1:19 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Two from the AP, Justin in the front row. It’s going to be a big day. (Laughter.) Michael Gordon’s son, Chris, is here who, as we all know, had an interview with Secretary Kerry, I think, before his dad, not to raise a sensitive issue but – (laughter) – just joking.
Okay. I don’t have anything new, so why don’t we start with what’s on your mind.
QUESTION: You have nothing new at all? All right.
MS. PSAKI: I have many things new. I don’t have anything to start off as a topper, I should have said.
QUESTION: All right. Since we all want to turn our attention, I think, to some press conference that might be happening a little later in New York, let’s try to get through this quickly.
MS. PSAKI: I’ve heard such a thing may be happening today —
QUESTION: Indeed. Can we —
MS. PSAKI: — from the media.
QUESTION: Can we start with Iran? The White House today went further than it did yesterday regarding the letter, calling it a flagrant partisan attempt to interfere in the negotiations, reckless, irresponsible and misguided. I assume that you would agree with those —
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: — those terms. The author of the letter was on a television show this morning talking about what his reasoning is behind – or the main author of the letter talking about what his reasoning is behind it. I’m a little bit confused because the reasons that he said for writing this letter appear to be exactly the same reasons – the same thing that the Administration is negotiating for. Can I just go through a couple of these?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: It said that Congress won’t accept a deal because we’re committed to stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Is that not the Administration’s point of view?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to go point by point through out-of-context points, Matt. I think the same —
QUESTION: Well, this is not —
MS. PSAKI: Let me make a point here. The same principal author of the letter made clear that their goal was to undermine these negotiations. That’s the issue we’re taking with the letter.
QUESTION: I understand. But is it not the Administration’s goal to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?
MS. PSAKI: Of course it is. But what’s —
QUESTION: Okay. That’s number one. Number two —
MS. PSAKI: What’s your contextual point here?
QUESTION: — Iran’s leaders need to understand that any deal that gives them a path to a bomb today, tomorrow, 10 years, 15 years from now will not be accepted by the United States Congress. Would such a deal be accepted by the Administration?
MS. PSAKI: If a path to – say that one more time.
QUESTION: If Iran’s leaders need to understand that any deal that gives them a path to a bomb today, tomorrow, 10 years, 15 years from now will not be accepted by the United States Congress.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, can we —
QUESTION: Will such a deal be accepted by the Administration?
MS. PSAKI: — can we get to the point of why you’re raising these points?
QUESTION: I want to —
MS. PSAKI: Because I think we were – we’ve been pretty clear about what issue we were taking with the letter signed by 47 senators.
QUESTION: Right. I’m asking you, though, based on what he said this morning, his goal and the goal of the signors of this letter appear to be exactly what the Administration has said its own goal is. Is that not correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, as we outlined yesterday, we believe – and as my colleagues at the White House have spoken to extensively – and I – well, I’ll get to this point – this type of letter, which was signed by 47 members of the Senate, is harmful to American national security because it inserts these members into the middle of very sensitive negotiations, negotiations that have historically for not just decades, but centuries, taken place between the president, the executive branch, and foreign countries.
Furthermore, as we’ve seen historically – or not just seen historically, as we know historically – we believe that there should be continuity from president to president in terms of U.S. foreign policy. Of course, there are differences of agreement, but you can’t – representing that you’re going to change things or you’re going to change the policy is what we see as the issue here.
QUESTION: Right. I’m just – he was asked what would an acceptable deal look like to you, and his response was: “complete nuclear disarmament by Iran.” Is it your understanding that Iran currently has nuclear weapons?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken extensively to —
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: — our concerns about Iran’s —
QUESTION: Is it not, in fact, the case that what the Administration is negotiating for, the deal that it wants to see would result in Iran never – not being able to have a nuclear weapon and the dismantlement of what infrastructure it —
MS. PSAKI: Of course, Matt, but I’m not going to respond anymore to —
QUESTION: Okay. So —
MS. PSAKI: — an interview done by the author who already has done the damage of putting the letter out.
QUESTION: Okay. So the – my – I guess my question is: The goal that he outlines and the other signatories of the letter presumably outline is the same as the Administration’s goal, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Clearly, there’s a problem because they don’t believe you. Can you think of a reason why 47 members of the Senate would think that the Administration is bent on allowing Iran or giving Iran a pathway to develop a nuclear weapon?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak for what their thinking is. I think we’ve spoken to what our view is on the letter.
QUESTION: Is the Administration’s position – opponents of the emerging deal, or what looks like it’s going to be, have adopted the slogan, “No bomb for Iran.” Is it not the case that the Administration, given what it said, could adopt the same slogan?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not putting out new slogans here. Do you have a specific additional question?
