2:31 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: I just wanted to start by giving you all just some readouts of the meetings the Secretary has been having over the course of the last few days. There are quite a few, so bear with me.
Yesterday, the Secretary met with President Kabila of the D.R.C. They discussed their shared vision for a more prosperous D.R.C. that can build on the progress achieved during the past year and bringing stability to the Great Lakes region. The Secretary and President Kabila affirmed their joint commitment to the continued demobilization and repatriation of the M23 – of former, sorry, M23 combatants and to ending the threat from the FDLR within the next six months through a continued process of voluntary demobilization backed by a credible military threat.
The Secretary also expressed support for the D.R.C. Government’s goal of establishing a more transparent international adoptions process, but reiterated U.S. concerns about the humanitarian impact of the D.R.C. Government’s suspension of visa issuance for adopted children.
During his meeting with Vice President Vicente of Angola, the Secretary welcomed Angola’s leadership in Africa and world affairs, particularly in the Great Lakes region. The United States considers Angola a key stakeholder in the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework peace process, and strongly supports Angola’s efforts in its role as chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to help resolve the conflict in the D.R.C. The Secretary also noted Angola’s efforts on trafficking in persons through a recent recommitment to combat trafficking and USUN Ambassador Powers urged – or called for a continued engagement on peacekeeping operations both regionally and internationally.
The Secretary – hmm?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know what —
QUESTION: There’s no “S”.
MS. PSAKI: Powell. I don’t know why I just said “Powell.” Long day.
QUESTION: No, Power. Power.
MS. PSAKI: I know. I know what her name is. Thank you, Matt.
The Secretary called for the next iteration of the Security and Economic Dialogue to be held in the fall. The Secretary also met yesterday with Burundi President Nkurunziza. During their meeting they discussed how to work together to build a peaceful, stable, and prosperous nation, including support to the Burundi Government law enforcement, judiciary, and military to develop the institutions and procedures that will protect citizens and establish a foundation for long-term national and regional stability.
They also discussed the critical importance for Burundi’s continued economic growth and stability for the 2016 national elections there to be peaceful, fair, free, and consistent with the spirit of the Arusha Accords. In support of these elections, they talked about the strong U.S. support for a continued robust United Nations presence in Burundi, including the current UN office in Burundi which concludes in December, and the follow-on UN electoral observation mission.
He also met yesterday with President Compaore of Burkina Faso. Secretary Kerry expressed condolences to the families of the 28 citizens who were among the 116 passengers and crew who lost their lives in the crash of the Air Algerie fight in Mali – flight in Mali just a few weeks ago. Secretary Kerry discussed the importance of developing strong institutions and peaceful transitions of power. He also expressed appreciation for Burkina Faso’s contributions to the UN peacekeeping missions and regional mediation efforts, including support of the Mali peace negotiations recently begun in Algiers.
And last one of yesterday, during an August 4th – during the meeting yesterday on the margins of the Africa Leaders Summit, Secretary Kerry congratulated Mauritanian President Aziz on his recent reelection and for assuming the chairmanship of the African Union. The Secretary applauded him for his leadership role in negotiating a cease-fire between the Malian Government and rebel groups in the country’s north, and recognized the strong U.S.-Mauritania partnership on counterterrorism initiatives in the region.
Today – just a few from today. The Secretary and Prime Minister Hailemariam of Ethiopia discussed security in South Sudan and in the Horn of Africa. The Secretary commended Ethiopia for moving the South Sudan peace process forward and working to bring the two sides of the conflict together. The Secretary also commended Ethiopia for its contributions to fighting Al-Shabaab in neighboring Somalia and for helping Somalia create a more just, peaceful, and democratic society. The prime minister remarked that regional peace and stability is the basis for economic growth, and noted that Ethiopia is working very hard to bring investors to the region. The Secretary, finally, underscored the U.S. commitment to continuing to help Ethiopia’s strength and capacity in the fields of health, education, agriculture, energy, and democracy, and human rights, noting that we provided Ethiopia $800 million in assistance annually.
The Secretary also met with AU Commission Chairperson Zuma this morning. He expressed his sincere gratitude to her for her work as chairperson of the African Union Commission. He reiterated that the African Union is a key strategic partner in implementing President Obama’s strategy for sub-Saharan Africa, strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, trade and investment, advancing peace and security, and promoting opportunity and development. They discussed the potential positive role of the summit in changing perceptions in Africa – of Africa in the United States, highlighting opportunities in Africa for U.S. investment outside of the extractive industries.
Finally, the Secretary also met this morning with South Sudan President Kiir. The meeting came at a very critical time, especially given our concern about lack of progress in peace negotiations, ongoing violence, and a worsening humanitarian crisis, which we see as the worst food security situation in the world now made worse by the recent killings of a number of humanitarian workers in South Sudan. Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Power expressed their concern about continued fighting and the growing humanitarian crisis, which will reach even more catastrophic levels in the coming months. The Secretary stressed that in order for a transitional government to be established, the parties need to come to the table and need a peace agreement.
That is the summary of our bilateral meetings. Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Wow, did he have time to do anything else?
MS. PSAKI: He has done a few other things in that time, it turns out.
QUESTION: Okay. Listen, can we start with – maybe some of them have been on the Middle East. Have they?
MS. PSAKI: They have not.
QUESTION: Oh, they haven’t?
