2:51 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Thank you for your patience. I know we’re late today and we just were juggling a number of events. I have a couple of items at the top, and hopefully this will address some questions that you have. We’ll see.
We remain deeply concerned by the intensifying violence in eastern Ukraine. Russian military forces and equipment are still in Ukraine, and the Russia-Ukraine border is still unsecured. Since the ceasefire was signed on September 5th, attacks on Ukrainian positions and towns, including around the Donetsk airport and the village of Popasna in Luhansk, have killed and wounded scores of Ukrainian armed forces and civilians and destroyed critical infrastructure. We call on Russia and the separatists it backs to immediately end these attacks.
We also call on Russia to withdraw all Russian military forces and equipment from inside Ukraine. OSCE monitors are on the ground in Ukraine monitoring and verifying the ceasefire, and ready to further support the implementation of the September 5th Minsk protocol and September 19th Minsk agreement. Russia must allow them to do their work.
Ukraine continues to fulfill its ceasefire commitments and pursue a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Now is the time for Russian authorities and the separatists they back to immediately implement their obligations under the Minsk agreement they signed.
As you all saw, the United States and Afghanistan signed the Bilateral Security Agreement today, with Ambassador James Cunningham signing on behalf of the United States and Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar signing on behalf of Afghanistan. This will enable the United States to continue our efforts to support the development of Afghanistan’s own security capabilities. With the signing of the BSA, we are planning for our post-2014 mission in Afghanistan to focus on training, advising, and assisting the Afghan National Security Forces, and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of core al-Qaida.
At the beginning of 2015, the United States will have approximately 9,800 U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan. Most of the 900 – 9,800, sorry, U.S. forces expected in Afghanistan next year will support the NATO Resolute Support Mission to train, advise, and assist Afghan Security Forces. A portion of the U.S. presence will conduct CT operations in partnership with Afghan forces aimed at preventing al-Qaida from using Afghanistan as sanctuary to plan and execute attacks on the United States. By the end of 2015, we will reduce our troop presence by roughly half and consolidate our forces in Kabul and Bagram. By the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a Kabul-based security assistance presence. I’ll quickly answer a question somebody asked yesterday about the impact of the signing now. It won’t be impacted. That will move forward.
Another item, and I will – bear with me because what I wanted to do here is kind of lay out a little bit of our history on ISIL and what the United States has been working on over the course of the last year, plus I know many of you pay attention to this, but I thought it was worth walking through.
In short, we’ve been tracking ISIL very closely, and over the course of the last year we have seen strength – the strength of the group grow, which this Administration and including myself have spoken to very publicly. And we’ve taken increasing measures to counter it through the Iraqi Security Forces and also by ensuring the Iraqi political process and national elections remain on track, and also, of course, through direct military action over the past couple of months.
AQI has been around for more than a decade. Our military was able to quash AQI with the help of the Sunni tribes and the group was pushed back underground. But 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 reconstituted and was able to grow in strength again, in large part because foreign fighters were able to join the fight in Syria.
AQI then changed its name, as you all remember, to ISIL in April of 2013. AQI had already been designated, and then ISIL was designated as well as a terrorist organization by the United States Government. We have been speaking out about ISIL since last year. For example, last August, we put out a statement condemning what appeared to be ISIL’s involvement in a terrorist attack in Iraq. We can get that all around to all of you, of course. We made clear publicly our serious concerns about the group’s activities and the migration of its leader from Iraq into Syria.
In January, ISIL moved its force into Anbar province, the city of Fallujah fell immediately, the city of Ramadi was about to fall. We worked immediately with tribes around Ramadi and with the Iraqi Security Forces to hold the line. This included a surge in training assistance to the best Iraqi units, strategic command guidance from our top military leaders, and fulfilling weapons and equipment needs to Iraqi forces.
To this day, while the situation in Ramadi remains extremely serious, Ramadi has never fallen to ISIL. ISIL was also unable to fully consolidate its position in Anbar province, even despite constant fighting throughout the first half of this year.
So that brings us up to January. These efforts from January forward focused on strengthening the Iraqi Security Forces because that was the desire of the Government of Iraq, and it has been and remains our primary focus. We were engaged in this effort at all levels shortly after Fallujah fell. Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk traveled immediately to Iraq to help coordinate a response, and we put out a detailed readout of those efforts.
We also spoke to – Secretary Kerry also has been speaking with Iraqi leaders for several months now as well. I’d point you to a readout we did in early January of a conversation he had where he discussed Iraq’s efforts to combat ISIL in coordination with local police and tribes.
At the same time, during this period, as many of you know because you’ve traveled with us or you’ve followed this closely, we were intensely focused during this period on ensuring Iraqi elections scheduled for April 30th were well prepared and able to take place on time. This was essential to consolidating the political line of effort that we’ve always said would be essential to defeating ISIL. These elections did take place on time as scheduled with low violence and a 50 percent turnout, even in provinces like Anbar.
Within days of the collapse of Mosul, on the direction of the President, we immediately accelerated our efforts, building on what had been done to date. This included a dramatic increase in intelligence flights, establishing joint operation commands in Baghdad and Erbil, and conducting a complete field assessment by our special forces of Iraqi units across the country. These measures were essential to ensuring our future strike operations would be effective.
So this issue of strikes was on the table for discussion only after a request from the Iraqi Government in May, but this still required a couple of steps. One was developing the intelligence in joint platforms to enable such strikes to be both accurate and effective. And two, which we spoke about quite a bit this summer, was a political construct and a path toward a more inclusive government that would be considered legitimate by local Sunnis and through which U.S. airstrikes would be in support of a national Iraqi-led strategy and plan that could carry this effort forward. So to get these pieces in place, it was essential that Iraq carried out a national election, also move forward with efforts to increase intelligence platforms.
While these efforts were finalized through the course of the summer that enabled the airstrikes to launch with – there was an effort that was in place for months leading up to this. And I think that’s sort of the point I’m driving at here.
Finally, obviously we’re focused now on the mission going forward. You all are familiar with our effort to create – form an international coalition. General Allen and Ambassador McGurk will be headed out to the region soon. We’ll have more details on that for you soon. But because there’s been a lot of different reports out there, I thought I’d walk through that.
Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, that was a very extended defense of something that you weren’t even asked a question about.
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t look at it that way.
QUESTION: Have you been —
MS. PSAKI: I think – I will say that I think many of you in this room are paying close attention to this —
MS. PSAKI: — and many people who report in Iraq. But I don’t – I think —
QUESTION: I was going to start with Hong Kong, but I’ll start with that instead —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — since you brought it up. Is it the Administration’s contention that it was only the growth of – or the addition of foreign fighters to what was then AQI in Syria when it went underground that allowed – that was responsible for them to be able to mount such an offensive back into Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: No, I think I said in part. Also I would say that there is an analytical difference, right, between a group growing in strength, which is something you’re watching and you’re looking at, and also the prediction on the flip side, which is a contextual important point – contextually important point of what the Iraqi Security Forces did and what their response was to the growth and the rise of ISIL. So I mean, but the growth – no, it was a contributing factor.
