2:52 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hello. I have a couple of items for all of you at the top that hopefully will proactively address some of your questions. We regret the decision by the Government of Russia to cancel Russia’s participation in the Future Leaders Exchange, or FLEX program. FLEX brings high school students to the United States to live with American host families, attend high school, and experience community life for an academic year. It was the largest U.S.-Russia cultural exchange program, and over the past 21 years, more than 8,000 Russian students have participated. The public outcry we’ve seen among Russians who either participated in the program or wanted to participate speaks to the powerful and lasting positive impact these kinds of exchanges can have on people’s lives. The FLEX program was vital in building those kinds of bonds between young Russians and Americans that we need in order to overcome challenges in our bilateral relations.
There were some who were asking for a readout of Deputy Secretary Burns’ meeting with the UN special envoy. Deputy – they had a productive meeting on – obviously, Staffan de Mistura – sorry, that was who you asked for – hosted – they had a productive meeting on future UN engagement to resolve the crisis in Syria. The Deputy Secretary expressed our strong support for Special Envoy de Mistura as he works to achieve a negotiated political solution, which we believe is the best way to address all dimensions of this crisis and to end the conflict sustainably.
As Secretary Kerry reaffirmed at last week’s Friends of the Syrian People Ministerial, the only way forward is a negotiated political solution based on the Geneva communique that would result in a government capable of serving the interests of all Syrian people.
While in Washington the special envoy also met with National Security Advisor Susan Rice, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Daniel Rubinstein and Assistant Secretary Sheba Crocker.
As you all know, the Secretary also met today with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. They had a productive, in-depth, and wide-ranging discussion. The discussion focused this morning on bilateral issues, including the President’s upcoming visit to China. They discussed that in depth. They also discussed our comprehensive cooperation on climate change and the need to take bold steps to boost clean energy, cut carbon pollution, and help ensure a successful ambitious global climate deal in Paris next year.
They discussed our cooperation to address international concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and the importance of degrading and destroying ISIL and the danger of foreign terrorist fighters. Both countries agree that the United States and China must coordinate closely and play a leadership role to support the UN-coordinated response to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The Secretary also raised U.S. concerns over the human rights situation in China, and underscored that progress on human rights is important for the overall bilateral relationship.
As you heard him say publicly before the meeting, they also discussed Hong Kong, and the Secretary expressed our hope that authorities will exercise restraint. He also reiterated our support for universal suffrage and the high level of autonomy provided for in Hong Kong’s basic law and for respect for internationally recognized fundamental freedoms such as freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression that have Hong Kong – have made Hong Kong a success.
Finally, tomorrow Secretary Kerry will meet with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Minh to discuss a wide range of bilateral and regional issues, including progress on implementing the U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive partnership launched by President Obama and President Sang in July of 2013, expanding bilateral trade and investment, and recent developments in the South China Sea.
Sorry, I have one more. We congratulate and welcome new NATO Secretary-General Jens – sorry – Stoltenberg, who took up his post today. Secretary-General – the Secretary-General is a proven leader, experienced diplomat, and a committed transatlanticist, and we look forward to working with him to ensure NATO continues to be strong and effective in the face of any and all challenges posed to our common security.
With that, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’m sorry. Can I add one more thing on China?
QUESTION: No. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: They – before you get started – before you all get started – they agreed this morning, actually in advance of today, that they wanted to have more time to talk, so they’ll be meeting again this evening at 6 p.m. and they’ll continue their discussion.
QUESTION: Who —
MS. PSAKI: Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. Any particular subject? They’re going to be bringing all of them again or —
MS. PSAKI: We expect – they will likely continue the discussion about the President’s upcoming trip. They’ll spend probably more time on regional issues and when they meet later this evening.
QUESTION: So it won’t be the whole smorgasbord that we saw – that you just outlined —
MS. PSAKI: Well, they touched on those.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: I – we expect they’ll delve more deeply into some of those issues, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. You mentioned that we heard the Secretary say —
MS. PSAKI: Sorry. What?
QUESTION: I’m sorry, just a small detail. Is it a dinner meeting? Is it just a meeting?
MS. PSAKI: It’s just a meeting. They did have lunch earlier today. Yes, here.
QUESTION: At the State Department.
MS. PSAKI: At 6 p.m., yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: And you don’t expect them to talk afterwards?
MS. PSAKI: I do not know.
QUESTION: All right. So as you mentioned, the Secretary said publicly that you – that you have high hopes this Hong Kong authorities will exercise restraint, allow people to protest, that you believe in universal suffrage and all this. And the foreign minister’s response in public was basically, yeah, okay, so what, mind your own business. Can you say whether that was pretty much – that was the tone of the – of his response in the private meeting? In other words, did the line “Hong Kong’s affairs are China’s internal affairs” and basically – and “everyone should respect China’s sovereignty” – was that the Chinese line in private in the meeting?
MS. PSAKI: That was – I’m not going to read out, obviously, what the foreign minister said in a private meeting, but I think those statements publicly have consistently been what they’ve said about the issue.
QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t believe that there has been – that your message has been received with a willingness to actually do what you would like them to do.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to characterize it that way. Obviously, Matt, we’re continuing to urge dialogue between the authorities and protesters. We believe, as I mentioned in what – the overview I already offered – that human rights issues and resolving those are ones that can help strengthen China, and that certainly is a point the Secretary reiterated during the meeting.
QUESTION: Okay, well based on their meeting and recognizing that they’re going to meet again tonight, but based on the meeting that just happened, do you think that there are – the chances are good for an improvement in relations, as it relates to the human rights situation, and, as particularly, the situation in Hong Kong?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re – our hope is that authorities will exercise restraint. That was what was expressed and we’ll see what happens from here.
QUESTION: No, no. You said that he – progress on human rights is important to improving the U.S.-China relationship, but I assume that doing what – that doing what you think is the right thing to do in Hong Kong is also important to improving the relationship. And I’m wondering if after the conversation that they had this afternoon that you believe – you have anything more than hope that the relationship will improve based on those two things.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, to be clear, there were a range of issues that were discussed that we have broad agreement on. Obviously, we’ve made some progress on climate change. We work together on a range of economic issues. They had a great deal of agreement on Iran and the need to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon; on the threat of terrorism. So this is certainly an issue that we raise at every opportunity, but I’m not going to make a prediction. We’re hopeful that, obviously, authorities will exercise restraint on the ground.
QUESTION: I’ll stop after this. But you just mentioned areas of agreement. There are clearly areas of disagreement.
MS. PSAKI: Sure there are, of course.
QUESTION: And on those areas of disagreement, did you get – do you have anything more than hope that the relationship will improve?
MS. PSAKI: I think there was agreement, one, they’re going to come back and continue the discussion later this evening. The President has an important trip to China later this month. And clearly, there are some steps and actions that are in their hands to take.
QUESTION: Jen, can I —
QUESTION: Jen, does Secretary Kerry believe that China should vet Hong Kong’s political candidates?