MS. PSAKI: But we can certainly start with the Middle East.
QUESTION: All right. Well, listen, we saw your comments and the comments of the White House, your comments last night and the comments of the White House, about the cease-fire and you being supportive of it and also being supportive of the talks that are now going to happen whenever they start in Cairo. What is the Administration’s thinking about U.S. participation in these talks, if at all? And if the parties who are the direct parties to this are not particularly enthusiastic about U.S. participation, are you going to try to force your way, barge into this, much in the same way the President and former Secretary of State did with the Chinese and the climate talks in Copenhagen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that was quite a unique event. But this is an issue that, of course, the Secretary and senior levels of the Administration have been closely involved in. We expect that will continue. In terms of who will participate, we’re still determining who and at what level. Obviously, we’re in discussions not only internally but with the Israelis and the Egyptians about that as well.
QUESTION: But you do —
QUESTION: So you definitely will?
QUESTION: Yeah. You —
MS. PSAKI: Our expectation is that we will continue to remain closely engaged. In terms of who and how and when, we’re still determining that.
QUESTION: But you have decided that U.S. participation in these talks in Cairo is important and should happen, correct?
MS. PSAKI: I think it is likely we will be participating in these talks.
QUESTION: Can you —
MS. PSAKI: We will – we are determining at what level and in what capacity and when.
QUESTION: And can you say if you feel – if the Administration feels that its participation is welcome?
MS. PSAKI: I think our effort and our engagement on this process from the beginning has been welcomed by the parties. We’ve been – we were in Egypt —
QUESTION: Really? We just spent an entire, like, 10-day period where both sides were telling you the exact opposite.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, there is sometimes a difference between what is stated publicly and what is communicated privately.
MS. PSAKI: In this case, as we know, this cease-fire just took hold this morning. Obviously, in – over the course of the last 10 days or more, the Secretary has been very closely engaged, making more than a hundred phone calls related to the cease-fire. We all know he spent five days in Cairo, a day in Paris, a day in Israel. The President’s spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu three times over the course of the last few weeks as well. So obviously, we want to see a cease-fire that will be prolonged, that will hold, that will give an opportunity to have negotiations. But there are, of course – where we are now is determining our engagement moving forward.
QUESTION: Did the U.S. Government have any direct role in achieving the cease-fire that has now taken hold?
MS. PSAKI: Well, absolutely, Arshad. I think our engagement over the past 10 days has built and led to the point we reached last night. And that’s why I referenced the number of calls and the number of visits the Secretary was engaged in. I think there are two important factors that obviously have changed over the course of the last couple of days and – or two conditions, I should say. One of them is that Israel completed work on the tunnels. At their insistence, of course, the cease-fire agreed to last week allowed for Israel to continue that work. That’s something the United States supported. Of course, that obviously made it more difficult to sustain a cease-fire, given sometimes the confusion that causes on the ground. And the second factor is, of course, that – the growing concern and pressure that has built over the course of the last 10 days, in part due to the Secretary’s involvement, from the international community. That has – there’s been a building chorus of support for a cease-fire, obviously to see an end to the rocket attacks, but also to see an end to the humanitarian crisis that we’ve seen on the ground in Gaza.
QUESTION: How – I mean, there were at least two cease-fires that were – well, there was definitely one that was more or less announced in the middle of the night in India that did not take hold. And then there was a —
MS. PSAKI: It took hold briefly. But yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Excuse me. It took hold for 90 minutes or whatever was the number of minutes. But I think if it’s a cease-fire that lasts for less than two hours it’s – whether it actually took hold or not is kind of debatable. But in any case, it didn’t succeed. Similarly, the prior cease-fire, which was originally 12 hours and then maybe extended, did not end up lasting a long time. And what I’m trying to understand is what was the direct U.S. role in the last, say, 48 hours. Because from the outside, it kind of looks like the Israelis simply decided that they had done what they needed to do, and therefore they had decided to stop. So what was your role in the last, say, 48 hours on the current cease-fire?
MS. PSAKI: Well, in the last 48 hours the Secretary has continued to be closely engaged with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry, with all of the parties. The point I was trying to make, Arshad, is that obviously the work of the last 10 days, built by the Secretary, by the UN, by a range of international partners, built to the point we reached now. But there are conditions that, of course, changed over the course of time, including the fact that Israel completed their work, by their own public statements, on the tunnels. Not only does that create more of a condition perhaps to have a sustainable cease-fire, it also, of course, gives the people of Israel more security that that piece of the job is done. So that certainly is a factor in terms of the conditions of how we got to this point.
And then the second piece is over the course of the last 10 days and even the last 48 hours there’s been continued, building international support for a cease-fire, concern about the civilian causalities we’re seeing, concern about the ongoing rocket fire, and those are all factors that have contributed to the point we led to last night.
QUESTION: One other one on this. There is – and I know you’re not responsible for what op-ed writers write, but there is a piece by David Ignatius today that lays out what purports to be Secretary Kerry’s ideas for the next steps. And it talks about a circumstance under which you would try to strengthen President Abbas: There would be a transfer of the border of control on the Palestinian side to PA forces; both on the Israeli and the Egyptian side, talks about disarming Hamas. But what he doesn’t talk about and what I don’t understand – and again, I know this is just somebody’s op-ed piece – but it doesn’t explain at all why Hamas would be interested in doing any of these things or in seeing any of these things happen in Gaza. Does that piece reflect the Secretary’s thinking? And if so, how do you hope to get Hamas to agree to do all these things that one would think it would be quite opposed to?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say there’s no “Kerry plan.” I’ll put that in quotes. There are – there has – he has been – has long supported an effort to strengthen President Abbas and to work with other parties in the region to do just that, and that will continue. So that certainly is supportive of his view.