QUESTION: The foreign fighters was a contributing factor.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Well —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead, then we’ll go to you, Said.
QUESTION: But I’m just – I mean, does the Administration believe that ISIL would not have been able to go back into Iraq, cross the border, and take over as much of Iraq as it did without the foreign fighters?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think —
QUESTION: The reason I – let me explain the reason I’m asking —
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: — is because a lot of critics of the – not just the Administration’s policy but the policies of some of your allies who were more actively or at least more – I won’t say openly, but more actively involved in arming the anti-Assad opposition. There are people in that – in those communities who say that this – you helped create this monster that is – you and your allies helped create this monster by allowing these foreign fighters to go in and by – with the train and equip exercise. I understand you would reject that, but I’m wondering if you – or I think you would – but I’m wondering if the Administration believes that without the influx of non-Syrians or non-Iraqis into ISIL they would have been able to do as much damage as they’ve done so far.
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand the question. It’s – obviously we think that’s an important contributing factor, but there are other factors, including the fact that the Syrian regime looked the other way and didn’t fight this effort, as well as – as you know, they built in – their financial support built. There are a range of factors that led to their growth and strength.
QUESTION: Right. But there’s also the argument that particularly the Turks but also the Qataris and others looked the other way when people who were clearly not moderate rebels were crossing – or were crossing the border from Turkey into – to join ISIL or getting money from – not the government, but getting money from wealthy benefactors in the Gulf. So is that not a valid criticism, that —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m suggesting, Matt, I think they’re all related. But obviously the history here and the fact that foreign fighters and the influx of them have been an important and huge factor in leading to the growth of ISIL is one of the reasons why that’s one of the key lines of effort of our coalition building and effort moving forward.
QUESTION: And you don’t think the Administration has any – that there’s any valid criticism of the Administration for not doing enough to stop – earlier on or not doing – not doing this effort on foreign fighters that we saw so much of last week earlier on, if that, in fact, was a significant part of the – in giving ISIS, ISIL the ability to go back into Iraq and take over so much territory?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we’ve been taking steps, of course, behind the scenes, and many we talk about for months now. Obviously, this international effort and the fact that more than 100 countries signed onto a resolution last week is a more public and bigger focused effort and one that we are certainly continuing to step up.
Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: That was an excellent review of (inaudible) background. But also the break of the prison in July 2013 – al-Qaida was able to break into two prisons, Abu Ghraib and another prison. There were 500 top leading militants. Many of them were handed over by the United States to the Iraqi Government, which it failed in keeping them incarcerated, and that played a tremendous role in having the reconstitution of al-Qaida, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we spoke about that at the time, Said.
MS. PSAKI: And obviously what I was trying to do is give an overview of kind of our steps and our actions. I know there are many complicating factors —
MS. PSAKI: — and some we’re still – everybody’s still learning more about.
QUESTION: Okay. And on the issue of Syria, the Syrians have – in fact, I mean, in terms of field and action and all this, they have been fighting ISIL ever since their – at least their declaration that they have formed the Islamic State. Do you disagree with that, that they have not been fighting them?
MS. PSAKI: I think what we’ve seen is that the Syrian opposition is doing the thrust of the fighting against ISIL and terrorist elements over the course of the past two years.
QUESTION: But it seems that you’re saying that the Syrian regime was looking the other way, while, in fact, it seems that the U.S. was looking the other way while a lot of these foreign fighters were going across its allies, with Turkey. I mean —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, we’re talking about what was happening in the country of Syria.
MS. PSAKI: So that’s a little different. And obviously, foreign fighters and cracking down on them and the fact that that is a concern and has contributed to the growth of ISIL is one of the reasons why it’s a primary focus moving forward.
QUESTION: And while we’re on the issue of foreign fighters, do we have a better understanding now of how many Americans might be there from – it was said that 100 may have been there. Now it’s less than two dozen and so on. Do you have any figures on that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new numbers to offer. The 100 was not just specific to ISIL, it was terrorist organizations. But I don't have any new numbers to offer today.
QUESTION: And lastly, the ISIL claims that they actually are able to withstand the American air assaults on them because they are mobile; they’ve become more mobile in moving from place to place. Does anyone really feel that actually ISIL can be degraded and then defeated, as the President declared, without ground forces from someone?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, the ground forces will be the Iraqi forces and they’ll be the Syrian opposition forces. We’re not looking for a scorecard day by day. We feel that what we’ve done so far has been effective, but we know this is going to be an extended campaign. You just saw, I think in the last couple of hours, that the UK did their first strikes into Iraq. Obviously, there are a range of countries engaged militarily, but also beyond that.
QUESTION: But the plan for training the Syrian opposition, the moderate opposition, it calls for training 5,000, if I recall correctly. I mean, that takes a long time to happen. A great deal can happen between now and then on the ground. Wouldn’t it be sort of wise or prudent to coordinate some sort of ground activities with the Syrian army?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have been – that’s not the only element we’re doing to help the opposition. We provide them with a range of assistance; obviously, other countries do as well. This is a component of that. Part of our objective is to work with other countries in the region to increase the military credibility, and therefore we think that will have an impact on increasing the political credibility of the opposition.
QUESTION: In terms of the airstrikes, the U.S. has led and has conducted the vast majority since August 8th. The British just came on board today. The French did two rounds of strikes late last week. Where are the Arab nations that were willing to strike ISIL targets in Syria? Why aren’t they in Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure – Roz, I’d have to check on the accuracy of your statement. Obviously, there were Arab nations – as you know, five of them – who came out the first night that we did strikes and have continued since then.
QUESTION: But that was in Syria.
MS. PSAKI: There are – let me finish. There are a range of countries that are also taking military action in Iraq. I think what everybody needs to understand here is we’re going to have the military assets, we’re going to have the capabilities, we’re going to have the airpower we need through this coalition.
QUESTION: But it’s —
MS. PSAKI: That doesn’t mean – let me finish – that every country is going to strike everywhere. It doesn’t mean every country is going to strike. It doesn’t mean every country is going to contribute militarily. There are a range of steps that are coordinated through the coalition that each country that is a part of it will take, but it’s not even all military, never mind strikes in both Iraq and Syria.
