1:34 p.m. EDT
MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. So apologies for the delay, but with the announcement today about Iraq and the on-the-record call which they hosted, we pushed the briefing back. In the interest of efficiency and point noting that I’ve got a hard stop at 2 o’clock, I think I will refer questions about Iraq and the announcement back to that on-the-record call. And I don’t have anything further to say at the top, so, Matt, why don’t you lead off.
MR RATHKE: On the photo itself or —
MR RATHKE: I mean, updates today: He continues – he’s – he remains in the hospital. He continues to make progress. He’s engaged with members of his team. He’s been speaking to them on the phone. He’s also engaged in his physical therapy, but I don’t have any further specific updates today.
QUESTION: Shall we expect more pictures? Action shots, perhaps —
MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to —
QUESTION: — over the —
MR RATHKE: I’m not going to suggest a schedule, but —
QUESTION: — coming days?
MR RATHKE: But there will be from time to time.
QUESTION: All right. I don’t have any more on that, but if anyone – quickly, I just wanted to ask you – there are people in this building confirming that an American was killed in Syria fighting with the Kurds. Do you have anything on that?
MR RATHKE: I can confirm that U.S. citizen Keith Broomfield was killed in Syria. We are providing all possible consular assistance. Out of respect for the privacy of Mr. Bloomfield’s family, I don’t have any additional details to provide at this point.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea what the circumstances were of his death?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have additional details to provide on that.
QUESTION: And what exactly is it that you’re doing in terms of consular activity related to him and his family?
MR RATHKE: Well, the normal consular assistance that we would provide in the instance of a death of an American citizen abroad.
QUESTION: Which would be?
MR RATHKE: Well, our first responsibility, of course, is for identification; and then, depending on the circumstances, then there can be additional steps after death, including issuing a report of death abroad and so forth.
QUESTION: Okay. So how are you – do you have people there? How are you able to confirm?
MR RATHKE: Well, I can get – try to get more detail on precisely how that was done, but what I’m told is that we’ve been able to confirm his death in this case.
QUESTION: May I be blunt?
MR RATHKE: Yeah. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I be blunt?
MR RATHKE: Excuse me?
QUESTION: May I be blunt?
MR RATHKE: You usually are, Ros. Go ahead. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yes. How will his body be repatriated?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have any details about that to share.
QUESTION: Are you able to say that his remains are still in Syria?
MR RATHKE: Again, I don’t have further details to offer at this time.
QUESTION: And you’re not able to say when he was killed, where he was killed, anything of that nature?
MR RATHKE: No, I don’t – I don’t have those details.
MR RATHKE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Turkish press reports a couple of days ago that Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield had recently informed Congress that the U.S. is considering establishing periodic strategic dialogue with Turkey. Is that true?
MR RATHKE: I’m sorry. What are you – what communication are you referring to?
QUESTION: I guess they send a kind of letter to 88 congressmen. They penned a letter to State Department about freedom of press issues and pressed State Department to set up a kind of strategic dialogue with Turkey. And in turn of this letter, State Department’s Legislative Affairs Assistant Secretary of State Julia Frifield informed Congress that the U.S. is considering establishing periodic strategic dialogue with Turkey. Is that true?
MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have that – I don’t have the communication in front of me so I’m not in a position to confirm a letter that I haven’t seen. Of course, we’ve had – we have had letters from members of Congress with respect to Turkey, and I’ve spoken from this podium, as have my colleagues, about our point of view on a variety of issues. But I don’t have anything further to add.
QUESTION: But you responded to that letter, yeah?
MR RATHKE: Well, we respond to all letters that we get from members of Congress when they raise issues.
QUESTION: Can I ask a second question about Turkey, different topic?
MR RATHKE: What’s that?
QUESTION: Did State Department advise House Committee on Foreign Affairs not to pass House Resolution 279 which criticized Turkey over a number of issues ahead of the parliamentary elections on last Sunday?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have any details of our contacts with Congress on that resolution to read out.
Go ahead, Mary Alice.
MR RATHKE: I got it right today, Matt. Thanks for checking, though.
QUESTION: Yeah. I was just checking to make sure.
QUESTION: That was very nice. Okay.
MR RATHKE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. In eastern Lebanon, live fire demonstrations using U.S. military equipment paid for also by Saudi Arabia. And also separately, not necessarily related, but the State Department approved the sale of six A-29 Super Tucano aircraft to Lebanon. Do these have anything – I understand neither of these are necessarily new, but is the pacing connected at all to what’s happening in Iraq and Syria and pushing back Islamic State, and the broader strategic approach?
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we are committed to our partnership with Lebanon and we’re also committed to making sure that the Lebanese Armed Forces have the capacity to defend Lebanon’s territory and its borders – they have that sole responsibility – and that also that they respond to the Lebanese people and to the Lebanese state. So we’ve got a long-term commitment to Lebanon. As you mentioned, our delivery of the TOW missiles is a part of that. Also part of that is the determination on the possible foreign military sale of the A-29 aircraft.
So these are part of our long-term engagement with Lebanon and our support for the Lebanese Government and for the Lebanese Armed Forces. Naturally, they are – they face pressures, including in their region, and so we constantly remain in dialogue with Lebanon in order to make sure that we’re responsive to their requirements, and we take that commitment very seriously.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: On Syria, UN’s de Mistura is extending the consultations regarding Syria in Geneva – that are happening in Geneva – till mid-July, I think. What do you make out of this? Is it because he thinks there is a light at the end of the tunnel, or is because it’s really difficult and they need more time?