The reason why the negotiations are so important is because these are issues that we believe and he believes need to be worked out in Cairo with the host, the Egyptian hosts, certainly with our support. But the issue of how demilitarization would work, which we certainly support, or how efforts to open up greater economic opportunity to the people of Gaza – those are issues that need to be discussed between the parties.
QUESTION: Jen, just two – a couple very quick points. You mentioned – you said over the past 48 hours the Secretary has been actively engaged, talking with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Egyptian foreign minister, and others. But unless something is – but I thought you answered my – you answered earlier by saying he hadn’t been in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the last day. And —
MS. PSAKI: Well, he was in touch with him on Sunday.
QUESTION: Right. And what you said was the very brief phone call, interrupted by some communications problem.
MS. PSAKI: And —
QUESTION: So – but, okay, so if we go back 48 hours from right now, which is almost 3 o’clock on Tuesday —
MS. PSAKI: You want me to give you a rundown of the calls he’s —
MS. PSAKI: He’s spoken today – I would remind you since you asked me, since he’s had 12 bilats, he hasn’t had as much —
MS. PSAKI: — quality phone time as perhaps he would like, but he spoke with secretary – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today. He also spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry yesterday. He spoke with Special Coordinator for the UN Robert Serry yesterday. So those are just the calls that he’s done over the last few days.
QUESTION: Okay. But as far as you know, he hasn’t managed to reconnect with Prime Minister Netanyahu since the —
MS. PSAKI: Not over the last 36 hours, no.
QUESTION: All right. And then you said that “there is no Kerry plan,” quote-unquote, but is – what was notable in the Washington Post piece, at least something that jumped out at me, was that there wasn’t any method or – well, you say that it – that the general goals outlined there are what the Secretary has been pushing for for months now.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But is the Administration convinced that Hamas has to disarm? Because one of the – and if it is, how exactly does that happen? Because it doesn’t seem to be addressed in that piece.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t know that that piece was meant to be a rollout document or – of any sort, certainly not officially from the government. But demilitarization, the point I was making, is something we certainly support. How we get there is a good question.
QUESTION: But is that —
MS. PSAKI: There are a lot of parties that will have that discussion. There are also pieces – this is just the last thing I’ll say. There are also priorities that the Palestinians have, including opening up some of the crossings, like Rafah crossing, more access to goods, economic opportunity, that are some of their asks in this discussion. So obviously just like in any negotiation, there are pieces that both sides are interested in.
QUESTION: But is disarmament or demilitarization, is that critical to these talks in Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s critical in the sense that it’s a big priority for the Israelis, and obviously they are an important party in the discussions.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, is that something that you think must be addressed in these negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re going to be dictating what terms they will be, but certainly we understand why it needs to be part of the discussion.
QUESTION: And then my last one is just – I want to get an answer: If you’re not welcome at these – if you, meaning the Administration, is not welcome at these talks, are you going to insist, are you going to force your way into them?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we anticipate that at this point in time, Matt. So —
QUESTION: So what happens on Friday 1:00 a.m. Eastern, 8:00 a.m. local, when the cease-fire is supposed to be done?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I think obviously one of the priorities or one of the focuses early in any discussions will have to be an extension of the cease-fire so that there can be a longer period of time to continue the negotiations, and we don’t expect that these very difficult, complicated issues with a great deal of history will be resolved in a matter of hours.
QUESTION: Is the special envoy, Mr. Lowenstein, working the phones right now?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly. He just returned last – yesterday, but he certainly would be one of the individuals who could return to Egypt, and he certainly has been engaged on the phone. I expect that will continue.
More on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: Or on Gaza?
QUESTION: Yes, one more quickly.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: This issue will be coming next month at the United Nations General Assembly gatherings, and what do you think UN or the international community will play a role as far as a permanent cease-fire is concerned?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the UN has been an important partner with the United States and many in the international community in supporting a cease-fire, and we expect that will continue. Obviously one of the people that Secretary Kerry has spoken with in the limited time he’s had over the past 24 hours is Robert Serry, and he was closely engaged with him throughout the course of the last several days.
Do we have any more on Gaza?
QUESTION: Yeah. Can you go back to the allegations primarily against the Israeli military, but also against Hamas, of civilian casualties, some using language such as “genocide,” “human rights violations”? The U.S. has expressed its concern over the way that some of the Israeli military’s actions were conducted during this operation, and I note your colleague at the White House did so very pointedly last Thursday. What is being done in terms of accountability since it seems that the fighting has stopped, an accountability for both sides?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I think, one, the point we were – we made with our public statements from the State Department as well is that while we certainly respect Israel’s right to defend themselves, there’s certainly more that could be done or could have been done to prevent and avoid civilian casualties. That’s the case in any war zone.