QUESTION: But let’s consider that the U.S., Western Europe, and other Arab countries didn’t really worry about ISIL’s strength until it moved into Iraq and started claiming large swaths of territory, forcing people out of the country, and creating the humanitarian crisis with the Yezidis, with ethnic Christians, and with others. So again – and I’m citing CENTCOM statements here going back to August 8th – there have not been any airstrikes conducted by any of the Arab countries that were willing to go into Syria last week into the country where the real bulk of the security issue has been developed. Why is that? Are they —
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I disagree.
QUESTION: Are they afraid of somehow perhaps getting inadvertently into some sort of conflict with Tehran?
MS. PSAKI: I disagree with almost everything you just said.
QUESTION: I stand by my statements. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well let me answer your question then. Let me answer your question then. One, it is incorrect that we just became attuned to ISIL’s strength. I just outlined exactly how that’s not the case.
QUESTION: But the U.S. was not willing to actually do anything in terms of committing forces, of committing troops in this – between carrier groups in the Gulf and putting pilots in the air until August 8th. You cannot dispute that fact.
MS. PSAKI: Roz, I just outlined for you the fact that over the course of – since January, we have increased not only our security assistance, we also worked with the Iraqi Government to determine – do more ISR to determine targets. We needed to have a request from the Iraqi Government. So there are a range of steps, but on their ask, we were providing them more materials like Hellfire missiles and other materials that they could use to fight back on this themselves. So this is also about the sovereignty of Iraq, what they see as the best way forward. We’re working closely with them on that.
But the second piece of it is – I’m not questioning the validity of your “who’s done strikes where?” Otherwise – obviously, CENTCOM provides information on that. But the point I’m making is the objective here is to degrade and destroy ISIL, right? It is not to check the box to have every country strike everywhere; we don’t need that in order to be successful. We’re going to have the military assistance, the military equipment, the military effort that we need.
QUESTION: Jen —
QUESTION: Do you – can I follow up on this?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You talked about how you – this was Iraqi – there was an issue of Iraqi sovereignty involved here. I mean, is the basic point you’re trying to make that you – that the Administration fully grasped the threat posed by ISIL and took aggressive and effective action to confront that threat from the beginning of the year? Is that what you’re trying to argue?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: And then if that’s the case, how is it that they were so successful in – if your actions were so effective and so aggressive, how is it that since the beginning of the year, they’ve been able to seize very large swaths of territory, by some estimates a third of Iraq and Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, what I was referring to is the – our increased effort, starting in January. As you know, some of those towns or areas fell around that point in time. Clearly, we were aware of the threat of ISIL, as I kind of referenced through the course of when we designated ISIL, when we took action. There were discussions internally about what kind of assistance we could provide to them long before January. So what we did was we provided the type of assistance to help best equip the Iraqi Security Forces.
Now I think your point is an important one. What no one anticipated was the fact – and it’s very hard to track or anticipate the will of a security force or an army to fight – was that they would crack at the – when ISIL came and attacked them. And obviously, that led to some of the early victories that we saw.
Now there were cases – and I gave an example of Ramadi, and that’s a case where we’ve obviously continued to work with the Iraqi Security Forces. While the situation is extremely serious, Ramadi has never fallen to ISIL. But clearly, there is – I don’t think anybody anticipated exactly what the Iraqi Security Forces would do, and that, I think, contributed to the early impact.
QUESTION: Was that – I mean, the U.S. Government trained the Iraqi forces for the better part of a decade. Was that not a failure, to not understand that this armed force that the U.S. Government had trained at enormous taxpayer cost was not, in fact, capable of defending its own territory? Wasn’t that something you missed then?
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: If nobody was able to anticipate that, wasn’t that a failure somehow?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, Arshad, there are a couple of steps we’ve taken to do things a little bit differently.
QUESTION: No, no. I’m talking – we’re talking about the past here. I mean, you said that —
MS. PSAKI: I know but that it’s a lessons —
QUESTION: — it was very hard to anticipate this, but you guys were the primary funders and trainers of this military force for nearly a decade. Wasn’t that, at a minimum, a failure of understanding on your part not to figure out that you had trained a force that would collapse?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say we’ve done our assessment and about – we’ve assessed that there certainly still are capabilities and there are Iraqi security forces that are absolutely prepared to fight and have been prepared to fight. In addition, and what I was trying to get at, is there are certainly lessons learned, Arshad, about how we’ve done things in the past. That’s one of the reasons that we’re working to put an – working with the Iraqi Government. They’re implementing it to put in place this national guard, because we know that the Sunni tribes can’t be disaffected as they had been before. It needs to be a united front and a united military front moving forward.
QUESTION: Jen —
QUESTION: Jen, Jen, I – sorry.
QUESTION: You mentioned Ramadi a couple of times. It was the birthplace of the Awakening Councils, which really evolved into reintegration of the Sunnis into the army under the guidance of General Petraeus. Why not try that again? Why not do something like this again?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I was just – we are doing a different version of this. This is part of the national plan that Prime Minister Abadi is implementing. It is a creation of a national guard force that integrates some of the Sunni tribes and Sunni fighters into the Iraqi Security Forces, because we know this needs to be a longer-term effort, and so that’s why we’re doing things differently.
QUESTION: But that effort did require considerable – almost man-to-man pairing of U.S. and Iraqi forces during the so-called surge. The President has said repeatedly he is not going to deploy ground troops in Iraq. How is this possible?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, first, there are advisors on the ground. There are other countries that will be involved in this effort to train and support the Iraqi Security Forces and engaged in this process moving forward. Obviously – and as I mentioned, we’ve done an assessment. We’re not starting from scratch here. There is a good percentage of the Iraqi Security Forces that is fully capable of fighting. Some may need more training. Some may need more equipment, but it’s not where we started the last time.
QUESTION: You mentioned a couple times in your responses to earlier questions about lessons learned. Can you – what are some of those lessons that have been learned?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just talked about one of them. I don’t think I need to —
QUESTION: Well, is one of them that it was perhaps unwise not to push harder for an agreement to keep a residual force in Iraq after the – is that one of the lessons?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, as you know, they wouldn’t have been combat troops on the ground. So —
QUESTION: Well, no, but you would at least had a military – a large – somewhat large military presence there that could have been a – served as a barometer for – as the ability of the Iraqi army to fight. I mean, we’ve just seen today – you mentioned the signing of the BSA in Afghanistan – the importance of signing that. Is that a lesson learned from Iraq? What are the lessons that have been learned?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just talked about one. I don’t think I need to go through every history —
QUESTION: What was —
MS. PSAKI: — component here.
QUESTION: — I missed it then. What was it that you just —
MS. PSAKI: The different way we’re – that we’re incorporating the Sunni tribes into the military effort over the long term.