MS. PSAKI: I think I have expressed our view pretty consistently on this and that we support universal suffrage and we believe that the people of Hong Kong should have the choice of a range of candidates.
QUESTION: So they should – so there should be no vetting by Beijing? Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: I think that our position has been consistent on this issue.
QUESTION: Can I ask, do you agree with the —
QUESTION: But why can’t you address that specific issue? Because you could – your answer doesn’t necessarily preclude the Beijing authorities vetting candidates who wish to run in Hong Kong.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned in my readout, the high level of autonomy that it would be – that we think should be a part of it does speak to that.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: Can I ask whether you agree with the Foreign Minister Wang’s contention that, as Matt mentioned, that Hong Kong affairs and China’s affairs – basically he was telling you guys to butt out.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, to be clear, the United States – and this is one of the things the Secretary said during the meeting – we express universal values we have. We believe human rights and the freedom of expression is something that’s important not just in China but countries around the world. And so that’s why we express those views. It’s not that we are engaged in this effort. I know there have been different reports that are inaccurate pointing to that, but I think we have – we believe we have the right to express our views.
QUESTION: Can I just ask, there’s reports today that in Taiwan there’ve been demonstrations on the streets in support of the Hong Kong protests. Is United States generally worried that there could be, for want of a word, better word, a kind of contagion of these protests, and we could actually sort of see a kind of destabilization in a pretty fragile relationship which China has with some of its other – with some of the other territories or countries in the region?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, I know you mentioned Taiwan. I have not heard that concern expressed in terms of a trend or a contagion, as you referred to it. Obviously, we’re – we encouraged in the meeting today authorities to exercise restraint, but we also want to ensure that protesters – we encourage protesters to express their views peacefully at the same time.
QUESTION: What would be the best outcome for you of this situation for the United States?
MS. PSAKI: I think in terms of a next step in the process, maybe we could start there. We’re certainly urging dialogue between authorities and protesters. We feel that’s the next appropriate step.
QUESTION: So that’s your hope for the next step. How do you see this whole thing playing out? I mean, do you expect, let’s say, or anyone expects a Chinese Spring, perhaps, much like we have seen in the Arab world?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s what we’re predicting, no, Said. I think, obviously —
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. Respect for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, allowing the people of Hong Kong to be able to express peacefully their views, being able to have a range of candidates and vote through that process – that’s obviously an outcome we would support. But clearly, there are steps in the process, including a dialogue between the protestors and the authorities, that will probably be necessary.
QUESTION: So you agree with the notion that Hong Kong’s affairs are China’s affairs. Correct?
MS. PSAKI: I think, Said, we’re expressing our strong view that we express in many parts of the world about the right for people to peacefully protest.
QUESTION: The protestors are threatening to occupy government buildings if the current chief executive does not resign. Is that a helpful position for them to be taking, in the U.S.’s view? Why or why not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – Roz, as I mentioned, I think our focus is on encouraging both the authorities and the protestors to engage in dialogue.
QUESTION: So yesterday —
QUESTION: So would you caution them against making these sorts of threats?
MS. PSAKI: I’m going to leave it where I just said it.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering if you got a question to the – I mean, an answer to the question I asked yesterday about —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — whether you think the Chinese are actually reneging on their promises to the Brits that they made in the agreement to – the handover.
MS. PSAKI: I mean, I think – as I said yesterday, I don’t think that’s an accusation we’re making. Obviously, we think that there are steps that can be taken in order to respect the right of the protestors, and certainly we’re watching closely.
QUESTION: Well, as it relates to the handover – the agreement, the handover agreement, does the U.S. —
MS. PSAKI: I’m aware.
QUESTION: — have a position on whether or not your ally —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to add and we’re not suggesting that there was a violation of the agreement.
QUESTION: Do you know – okay. Do you know if the Brits have been in touch with you, or you guys about this? Or is this something that you think is – this specific subject, not the general rights of protestors or whatever, but this specific subject is something that is just a bilateral thing between the UK and China?
MS. PSAKI: I know that the UK has spoken about this issue themselves. I can check and see if they have been in touch with us about this particular issue.
QUESTION: Just on the statement you made just now in answer to Roz’s question about having – being able to have a range of candidates. Again, is – those candidates to be able to choose from. Are those candidates candidates that should be put up with – which should be drawn from the whole Hong Kong pool, or should Beijing have the right just to say who the candidates are?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s clear that we want the people of Hong Kong to have a broad choice of candidates.
QUESTION: I want to move on to the meeting.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish this and then, Said, we can go to you.
QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. Did the, like, regional territorial disputes – South China Sea and East China Sea – come up in the meeting today?
MS. PSAKI: They did discuss – and sorry, they also discussed – let’s see, I touched on Ebola. They discussed APEC, they discussed North Korea, Afghanistan. Obviously, there were a range of topics that came up as they were having discussions back and forth. They did briefly discuss the South China Sea and those historic disputes as well.
QUESTION: You said that they’d go back to – they discussed regional topics in their second meeting.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Will those include the tensions in the South China and East China Seas, and also North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: I think they certainly could, and they – what I meant by that, too, is also issues like Iran and the P5+1 negotiations and other kind of broad global issues that they’re involved in.
QUESTION: Okay, so it’s global, not just regional, as it were.
MS. PSAKI: It’s both, really. And the truth is they talked about a lot of those issues during – briefly during this meeting as well.
QUESTION: And is there any particular reason why – I mean, you have had a line regarding how the legitimacy of the Hong Kong chief executive would be enhanced by a – I forget the rest of it exactly, but a fully democratic and open process. Is there any reason the Secretary did not use that language today?
MS. PSAKI: No. I think that’s something that continues to be our position, and obviously, he was standing there next to the – his Chinese counterpart, so he spoke specifically to their role.
QUESTION: Did North Korea come up during the discussion, especially —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Did they talk in particular about North Korea’s detention of the three Americans and the current frustration that Glyn Davies expressed earlier this week about getting nowhere in terms of even a conversation with the North Koreans?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as some of you noted, they obviously discussed about a dozen topics during this meeting. So they didn’t dive too deeply into too many of them. We will do a readout after the meeting this evening, and we can certainly note if that’s an issue that they discuss more in-depth.
QUESTION: And along with that, the – any insight the Chinese might have into the condition or whereabouts of North Koreans – North Korea’s leader.
MS. PSAKI: We will see if there’s more to add on that topic.
QUESTION: I’m sure there won’t be, but I just want to get it out there.
MS. PSAKI: Elliot, do you want to finish this issue, or —
MS. PSAKI: — can we go – go ahead.