And I know – and this may be what you’re referring to – that there are reports of a push for an ICC investigation. Our view is that we continue to strongly oppose unilateral actions that seek to circumvent or prejudge the very outcomes that can only be negotiated. We’ve been very clear that, while we’ve expressed concerns when we’ve had them, there is – the only realistic path for realizing Palestinian aspirations of statehood is through direct negotiations between the parties. Obviously, our focus right now continues to be on addressing this current situation.
So, go ahead.
QUESTION: Does that mean that as part of whatever these talks will be that the question of overreach, atrocities, whatever word that you want to use, from both sides would be addressed in that venue as opposed to in ICC?
MS. PSAKI: I think that wasn’t what I was saying at all, Roz. What I was saying – I think we know what the issues will be, which are the issues that were presented by both sides. That would be the focus of the negotiations, whether that’s security for Israel or that’s economic opportunity for the Palestinian side.
QUESTION: Well, I guess what I’m asking – just – sorry, Matt. I guess what I’m asking is: Things happened in the last 29 days, and there are going to be people on both sides expecting some sort of resolution of what happened. How will that be done?
MS. PSAKI: Well, right now our focus is on seeing if the cease-fire can be extended, seeing if these core issues can be – these key issues can be addressed. The question of what the UN Security Council might do will be evaluated at a later time.
QUESTION: I don’t understand how you are concerned about an ICC investigation prejudging the outcome of final negotiations unless you are saying that the potential or possibility of war crimes having been committed is going to now be part of the peace process, in which case I think that the chances are —
MS. PSAKI: That’s not what I was saying.
QUESTION: Like, what —
MS. PSAKI: I think the reason I used that broad reference is because there have been – this is not the first time there have been rumors of; certainly, there have been issues raised in the past, and we think there’s other forums to address them.
QUESTION: Right, but —
QUESTION: Why shouldn’t – just in the interests of justice, why shouldn’t allegations of war crimes in any conflict be addressed in some forum? Why not?
MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t saying that in any broad – I wasn’t making a broad point that it shouldn’t be, Arshad. I think our focus —
QUESTION: Just not at the ICC?
MS. PSAKI: Our focus right now is on addressing the current situation.
QUESTION: Why shouldn’t an allegation of war crimes by any side in any conflict be addressed at the ICC? Why is that a bad forum? Why shouldn’t that happen?
MS. PSAKI: We – as you know, there have been occasions where we have been supportive of that.
QUESTION: So – but my question is, why not now? I mean —
MS. PSAKI: I think there is going to be a great deal of time to make a determination about what happened and what issues should be raised at a higher level, but right now we think the focus should be on addressing the current situation.
QUESTION: But why? I mean, I understand the underlying argument, I think, which is that if the Palestinians seek to join the Rome Statute or to sign onto it and then raise it, that that is a unilateral action that you believe prejudices the outcome. Correct?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But I don’t understand why, leaving aside that one piece of it, why the Government of the United States of America would not argue that if there are credible allegations of war crimes – and there are certainly things which you, in your name, said were disgraceful and that the U.S. Government was appalled by them – why it should not support an independent investigation into what happened.
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re not at that point right now, Arshad. And I certainly didn’t in any statement call anything a war crime. Obviously, there will be a great deal of time to determine what happened and what steps should be taken. That’s not our current focus at this moment.
QUESTION: I guess that there is another route to the ICC, and that’s through the UN Security Council. Can we assume that the Administration would veto any – that the U.S. would veto any move at the Security Council to bring not just whatever Israel is alleged to do, but what Hamas is alleged to do as well, to – is that – would that be a fair assumption?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just – there hasn’t even been a UN Security Council resolution proposed.
QUESTION: Right. Well, the – so thus far —
MS. PSAKI: So I don’t think I’m going to go there at this point in time.
QUESTION: Thus far in this conflict, which has now stopped because of the cease-fire, there has been a total of one vote on any kind of an investigation into it, and you guys voted against it because you said it was one-sided.
MS. PSAKI: I understand. I’m aware.
QUESTION: So – but you’re not saying that you’re opposed to any investigation at all, as long as it’s fair.
MS. PSAKI: I have no comment on this, no evaluation of it.
MS. PSAKI: We will determine at a later date what the appropriate steps are.
New topic or – go ahead.
QUESTION: I cut off Michel (inaudible) his question.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Lebanon. Please go ahead, if you want. You’ll take Lebanon or Asia?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, I’ll do Lebanon.
QUESTION: I have one on rockets in Gaza.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Palestinian Authority go back into Gaza to help clear the area of illegal weapons, is that it?
MS. PSAKI: I think, Lucas, there’s a great deal that needs to be discussed in terms of what is going to happen from here. A lot of those discussions will happen in Cairo. I’m not going to prejudge what the steps will be, when they’ll be, anything beyond that.
QUESTION: But aren’t there already outstanding treaties that say – like Oslo, for example, from 1995 – saying that there should not be any illegal weapons throughout Gaza?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed in Gaza that will be a part of the discussions moving forward, Lucas.
QUESTION: On Lebanon, to what extent are you concerned about the clashes between the Lebanese army and ISIL and Arsal at the border with Syria? And are you providing any arms and any help to the Lebanese forces?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we put out a statement just a few days ago on this, Michel, but I will say – I can give you an update on what we are providing. As you know, we provide significant security assistance and we are currently providing $75 million in support to Lebanon’s armed forces just in FY 2014 alone. This assistance is intended to bolster the efforts to preserve Lebanese security and stability, including minimizing the spillover violence from the Syrian crisis that is impacting Lebanon. Our support for the Lebanese army, also, of course, a key institution of Lebanese statehood is critical, and the spillover effects of the Syrian crisis have increased the strain, as we all know – hence why you’re asking – and we remain fully committed.