QUESTION: But that’s a lesson learned from – I don’t know how that’s a lesson learned because she was – she’s talking about the Ramadi and the Awakening? That bit?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s talking about how we did the Sunni Awakening and how it kind of fell apart afterwards.
QUESTION: But that had worked.
MS. PSAKI: For a time.
QUESTION: So why wouldn’t you want – but why would want to —
MS. PSAKI: For a time, but it wasn’t a long-term working process.
QUESTION: The lesson – it seems to me that the lesson learned from the Awakening was that it worked, and now you’re doing something different.
MS. PSAKI: No, I think the lesson is we need to make some – we need to make it work over the long term, Matt, so that’s why we’re taking a different approach with the Iraqi Government this time around.
QUESTION: But —
QUESTION: Sorry to – but there is – there is a law in Iraq that actually is keeping a lot of good officers from the army. It’s called de-Baathification. Perhaps you should revisit it. Perhaps you should revisit that law and somehow remedy it.
QUESTION: Has India —
MS. PSAKI: Let’s finish —
QUESTION: Foreign fighters.
QUESTION: No, it’s on ISIL. It’s on ISIS.
QUESTION: Foreign fighters. One more on ISIL.
QUESTION: I had a question.
MS. PSAKI: One more on ISIL, and then we’ll go to Hong Kong and then India.
QUESTION: Wait, I had a question on ISIS.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, two more on ISIL. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Three more.
QUESTION: Four, five. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, you just said the Administration could not have predicted what the Iraqi Security Forces would’ve done. In November 2013, Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa hearing, where he said that ISIS had benefited from the inherent weakness of Iraqi Security Forces and their poor operational tactics, and he also noted that the terrorist group could flourish due to the permeable border in Syria. Sounds like a warning sign. I mean, what do you —
MS. PSAKI: I think there’s a difference between talking about intentions and assessing their capabilities. I’ve also spoken with Ambassador McGurk about this, and there was no prediction there that the Iraqi Security Forces would buckle when the – when ISIL attacked them and they’d take over major swaths of the country. That’s what we’re talking about here. There wasn’t a prediction of that.
QUESTION: The question is germane to the United States’ efforts to work with China on counterterrorist. I believe Admiral Locklear estimate there is about 1,000 foreign fighters. Do you have a breakdown of the ethnicities of the foreign fighters moving from Asia Pacific region to join ISIL, and then in particular, is any indication that any of them are from the Chinese minority?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any breakdown like that. There’ve been numbers – about 12,000 or so foreign fighters. We’ve talked about 100 – around a 100 from the United States. There are some from Europe and other countries. I’d certainly encourage anyone to ask the exact – the countries about their concerns about foreign fighters. They would have the most up-to-date numbers.
QUESTION: Yeah, the reason I’m asking is – the next question may be offensive to people, but it won’t hurt to ask. Well, you just clearly identify ISIL as a terrorist group. However, there is a theory supported by some Chinese scholar in pro-Beijing media saying that ISIL is an inevitable outcome of Middle East politics, that it actually provides utilities and pays salaries and manage banks, schools – so whose function is similar to a temporary government in a occupied area. How would you like to respond to such a theory?
MS. PSAKI: I think I outlined what our view is in terms of the growth of ISIL. I know there are different theories out there, but that’s the view of the United States Government.
QUESTION: How —
MS. PSAKI: Do we have one more on ISIL?
QUESTION: Could you please update as the most recent communication between U.S. and Chinese officials on the efforts to take hold of threat from ISIL, in particular any discussion on a military actions from the Chinese side?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there’s an important bilateral meeting tomorrow. I’m sure that will be part of the discussion there if there’s time.
QUESTION: Do they decline to send troops?
MS. PSAKI: Wang Yi is here tomorrow.
QUESTION: Do they – how does the Chinese Government decline to join the coalition – the call to join the coalition to counter ISIL?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d encourage you to ask the Chinese Government that question.
QUESTION: News reports coming from Syria said that ISIL took Turkish soldiers guarding Suleiman Shah Tomb inside Syria as hostages. Do you have any information about this?
MS. PSAKI: It may be because I was in this event with Prime Minister Modi, but I haven’t seen that report. If you want to send it to us, I’m sure we can take a look at it.
QUESTION: But more broadly, the Turks have kind of been – I don’t want to say – toying is the wrong word, but weighing what their contribution or what their role – they want to be in the coalition, but they’re not yet – or it’s not yet clear how they’ll be in it. There are suggestions that they might send ground troops to protect this shrine, and I’m just wondering if – would the U.S., would the Administration think that – would you welcome that? Would the introduction of Turkish ground troops into Syria be a good thing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think, one, obviously, as I spoke about yesterday, we know Turkey has gone through a difficult time with the hostages who have been returned, which we certainly think is excellent news.
MS. PSAKI: President Erdogan has indicated he wants to play a more prominent military role. We know parliament will be meeting, I believe Thursday, on this. So we’re just not going to get ahead of whatever they decide, because I’m not going to get ahead of their process.
QUESTION: Well, is this a case where whatever it is that they decide or whatever it is that they decide to do you would welcome, no matter what it is?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re in close discussions with Turkey. I’m not going to get ahead of their determination.
QUESTION: Because it seems to me that that might be a lesson learned from before when the Turks were allowing all these foreign fighters to cross their border into Syria, and that was – you kind of – it was whatever. And that was good because they were opposed to Assad, but then it – so —
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think, one, this is an issue in terms of our concerns about foreign fighters crossing the borders that we’ve raised with Turkey many times.
MS. PSAKI: But we’ll see what happens later this week. And I’m happy to talk about it when they determine what role they may play.
MS. PSAKI: Did you want to go to Hong Kong?
QUESTION: Hong Kong?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: We’re done with Syria?
QUESTION: I still had a question on Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: You started off talking about the evolution of al-Qaida. Can you describe the difference between core al-Qaida and Khorasan Group?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. So core al-Qaida is the group located in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Through the Administration’s – through our efforts and counterterrorism operations, we’ve decimated the group’s leadership. They’re still a threat, of course. As we’ve degraded core al-Qaida, there also have been – we’ve been increasingly concerned about the strength of al-Qaida affiliates in other parts of the world, whether it’s Yemen, Somalia, or Iraq. And Khorasan Group is certainly an example of that. The President talked about his concern about these affiliates, the need to increase our counterterrorism fund and change the way we approach terrorism, when he gave his speech at West Point. So it’s a group – Khorasan Group is an example of an affiliated group of fighters, a group that has ties to core al-Qaida but is not a part of core al-Qaida. It doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous or a threat; of course it is. That’s why we’ve taken action. But that’s the sort of overview of who they are.