QUESTION: I’m saying, is no bomb for Iran the goal of the Administration?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve stated our goal many times. Do we have —
QUESTION: Which is that, right?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have more on Iran before we continue?
QUESTION: I have one.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Justin.
QUESTION: Some argue that the letter amounts to treason, that it’s a violation of the 1799 Logan Act.
MS. PSAKI: It’s a big day for John Adams, isn’t it?
QUESTION: Yeah, right. So what’s your take on that? Do you think it is in violation of the law?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not aware of any conversations within the United States Government regarding whether Senator Cotton and the other signatories violated the Logan Act. This is a legal question, so I’d certainly defer to others on that.
QUESTION: Okay. So but do – but generally, you think it’s within their legal rights? You’re not —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do legal analysis.
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken to what our concerns are, Justin, which is a combination of the fact that we believe it’s harmful to America’s national security for anyone to insert themselves into the middle of a very sensitive negotiation, and the long history we have of working cooperatively with nations around the globe in seeking to advance our interests where we allow bipartisanship issues to stop at the water’s edge.
Go ahead, Michael.
QUESTION: Jen, if there is an Iran agreement, it could very well last for 15 years, which would be through the next presidency and beyond and several presidents could have to administer this agreement, then there could be actions required by the Congress in terms of removing sanctions. Why shouldn’t an agreement of that duration, which requires some congressional action at some point to remove sanctions, be submitted to the Congress in some form for approval or a vote of some kind?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have envisioned – I will get to your question, but let me just reiterate: We have envisioned a role for Congress – there has been in the past, there is right now, and there will be in the future. Congress had a role in building the sanctions regime, to your point, and so at some point in the duration of this agreement, Congress will be heard on the sanctions relief and there will be a role for Congress to play in lifting sanctions down the line as part of the agreement.
Also to your point, that would be some time from now, because as we know, that’s not something that we’re discussing as an immediate part of this discussion. This is not – it wouldn’t be accurate, and I talked about this a little bit yesterday, but it wouldn’t be accurate to call this – it’s not – I’m not – I know you’re not comparing it to a treaty, but it’s different from past – there are comparisons I think I could make to some historic examples, but this is a multilateral understanding between many countries, including the P5+1 and the Iranians. So there’s a role for Congress to play not just in consultations, which is something that’s ongoing, but obviously as part of the sanctions regime, which would be the implementation of it.
QUESTION: But the role that you envision Congress playing, just to be clear, and I know you addressed this before but just to make it as clear as possible —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — you do not envision presenting this multilateral agreement to Congress for any kind of vote as to whether they think it’s in the nation’s interest, even though it’s going to be an agreement of huge consequence and for a significant duration. Is that fair?
MS. PSAKI: And that’s one of the – correct, but that’s one of the reasons we have been consulting very closely with them. There have been a range of hearings, both public hearings, many, many private hearings to hear from them, to discuss with them the status of the agreement.
QUESTION: And so my last question is: Why do you not think it’s appropriate to ask the Congress to vote on it?
MS. PSAKI: We think Congress has an appropriate role, the one that I’ve outlined. We’re not considering a different role for Congress.
QUESTION: Jen, can you explain how —
QUESTION: (Off-mike) —
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Oh, sorry.
QUESTION: — well, why it’s not a treaty?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me – I think I talked about this a little bit yesterday, so let me see if I can go back to some of the points I made then. Let’s see. So a treaty – unlike a treaty or other types of international agreements in which parties are generally required to take similar actions themselves, this deal will primarily reflect the international community putting strong limits on Iran’s nuclear program and Iran making verifiable and enforceable commitments to adhere to those limits. So these are political understandings between a multi – several countries, as you know, through the P5+1.
QUESTION: So wait, hold on, hold on. Just – I mean, the fact that it’s several countries doesn’t preclude it from being a treaty. You have United Nations treaties, you’ve had the Potsdam Treaty or the Treaty of Versailles.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So what is it that – is it the fact that the responsibilities are Iran’s and you don’t negotiate an international treaty on Iranian obligations? Is that —
MS. PSAKI: It’s not about Iran. It’s about what would be needed to be agreed to and committed to by all sides.
QUESTION: But why can’t that be —
QUESTION: Well, could it be —
QUESTION: Why isn’t that a treaty? I mean —
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can get you the specifics of what compose or what requires a treaty legally, Brad.
QUESTION: But I guess the question is: Do you know, was there a decision made? It seems to me that an international agreement like this could be a treaty if all sides wanted it to be a treaty and that was agreed to. Do you know if it was ever discussed with —
MS. PSAKI: Discussed with whom?