In FY 2015, our request includes $80 million for FMF security assistance for Lebanon. The Administration’s $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnership Fund request includes funds specifically to help mitigate the spillover effects for Lebanon. As we look to the future, we’ll continue to assess, of course, how we can best assist.
QUESTION: And are you planning to provide the Lebanese army with sophisticated arms since they are fighting ISIL in a complicated area?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our assistance includes what I’ve just outlined. I have nothing to predict for you in terms of future assistance.
Go ahead, Anne.
QUESTION: Can we stay in the region? I just wondered if the State Department has any new information or any updated comment on the case of a Washington Post correspondent, Jason Rezaian, and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, who were detained on July 22nd and have not been heard from. Particularly, there was a report yesterday uncorroborated by IranWire that a caretaker for their building was killed at the time of their detention for asking for documentation and an arrest warrant from whoever it was who grabbed them. Do you have any information that might substantiate or refute that report?
MS. PSAKI: Unfortunately, we don’t have a great deal of information, so let me share with you what we have. We, of course, have seen the reports that an individual in Mr. Rezaian’s building died from injuries sustained – the reports you referenced. We don’t have any further information or confirmation of those reports.
We remain concerned about his detention in Iran, along with one other U.S. citizen and the non-U.S. citizen spouse of one of the two, one of which you referenced. We, of course, call on the Iranian Government and continue to call on the Iranian Government to immediately release him and the other individuals. Our focus is on doing everything possible to secure the safe return and release of Mr. Rezaian and the others detained with him.
We have requested consular access via our protecting power Switzerland. In general, however, Iran’s response to our request for consular access to dual U.S.-Iranian citizens is that Iran does not recognize their U.S. citizenship and considers them to be solely Iranian citizens. I don’t have any specific update at this point in time in our request, but we, of course, continue to monitor the situation very closely.
QUESTION: Just a quick clarification on that.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: You said that’s the Iranians’ position generally.
MS. PSAKI: Has generally been with the other American citizens, yes.
QUESTION: Right. But they – do I take it from that and what you said after that they have not given the Swiss any specific yes or no —
MS. PSAKI: There’s no specific update in this case, yes.
QUESTION: Okay, all right. Got it.
QUESTION: Do you know whether the Swiss have been able to see Jason and his wife at all?
MS. PSAKI: There’s no specific update in the case.
QUESTION: There’s no specific update or no – or there’s been no response from the Iranians to the Swiss request?
MS. PSAKI: No specific update I can provide to all of you.
QUESTION: If – I’m sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can I —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry. One on Iran? Sorry. I’m sorry. Go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Asia, can you confirm a report that the State Department had a meeting with former comfort women from South Korea last week? And if that’s the case, could you share who met from the State Department and who requested this meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, at their request, two members of the House of Sharing met State Department officials on July 31st and discussed their experiences. It’s important to note that State Department officials have periodically met with members of the House of Sharing in the past, so this is not the first time or it’s not without precedent. I don’t have any other updates on the level. Of course, it was here in Washington, so from our bureau here.
QUESTION: So you don’t know if it’s requested from South Korean Government?
MS. PSAKI: They were – no, it was requested from the members of the House of Sharing.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any concern this kind of meeting might have a negative impact on U.S.-Japan relationship, given Japan has different opinions on these issues?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think this is an issue that we have discussed, certainly, in the past with Japan. As we’ve stated many times, it is deplorable and clearly a grave human rights violation of enormous proportions that the Japanese military was involved in the trafficking of women for sexual purposes in the 1930s and 1940s. And we – as we know, that was quite a long time ago, but we encourage Japan to continue to address this issue in a manner that promotes healing and facilitates better relations with neighboring states. We have had meetings – State Department officials have periodically met with representatives from this group in the past, so it shouldn’t set a new precedent. And obviously, there’s a great deal we work with Japan on.
QUESTION: Last question: So you don’t rule out any future meeting like this?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m ruling it out. I think we meet periodically with representatives from this group.
QUESTION: Sorry, which bureau was that with?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the EAP would be the natural —
QUESTION: Not DRL?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that, actually, but it wasn’t at a – it was a working-level meeting, so —
QUESTION: Right. I’m just curious as to what bureau or multiple – maybe there were multiple —
QUESTION: Could you check on it?
MS. PSAKI: I will see if there’s more clarity we’d like to provide.
QUESTION: So you don’t have any (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: More detail of any – you don’t have any —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to have more detail to provide, no.
QUESTION: Going back to Iran for a second, how can you in good faith negotiate with the Iranian Government over their nuclear program when they’re taking American hostages?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Lucas, let me say first that the reason that we’re working with the P5+1 members, the reason why we have been negotiating with Iran, is because of the great concern the President, many members of Congress, the Secretary of State have about Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. And we think preventing that is not just a priority for the United States, but for the international community.
At every point in this process, we’ve had remaining concerns about other issues where we have strong disagreements, not just the detaining of American citizens, which of course is something we have a strong concern about, but also issues like human rights violations and their work and support for terrorist activities. But preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon remains an objective and a goal we think is worthy, and one that we will, of course, continue to pursue.