QUESTION: When you say you’ve destroyed core al-Qaida, haven’t they just relocated, then?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are – what we’re talking about is the leadership of core al-Qaida based in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It doesn’t mean we’re not concerned about this group, we’re not concerned about offshoots and affiliates of al-Qaida. This is an example of that. It’s not the only one in the world, unfortunately.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
QUESTION: And then one more – oh, go ahead. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Oh. So go ahead. I didn’t know if you were finished. Go – do – okay.
QUESTION: Go ahead, Elliot.
QUESTION: I have one after that.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Elliot, go ahead.
QUESTION: I wanted to see just – what is the Administration’s sort of assessment of the immediacy of the threat from the Khorasan Group?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the fact that we took airstrikes last week is an indication of our concern and our level of concern.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. But there has been some – there have been some statements made after that sort of – kind of conflicting in the media reports that – to what extent it actually did represent a threat to the U.S.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it represents a credible threat, one that we’ve been watching closely for two years. That’s why we took action.
QUESTION: But what was it that made you take action on that particular date if you had been watching it so closely in the months and years leading up to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we had been watching what – their plans and intentions about Western targets. And that’s the reason we took action.
QUESTION: Can we go to India?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to Hong Kong.
MS. PSAKI: Arshad’s been very patient. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So what is your view today regarding the protests in Hong Kong and the authorities’ reaction to it? And in particular, do you think that the Chinese Government’s decision to vet candidates ahead of the 2017 election is in keeping with the basic precepts of democracy and its undertakings when Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have very much new to say from yesterday in terms of our view. We’re obviously continuing to watch this closely. If you’d like me to repeat anything, I’m happy to. In terms of the second question, we believe the legitimacy of the chief executive would be greatly enhanced if the Basic Law’s ultimate aim of selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage is fulfilled and if the election provided the people and provides the people of Hong Kong a genuine choice of candidates representative of the voters’ will. And certainly this is – we’ve consistently voiced our support for that, including directly to China.
QUESTION: Are you going to – do you expect the Secretary to do that in his meeting with his Chinese counterpart tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are certainly a range of issues on – bilateral, regional, and global issues that they’ll discuss during their meeting. We certainly expect they’ll discuss curtain – current issues, I should say. We’re – this is obviously a prominent issue in the news, one the Secretary is well aware of, and I expect it will be a part of this discussion tomorrow.
QUESTION: And you would expect that he’ll raise it?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see how the conversation goes, but I think it’s certainly something that could be on the agenda.
QUESTION: And do you think he’s going to make the point that you just made, that you believe that the legitimacy of the chief executive would be enhanced if he or she were elected through universal suffrage and giving the people of Hong Kong a genuine choice rather than a choice of Beijing-approved candidates?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that certainly is our position, which the Chinese know. We’ve communicated it to them as well. I’m not sure if it needs to be repeated during the meeting, but if there’s a discussion about this, which certainly could happen, he would restate our position.
QUESTION: So if it comes up, you would expect him to restate that.
MS. PSAKI: Certainly. It’s our position.
QUESTION: But when you said you thought it would come up, you’re talking about the entire issue of Hong Kong? Why would this not be a definite thing on the agenda?
MS. PSAKI: I said I expect it will come up. It’s in the news. It’s an issue we’re concerned about, we’re focused on, certainly.
QUESTION: All right. Well, regardless of whether it’s in the news or not, I mean, there’s hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating in Hong Kong —
MS. PSAKI: It’s an issue we’re focused on.
QUESTION: — and they’re being tear-gassed and all this kind of thing. So do you think that the – well, your – in addition to launching their first airstrikes in Iraq in support of the coalition, the Brits today also called in – hauled in Chinese – a senior Chinese official. Does the United States believe that the Chinese are violating any agreements that they made with the Brits in terms of the handover – what Arshad just referred to as the undertakings that they made? Do you believe that your old – your – not oldest, your special ally, the UK, is being – I don’t know the right word – hosed by the Chinese in this?
MS. PSAKI: I have not heard that term used. I can talk to our team more about it, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, I’m sure you haven’t heard that term used.
MS. PSAKI: Or a synonym I can say?
QUESTION: I just couldn’t come up with a better —
MS. PSAKI: Or a synonym?
QUESTION: Yes, a better synonym. I mean, do you think that the Chinese are reneging on their – on promises that they made to Britain?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to talk to —
MS. PSAKI: — Danny Russel and our team about if that’s an issue of concern. Should we finish China? Hong Kong?
QUESTION: Hong Kong, yes.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: In light of what’s going on in Hong Kong, is there any discussion in the building to review the 1992 U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act —
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: — which supports “one country, two system,” and then —
MS. PSAKI: No. Our position is consistent.
QUESTION: Jen, Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Any more on China? Just to – let’s finish China? Is that okay? Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I got one more. I mean, to return to Matt’s question, I mean, why not – if this is important to you – is this issue important to you, the issue of whether the people of Hong Kong get to have a genuine democratic election?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. If it’s important to you, why on Earth wouldn’t you raise it in what will be to my knowledge – and I’m confident of it – the highest level U.S.-Chinese meeting to occur since these protests began? Why wouldn’t you just say I —
MS. PSAKI: I expect it to be a topic of discussion. I did not mean to be too cute about that.
MS. PSAKI: I expect it to be a topic of discussion.
QUESTION: And you would also therefore expect that the Secretary will repeat the U.S. position on this?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Jen, India. What —
MS. PSAKI: Let’s do India just because I promised we would do that next.
QUESTION: I want to leave in two minutes.
MS. PSAKI: You need to leave in two minutes?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Is that okay?
QUESTION: Sorry about that.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Iranian national security general for their national security council has announced from Beirut that Iran will provide the Lebanese army with the arms soon with no cost. Do you have anything on this?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen those reports, as have you, of course. I don’t have any confirmation of them. We’re not aware of further details at this point, and we’re clearly – we’ll continue to monitor the situation. This alleged offer notwithstanding, we continue to view Iran’s support for Lebanese Hezbollah, a designated foreign terrorist organization, as unacceptable. We’ll continue to work with our partners in the region to counter these destabilizing forces.
QUESTION: But what about their offer to provide arms to the Lebanese army if they are arming Hezbollah at this time?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re aware of the report, but I don’t have any confirmation of that at this point in time.
QUESTION: But do you have any opposition towards this action —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one —
QUESTION: — in case —
MS. PSAKI: — we appreciate the seriousness of the security situation in Lebanon, but Iranian arms transfers to Lebanon could be in violation of Iran’s obligation under existing UNSCRs. We’ll continue to monitor, but again, I don’t have any other details of it aside from the reports.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Jen, on the same subject, Iran – since we’re on Iran.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Iran.