QUESTION: Well, among – inside the Administration but also with the rest of the P5+1 and also with the Iranians if it – it’s just whether or not, hey, maybe instead of a political agreement here, we should make this a treaty that has to be ratified and adopted by all of the – all of the governments, however that works in each country.
MS. PSAKI: Our objective, Matt, has been obviously getting to a point of agreeing to the components that would prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: I guess —
MS. PSAKI: That’s been the focus.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to read out in terms of other discussions.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, it’ll be interesting to know if there was ever any consideration of should we make this a treaty and then there was a discussion about that.
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: And then —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I mean, but you had —
QUESTION: — just – sorry to —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Not to belabor this point, but you guys spent many months talking about the format for how you would create an agreement. And clearly, one of the things that had to have been discussed at some point was what are we actually going to agree to. Is it a treaty, an understanding, a memorandum, a handshake, a tea – a sharing of tea? I mean, you had to have figured out —
MS. PSAKI: A sharing of tea. I don’t think that was an option. But —
QUESTION: That is a contract in some places in the world.
MS. PSAKI: Fair enough.
QUESTION: You had to have a discussion on what you were actually going to agree to. How did that come about that you decided political framework or whatever?
MS. PSAKI: Not going to outline that further, and I wouldn’t assume that what you just outlined is correct in terms of discussions. Again, our focus has been on technical details and on trying to reach the content of political commitments – on what the political commitments would be by the participants. That’s been the focus of the discussions.
QUESTION: What would be the potential difference between – in terms of the role of Congress – a treaty versus a political agreement?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can get you the historical —
QUESTION: Okay. Now —
MS. PSAKI: — documentation on that, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. The flip side of this argument: The Iranians, have they conveyed to you in any way that as a result of this letter, they may not have confidence in the United States of America and they may soon not – to sign an agreement? Have they?
MS. PSAKI: No. Let me also just speak to some historical examples, which may help you a little bit, Brad, under – or perhaps not. I don’t want to speak to what will help you or not. But historically, under many administrations, the United States has pursued important international security initiatives through nonbinding arrangements where that has been in our national interest. In the arms control and nonproliferation area alone, some representative examples include the U.S.-Russia deal to remove chemical weapons from Syria, the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Nuclear Supplier Group Guidelines, the Missile Technology Control Regime. There’s a lot of precedent for this being political commitments made by all sides.
QUESTION: In that statement you just described them as nonbinding.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that’s a legal term, Matt.
QUESTION: I mean, presumably everyone who agrees to this – if there is something to agree to – is bound by it. Right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, yes. But there’s legal terminology —
QUESTION: All right. And —
MS. PSAKI: — so obviously there’s differences you use depending on what it is.
QUESTION: — in your answer just previously you said that no, the Iranians have not – has there been any contact between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif or —
MS. PSAKI: No, there has not.
QUESTION: — Under Secretary Sherman or —
MS. PSAKI: I can speak to the Secretary. I don’t believe there’s been other discussions —
QUESTION: Okay. The foreign minister – the Iranian foreign minister said today that this letter shows that the United States Government cannot be trusted. Would you agree with that assessment?
MS. PSAKI: As we’ve said, and I think you and I have discussed before, this has never been about trust. This has been about coming to a point where both sides agree to political commitments about what steps they’re willing to take.
QUESTION: All right. And is it your view that whatever damage you say that this letter has caused is done and is – in other words, you think that the damage is over, or is it going to bleed into the next round of negotiations? And can the damage that you say has been done be repaired?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is, again, I mean, a negotiation, of course, between nations, not individuals, not between political parties. And so we certainly anticipate the negotiations will be able to proceed from here.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, so if that is the case, what’s the big deal?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve stated what the big deal is. This is inserting – this is 47 members of Congress from one party inserting themselves into an international negotiation.
QUESTION: Right. Well, I understand that you’re – that people are – in the Administration are offended by this and think that it is – it shows a lack of respect. But if it really doesn’t affect the negotiations at all, from your point of view, why get so upset about it?
MS. PSAKI: Because it’s important to convey that when leaders of other countries are doing business with the United States, they’re doing business with all of the United States. And so this is a – was an effort to insert themselves into a sensitive negotiation. That’s the issue we raised with —
QUESTION: Jen, just to clarify Matt’s point —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
QUESTION: — when you were giving examples of agreements, national security agreements —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: — that Congress didn’t vote on, you said that from a legal perspective, the examples you gave were nonbinding. So is it – are you saying that this Iran agreement, if it materializes, from a legal perspective is also nonbinding? It’s somehow binding politically, but from an international legal perspective it’s not binding?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I used the example of Syria, right, as an example. This framework was not legally binding and was not subject to congressional approval. It outlined steps for eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons and helped lay the groundwork for successful multilateral efforts to move forward. So I’m just conveying what we’re talking about as it relates to the political understandings and what we’re discussing with the parties.