QUESTION: So as all the – as these events transpire, would you say Iran is a good negotiating partner?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think Iran has abided by the JPOA. Obviously, we’re moving into a new stage of negotiations that will begin soon. As you know, in each of these negotiations, whenever we have the opportunity, we raise concerns about the American citizens who have been detained and our desire to see them return home.
QUESTION: Speaking of the nuclear talks, there are reports that there might be a sideline meeting at UNGA next month on the negotiations. Can you confirm that?
MS. PSAKI: I have seen those reports. I don’t have any update on the timing of the next meeting.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Do we have any more on Iran?
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead. Egypt.
QUESTION: Yes, please. The first one is an American FMO – MFO soldier was shot in Sinai. Do you have any information or update about him?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know there were reports, but the media reports are incorrect. The MFO camp was not targeted during this incident. No U.S. soldier was injured. A U.S. contractor was slightly injured as a result of a stray round fired in the vicinity. The U.S. contractor has received treatment, was released, and has since returned to duty.
QUESTION: Okay. The second question regarding the – Secretary Kerry yesterday met yesterday evening – met the prime minister of Egypt. Do you have any readout of the meeting?
MS. PSAKI: I believe I do. If I don’t, I was there, and I will give you a readout.
I’ll just say that he had a meeting, as you mentioned, with the prime minister of Egypt last evening. It was his last of the day. They discussed not only our strategic and security relationship with Egypt and the path forward, but also steps that Egypt could take to continue on the path to democracy. That’s something the Secretary, of course, raises during every meeting. He also raised the issue, again, of the arbitrary arrests and our concern about that and the concern he hears from members of Congress about that as well.
QUESTION: The (inaudible) case, did that come up?
MS. PSAKI: It was more of a general conversation. He had – did raise that as recently as the last time he was there.
QUESTION: How long was the meeting in —
MS. PSAKI: If I remember, it was about 30 minutes.
MS. PSAKI: These meetings are never as long as you want them to be because they’re all trying to fit in so many.
QUESTION: So there is another question. One of the main issues of – I mean, yesterday, the Secretary had meetings and other people had meetings all related to Libya.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What’s the main – what is your understanding now of what’s going in Libya and how it’s going to be somehow solved or find out – exit to this situation now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary also met with the prime minister of Libya yesterday. We continue to call on all Libyans to respect the June election of the Council of Representatives, to support the work of the constitutional drafting assembly, and to reject the use of violence. Libya’s challenges can only be resolved by Libyans working together to secure a more stable and prosperous future, and we continue to stand solidly by the Libyan people as they endeavor to do so. And certainly, Libya and – actually, it was certainly an issue – I should have mentioned that – that was discussed last night during the meeting, and it’s been discussed in some of his meetings over the course of the last several days.
As you know, there’s – we’ve been working with the international community to try to address the security issues on the ground. We know this is inherently a political problem, but certainly we have remaining security concerns that we’re trying to work to address as well.
Go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: How much does it impair your ability to work with the Libyan Government on such things as training and establishing a security force that would be answerable to the Libyan Government that the U.S. has had to – or has withdrawn its diplomats from Tripoli?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, it’s important to note that this is a temporary relocation. Ambassador Jones was in the meeting yesterday. She’s remained closely engaged with the Libyans. And as you know, this is not just a United States endeavor. It is one that we’re working with the international community on, and so those conversations are continuing at a high level. Our preference would certainly be to have our staff there, but we’ve been able to continue to engage and work on these issues, both with the Libyans as well as others in the international community who are closely engaged with it.
QUESTION: Does it make it harder not being there?
MS. PSAKI: I think, again, because a lot of these conversations and coordination are happening at a very high level, whether it’s Ambassador Satterfield, Ambassador Jones, those are continuing. But of course, it’s preferable and – to have our team on the ground, and our full team on the ground, and that’s certainly what we’d like to return to.
QUESTION: Who’s working on the issue of trying to, for lack of a better word, demilitarize Libya?
MS. PSAKI: Well, who from the State Department?
QUESTION: Well, just in general, what parties are working on it? Are there any protocols that can be looked to to try to make – to help the government secure the country so that people don’t have to get caught in between these militias fighting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there are a great deal of international efforts. The Secretary has been engaged in a number of meetings with a number of other countries that the British – the U.K. has hosted, others have hosted, to discuss exactly that issue. I think it hasn’t moved as quickly as we would like, Roz, but obviously, Ambassador Satterfield, certainly Ambassador Jones, others who are engaged at a very high level here, that’s one of the primary issues that they’re working on.
QUESTION: Just to be clear, are – Ambassador Jones and Ambassador Satterfield are in the same place or different places?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Ambassador Jones is the Ambassador to Libya.
MS. PSAKI: She was —
QUESTION: And Ambassador Satterfield is – I think, is special envoy?
MS. PSAKI: Correct, and he’s been working sort of as a – in coordination with other international partners on kind of how to coordinate as we work to address the issues going on in Libya.
QUESTION: The other question – you said Libyans. I mean, are you in touch with all the factions or the fighting – whatever you call it – I don’t know, it’s groups? Or just the central government?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a list of our engagements. We can see if there’s one we can get to all of you, if you’d like.
Should we move on to new issue?
QUESTION: Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Michel, go ahead.