QUESTION: I asked you yesterday about the meeting of the leaders of the Caspian Sea countries —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — and you said that you would see if you can get a reaction on that.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I believe I have something on this. Let me just check. And then I promise we’ll go to India, a very important issue.
We have seen the joint statement issued by the Caspian Five that, among other things, calls for the non-presence of armed forces in the Caspian Sea not belonging to one of the Caspian Five countries. We maintain a strong security cooperation relationship with Azerbaijan, focusing on border security, counterterrorism, NATO interoperability, and its capacity to contribute peacekeepers to international missions. We do not anticipate the Caspian Five joint statement will change that.
QUESTION: Sorry, and then – this will be very quick and then you can get to India.
MS. PSAKI: Is it about the Caspian Five?
QUESTION: Well, yeah, it is, actually, because – I mean, were you planning on building ships in —
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: — the Caspian, in Azerbaijan?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t have a military presence in the Caspian Sea.
QUESTION: Why would you care?
MS. PSAKI: I was being responsive to —
QUESTION: If I’m looking at the map here, and there’s no way it’s —
MS. PSAKI: Matt, I was being responsive to a question asked, as is our job.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. I just want to make sure there wasn’t any —
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: — U.S. intention that you were going to build a ship factory —
MS. PSAKI: We do not have a military presence in the Caspian Sea.
QUESTION: And don’t —
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed in that regard.
QUESTION: And don’t plan on it?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: The only way you could get a ship there would be to —
QUESTION: Fly it.
QUESTION: — fly it in, right?
MS. PSAKI: We’re going to have you mathematically see how that would work.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: But there were also advisors in Azerbaijan that’s —
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, and that’s why I spoke to our importance of our relationship and that that won’t change.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: It was a good question. Don’t feel bullied. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no. I wasn’t saying that. I just – but you answered it in a way that made me suspicious that it was —
MS. PSAKI: I could have added the last part. It’s fair. I was giving you a hard time. Let’s talk about India.
QUESTION: Okay. With the official part of the visit nearly over today, and you were at the lunch today —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — which I am sure you enjoyed, how successful do you rate this —
MS. PSAKI: It was delicious, but go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. How successful do you think this visit has been?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that in addition to the lunch that Vice President Biden and Secretary Kerry welcomed Prime Minister Modi to today, as you know, Prime Minister Modi had a visit with the President. The Secretary attended that meeting. They also made a trip to the MLK Memorial, which has important significance, I think, both to the United States and India. They discussed – as part of the meetings, they discussed steps to further our strategic partnership in all key areas of bilateral and regional cooperation, including trade, energy, education, visas and travel, counterterrorism, development, space exploration, defense, and healthcare. We’ll also be releasing fact sheets shortly.
As we felt when the Secretary visited India for the Strategic Partnership meeting this summer, this is an incredibly important relationship – one of the oldest and the largest democracies, as the Secretary said today during his remarks. It’s one that we hope to continue to build moving forward in key areas of partnership. We think we had a very productive visit and we certainly hope our Indian guests felt the same way.
QUESTION: Now a couple of quick pointed — one is: Did India agree to join the coalition – U.S. coalition against ISIL?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, India is an important counterterrorism partner. Obviously, as a part of the discussions, we updated them on our efforts that are underway. There’s a role for any country to play, but we’ll let them speak to any planned engagement they have.
QUESTION: Then didn’t – you know that India has been also suffering from the terrorist attacks, and like the 9/11 year, we – they had this 26/11. So did India ask for access – again, access to Headley? And is the U.S. prepared to address this 26/11 Mumbai 2008 attacks in which were also six Americans died?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, and we all felt the pain of that terrible attack. I don’t have any update on that in particular. I will see if there was more discussion.
QUESTION: And —
QUESTION: On India? Sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. Sorry. I didn’t know where that was coming from.
QUESTION: And just a —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: And anything else that you would like to share which is beyond these statements? Do you – because there is a feeling that when – President Obama is here till 2016, so – and Modi being very practical, he wants to get – sign some agreements that we see bearing fruit by 2016. Do you – can you tell us something, any subject on which that kind of agreement —
QUESTION: Can you confirm the President won’t be running for a third term?
MS. PSAKI: That is correct. I can certainly confirm that. I think we had a very productive meeting and day of – a couple days of meetings, a very constructive visit. I don’t have any predictions on agreements signed, but obviously, this is not the end. This is an important step in our relationship, and I expect we’ll continue to engage on many levels moving forward.
QUESTION: Jen —
MS. PSAKI: India in the back. Oh, India or India?
QUESTION: Something else, but I wanted to go back to —
MS. PSAKI: Let’s do – can we finish India?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. I had three questions. The first is: At the meeting today, President Obama’s interaction suggested that – did he – did President Obama suggest that religious freedom issues that Mr. Modi has been linked to in the past were no longer sort of on the table, or did he actually respond to the letter that 11 congressmen wrote to him yesterday saying could you please interject that into the conversations?
MS. PSAKI: I would encourage you to ask the White House about President Obama’s meetings. I can certainly speak to the lunch that we hosted here today.
QUESTION: Okay. What happened at the lunch? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think most of the remarks —
QUESTION: Everyone but one person ate.
QUESTION: Can you – actually, can you give us the menu?
QUESTION: Can you do that afterwards so we don’t go through —
MS. PSAKI: I can certainly give it to you afterwards.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: I will – let me proactively answer this question that Matt is about to ask. The Office of the Chief of Protocol worked closely with the Embassy of India to create a schedule and menu for Prime Minister Modi’s visit that would honor his religion and culture. So they certainly were aware of plans to provide food at the gatherings. And as I noted yesterday, hosting a formal lunch or a formal dinner, it has a symbolic – symbolism, but more than that, about the value of the relationship. And that’s what – the reason why we had —
QUESTION: And for the record, I would like to know what Prime Minister Modi was served.
MS. PSAKI: I encourage you to ask —
QUESTION: No, you were the host. You just said you could talk about it.
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, I will see if there’s more we can offer on that front.
QUESTION: I mean, was there – I mean, we’re devolving a little bit here. I mean, was there a separate menu for him?
MS. PSAKI: We worked with his office —
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to have this after the briefing, but I will check and see if there’s more to offer. I understand your questions.
QUESTION: Okay. And the first question that you were asked about this was how successful was this visit, and I don’t think you answered that. On a scale of 1 to 10, wouldn’t you say it was a 10?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly would, Matt. Thanks for answering the question.
QUESTION: Do you have more on India?
MS. PSAKI: Do you have another question, or should we move on?
QUESTION: It’s —
QUESTION: India here.