MR RATHKE: Well, I would let Mr. de Mistura speak for himself about the reasons for his extending the period of consultation.
QUESTION: How do you view the talks in Geneva?
MR RATHKE: We certainly are – we support the special envoy, de Mistura, in his efforts to carry out these consultations. Again, these are consultations, not direct talks, so he’s been doing these in series, and I think his office has been putting out updates on them. And we are fully supportive of his efforts. We believe that a political solution is the only possible solution to the situation in Syria, and so we stand by him and we offer any support we can.
QUESTION: This building hasn’t been briefed on these consultations yet?
MR RATHKE: Well, he’s been carrying out consultations with the parties. We’ve also been in consultation with him. Our special envoy was in Geneva and also held consultations. So we’ve been a participant in this, but it’s focused primarily on the parties inside Syria.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the reports – or a report based on a cyber security – a Russian cyber security firm, a report from them talking about the hacking of hotel computer systems in – where the Iran talks have been held.
MR RATHKE: Well, we’re aware of that report. These are claims by a private company about another government, so we’re not going to weigh in on that report.
QUESTION: Are you confident that the U.S. delegation to the – or to various iterations of the various rounds of the Iran talks, that their communications and confidential, private discussions have not been compromised?
MR RATHKE: Well, without getting into the details of that specific report, more generally, I can say that we take steps, certainly, to ensure that confidential, that classified negotiating details stay behind closed doors in these negotiations.
QUESTION: And are you confident that there was no compromise, there was no breach?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, I’ll stick with that. We take steps to ensure that that information remains behind closed doors.
QUESTION: Right. Well, you can take steps to ensure that don’t work, right? So I’m just wondering, other than you saying you take steps to ensure that they – that they – these details remain behind closed doors, you can’t say if the steps actually work. You’re not confident that your stuff —
MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not commenting on the specific – on the specifics of that report, which is why —
QUESTION: Well, let’s take it out of the context of the report.
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Are you confident that the negotiating tactics, strategies, details of the U.S. delegation, at least, haven’t been compromised?
MR RATHKE: Again, we pay careful attention to these measures. We take a variety of steps. I’m just not going to comment further than that.
QUESTION: Do you have any concern that they have been compromised?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, we – of course, we are always mindful of the need to keep – to take steps to keep our discussions confidential.
QUESTION: But you can’t say that you’re confident that your discussions were kept confidential, and there hasn’t – they haven’t been compromised. You can’t say that.
MR RATHKE: I just don’t have anything more to say about this topic.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: The report – I can have one more on this.
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The story in The Wall Street Journal noted that U.S. officials had been aware of some sort of compromise back in 2014. Can you confirm that detail, and if so, how was that discovery handled? Were there conversations?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have further details to add to what I’ve said in response to Matt’s question. Go ahead, David.
MR RATHKE: Yes. Well, as President Obama looks forward to welcoming President Park to the White House at a mutually convenient time. And of course, that will be an opportunity to discuss the U.S.-Korea alliance, the critical role it plays in regional stability and security, as – and I would say also that the Secretary recently has been in Seoul, as you’re aware, and he had wide-ranging talks there which were focused on our alliance, on regional issues including the DPRK, as well as the Republic of Korea’s growing role around the world on important issues. So we certainly look forward to the visit when it’s rescheduled.
All right. Thanks.
QUESTION: Wait a minute.
MR RATHKE: Oh, go ahead, Matt.
MR RATHKE: I did. I’m happy to go through that, if that would be helpful. You asked yesterday, Matt, about a June 3rd publication in the Federal Register by the State Department of proposed changes for public comment to several regulatory definitions under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. These proposed changes in definition are part of our broader effort to streamline and modernize a Cold War-era regulatory system to better safeguard against illicit attempts to procure sensitive U.S. defense technologies.
These proposed definition changes – which, as I pointed out, are out for public comment – they seek to account for technologies that were not envisioned when the regulations were initially developed. Otherwise these definitions are intended to be a clarification of existing law and regulations, technical data, and detailed schematics that are required for the manufacture or production of defense articles already require U.S. Government authorization before they can be disseminated by U.S. manufacturers.
Now in contrast, general descriptions, public discussions, and imagery of defense articles, including firearms, have never been the subject of – to these regulations and they would remain unaffected under these proposed revisions. As I said at the start, they were published in the Federal Register for public comment. That’s a period that runs through August 3rd of this year. So I’d refer people to the text of the Federal Register notice for details about providing —
QUESTION: Okay. So these rules would not apply to private citizens, only to manufacturers – and only to highly sensitive technical details? Is that —
MR RATHKE: They apply to the technical data and detailed schematics for the production of defense articles.
QUESTION: So they don’t apply to private citizens.
MR RATHKE: Well, they apply to anything that relates to those areas of subject matter, whether discussed by —
QUESTION: Okay. Well, the concern that had been raised by the Second Amendment groups is somehow this is going to restrict or stop or ban discussions about gun – about firearms —
MR RATHKE: Well, I go back to the – also the point that general descriptions – that is general, not technical and detailed ones – general descriptions or public discussions and imagery of defense articles would – have never been subject to these regulations and wouldn’t —
QUESTION: So the concern that has been expressed is misplaced, yes?
MR RATHKE: Yes, that would be our view.
Okay, anything further? Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)