QUESTION: I did have one more. On the foreign fighter part of what they discussed, what is the U.S. Administration’s stance in terms – given that – China’s history of cracking down and suppressing members of the Uighur community under cover of suppressing terrorism, what is the U.S. asking of China – what kind of restraint are you asking of them, if any, as you also ask them to prevent the flow of foreign fighters to other countries?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t combine the two. Obviously, we have spoken out about our concerns about the treatment of Uighurs, as you know, and often in response to questions you and others have. What we’re focused on here is this effort – this effort to coordinate and cooperate on defeating ISIL. And that is something where certainly the Chinese will be supportive of. They indicated they’d be supportive of an international effort. They want to cooperate on this effort. That doesn’t change the fact that we have concerns about the treatment of Uighurs.
QUESTION: Would you not say that the two are linked, though, given that – I mean, there have been concerns raised from those who have been following the UN resolution that was passed last week noting that it does require kind of broad crackdowns on terrorists, and it leaves it up to individual countries to decide what terrorism means.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me speak to the UN Security Council resolution. I think it’s an important question. In crafting UNSCR 2178, we were careful to ensure it did not contain any provisions that were incompatible with the U.S. Constitution, particularly far-reaching speech protections in the First Amendment. Although most council members, including European democracies, would have been comfortable with tougher language on fighting internet radicalization, we insisted that the UNSCR not go beyond the extremely broad protections enjoyed under U.S. law. It specifically is not authorized. That behavior is not authorized in the UNSCR. It doesn’t allow for cracking down within your country. It’s specifically targeted on the need to fight terrorism in line with international human rights obligations and efforts that we also have as values to promote social inclusion, empowering local communities, et cetera.
QUESTION: So you’re saying it’s not a concern that the Chinese authorities would take this as further encouragement to further suppress minority communities?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, if that were to happen, that would be a concern. But I think we’ve been very clear on what the focus of both the UNSCR is and what our international coalition effort is on.
QUESTION: So I want to go to a new topic.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Can I – one more on —
MS. PSAKI: Do you have one on China? Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. It sounded as though when Kerry was making his remarks that the audio dropped out during the Chinese translation when he started speaking about Hong Kong. Was that a technical issue, or —
MS. PSAKI: To be honest, we had a lot of technical issues during the meeting, and the translation was going in and out on both sides. The equipment that’s used is U.S. equipment, and obviously, we’re the hosts here. And unfortunately, during the meeting we had some technical difficulties as well. The translators came in and out.
QUESTION: You should’ve used Chinese equipment. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: It happens from time to time.
QUESTION: Or maybe this is Chinese equipment, made in China.
MS. PSAKI: Matt, you’re —
QUESTION: I don’t know. Maybe it is.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead. Do you want to —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — my former boss?
MS. PSAKI: Your former boss?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m learning a little bio. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Exactly so. But he’s the – this is the point. I mean, he’s well-versed in the Iraq issue. He spent forty years in Iraq. He brings with him a great deal of experience on how to work out conciliation. Will this usher in sort of the revisiting, perhaps, of a diplomatic process, as we had in Geneva?
MS. PSAKI: In Syria?
QUESTION: Yes, in Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, ultimately, Said, that our focus here – and I spoke with General Allen about this too yesterday – is on getting to a point where the opposition has the military and the political credibility to be able to participate in a political dialogue. We don’t see a political negotiation; we don’t see a military conclusion to the events in Syria. I can’t predict for you when we’ll be at that point, but obviously, that’s how we feel this will be concluded.
QUESTION: So for the time being, there’s absolutely nothing going on on the diplomatic track?
MS. PSAKI: No. I think, first of all – and I know somebody asked about this yesterday – or two days ago, sorry – about what we’re engaged in. Let me see if I can get you, just while I have the opportunity, a little more of an update on that.
So earlier this month, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Daniel Rubinstein was meeting with key allies and partners in a range of countries to coordinate on what more the international community can do to support the moderate Syrian opposition as it fights against both the Assad regime and violent extremists. We also, as you know – he had a range of meetings when he was in – at UNGA last week. The Secretary participated in the Friends of the Syrian People Ministerial. So this is an ongoing engagement and dialogue about how to resolve this politically, but obviously, there’s some immediate challenges happening on the ground that we’re also dealing with at the same time.
QUESTION: But a year ago, we were all waiting for Geneva II to happen, so there was something on the horizon. Is there nothing on the horizon right now for a – something like this, akin to what happened in Geneva and perhaps in an international conference, maybe at the UN? Something to get the diplomatic, political track going again.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, we’re not going to have a conference just to have a conference, but we’ve had a range of dialogues. Last week there was a meeting the Secretary participated in with a range of important countries. Special – our Special Envoy for Syria Daniel Rubinstein remains very closely engaged on this. He continues to travel around the region, and it certainly – this is related to our international coalition efforts as well. So I’m certain that when General Allen and Ambassador McGurk are traveling, they’ll talk about this as well.
QUESTION: You know when they’re traveling?
QUESTION: So on the – on the Syria diplomacy, that’s the diplomacy of diplomacy. On the diplomacy of war, as one might put it, General Allen and Ambassador McGurk are leaving tonight, is it – very soon?
MS. PSAKI: They’ll be leaving soon.
QUESTION: And where are they going, and are they going to be trying – I mean, what’s the purpose of their mission? Is it more to cement the coalition as it exists, or are they actually going to actively be trying to broaden it?
MS. PSAKI: It’s more on the broadening, but they will have more, I expect, in the next 24 hours about the stops on their trip. One of the stops they’ll be making is in Turkey. Clearly, we’re at a pivotal time there. Their other stops we’ll have, I expect, Matt, by tomorrow – by the briefing tomorrow, if not sooner.
QUESTION: Can you say, even just – I mean, so Turkey – it would be that region. Is there anywhere else they’re going?
MS. PSAKI: I expect it will be —
QUESTION: I know you don’t want to say specifics right now, but I mean, are they going to Europe? Are they stopping anywhere in Asia? I don’t know.
MS. PSAKI: I will wait. We will not be more than 24 hours. I expect it will be countries from a couple different regions. They’ll also be traveling again later in the month, so expect they’ll spend a bit of time on the road.
Their objective is – we’ve been in this phase of recruiting countries and encouraging countries to be a part of this international coalition. Now it’s really the phase of determining what roles they’ll play and expanding beyond the military role. We already – there are already countries who are engaged and committed to doing more on counterfinancing or foreign fighters, but they want to build on that, and that’s going to be the focus of their trip over the next several days.
QUESTION: And —
QUESTION: Can you address Turkey, the one country that you did cite by name?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Why is it pivotal now, and what is it exactly that you want from the Turks if it’s not military stuff?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I think everybody is aware of the fact that just a few weeks ago their hostages were returned, and that was an important moment, so that’s what I was referring to. President Erdogan spoke publicly earlier this week about their desire to be more engaged in the coalition, and they’ve had – they’ll have a range of votes in their parliament.
So this is a country, clearly, that has a stake in the outcome here. There are few countries that have felt the ripple effect of the crisis in Syria and Iraq as much as Turkey has. And so as part of the discussion and the essential partnership, I think it’s an important country to visit this – on their first big trip.