QUESTION: I guess maybe this a question you could ask the lawyers, because I’m sure it’s not there. But I mean, if it was nonbinding, why did the Syrians comply with it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we – there was an agreement – there were discussions, and they agreed to certain terms.
MS. PSAKI: And then it went to the OPCW and then it went to the UN. So —
QUESTION: Actually, in the case of the security – the Syrian agreement, there was a Security Council vote, which I think made it binding.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that – I just said. And then it went to the UN to the Security Council vote.
QUESTION: Right. So could this —
QUESTION: But you’re not going to have that in this agreement.
QUESTION: Exactly. Could you go for —
MS. PSAKI: I’m just – I don’t have more to outline for you in terms of the implementation of a political understanding that doesn’t yet exist.
QUESTION: Wait. Just to clarify, is it legally binding or not, this Iran agreement? Will it be legally binding from an international legal perspective if you negotiate this agreement, or will it be something lesser than that, a political commitment?
MS. PSAKI: I understand your question, Michael. What I’m referring to is the political commitments in terms of what the next additional steps would be. I’m not sure how much farther or more information we would have. I’m certainly happy to check with our team and see if there’s more we can clarify.
QUESTION: The problem is is that you’ve stressed over and over again this is not about trusting, right? This is about verifying. But then you’re saying that these are political commitments but not necessarily binding. It would seem to me that if this wasn’t about trust, you would want them to be binding, not political commitments, which are your word. That’s what a political —
MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, we’re talking about specifically how pieces —
QUESTION: Political commitment just means “I will do this.”
MS. PSAKI: It is not that. We’re talking about how specifically pieces would be agreed to between the parties. In terms of the implementation of it, I’m sure we will talk about that at the time we would have an agreement.
QUESTION: Since I don’t understand then what a political – as I understand a political commitment, it means a person or a political entity saying, “I will do this; I commit to doing this.” How is that not anything other than giving your word?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Brad, if we get to the point where we have a framework, where we have an agreement, I’m sure we will have a discussion about how things will be implemented.
QUESTION: I’m just asking for the concept of political commitment. What does that mean, beyond giving your word?
MS. PSAKI: I just gave you additional examples of how that has been implemented and how it has worked in the past.
QUESTION: The Iranians have talked about this, whatever it is, that if anything happens, that it being – the idea that the UN Security Council would at least endorse it if not enshrine it in some kind of a resolution. Is that something that you think would be useful?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get ahead of how this would be implemented at this point in time.
QUESTION: So —
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done between now and then.
QUESTION: Okay. But then can you understand the – if you can’t talk about how it’s going to be implemented, can you understand the concern that people have when you tell them, “Trust us”?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re saying that, Matt.
QUESTION: No, “Trust us to deliver a good deal. If we can’t get a good deal, then there will be no deal.”
MS. PSAKI: The discussion about a good deal or a bad deal is about the content of the deal. We agree it’s about the content of the deal that we would have to discuss —
MS. PSAKI: — and defend and obviously have a discussion with Congress about.
QUESTION: And – but the content of the deal also includes its implementation, right?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: And if you can’t get into how it would be implemented, then there are obviously open questions —
MS. PSAKI: There is not an agreement yet at this point in time, Matt.
QUESTION: I understand. But – so you can understand that the questions are open and that people would have concerns about them. Correct?
MS. PSAKI: We will certainly have a discussion about the content and every component of this if and when there is a framework and an agreement.
QUESTION: Do your experts believe that perhaps there is a lack of understanding of the United States Constitution on the part of the senators that signed this letter? I mean, there are legal —
MS. PSAKI: I would pose that question —
QUESTION: — there are constitutional experts that say —
MS. PSAKI: I would pose that question to them, Said.
Do we have any more on Iran before we continue?
QUESTION: Yeah. I have one more.
MS. PSAKI: I know we have a limited amount of time.
QUESTION: One more.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: So you said that Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif hadn’t spoken in the last couple of days. Was the last time that they’ve actually spoke the in-person meeting last week?
MS. PSAKI: I believe that’s correct, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the EU is hosting a meeting on Monday with the European foreign ministers in the P5+1.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Which —
QUESTION: Is the Secretary going to be involved?
MS. PSAKI: — they just put out, I think, in the last hour.
QUESTION: Right. Will Secretary Kerry be involved in those?
MS. PSAKI: No, he wouldn’t be. It’s an EU meeting.
Any more on Iran?
QUESTION: Can I have one more on Iran? Iran.
MS. PSAKI: Iran? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Your objection to this letter is because the content or just because they have reached out to the Iranian Government directly?
