in general, the Administration and past administrations have resisted attempts by Congress –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — to legislate foreign policy.

MS. PSAKI: Well —

QUESTION: And so I’m wondering if your objection to this is related to that.

MS. PSAKI: Our focus in this specific case, as you know, is having Mr. Snowden returned to the United States, and we still feel Russia has the opportunity to do that and to take the right steps.


MS. PSAKI: Beyond that, I just don’t have any more evaluation or analysis for you.

QUESTION: No, but I’m talking about Senator Graham’s proposal.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I just don’t – I don’t have anything more on that for you.

QUESTION: Because it’s – but you are – but it says you think that – you’ve said that you think it’s unhelpful, right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. So why is it unhelpful? Or is it just more broadly there’s an objection because it would be Congress legislating the executive branch’s ability to conduct foreign policy?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to talk more to our legislative team, Matt. I just don’t have any more specifics than what I offered.

QUESTION: Because it seems to me that these days or nowadays, after yesterday at least —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — that it doesn’t really matter what Congress enacts into law, because you can just choose to ignore it if you feel like you want to.

MS. PSAKI: It certainly does matter. That’s why we’re continuing to work closely with them on Egypt. I knew you were going somewhere with this.

QUESTION: No, I wasn’t. That just occurred to me at the very end.


QUESTION: I have a question on Sudan and South Sudan, if possible.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Obviously there’s been – I’ve seen the statements that you put out in last couple of weeks –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — notably the day before yesterday, about the South Sudanese President sacking his cabinet. And then there’s been some concerns about what’s happening in Jonglei.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I just wondered if you could update us on where we are with getting a new special envoy.

MS. PSAKI: Envoy?


MS. PSAKI: I don’t, unfortunately, have an update for you or any personnel announcements today. This is a priority of the Secretary’s. As you know, he met with officials when he was in Ethiopia and this is an issue that he continues to discuss and has a history on, actually. And I know he plans to. I don’t have an update on any announcements though.

QUESTION: I mean, if – the longer it takes, presumably the harder it becomes for you to have a very strong influence on the events that are happening in South Sudan and Sudan.

MS. PSAKI: I think the Secretary has been evident in – by his public comments as well, is very focused on putting a senior-level team in place in all of our bureaus, and this certainly would be applicable to that.

QUESTION: And how concerned are you about what’s happening in South Sudan, which, after all, the United States was the main backer for the birth of this newest nation? And it seems after two years there are real concerns about human rights violations and also with the President’s sacking his cabinet –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and that political upheaval as well.

MS. PSAKI: The – we are deeply concerned. I know we put out a statement, I believe, yesterday on this by the risk to stability as you mentioned. The Secretary – I’d have to check if he has, but he was scheduled to speak with President Kiir today, so we can venture to get you an update on that. But that, of course, speaks to how important and concerned we are.

QUESTION: Because when Jo talks about making the situation tougher the longer that there is no special envoy, there’s also still the outstanding issue of the sharing of oil revenues, which primarily derives from South Sudan. Does that add any urgency, especially when it comes to making certain that both countries become more economically viable than they have been to date?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, as part of our conversations, we urge Sudan to reverse its decision to stop the flow of South Sudanese oil transported via Sudan’s pipeline. We also urge both Sudan and South Sudan to fully and immediately implement all of the September 27th cooperation agreements without preconditions. This is an issue that has come up in conversations in the past and is one we’re continuing to press and we certainly recognize the importance and the impact on economic stability.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the team that went into Damascus and left, I guess yesterday, to investigate —

MS. PSAKI: The UN team you’re referring to?

QUESTION: Yeah, the UN team. Right.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that. I would refer you to the UN for any update on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Is there any change in policy as a result of the Secretary’s meeting with Jarba and others among the leadership of the opposition?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we continue to expand our assistance to this Supreme Military Council. We’re not going into every detail of that, as you all know, and we continue to discuss additional options. I don’t have any new announcements for you today, but certainly the Secretary felt, as he said as he came out of the meeting, that he had a very productive meeting. He reiterated the ongoing commitment of the United States to help end the bloodshed. He reiterated our commitment to help continue to strengthen the Syrian opposition. They discussed – a big portion of the meeting was focused on the discussion about a political transition and the role Geneva could play. And they agreed that continuing to plan for Geneva is something that they’d be amenable to.

QUESTION: Do you feel their leaders that Secretary Kerry met with yesterday could actually be the representatives of the opposition —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — in a Geneva conference?

MS. PSAKI: They discussed planning for a Geneva conference. I don’t want to get ahead of who the representatives would be, but certainly that would be a decision we’d work through with the opposition.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Oh, wait, wait.

MS. PSAKI: Oh. Sorry.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. I just want to go back to – I want to make sure I gave you the —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — opportunity to answer, if you could, as to why Senator Graham’s thing is unhelpful. I think I might have gone off the —

MS. PSAKI: I just have —

QUESTION: Is that it? That’s all you have to say?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more analysis. I will venture to get you more before the end of the day.

QUESTION: All right. Yeah. Please do from the —

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. I’m happy to.

QUESTION: — from the Legal Office.


QUESTION: And at the same time you can ask them to try and come up – try and explain further their rationale, their thinking behind deciding to ignore applicable law.

MS. PSAKI: I will let you know early before this beautiful day is ended.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on a question that I asked yesterday. We went through the ARB report, and there’s no record of a medical plane being sent to Benghazi to rescue survivors. Why is that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me just start by saying it’s offensive that there’s any implication that we didn’t do everything possible to provide all the assistance that was possible on the ground. There were two references in the ARB report to planes. Let me just make sure everybody has those. On page 27, it notes that two U.S. Air Force planes were sent from Germany to Tripoli to provide medical evacuation support for the wounded who were treated en route by military doctors and nurses. Also on page 37, the report outlines the care provided by Embassy Tripoli staff, including the invaluable guidance from the nurse as well as a consular officer who donated blood on the spot to help save the life of a wounded colleague.

I also have an additional update. Upon notification of the attack from the Benghazi RSO, Embassy Tripoli set up a command center and notified Washington. Within hours, Embassy Tripoli chartered a private airplane and deployed a seven-person security team which included two U.S. military personnel to Benghazi. The Embassy notified Benina air base in Benghazi of a potential need for logistic support and aircraft for extraction, and received full cooperation.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)



Final 2023 Mayoral Forum with Joe Woods

Final Village Trustee Forum – March 19, 2023