QUESTION: Is it mostly the border control?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not, actually. I think it’s not just – it’s certainly the influx of foreign fighters or individuals across the border is something that we have been raising and the Secretary raised the last time he was there. But there are also – there’s also a role they can play as it relates to humanitarian issues. As we know they are – they have accepted, I think, tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of refugees. They can play a role in counter-ISIL, de-legitimizing ISIL. They can play a role in a number of areas. Clearly, there’ll be a discussion about countering the flow of foreign fighters, but it will also be about terrorist financing, about certainly what their military engagement will be, as well as the countering their extremist ideology.
QUESTION: And on the military engagement, would you like to have – is it that you are seeking access to Incirlik – or Incirlik, excuse me, for lethal attacks on Syrian or Iraqi territory?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the proposal that is – was sent to parliament includes a wide range of options, and I will leave it to General Allen and Ambassador McGurk and our military team to discuss what specific role they’ll play.
QUESTION: But you said it wasn’t the border though, and so I’m trying to figure out – they’ve been doing a huge amount humanitarian —
MS. PSAKI: I said – not just that. I said obviously continuing to expand in all those areas as part of the discussion.
QUESTION: Did you get – were you able to get an answer to the question asked yesterday about the possibility of Turkish troops going in to protect this tomb on Turkish soil?
MS. PSAKI: It’s – remain – it still is premature, Matt, because —
QUESTION: I understand that. But would you regard that as a good thing, a bad thing, or would you be indifferent to it?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just going to wait to see what happens. I mean, obviously, what I was trying to get at by referring to the proposal in parliament is that has a wide range of options. It doesn’t indicate there’s been a conclusion, so there’ll be a discussion about that on the trip.
QUESTION: As part of the Turkey stop, would you expect that the general and Ambassador McGurk would talk about Turkey’s desire for a no-fly zone, some sort of buffer zone inside Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that is something, as you know, that Turkey has talked about publicly for some time. It wouldn’t be accurate to say it’s something we’re actively considering. But certainly, there’ll be a conversation about what their needs are and what their asks are as well.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: You talk about legislation is going to come to parliament tomorrow. Have you had a chance to look at this legislation? Are you satisfied with the range of legislation?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis of the legislation. There are a wide range of options. Obviously, I think that is meant to give them flexibility, or that’s what I’ve seen some comments from Turkish leaders on this issue. But there’ll be a discussion not just when General Allen and Ambassador McGurk are there, but also between military counterparts and certainly the Secretary will remain engaged with Turkey as well.
QUESTION: This Suleiman Shah tomb that earlier discussed, what’s your assessment according to reports that tomb encircled by hundreds of ISIS members. Would you concur?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any assessment at this point in time.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the Kobani, which is today being reported that ISIS forces now even advanced two kilometers more to the center of the city?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe – and I think I have it here – that CENTCOM has put out some – and they’ve been doing daily updates on where the strikes have been and what our efforts have been in that regard. I don’t know if you’ve seen those, but some of them have been in that neighborhood. And certainly, we’ll assess what the impact is of those.
QUESTION: But clearly, it’s not enough since the ISIS forces getting closer to the center of the city, which is half a million population reside in the city.
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, this is an ongoing effort, one not just the United States but other countries are engaged in. We have seen some success on the ground, but we’re not going to be doing a day-to-day grade for each element. We’ve been putting out – CENTCOM has been putting out pretty transparent information on what their successes are.
QUESTION: I want to move on.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The —
QUESTION: I have one —
MS. PSAKI: Can we finish Turkey?
MS. PSAKI: Turkey. Turkey?
QUESTION: On Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Yesterday you said, “Over the past couple of years, because of the conflict in Syria and the Syrian regime’s unwillingness – or willingness, I should say, to look the other way, AQI, what became ISIS, reconstituted and it was able to grow in strength again.” And you said that, “The Syrian regime looked the other way and didn’t fight this effort.”
Given your statements yesterday, is it the Administration’s position that Assad’s regime should be fighting and working to destroy ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, I think that they – they have stated and made claims that they have been fighting ISIS or terrorist organizations, and we haven’t seen much evidence of that over the last few years. And they’ve allowed ISIL to grow and given them a safe haven in Syria. So that’s what I was referring to.
QUESTION: But the U.S. would support Assad fighting ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re – we don’t coordinate with them militarily. We know what their objectives are. I mean, we understand that ISIL is a threat or a concern they have because they’ve made it known publicly, but we’re not coordinating with them. So the point is that they haven’t taken steps over the last couple of years to fight ISIL, which has, in fact, led to the growth of their presence in Syria and the impact they’ve had on the region.
QUESTION: The U.S. would support them taking those steps?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re going to move on. I think I’ve answered the question.
QUESTION: On this point. So the evidence you said that you have not seen any evidence of the regime fighting ISIS, so the evidence shows otherwise. Is that what your evidence is?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think when I said they were looking the other way while ISIL continued to grow, that’s – I think that answers the question.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: In Kobani, PKK that you consider a terrorist organization, is fighting ISIL now. Who do you support in this fight?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, PKK remains a designated terrorist organization by the United States and by the EU. Our position on that hasn’t changed. We certainly – doesn’t mean that we support either side. We are – our effort is to focus on ISIL, focused on organizations that pose a direct threat to the United States.
QUESTION: And one more question. I forgot.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, we can come back to you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: On Syria, a couple more?
MS. PSAKI: We all have days like that.
QUESTION: On Syria. Yes.
MS. PSAKI: Syria.
QUESTION: Some of the Free Syrian Army battalions, such as Harakat Hazzm, which is backed by the U.S. forces and armed, they have been complaining that they have not been briefed or told about airstrikes at all.
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry – oh, the – which – sorry, which group?
QUESTION: Free Syrian Army battalions, many of them came out and said they have no idea what the U.S. is doing on the ground.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we engage very closely, as I referenced when I was talking about the efforts of Daniel Rubinstein, with the Syrian opposition. We’re very supportive of their efforts. I think it’s important for everybody to understand that without this effort to degrade and destroy ISIL, we’d be living in the status quo where the opposition was fighting both the regime and fighting ISIL on their own. And now there are a range of countries who are helping and also increasing their support for the opposition through our train-and-equip program, and a range of efforts that we have underway.
QUESTION: Why was —
QUESTION: Some of these fighters have also complained that not only have they been cut out of the loop, but that the U.S. and other countries are missing a great opportunity for intelligence as they’re trying to launch these airstrikes on Syrians’ ISIL targets. Is there a response to that complaint?
MS. PSAKI: In what capacity?
QUESTION: That because they’ve been on the ground inside Syria fighting against the Syrian military and also trying to deal with ISIL, that they could essentially call in some of these airstrikes and give better intelligence, especially to the U.S. which doesn’t have any eyes on the ground, as it were.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I think, one, we’re closely engaged with the SOC and the SOC president as well as a range of military groups – moderate opposition groups, I should say, military moderate opposition groups on the ground. That will continue to be the case. I’m not going to speak to military strategy, but we’re doing this in part because we want to weaken ISIL so we can strengthen the opposition in addition to the threat that we are concerned about pose to Western interests.