MS. PSAKI: I think – just – I want to just make sure we get to as many issues as possible and I have talked about this extensively yesterday and today, as have my colleagues —
QUESTION: I’m asking —
MS. PSAKI: — so I’m going to point you to the transcript.
QUESTION: Look, I’m asking —
MS. PSAKI: Abigail, go ahead.
QUESTION: Because I have follow-up question on this.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m asking this because two years ago, around 20 senators from the U.S. wrote directly to Indian prime minister economic reforms idea.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Then again, more than 120 House of Representative members wrote a letter to the Indian prime minister.
MS. PSAKI: Do you remember the content of the letters?
QUESTION: Yeah. It was for the economic reforms in India. They had expressed concern and wanted Indian Government to —
MS. PSAKI: It’s an entirely different thing. We’re talking about inserting yourself into international negotiations that are ongoing —
QUESTION: So both are different.
MS. PSAKI: — that involve the executive branch.
Go ahead, Abigail.
QUESTION: Sorry —
QUESTION: And you have no objection to those letters, right?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have those letters in front of me. Go ahead. I don’t believe we have expressed any though.
QUESTION: One of the responses of Foreign Minister Zarif was he said that if the next administration revoked an agreement with the stroke of a pen, it would be a blatant violation of international law. Is that an accurate —
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to Foreign Minister Zarif’s comments.
QUESTION: One more Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: A quick question, madam. Many countries wants Iran to stop the nuclear program. And also, as far nuclear program and dissensions are concerned, are you going after those who are helping Iran as far as their nuclear program is concerned? And also, who is buying their oil under this international sanction?
MS. PSAKI: Who is buying their oil? We do reports on this every year, Goyal, so I would point you to that. There’s a lot of information available.
QUESTION: One last thing on the broader issue here.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: You said that it’s important for the Iranians and the rest of the world, in fact, to know that this agreement is being negotiated by you and the other others – but on the United States side, by the entire United States. And wouldn’t it make more sense, if that’s the argument you want to put forth, to have congressional buy-in, to have the House and the – or the Senate, at least, in this case —
MS. PSAKI: Well, that would change centuries of historic precedent for how international negotiations work, so —
QUESTION: Right, but some of the most important treaties that the United States has signed – or international agreements, I should say, that the United States has signed, have been treaties. Not to say that there haven’t been one – important ones —
MS. PSAKI: There have been some, yes. There have been some that are not.
QUESTION: Right. But if your argument is that this letter undermines the U.S. position because it makes it look like the entire government, all branches of it, aren’t behind this agreement —
MS. PSAKI: Well, that wasn’t exactly what I was intending to say.
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we know members of Congress have their own views – Democrats and Republicans, members from both parties – and they’ve spoken out publicly about that for years now. We don’t expect nor would we attempt to change their right to freedom of speech.
QUESTION: And this will be my last one. Is it the suspicion of the Administration that the 47 senators who signed this letter are not – is it your suspicion that they are not interested in any deal?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak on their behalf. I think this type of step doesn’t show support for our efforts to achieve a deal.
QUESTION: Do you think they have been highly influenced by the speech made by the Israeli prime minister last week?
MS. PSAKI: I encourage you – it sounds like you need to get yourself to the Senate and ask them some questions.
QUESTION: But Madam, are you —
MS. PSAKI: I think we need to move on, because we have a limited amount of time here, I think, because of – for – to be responsive to the request. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Ambassador Lippert – you may have seen he gave a press conference when he came out of the hospital this morning. I can – I’m happy to touch on some of the points that he made during that. He obviously thanked the South Korean Government. He thanked the doctors. He has been – his heart has been warmed by the outpouring of support from the people of South Korea. That’s what he spoke to. He didn’t give an indication of when he’d return, but obviously, we’re pleased to see that he’s home with his family and will continue his recovery.
QUESTION: Jen —
QUESTION: Can you tell us about (inaudible)? Can you tell us about any additional security measures taken to protect the ambassador since the attack?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into specifics. I think we have said that we’ve been working with the South Korean Government to make sure he has the security that he needs.
QUESTION: And getting to the topic of the press conference that shortly will be held in New York —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — that is, to the emails. I’m wondering if you were able to get an answer to the question yesterday and from before about whether the servers had been checked to make sure that – no answer to that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on the server. I have a couple of other updates, but go ahead.
QUESTION: There was – okay. Well, there was a report this morning that this vetting or that this review of the emails that you all are going to have to do of this 55,000 pages is going to cost millions and millions of dollars. Is that accurate?