QUESTION: — there is a perception in the Middle East that the U.S. was behind the creation of ISIL in the region. And —
MS. PSAKI: Behind the creation?
QUESTION: The creation or supporting the ISIL. And they say that since the U.S. didn’t attack yet or so far ISIL in some parts of Iraq after they took over some parts of Iraq, that’s why the U.S. is behind the creation and supporting ISIL. What can you say about that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s a ludicrous and absolutely false accusation or view. Our view is that ISIL is a group of vicious terrorists. Their campaign of terror, grotesque violence, and repressive ideology poses serious threats to the stability and future of Iraq. We’ve seen the nature of ISIL fully exposed by its ruthless attacks on not only the Iraqi people but the Syrian people. This is an issue that not only the Secretary but the President of the United States remains focused on, and I think our actions speak to how concerned we are about ISIL.
QUESTION: And why the U.S. didn’t react or didn’t attack ISIL in Iraq and Syria so far?
MS. PSAKI: Why did we not attack?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there are a couple of factors, including the assessment on the ground that, of course, DOD has the lead on. We have sent additional resources, and they’ve been there for weeks. The other is government formation, and we believe – and the Secretary’s believes and the senior members of the Administration believe – that government formation is an incredibly important part of what needs to happen in Iraq in order to proceed and that, of course, is a factor in our own decision making.
QUESTION: But Jen, I think what – I mean, it’s well and good for you to say it’s ludicrous and absurd that you created ISIL or – but I think the perception that Michel’s talking about is that you have unintentionally given this group – not – given is the wrong word, but the U.S. has armed this group to some extent because of the stuff that they’ve stolen from the Iraqi military. Is that – I mean, you don’t deny that, do you?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve all seen the same reports, Matt.
QUESTION: I mean, they – right. I mean, they’ve taken this – Humvees and other stuff and arms, correct? You don’t dispute that, right? So I guess the question is: Why doesn’t the U.S. destroy that stuff?
MS. PSAKI: Why don’t we retroactively destroy —
QUESTION: No, why don’t you go in now and take out, destroy, the U.S. equipment that this group is now using against your friends, the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to do an analysis from here —
QUESTION: A military analysis.
MS. PSAKI: — on what we should take, what steps militarily we will or won’t take.
QUESTION: Okay. But I think that that’s kind – that may be something that’s keeping this perception alive.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the point I’m making is obviously that’s an inaccurate perception.
QUESTION: Yes, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Regarding the ISIL, a few weeks ago you were mentioning that there was kind of a confrontation going on in the Twittersphere, as you can call it, between tweets that – so is there – this thing is still going on or they – you stopped it?
MS. PSAKI: I think a few weeks ago I spoke to our efforts to combat that. I don’t have any real updates since then in terms of their – the activity of ISIL’s Twitter account. I would you let you do analysis on that.
Do we have a new topic? Oh, go ahead, in the back. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Last week there was an initial announcement from the State Department that the U.S. was considering punitive actions against some Venezuelan officials for human rights violations. Is there any more that you have on that? We’ve heard reports that the U.S. is moving to revoke the visas of 24 officials.
MS. PSAKI: So the announcement that was made last week – obviously since then and in conjunction with that, there have been briefings with the Hill and there have been a range of information that’s been out there in the public domain. And so, therefore, we can confirm that there are 24 individuals who will have restrictions imposed on them. Obviously, those vary, but that is a number we can confirm at this point in time.
QUESTION: So they’re done on Venezuela?
QUESTION: Quick question.
QUESTION: On Venezuela?
MS. PSAKI: I think – Venezuela. Go ahead.
QUESTION: No, I don’t have one on Venezuela.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: All right. I want to go to Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: One, I’m wondering if you were —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry. (Laughter.) Sorry about that.
QUESTION: I’m wondering – yesterday, you said that you weren’t able to verify either of these conflicting – the many numerous conflicting reports about these Ukrainian soldiers.
MS. PSAKI: I do have a little bit of new information on that.
QUESTION: Do you have – yes.
MS. PSAKI: The OSCE observer mission on the Russian border facilitated the movement of 437 Ukrainian troops into Russia on August 3rd. The troops had requested OSCE assistance in opening a humanitarian corridor after being surrounded by separatists and finding themselves without food, fuel, and ammunition. All their attempts to negotiate a cease-fire with the separatists had failed. At least 192 of these servicemen returned to Ukraine on August 4th. The OSCE was not made aware of any asylum requests.
We also would note that the Russians have committed to return the rest of the troops as well. That’s the latest number that we have at this point.
QUESTION: Okay. I mean, this situation seems bizarre, no? I just – what I mean, so you have a situation where the Ukrainian army that you support is fighting separatists who you oppose but who are supported by Russia. And somehow the OSCE negotiates safe passage for these Ukrainian troops into Russia where they are not molested; they’re taken care of apparently. And then they – and then some of them go back.
This would seem to me to suggest that the situation is perhaps less – recognizing that there is actual shelling and fighting going on in certain places, what does this tell you about the situation between Ukrainian troops and the Russian troops on the other side of the border? Does it tell you anything?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I would venture to do any broad analysis here, given the other events that have continued to happen on the ground.
QUESTION: Fair enough.
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, in this case the OSCE obviously played a significant role here in assuring their safe passage, and certainly we wanted to note that the Russians have agreed to return the troops.