MS. PSAKI: India, India. Okay. Sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m not done yet. So was Michelle Obama absent from the dinner last night? And if so, why?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t mean to frustrate you, but I would encourage you to ask the White House any questions about the President or the First Lady. They’re better equipped to answer them, and I know they’re focused on this visit.
QUESTION: Okay, then on a question of policy, the statements after their meeting today suggested that there would be —
MS. PSAKI: President Obama and Prime Minister Modi’s statement?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. I’m sorry —
QUESTION: Same answer?
MS. PSAKI: I would encourage you to ask the White House about the President’s visit.
QUESTION: Okay, but this is an issue that State has worked with as well.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Sorry, go ahead. Maybe I can answer your question. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, so this is on the civilian nuclear deal, which – it seemed just from the discussions over the last few days that there may be a way to break through the stalemate. And do you have any sense of how that’s going to come about? Because it’s been deadlocked for possibly years now.
MS. PSAKI: It certainly has been a big topic of discussion. Obviously, the meetings were ongoing, which I left to come down here and talk to all of you. I’m happy to see if there’s any more we can offer on that front from the discussion along with your question after the briefing.
QUESTION: Jen —
QUESTION: Just one quick one. How do you summarize this – the lunch? The food was delicious? (Laughter.) And Mr. Modi, I suppose, drank his lukewarm water with some lemon? And with all that, what do both sides take away except for food from this lunch?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, far more than that. I think there were a series – not just a working dinner last night, but there was an extended bilateral meeting today, and including a small, restricted bilateral meeting over at the White House today. I know my colleagues over there will be reading those out, or they probably already have. And they discussed the range of issues that I outlined. Obviously, we have an incredibly important strategic relationship with India that covers everything from economic issues to energy issues, space exploration. All of these issues were on the table.
The lunch was an opportunity to celebrate, relax, give some toasts, to talk about the importance of our relationship. They had some humorous comments in addition to emphasizing the history and our commitment to our relationship moving forward.
QUESTION: So I mean, at least some members of the Indian delegation were not fasting, right?
MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And then on the jokes and whatever, I just want to make sure that this was a joke, this was Secretary – Billy Joel really didn’t call the Secretary this morning and say —
MS. PSAKI: He did not really call. It was a joke. I laughed.
QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to make sure.
QUESTION: One last one?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Since you were there at the lunch, what is your own impression of the chemistry between Mr. Modi and Mr. Obama?
MS. PSAKI: Well, President Obama was not at the lunch. Vice President Biden and Secretary Kerry hosted the lunch.
QUESTION: Okay. Between them then.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. They had a very warm – they had just sat through meetings together, so they already spent several hours together today. They stood up on the stage and delivered remarks, and they all sort of laughed at the jokes they tried during their remarks, some funnier than others, always – that’s always true. And – (laughter) – I’m not —
QUESTION: Your boss’s jokes are always funny, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: They are always funny. And I think they really had – it was clear that they had a good conversation and they had a warm – kind of a warm – clearly had a warm relationship growing between them.
QUESTION: Jen, I wanted to go back to —
MS. PSAKI: One moment.
QUESTION: — my question about the difference between al-Qaida, core al-Qaida, and the Khorasan Group.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Today you’re saying that the Khorasan Group is an affiliate of al-Qaida. Yesterday, in a statement to us, a State Department official said that the Khorasan Group – quote, “The Khorasan Group is a term sometimes used to refer to a network of al-Nusrah Front and al-Qaida core, violent extremists who share a history of training operatives —
MS. PSAKI: I said it is an example of an affiliated group of fighters, a group that has ties to core al-Qaida, but is not a part of core al-Qaida.
QUESTION: Because – so you’re – that’s how you’re reconciling the two. I guess I’m still a little —
MS. PSAKI: That’s what our – that is what our position is on Khorasan and al-Qaida.
QUESTION: I have Israeli issue.
QUESTION: Just one on India.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure. Sorry. India, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Women’s rights. I mean, there have been so many reports about women being sexually harassed, being raped, girls being denied education, brides being murdered by their relatives for one transgression or another. Did the issue of women’s rights come up in the bilateral meetings here at State?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there was – the bilateral meeting took place at the White House, so I would point you to them and their readout they did of the core issues that came up. I gave an overview of some of the issues, but the lunch was the event we hosted. We’re happy to provide and send out the readout they gave and see if it covered all the issues that you’ve all mentioned.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I go to the Israeli —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: — Palestinian issue?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Very quickly, can you update us on meetings that are taking place in Washington with the prime minister of Israel?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the – he will be hosted for a meeting tomorrow at the White House. The Secretary will participate in that meeting.
QUESTION: There are no plans to come – to have meetings here separate?
MS. PSAKI: Let me check on that, Said. I think – as you know, they met on Sunday evening. It certainly is possible. But before I came down, the schedule was still being finalized.
QUESTION: Okay. And the Palestinians were reacting to your statements yesterday by saying that you are upset with the Palestinians because they had a brick wall with the negotiations, it was going nowhere and they are seeking different avenues. Do you have anything to say to that, about going through the UN?
MS. PSAKI: I would – again, I think we’ve said before that a two-state solution will ultimately be reached in direct negotiation between the parties, not through unilateral steps. However, as I said yesterday, Prime Minister – or President Abbas is a personal friend of Secretary Kerry’s. We have a close relationship with the Palestinians. We believe that there are steps both sides could have taken to continue the talks when they fell apart last spring. So that has consistently been our view.
QUESTION: You also described them yesterday as being frozen. Do you have any idea when they can begin to defrost or when they have some sort of a process going on again?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’d have to be steps taken by both sides, Said, in order to – for that to be —
QUESTION: Are you pushing for those steps? Are you leaning on both sides to go back to the negotiating table?
MS. PSAKI: We always reiterate the fact that our view is that there won’t be peace in the region until there’s a two-state solution between the parties. But obviously that requires steps by the parties in order to move that forward again.
QUESTION: And you would discourage the Palestinians very much from not —
MS. PSAKI: Taking a unilateral step? Yes, we would.
QUESTION: Just – and you just used the phrase “fall apart” and Said’s right, you did say “frozen” yesterday. And there’s a bit of a difference.
MS. PSAKI: Oh.
QUESTION: Are you trying to suggest that they’re – they have – they’re completely collapsed and unable – Humpty Dumpty, unable to be put back together again? Or is it —
MS. PSAKI: They were – no, they certainly have to be able to be put back together again. I will continue to use “frozen.” I think he threw me off by saying the —
MS. PSAKI: Defrost. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: All right. Let me ask you, today, again, 23 homes in East Jerusalem were confiscated and (inaudible) there seems to be more settlement activities. And you keep saying “you know our position on the settlements.” But what are you doing in terms of really discouraging the Israelis from doing settlement activities?