MS. PSAKI: It is not accurate. The cost and work of reviewing Secretary Clinton’s emails for release would’ve been roughly the same regardless of whether she had a state.gov email or a personal email and regardless of where her email was housed. The story said, of course, millions that’s – the cost and work would have had to be done regardless, because you’d have to review these documents as part of a FOIA process, so —
QUESTION: So, in fact, it will cost millions, it’s just not – it wouldn’t cost any more than what it would have had it been a state.gov —
MS. PSAKI: Millions – I don’t have a cost estimate for you. I don’t anticipate we would, but millions is far outstated regardless.
But I think the important point here – one other point – is that this is – has generally been a paper process, so the review paper-wise, which is one of the points made in the story, is generally how any FOIA process would be done.
QUESTION: So the – are you suggesting, then, that her office handing over the emails in large boxes of paper, aside from any environmental concerns this current Secretary might have about that, that is standard – that’s how this stuff is usually done?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: I mean, doesn’t that seem to be a waste of a lot of —
MS. PSAKI: Paper? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Paper and man/woman power, having to go through and sort – I mean, look, paper cuts – there are all sorts of risks here. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Paper cuts is a risk.
QUESTION: Wouldn’t it make more sense to have this stuff on an electronic database that’s easily searchable?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there is some long precedent here for how this is done. I’m not saying that this is how it will always be done. As you know, we are updating – the entire government is updating how they do many, many processes.
QUESTION: Well, right, but —
MS. PSAKI: But one – well, let me just make one point. There is some desire at times when people request FOIAs – and I’m sure there are some people in here who have submitted FOIA requests – to see the original documents and notes that may have been made and things along those lines, and so there is some history here in terms of why, but it’s traditionally been a paper process. Whether or not it should be, that’s a larger question.
QUESTION: Right. Well, maybe it would be both, which doesn’t exactly save the paper, but at least people can search and more quickly, presumably, take – would take much less time.
MS. PSAKI: Your point is a valid point.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: What I was trying to convey is that this is how it’s typically been done, so —
QUESTION: All right. And then last one from me on this: Democratic members of the House – the Select Committee on Benghazi have written – asked Secretary Kerry to expedite the release – or the review and the release of the 300 emails that were relevant to – that you turned over. And I’m just wondering if you have a response to that.
MS. PSAKI: So that is consistent with what we have been discussing internally. Let me just give you just a brief update on kind of where we are. We’ll review the entire 55,000-page set and release in one batch at the end of that review to ensure that standards are consistently applied throughout the entire 55,000 pages. We said we expect the review to take several months. Obviously, that hasn’t changed. The release will be posted on a publicly available website. I will have more information about that hopefully soon.
The only documents from that 55,000 pages that we will review for a separate earlier release are the approximately 300 emails already produced to the Select Committee. Those will be reviewed and released prior to completion of the entire set. Those will also, of course, be posted and made publicly available online.
QUESTION: So in other words, even if you haven’t filed a FOIA request, you’re going to be able to see these – you’re going to put them up publicly anyway so anyone can see them?
MS. PSAKI: The 300 page – all of them?
QUESTION: No – well, both.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. They’ll be publicly available.
QUESTION: All – not just the Benghazi ones?
MS. PSAKI: We’re just using FOIA standards. Yes. We’re using FOIA standards, but they’ll be publicly available.
QUESTION: Okay. And do you have any idea – I realize that it might be hard for 55,000 pages for you to have an estimate of how much time it will take to go through them by hand, but on 300, it seems a little bit easier. I mean, are we talking weeks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s 900 pages, which is the 300 emails. It is shorter than 55,000 technically —
QUESTION: By —
MS. PSAKI: — by mathematics. I don’t have —
QUESTION: Technically, but actually —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an estimate on that particular piece. I can check and see if there’s more specificity.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: Let me just add one more thing, and I think Brad asked this last week. Specific FOIA redaction criteria has included and would include, since we’re following the same standards, national security, personal privacy, privilege, and trade secrets among others. As per our regular process, we will identify the basis for any redactions. And that’s, I think, something that Brad asked about last week.
QUESTION: And just one last thing.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you know, did anyone ask – given the amount, the volume of this, did you all ask for a electronic version of it as well as the paper?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe so, Matt. I think this has been handled in a specific way for some time.
Go ahead, Justin.
QUESTION: And those were the announcement – you just read the updates that you mentioned, right?
MS. PSAKI: Those are, I believe, the updates —
QUESTION: You said you had updates.