QUESTION: Okay. So that’s a positive thing?
MS. PSAKI: This particular incident, certainly.
QUESTION: Right. Do —
MS. PSAKI: But obviously, there are a range of other issues that we remain concerned about.
QUESTION: Clearly. I think you’ve – yes, you’ve made that very obvious. But do you think that in the absence – if the OSCE hadn’t been there, are you concerned that there might have been – that this might have led to people dying, bloodshed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s hard to know, Matt. But I mean, it was a situation obviously where they were surrounded by separatists and they had no food, fuel, ammunition.
MS. PSAKI: So it certainly was not a desirable —
QUESTION: Your position —
MS. PSAKI: — situation to be sitting in.
QUESTION: Okay. So your position would be then that they – this should never have happened in the first place because there shouldn’t be a separatists attacking the army?
MS. PSAKI: Well certainly. The prime – the, of course, primary point is that, yes.
QUESTION: All right. So the other thing that you were asked yesterday about this Russian military – aviation military exercise that’s going on.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You said you were – the U.S. was very deep – was deeply concerned about it, that it’s provocative. Well, the Russian defense ministry says that this is – this exercise is not taking place really close to the Ukrainian border. It’s a thousand kilometers away. And I’m wondering if given that, if you still have deep concerns about this being a provocative exercise.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, the point I was making yesterday that I think I would certainly stick with is that obviously the conditions and the circumstances that any of these exercises are taking place in are a relevant factor, and that when we’re in a situation where we’re trying to reach a cease-fire where the Russians say they want to reach that, these sort of exercises send a different message.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, it’s really not close to the Ukrainian border. So if you’re deeply concerned – I mean, how far away can the Russians do military exercises without drawing the concern of the United States? I mean, do they have to be in Vladivostok? I mean, how far away from —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Czech Republic?
QUESTION: I mean, it —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an exact kilometer (inaudible) measurement.
QUESTION: Siberia? Where do they – where exactly is it that the Russians can have military exercises that won’t – that you don’t think – or that you won’t have concerns are provocative to the situation in Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: If there are exercises in Siberia, I’m happy to speak to that at the time.
QUESTION: Okay. But you still have – you have concerns about this exercise and it being a provocative action, is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Despite the distance, the rather large distance?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Jen, the Polish foreign minister is very concerned about these exercises and says that Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine, and that has generated a lot of news. The markets are way down today. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there have been a range of reports and comments out there. I think it’s – there are a few things that we do know. Additional Russian forces continue to arrive along the Ukrainian border, and Russia continues to reposition forces throughout the region. We don’t have specific numbers from here to share, and specifics on troop numbers is difficult to calculate. So I’m not going to make a prediction from here, but certainly the fact that troops continue to arrive is something that we are watching closely and remain concerned about.
QUESTION: And a few hours ago, President Putin said that he was going to develop a response to the sanctions put on his country by the United States and the EU, and that’s also held – the stock market is down 1 percent as we speak. I thought these sanctions were supposed to hurt Russia, not the United States.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, Lucas, I think the vast, vast, vast majority of the hurt is being felt by Russia. As you noted – or I don’t think – but related to it is the central bank’s statement in Russia that was made as well. I mean, our goal here remains continuing to impose costs to increase the – to impose sanctions to increase the costs and – on Russia and on – and to have an impact on Russia’s actions. And obviously, with everything from the amount of nearly $100 billion in capital is expected to leave Russia, the impact on the energy, financial, and defense sectors, they’re all feeling pain. And that’s, of course, what we are hopeful will have an impact.
QUESTION: But you say you want to affect Putin’s actions, but you just said that Russia is putting more forces along the border. So how are the sanctions making him change his calculus?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think with every week that passes, we’re seeing more of a dire impact on the Russian economy. And obviously, President Putin has a choice to make. Does he care about the economy and the middle class people and people living in Russia, or does he care about continuing to take aggressive actions as it relates to Ukraine?
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on one thing?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: In Lucas’s question he referred to the exercise causing the Polish concern, but you’re talking about – when you say troops, Russian troops moving towards the border, that is something entirely separate from these military —
MS. PSAKI: Separate.
QUESTION: — from the aviation exercise, correct?
MS. PSAKI: That is entirely separate, yes.
Do we have any more —
QUESTION: Next question, please?
MS. PSAKI: One more on – do we have any more on Ukraine? Go ahead.
QUESTION: One more.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: Excuse me if I missed this, but were you asked about the Russian media report saying that Russia is considering barring European airlines from flying over its territory, from flying over Siberia, I think, to go to the Far East?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think if Russia doesn’t like the sanctions that have been imposed and the impact they’ve had, then the more productive response would be for Russia to stop sending arms and fighters into Ukraine. And that, we feel, is the more appropriate response they could take.
QUESTION: But does it bother you that they seem to be considering retaliation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – sure, but I think our view is that if they want to bring an end to the sanctions, there are clear steps they can take, clear – a clear path they can take.
QUESTION: Well, but Jen, I mean, are you – you’re approaching this with the idea that they want an end to the sanctions. Are you convinced that they do? They certainly don’t have – they certainly haven’t been acting that way, have they?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think, again, because the pain has been building and we’ve seen the impact on the economy only growing over the course of the last several weeks, we think there are serious decisions that President Putin will need to make.
QUESTION: As far as thes