MS. PSAKI: I think – and I just want to make sure I’m talking about the right thing. Because we looked into what you were referring to yesterday, and are you referring to the reports that Palestinian residents of the Silwan neighborhood were forcibly evicted from their homes?
QUESTION: No. That was just how it occurred. But today, in addition – you have the Silwan neighborhood. But in addition to that, there were also 23 homes that were confiscated today, actually.
MS. PSAKI: Well, is it in the same neighborhood or is it —
QUESTION: It’s in the same neighborhood, yes.
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, we understand this was, first, the largest such eviction in Silwan in decades. Obviously at this point we’re still gathering more information. And the reason I said you’re familiar with our position is because we speak out about our views on that particular issue. We – and many other countries do about their concern about settlements and we’ll continue to do so.
QUESTION: I have a question about Ethiopia —
MS. PSAKI: Ethiopia?
QUESTION: Yes. You probably heard what happened yesterday at the Ethiopian Embassy.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Are you familiar with it?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. We are aware of the incident that occurred at the Ethiopian Embassy.
QUESTION: Okay. Very good. My name is Mesfin and I’m from TG Television, which (inaudible) media company. What happened yesterday at the Ethiopian Embassy is a close warning call for all law enforcement official in this area, because this is not the first time that these things happened under the name of democracy. Last month, when the Ethiopian communication minister came here to attend the U.S.-African Leader, he went to the Arlington Marshall store, and this same individual, he confronted him in the way that violated the law of this land. And again, this incident, as you’re probably aware, it was reported to the State Department, the FBI, and local enforcement officials, and nothing has been done. And again, yesterday, what happened at the Ethiopian Embassy inside here, in a country where the greatest democracy on Earth exists, it is very, very scary. And fortunately, thank god, no one get hurt.
MS. PSAKI: Did you have – I don’t mean to cut you off, I just – I want to make sure that we get to other questions.
QUESTION: Oh, yeah, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m going to get to the question. And there is an – what happened was a few days ago when President Kerry and Secretary Obama – I’m sorry —
QUESTION: No, no. President – (laughter) – I’m sorry. President Obama —
MS. PSAKI: We’ll correct that one for the record. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Forgive me. I voted for Obama so, President —
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Okay.
QUESTION: When President Obama and Secretary Kerry has a meeting with Ethiopian officials and President Obama say something good about Ethiopia, and that’s why this individual came up with this stuff and (inaudible). So what happened inside the Embassy, I was – before I came here I was talking to the Secret Service spokesman —
MS. PSAKI: Well, why don’t I tell you what I —
QUESTION: Let me ask you a question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: I will – let me (inaudible). What happened is that – especially a person like me who often goes to the Ethiopian Embassy for personal matter, our personal safety is under question. So what is the State Department doing to take care of this matter so this matter do not happen in the future?
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: What guarantee you give us to make sure that in our embassies, not only the Ethiopian Embassy, every other embassies are protected?
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: Could you tell us your best understanding of what happened, whether there were any arrests, et cetera?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. And there is very little I can share, because this is currently an ongoing law enforcement investigation. But we certainly are concerned by the incident that occurred at the Ethiopian Embassy yesterday afternoon, during which several shots allegedly were fired on the grounds of the Embassy. We have been in close touch with the U.S. Secret Service Uniformed Division – it sounds like you’ve also been in touch with them —
MS. PSAKI: — which is leading the investigation. We’ve also been in contact with the Embassy of Ethiopia on this matter. Unfortunately, I just am not at liberty to discuss other details because there’s currently an ongoing law enforcement investigation. I’m not sure what the Secret Service is sharing, but they are the point of contact for additional questions.
QUESTION: So you can’t say, for example, whether any arrests were made?
MS. PSAKI: I cannot.
QUESTION: Or whether anybody invoked diplomatic immunity so as not to be arrested?
MS. PSAKI: I cannot.
MS. PSAKI: Those are all valid questions, ones I’ve asked. But I would point you to the Secret Service. If there’s more to share, we can share it.
QUESTION: Jen —
QUESTION: Can you confirm reports that —
QUESTION: The Secret Service is a little bit preoccupied right now.
QUESTION: Excuse me, Jen, as far as you know —
MS. PSAKI: Noted, Matt.
QUESTION: Is there nothing – really, there’s nothing that Diplomatic Security has to do with this?
MS. PSAKI: That’s all I can share at this point. I certainly understand your questions. I’ve asked the same ones. There’s not more I can share at this point.
QUESTION: Jen, can you confirm reports that the —
QUESTION: Yeah, I want to say —
QUESTION: — shooter was an official who worked with the Embassy?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t confirm any more details at this point in time.
QUESTION: Jen —
QUESTION: What about the protesters? Who – were they trespassing? If so, who would have jurisdiction over that? Would it be police, would it —
MS. PSAKI: It’s – because it’s an ongoing investigation, there is – aren’t going to be more details I can share this point in time.
QUESTION: Okay. Jen, and for your information, before I came here, I talked to the spokesperson for U.S. Secret Service, so —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The media (inaudible) nobody’s arrested with yesterday’s incident. So again, my question is, because I know I don’t want you to tell me anything of which is under investigation, so the Secret Service says that no, you are in control of the embassies. So my question is – I’m not asking you to tell me what’s going on, but in the future, what is your guarantee so to protect the embassies around town? Because what happened yesterday is a violation of the —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly take every step. We work closely with embassies, as you know. Why don’t we get you an overview of that? That’s, I think, publicly available, but we’ll make sure you get that.
Elliot, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. I was wondering, what’s your take on the statement made by Ambassador Churkin to the Security Council today on these mass graves in Donetsk? He laid responsibility on the Ukrainian Government.
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen – although I spoke to Ukraine at the beginning of this – I haven’t looked closely – I should have – at the context of his statement. Let me take a close look at that, Elliot.
QUESTION: Sure. Fine.
MS. PSAKI: I just want to make sure I see all the language in there, and we’ll get you something. I apologize for that.
QUESTION: South Sudan. Yesterday, there was the announcement that Ambassador Richard was allocating 83 million in additional emergency aid to South Sudan. Can you shed light on the NGOs that will be receiving this money? And then secondly, how will the money be used? And what are the U.S. stipulations that are in place to make sure that the money is used correctly?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Why don’t we get – let me take that. We’ll get that to you. Obviously, there are certain requirements and stipulations we use as a standard when we provide information. Often with NGOs, that’s something we work through once the money is allocated. But why don’t we follow up on that and we’ll get it out to you after the briefing.
All right. Thanks, everyone. We’ll be earlier tomorrow. Thanks for your patience.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:52 p.m.)
DPB # 164