MS. PSAKI: — that I have, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. One of the things we expect Secretary Clinton to say today was that Colin Powell did it too essentially, that he used a private email account. And in fact, his people have said that that account has been shut down for some time, and they suggested that they don’t really have access to it. So my question is: Are you satisfied with the records-keeping job that Secretary Powell has done and with the documents that he’s handed over to you, per your last request?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give you a quick update – actually, this is another update on former secretaries. Also we intend to – I think some have asked about the letter sent to secretaries. We intend to release that as well, the text of that letter, so hopefully soon. Former Secretary Rice – I’m just going to go through all of them if that’s okay – responded to the Department’s letter and informed us that she did not use personal email for official business. Early in March of this year, General Powell advised – and I think he’s spoken to this publicly as well – that he used a personal email account during his tenure as Secretary of State. He did not take any hard copies of emails with him when he left office and has no record of the emails, with the account he used having been closed for a number of years. Former Secretary Albright advised that she did not use email as secretary and has no records in her possession.
I think we are all aware, broadly speaking, that email is an imperfect process, and obviously, we have taken and we will continue to undertake steps consistent with national standards to update what we’re doing in the federal government. And I have spoken to in the past what Secretary Kerry is doing and how we preserve and archive his emails and his documents, and that reflects our commitment to doing that. But clearly, there were more technological changes prior to our efforts to do this.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, The Washington Post reported this morning that a Foreign Affairs Manual update dated October 30th, 1995 mentions the emergence of something called “electronic mail,” and it noted that all employees must be —
MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) That brings us all back, doesn’t it?
QUESTION: — yeah, it does; you’re right – and that all employees must be aware that these are important and, quote, “must be preserved.” So to say that it’s an imperfect thing and that he didn’t know what he was doing and they’re all gone now —
MS. PSAKI: Well, but —
QUESTION: — that doesn’t – I mean, they knew in 1995 that they had something here worth keeping.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Justin, with all due respect, I don’t have from 20 years ago the FAM —
MS. PSAKI: — nor do I think that’s exactly a silver bullet. I think we’re talking about how former secretaries archived their emails and the challenge of doing so. Certainly —
QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the way Powell archived his emails?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly we respect the fact that former Secretary Powell responded to our request and looked through what was possible, and we’re going to move forward.
QUESTION: What was it? A silver bullet? (Laughter.) Are you accusing one or several former secretaries of state of being werewolves or something? I mean, what is – what does that – (laughter) – I mean —
MS. PSAKI: I’m referring to Justin’s quote from The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Well, what you’re saying – what he —
QUESTION: Well, no. I think he was quoting the FAM. Weren’t you?
QUESTION: I was quoting the FAM.
QUESTION: And essentially what you’re saying is ignorance of the law is justifiable. And —
MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I’m suggesting, Justin. I’m suggesting you’re referring to a line – I don’t have the FAM from 20 years ago in front of me – from one report. I don’t have the FAM in front of me. I can certainly check and see if there were certain policies, if there were regulations. The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations. So suggesting that a line saying that you should be cognizant of your email is indicative of somebody violating something I don’t think is a direct connection.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
QUESTION: But just following up on the question that I asked yesterday —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — about the FAM, and not necessarily —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: — regarding emails, but about the whole thing, the whole voluminous FAM.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Everyone who works for this building, from the Secretary on down, is – every employee, including the Secretary, whoever that is, is – “bound” may be not the right – is supposed to follow the guidelines in that. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you make an effort to follow the guidelines. Yes, absolutely.
QUESTION: Well, making an effort is not the same as following them. And I recognize that it’s not a law, but it is policy, and guidelines —
MS. PSAKI: They’re guidelines for the entire Department.
QUESTION: But everyone is expected to follow them.
MS. PSAKI: They’re guidelines for the entire Department.
QUESTION: And —
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, there’s – the FAM is a large document. So —
QUESTION: Change of subject?
QUESTION: I just want to understand something here. So it is a guideline and not a law.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Does that – doesn’t that leave a great room of discretion or latitude for employees to do whatever they want?
MS. PSAKI: No, it doesn’t. It’s very specifically written. But I think it’s important to differentiate between a guideline and a law.
Go ahead, Lesley. New topic?
QUESTION: Change of – yeah, new topic.
QUESTION: One thing.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure, Elliot. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify on the 300 emails.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Are those going to be released publicly at the same time that they’re transferred to the Select Committee on —
MS. PSAKI: They’ve already been transferred to the Select Committee.
QUESTION: Oh, they have. Okay. Sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, a couple weeks ago. So this would be about publicly releasing them, which requires sort of a certain type of review.
QUESTION: Got it. Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Jen, does the State Department have a comment on Myanmar’s violence?
QUESTION: Can I follow up on (inaudible) though?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. And then we’ll go to Lesley.
QUESTION: Yeah, I had a —
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: When Secretary Clinton needed to communicate classified information, how did she do it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, I would let Secretary Clinton and her team speak to that. I think they have spoken to or we have spoken to the fact that this is an unclassified email that was used here. There are many ways to get classified information, and many secretaries get them through paper. So I don’t have any more of an update for you. I’d point you to Secretary Clinton.