QUESTION: Ilhan’s question was mine, but the main question is: Why don’t you coordinate with the FSA regarding the strikes?
MS. PSAKI: We’re in close touch —
QUESTION: Is there any specific problem —
MS. PSAKI: We’re in close touch with the opposition, with a range of leaders on a range of issues, including our efforts against ISIL.
QUESTION: And you promised two days ago that you will offer or provide us with a list of people who you are in contact with.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there are a range of officials that we’re in touch with. I mentioned, of course, SOC president. I mentioned that the other day as well. The moderate opposition numbers in the tens of thousands. One group, Harakat Hazzm, has a few thousand fighters. There are dozens of groups similar or smaller-sized; their ranks fluctuate, as many of you know. We are in touch with a range of these groups. And again, I think part of this effort is also with partners in the region to coordinate, as we did last week at the Syria ministerial.
QUESTION: But there is no one unified command as there was with General Idris.
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of moderate military groups, and we’re in touch with a range of moderate military groups.
QUESTION: Do they have – are they – do they have – do they operate under some kind of a unified command structure?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, the SOC remains the political overarching umbrella, as you know.
QUESTION: Military-wise, I mean – and I understand you’re not the Pentagon, but are there – is there one person you can go to or a small group of people that you can go to to coordinate the military or humanitarian aid drops that need a military component? Or is it really just little cells or big cells —
MS. PSAKI: Some are big. But we work with a couple of different groups.
QUESTION: But there is no – so you’re acknowledging, then, I think, that there isn’t a unified FSA command or a commander, or there’s no command structure for a unified FSA –
MS. PSAKI: Well, some of these groups work together, but we do work with a couple of different groups.
Do we have more on Syria?
QUESTION: I wanted to move on.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: And some of it will have something to do with Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: With Netanyahu?
QUESTION: Not Netanyahu, sorry. Did I – what did I say? I’m sorry.
MS. PSAKI: You said the president’s meeting with Obama, I think. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Right. Well, he does that every day, so that’s not very – the – yeah, the Netanyahu meeting. I’ll leave it to the White House to read out the meeting, but I wanted to know if you got answers to some questions that have been raised over the past couple days about Israeli activity or plans in East Jerusalem, also on the Palestinian draft resolution that’s been floating around at the – in New York today.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. We are deeply concerned by reports that the Israeli Government has moved forward the planning process in the sensitive area of Givat Hamatos in East Jerusalem. This step is contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they proceed with tenders or construction. This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies; poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians, but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations; and call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.
Let me just do the other answer and then we can get to questions. We are certainly aware of the reports of the Palestinian request. We’ve seen the text and have not had an opportunity to study it yet, so I can’t comment on the specifics. As a rule, we don’t typically predict how we’ll vote on any given issue in advance – don’t typically. I know sometimes we do.
QUESTION: But you’re going to now?
MS. PSAKI: I can say, however, that we strongly believe that the preferred course of action is for the parties to reach an agreement on final status issues directly. And that’s something we’ve certainly communicated directly to the Palestinians as well.
QUESTION: Do you know – and I’ll leave it to the White House to say if the President raised this. But has – do you know if – has the message that you just gave to us publicly been given to the Israelis privately, which “poison the atmosphere,” “will only draw condemnation,” is pretty strong, “calls into question Israel’s commitment.” Do you know – have you told them that privately?
MS. PSAKI: I would – let’s wait for the readout of the meeting. The Secretary was in that. As you noted, I would – I think it’s safe to assume it has been, but at what level I want to see the readout of the meeting.
QUESTION: Is it only them moving ahead on these – on this specific project that would only draw condemnation from the world, poison the atmosphere, and call into question their commitment to what they say is their goal? Or is – or have they – or has that already happened?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it —
QUESTION: In other words, are you prepared – I realize your language was harsh, but are you prepared to condemn this now, or is it only that you’re going – that you would condemn it if they go forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that what we’re referring to is their announcement about moving forward. Obviously, if they reverse their decision, that sends a message. But clearly, our position is the same and what it has been. But continuing to move forward with this is why we have the strong language.
QUESTION: But how we are now, where we are now in the process, are you saying that the Israeli – are you condemning this? Are you saying that this has poisoned the atmosphere and does call into question Israel’s commitment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they —
QUESTION: Or only – are you saying only if they go ahead with it from this point?
MS. PSAKI: They have moved forward and they’ve indicated they’re moving forward.
MS. PSAKI: So – but in some of the – some of what you’re asking is a bit subjective, right? I understand you’re still allowed to ask the question about what will warrant a response from the international community. I mean, I think we’ve seen —
QUESTION: You’re the one that said it would draw – would only draw condemnation from the international community.
MS. PSAKI: I understand.
QUESTION: Are you condemning it?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I – as I stated.
QUESTION: Yes, okay.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: So —
QUESTION: I mean, I just wanted to follow up on this very quickly. The President also said – I know this is also a White House issue – but the President urged the prime minister to change the status quo on the ground, to reach out to the Palestinians. How do you understand this to mean, changing the status quo? He urged them to do that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, the status quo now is something that you’re all aware of, as there’s back and forth, there’s threats about going to the UN, there’s building of settlements. In order to change the status quo and have peace in the region, you need a two-state solution, you need to engage in the hard decision making.
QUESTION: So would that include a show of goodwill on the part of the Israelis to freeze settlement activity and go back sort of unconditionally to the peace talks?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I understand your desire to get into specifics, but I think everybody knows what the issues are here at play. And the status quo is obviously the current situation that isn’t sustainable.
QUESTION: In the absence of peace talks that are, whatever, shepherded by the U.S., the Palestinians are moving on the other track. What are you doing to dissuade them from that? But not only dissuade them, say don’t do this or else, but also show that there is something else, an alternative to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve made our concerns known to the Palestinians about their desire or their threats or their efforts to go forward unilaterally. Those are conversations that we’ve had directly. And this is about what is in the interests of the Palestinian people and the interests of the Israeli people. It’s not about what is in the interest of the United States. It’s not —
QUESTION: Israel is preventing the Palestinian Authority from sending the salaries to Gaza. It’s preventing them from even going there to meet in Gaza and so on. Are those issues that you also raise privately with the Israelis?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of issues the Palestinians raise themselves. And obviously, we’re there to have a discussion with them.
QUESTION: Can I just ask on the – are you – is the American Administration warning the Palestinians that if they go ahead with the UN Security Council resolution, this could put at risk some $700 million of annual aid? The Palestinian president is saying that they’re coming under a lot of pressure not to go ahead and that one of the things that’s being held over their heads is the annual aid.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there certainly are requirements in the law, Jo. But obviously, not knowing exactly what it is, we’d have to look at what it was to determine what the impact would be.
QUESTION: So those conversations haven’t taken place yet because you haven’t seen the —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we have to see exactly what they’re proposing to determine if they’re – what the impact would be.
Do we have any more on the peace process? Or – go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, I do.
MS. PSAKI: Or not —
QUESTION: But based on your – this is contrary to Israel’s stated goal, you’re condemning it, you say it poisons the atmosphere and calls into question their commitment, what’s the consequence of that? Is there one? Is there any?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think, Matt, that it’s not just the United States, it’s the international community who will respond strongly to this kind of continued activity.
QUESTION: Well, I won’t ask you to speak for other countries, but how does the United States – how is the United States going to respond? Is that what you —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to lay out for you today, Matt. I think —
QUESTION: Is your response limited to what you just said?
MS. PSAKI: My —
QUESTION: Which is still pretty interesting, considering the president – considering the prime minister of Israel, your closest ally in the Middle East, was just at the White House today and you’re condemning him – his government for doing all this stuff. But is there more – can – is there more to it than that?
MS. PSAKI: That is what I have to offer today, Matt.
QUESTION: Can you show us an example or could you point to an example of in the past where actually there were some consequences to these – to similar statements that you made from this podium?
MS. PSAKI: I will lead you – I’ll leave that to you, Said, to write an excellent story that everybody can read.
QUESTION: I’m asking you a real question. I’m saying, could you tell the Israelis that if you do this, we will cut off this amount of aid, for instance?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not —
QUESTION: Like you do with the Palestinians.
MS. PSAKI: I appreciate the opportunity. I’m not going to go – go ahead. More on this issue? Let’s —
QUESTION: On a separate issue.
QUESTION: No, still on Israel. There has been some – I don’t know about outrage, but indignation in Israel about the issue of civilians – civilian deaths in military conflict, military operations. This building – you and Marie were particularly harsh on civilian casualties in Gaza during the conflict and repeatedly told the Israelis that they had to do more to live up to their own high standards. At one point there was the incident at the school that was – you called disgraceful. And now it emerges that in your own campaign against ISIL, the standard to which the Administration had held it before seems to have been blunted a bit or weakened, watered down.
MS. PSAKI: Based on what?
QUESTION: Based on reports that seem to emanate from an on-the-record statement from the White House. One – I guess you could say if you deny those reports, then that’s fine, but go ahead if you’re – was that what you were going to do?
MS. PSAKI: No. I think, one, the point that we were – we – that I made, that Marie made, that others made is that Israel needs to hold itself to a high standard about preventing civilian casualties and that we’ve had this experience historically. The United States certainly has in other conflicts that we’ve had, but we take all allegations seriously. We’re sharing information with appropriate agencies, and before any mission, every – any precaution is taken. So it is about taking every precaution possible to prevent civilian casualties, and we think – at the time, we felt that there was more that could have been done.
QUESTION: Okay. But – so are you saying that you’re still holding yourselves to the highest possible standard in the anti-ISIL campaign, and you haven’t watered down your – the policy on doing everything you can to prevent civilian casualties?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: And you think that you’re still living up to that in – and that the Israelis did not live up to theirs?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we take every allegation seriously, Matt. Obviously, we look into any allegation. I know there have been some that have been out there that we’re continuing to look into. But I think at the time the issue was that there was more that could’ve been done, as we were seeing every day photos and video of schoolchildren and innocent civilians in Gaza. And that was the point we were making, that Israel could hold itself to a higher standard.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, Israel, as you know, had ground troops in Gaza and were actually in a position to have their own people look into allegations of whether or not they were keeping to their high standard. The President and you and the Pentagon have made a big point of the fact that you’re not – you don’t have and are not going to have any boots on the ground in these areas of Iraq and Syria where these attacks are going on. So can I just ask how it is, exactly, that you’re looking into allegations that you may have unintentionally caused civilian casualties?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, the U.S. military looks into these allegations. I don’t have anything more to outline for you in terms of how that’s done.
QUESTION: Well – but would you not agree that having boots on the ground, as the Israelis did in Gaza, would be a good way to investigate and find out?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, Matt, there’s a range of ways that they can be looked into. There are organizations out there that are reporting these events as well.
QUESTION: This is the last one on this.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: You say you would deny or not deny charges that you – that you’re holding – that there’s a double standard here, that you expect Israel to do more than you do to prevent civilian casualties?
MS. PSAKI: We expect any country – Israel included, a close friend and ally – to hold themselves to the same standard we do.
Do we have a new topic, or —
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Patriots. Patriots deal with the Saudi Arabia.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on that. I can check and see if we have more to say.
QUESTION: News reports said that there is a deal that the State Department agreed on for $1.9 billion.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have it in front of me. We will get you something after the briefing.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: I think Abbas said that he needs three weeks at the UN. During this time in the upcoming three weeks to do the – to sort of get support for the proposal, the Palestinian proposal, are there any plans to meet with any Palestinian officials or with him, perhaps by the Secretary or perhaps a deputy secretary?
MS. PSAKI: I think we just met – Secretary Kerry just met with President Abbas last week.
QUESTION: I mean since he gave a timed element —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any meetings to preview for you at this point in time.
QUESTION: Okay. So then dissuading the Palestinians will sort of remain the domain of what you’re saying now, right? From this podium.
MS. PSAKI: No. We —
QUESTION: I’m saying there are no —
MS. PSAKI: Said, we engage with the Palestinians through our CG, through a range of contacts. The Secretary engages in phone calls. There are a range of ways we communicate.
QUESTION: I’m not sure if you addressed this before —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — but do you agree with Netanyahu’s statement that Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas?
MS. PSAKI: I addressed it two days ago, so I’d point you to that.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: It wasn’t what we had heard at the Pentagon from Spokesperson John Kirby. Can you kind of describe us – or tell us what’s happening so we can better understand the —
MS. PSAKI: What’s happening – I think I discussed it pretty in-depth yesterday, but what —
QUESTION: Well, he actually said yesterday that he considered al-Qaida – core al-Qaida and the Khorasan Group to be “one and the same,” and that is not what you said yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: I would stand by what I said yesterday.
Do we have any more on this?
QUESTION: No, I have a question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: There are some reports in Greece that the U.S. Government asked them – the Greek Government to arrest some members of the Islamic State, that they traveled to Greece from Bosnia and Albania. Do you confirm this information?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know – and let me – broadly speaking, we’ve of course expressed our concern about the flow of foreign fighters into and out of Syria and Iraq in very clear terms. This is not an issue that’s unique to Greece. We know that of the 15,000 foreign fighters, at least 2,000 of them are – we believe are Westerners. I can look into this more specifically – or these specific reports and see if there’s more we can add on that.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead, in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you, Jen. You just mentioned Secretary Kerry will meet the Vietnamese foreign minister tomorrow. Could you preview a little bit? And also, you say they will touch on the issue of South China Sea, so what kind of specific issue (inaudible)? And is the U.S. still calling for freezing the activity in the South China Sea?
MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn’t changed, but we certainly understand this is an issue of interest. I don’t have more to preview for you from the meeting tomorrow. I believe the meeting is tomorrow morning, if I’m correct, and so I’ll have more to say at the briefing about the meeting once it’s happened.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Since the signing yesterday of the BSA, many experts and congressmen have been warning the U.S. Administration that if the U.S. leaves too soon Afghanistan in 2017, it may take the risk of repeating what happened in Iraq. So do you think – do you believe that the U.S. will have enough time to do what is needed in Afghanistan, or that you would need more years to train, to fund, and to equip and to build a national army in Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, this is not a situation where everyone is leaving tomorrow. Obviously, there’s a process. At the beginning of 2015 we’ll have approximately 9,800 U.S. service members in Afghanistan. Most of the 9,800 U.S. service forces will support the NATO mission to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces. A portion of the presence will conduct CT operations. Obviously, the effort here – by the end of 2015, we will reduce our presence, of course, but that is a period of time and we’ve already been undergoing an effort to train, advise, and assist Afghan forces and put them in the lead. But this drawdown is coordinated and is conducted in a planned, coordinated manner with NATO, with the Afghans, and we have – we feel – we believe it gives us the best opportunity to continue to work with the Afghans over the course of time, as I outlined, to continue to strengthen their ability to fight the Taliban while also allowing them to take full responsibility for their security.
So I think we feel confident in our plan. We feel setting dates has been helpful over the past couple of years in establishing predictability, and we’ll clearly be working closely with our partners as we implement this in the years ahead.
QUESTION: What about – have you – what plans do you have to support any Afghan-Taliban reconciliation peace process?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as we’ve always felt, this would be an Afghan – Afghans talking to Afghans. That’s a process we’ve long supported, but at this point in time, I don’t have any updates on a process underway or soon to be underway.
QUESTION: But given the fact that it was Afghans talking to Afghans and then you stepped in to help get the final agreement on the power-sharing government that’s just come into power in Kabul, do you foresee that the United States could have a role at some point? And again, like you say, Afghans talking to Afghans, but in helping to facilitate that process at any point.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you remember, a year ago – or maybe sooner than that, I can’t remember how long ago it was – when there was an effort to restart the reconciliation process —
QUESTION: That was a U.S.-Taliban process.
MS. PSAKI: Well, but ultimately, the goal was Afghans talking to Afghans. I don’t have anything to predict in terms of a U.S. role in any type of process. Obviously, we’ll continue to be partners with the Afghans on the ground, and I know we’ll see if there’s anything else – any other productive role we can play.
QUESTION: Isn’t the —
QUESTION: Oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: Go ahead, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. We condemn the ongoing hostile and aggressive actions against the Yemeni Government, and continue to call on all parties to implement all aspects of the Peace and National Partnership Agreement. We also denounce elements seeking to exploit the current security situation to further inflame matters, particularly members of the former Saleh regime and Houthi leadership who continue to use violence to further their agendas at the expense of the Yemeni people.
QUESTION: Do you think that President Abd Rabbuh Hadi is still in charge, still able to control the situation there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to work with the government; obviously, an effort that we’ve had underway for some time is to better equip them to deal with these challenges. But I don’t have anything else to add on it.
QUESTION: Is embassy staffing still at the same reduced level that it’s been for the past few weeks?
MS. PSAKI: It is. It hasn’t changed. All right.
QUESTION: Oh no. I have a brief one. But go ahead, Michel.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: I have a little something on this. One moment.
Well, we certainly support the efforts of the UN special representative in helping bring members of the Libyan House of Representatives together as a first step to resolve their differences and bolster efforts to create a political dialogue. We welcome reports that the discussions between the two sides were productive and resulted in a call for a ceasefire between the warring militias. We’ve obviously been deeply engaged in this issue and had a range of ministerial meetings, bilateral meetings, and others. I’d have to check if there was a direct role we played in this beyond, of course, supporting the effort.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Roz?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Still no sign of the schoolgirls. What are U.S. forces who were sent there doing? Is there any plan to bring them back or to send them elsewhere?
MS. PSAKI: There’s – the search is ongoing. I wish I had a – more of an update for you, Roz. The Nigerians continue to be in the lead. We’re continuing to lend our unique assets and capabilities to assist in the search and to evaluate what additional resources we might provide in close consultation with the government. The multidisciplinary team we dispatched remains in Nigeria, remains active. They’re following, of course, the kidnapping and the search, and they and other Embassy personnel continue to advise and liaise with the Nigerian authorities in these areas to help successfully resolve the kidnapping.
QUESTION: Are you able to say whether they’re working with governments in neighboring countries, since there was some thought early on that the girls might have been taken across borders?
MS. PSAKI: I believe they had been and they have been. I don’t have any new update on that. We can check, Roz, and see if there’s anything new to report on those conversations.
QUESTION: I’ve got a couple brief questions —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — all on different things.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if you have anything to say about that, if you know anything about it other than what they’ve said.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve certainly seen the disturbing reports of this discovery of additional graves in the Donetsk region. We call for Russia-supported separatists to allow access to the site, and we would support a full and thorough investigation.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that these graves are what the Russians or what the separatists say they are?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve certainly seen the comments, but I think we support a full investigation to get to the bottom of the facts.
QUESTION: And you’re calling for an investigation by the OSCE?
MS. PSAKI: I have to check. I think, obviously, they’ve been overseeing those investigations.
QUESTION: Are investigators able to get to these areas?
MS. PSAKI: I think that they’re having trouble at this point in time, so I can check. I assume it’s the OSCE, but we’ll check and make sure that’s the case.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, the Russians are saying that the U.S. and other countries, particularly those in Europe who are calling – making the same allegations against them, Russia – but have an obligation and a duty to support the investigation, and you are saying you do support an investigation. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: And we think the separatists should also support it and allow for access to the area.
QUESTION: All right. This morning – this is something different.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: This morning on the Hill, there was a hearing about the jailed Marine in Mexico, in which his – at which his mother testified. One of the – well, first, before we get to what she said, there wasn’t anyone from the State Department there. Do you know, were – was an official from this building invited?
MS. PSAKI: We had a representative present at the hearing.
MS. PSAKI: I know, but I’m just telling you because it’s important for others to be aware of that. We did not receive an invitation from the committee to be a witness.
QUESTION: Okay, so there was someone from the building in the room. And do you know, did that person report back and did you have any problem with what was said?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t received a report back from the hearing.
MS. PSAKI: Also, one more thing: We also held a conference call with congressional staffers on Tuesday about our efforts in this case.
QUESTION: All right. One of the things that his mother said was that a lawyer on – that was recommended or recommended by the consulate turned out to be a not particularly good and she said unscrupulous attorney. And I’m just wondering if any – one, these lists are provided by embassies and consulates all over the world. When they appear on those lists, does that mean that the State Department is essentially vouching for their ability, or at least the fact that they – I mean, are you vouching for their propriety? Or are they – you just vouching that they – hey, they can speak English and they have a – they passed whatever bar exam there is?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check, Matt. I know we have a description of this. I think my understanding is it’s more a list of available and qualified individuals in the region. I don’t have any validation either of the comments, and I’m happy to look into —
QUESTION: Right. No, no, I’m not saying that they’re necessarily – they’re true or not, but she certainly had a negative opinion of this attorney. So the appearance of an attorney on one of these lists is not necessarily an indication that they’re qualified. Is that —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we – when preparing the lawyers list, embassies and consulates send letters and questionnaires to lawyers living in the consular districts. They vary from post to post, but usually include questions about legal expertise, educational background, English proficiency. We – prior to including a lawyer on the list, embassies and consulates confirm that the lawyer is licensed or certified under local law and is in good standing. And in order to be included, the lawyer must also affirm in writing that he or she is currently in good professional standing. So those are the basic standards for inclusion.
QUESTION: Okay. So if we say that those are the qualifications – not necessarily whether one is a great lawyer or an F. Lee Bailey barrister or something like that – but if those are the qualifications to get on the list, you would – you could say and you can say with some certainty that an unqualified lawyer would not appear on this menu of lawyers that —
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, they’re – ensuring they’re licensed and certified and in good standing are part of getting on the list.
QUESTION: All right. And then one last one, and this goes back a little bit to Russia, but you talked about the FLEX Program before. Are you concerned at all – you said you regretted the decision by this. It’s the latest in a series of steps that the Russian Government has taken, and are you concerned – do you have broader concerns, beyond the cancellation of this program, about contacts between the – people-to-people contacts between the U.S. and Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, clearly, this program we feel is a very positive program, and one that’s important for our relationship and one that students enjoy. And this decision only applies, as we understand it, for the next round of FLEX students in 2015-2016. But still, I think, clearly, there are issues we work together on, and people-to-people exchanges are a positive part of our relationship.
QUESTION: Okay, but this – you don’t see any broader – you’re not drawing any broader conclusions about the state of people-to-people exchanges between the U.S. and Russia based on this decision?
MS. PSAKI: We regret the decision, but no, I’m not drawing a broader conclusion.
QUESTION: Can I have —
MS. PSAKI: I can just do a couple more. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I have a couple of really brief ones.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: A Bahrain court today lifted the travel ban on activist Maryam al-Khawaja. I just wondered if there was a U.S. reaction to that. Presumably, she can now leave the country, although she’s on bail.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that certainly is good news. Why don’t we get you a more substantive statement. I had not seen that before I came out, so we will get that around to all of you.
MS. PSAKI: No, no.
QUESTION: If you had a reaction to Arshad’s question from Monday on the dual-national citizen in Egypt who’s been (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure. I know Arshad asked that on Monday.
MS. PSAKI: Let me give you the update on what we have in that case.
Well, here are just a few technical updates. His most recent hearing took place on September 23rd. A representative from the Embassy has been to every court hearing except the September 3rd hearing. We seek to visit him about once a month. The next hearing is scheduled for October 11th. We remain deeply concerned by ongoing politicized arrests and detentions in Egypt, including his detention. We continue to raise this case with Egyptian officials at the highest level. We are providing – making available all possible consular services to him. And as I mentioned, we’re certainly continuing to press Egyptian authorities for his release. But we remain concerned also, of course, about his health.
QUESTION: Activist groups say that he’s close to death. Is that your understanding as well?
MS. PSAKI: We remain concerned about his health. I don’t have any particular update on the status of his health beyond our concern. Let me check and see if there’s more of a description we can offer.
QUESTION: When did you last visit him?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s see. Well, we attended his September 23rd hearing. A consular officer attempted to visit him on September 15th and September 24th. He declined the visits. We spoke with him on the phone on September 17th and we’re also seeking permission for an additional visit as soon as possible.
QUESTION: So when did you last see him, if you tried to see him on the 15th and the 24th and he declined? Do you have when you last saw him?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that for you, Arshad.
QUESTION: And are you able to say why he declined?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have anything more to add on that from our end.
Do we have – I can just do probably two more here. Go ahead, Ali.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have any update given the reports of confirmation that there was a American citizen now in the country with Ebola? Are there any efforts on the State side to combat it either here or abroad in Africa?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Ali, obviously, I’m sure you saw the CDC press conference last night, or parts of it, and they gave quite an overview of what their efforts are. The CDC is assisting with active screening and education efforts on the ground in affected countries to prevent sick travelers from getting on planes. The CDC has also alerted health care workers in the United States and reminded them how to isolate and test suspected patients while following strict infection control procedures. In addition, DHS has undertaken appropriate notifications and training of its personnel here at home to make sure proper procedures are in place and being followed for managing ill travelers at ports of entry. And the CDC also has protocols in place to protect against further spread of the disease.
So in addition to all of the resources that we’re providing that President Obama announced, there are also, of course, precautions we’re taking. Here at the State Department, we also have put in place certain travel warnings over the course of the last several weeks. There’s no new updates as of today on those.
QUESTION: Are there any conversations going on on a diplomatic level between the United States and countries where there have been instances of Ebola to provide some sort of information to the folks there that they shouldn’t be – as you said, the CDC is doing that. But also in terms of the diplomatic efforts, things to prevent folks in these countries from getting on a plane and coming to America, is there anything that the State Department is doing specifically?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly coordinate and we’re available to the CDC, of course, so we play that role. And we’re in touch with countries about providing materials and information that they need. But as you mentioned, the CDC really has the lead on this effort.
QUESTION: But is it safe to say that since this occurred you’ve been coordinating with the CDC on how you might best approach the challenge of making sure people in these countries don’t come to the United States?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t put it that way, Ali. I think providing information on what the risks are, how to protect for them – from them, as I mentioned, what steps need to be taken at airports – there are a range of government agencies that are involved in that effort.
QUESTION: Is there any legal way to prohibit people from the countries that are suffering from the Ebola outbreak from coming to the U.S.? Could visas be denied whole scale based on the point of departure?
MS. PSAKI: I think, Roz, I just mentioned the role that DHS plays in that particular component. I would point you to them for more specifics.
QUESTION: But if you’re not a U.S. citizen, if you’re not coming from Western Europe, you usually have to get a visa. Would the U.S. go as far as not granting any visas to people from West Africa in those particular countries?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe that’s something we’re considering.
QUESTION: I’ll just say following up on that, Secretary Kerry joined other G7 ministers in a joint statement on Ebola, saying G7 countries with the UN will encourage and maintain air and maritime links to the countries concerned, calling on other countries to follow. Does that change at all with the first case of Ebola in the United States?
MS. PSAKI: No, I think what’s important here and why I tried to note some of the specific steps we’re taking led by the CDC – I mentioned DHS – obviously, we’re engaged in this given the international component – is to provide education, provide resources. That’s the role we’re playing. There are certain travel warnings we’ve put in place. I think the last one for Liberia was the beginning of August. And certainly, we review that and provide information to American citizens, and we’ll continue to do that.
All right. Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 4:01 p.m.)
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