QUESTION: I have a – in her book Hard Choices, Mrs. Clinton has said that she used – she fell in love with her iPad. When she was Secretary of State, do you know if she used her iPad for —
MS. PSAKI: I was not working here at the time, so I would certainly point you to Secretary Clinton and her team on whether she used an iPad and what she used it for.
QUESTION: Can I —
MS. PSAKI: Another email question, or —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, well let’s go to Lesley, and then we’ll go to you.
MS. PSAKI: The protests, yes.
MS. PSAKI: We urge the Government of Burma to respect the right of protestors to assemble peacefully as a means of expressing their views. Freedom of assembly is an important component of any democratic society. We condemn the use of force taken against peaceful protestors. We are deeply concerned by reports of violence by police and other individuals against protestors and journalists in Letpadan. We are deeply concerned by the reports of arrests and will continue to closely monitor the situation.
To your second question, we are, of course, in regular contact with the Government of Burma. We’ve repeatedly called on all parties to exercise restraint at this point. We are speaking to all the relevant parties and our international partners to ascertain the specific cause of the clashes, and we’re also working to confirm the number of individuals arrested and injured.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MS. PSAKI: Nicolas, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can we go to Sharm el-Sheikh?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Apart from meeting with President Sisi, you announced yesterday —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — are you aware of further additional meetings between Secretary Kerry and other leaders? Palestinian sources said this morning that you would be meeting with President Abbas.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I expect there will be, and we’re still finalizing those details. Let me see if there’s anything that we – is finalized that we can get around to you about additional meetings beyond the conference he’s going there for.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Today King Abdullah, one of your allies, spoke to the European parliament in Strasburg, and he said that putting off or deferring the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict only adds fuel to the extremists and so on, all that rhetoric that he uses. Do you agree with him?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve said many times in the past that the lack of a peace agreement provides or allows for a vacuum that often is filled by other sources. So I think that’s consistent. I’d have to look at his comments, though, Said.
QUESTION: Yeah. He also said that the time has come (inaudible). I mean he’s sort of underscoring a line of urgency, so to speak.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, we all feel an urgency. We see an urgency, but as you know, there’s an election going on in Israel, and it’s up to the two parties to determine whether they’re willing to take the steps to move forward. Let’s go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Ukraine, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Thank you. Today – oh, sorry. Yesterday, Senators Corker and Menendez asked the Administration to submit a report to Congress on plans to provide in defense lethal assistance to the Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: The Freedom Support Act report?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The deadline was February 15th, but it probably wasn’t submitted to Congress. So do you have any schedule for sending it to Congress?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the reports are currently undergoing an interagency review. We’re committed to delivering these reports to Congress as soon as possible. The situation – as you know, because we discuss this in here almost every day – is extremely fluid. We want to ensure that Congress has the most complete and up-to-date information, so we hope to submit that soon.
QUESTION: And could you clarify what agency is in charge of doing the report? Is it White House, State Department —
MS. PSAKI: Well, the – President Obama delegated to the State Department certain reporting requirements in the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, but there are several agencies who weigh in on the content.
QUESTION: And another question. Yesterday, the president of European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, expressed – there was a publication when he called for creation of European army – European Union army.
MS. PSAKI: European Union arming Ukraine?
QUESTION: No, in Europe.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, arming —
QUESTION: As a —
QUESTION: No, an (inaudible) army –
QUESTION: — armed force of Europe.
QUESTION: — for the EU.
MS. PSAKI: An army for the European Union. Oh, yes.
MS. PSAKI: Sorry. I was misunderstanding what you were saying. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So (inaudible).
QUESTION: Do you have any comments on that?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the EU. No, I don’t —
QUESTION: I thought they have NATO.
QUESTION: No, but many of European Union countries are members of NATO, and the United States has legal obligations —
MS. PSAKI: I understand. I don’t think we’ve seen the EU countries speak to that, though.
MS. PSAKI: Venezuela? Sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday, President Maduro had a three-hour speech in which he charged that the United States and President Obama particularly had mentioned the seven names and that was a clear signal that he wants to oust – to bring his government down, and as a response named the – one of the seven, the intelligence chief as minister of the interior, justice, and peace. Your reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say the sanctions that we announced yesterday are directed at individuals – human rights abusers and corrupt individuals, not the Venezuelan people or the economy. There are specific reasons why each of those individuals under the executive order were sanctioned. The United States remains an important trading partner, is actually Venezuela’s largest trading partner, and despite the statements to the contrary from Venezuelan officials, we are not promoting instability in Venezuela. Rather we believe respect for democratic norms and human rights is the best guarantee of Venezuela’s stability. Hence our executive order. So allegations that these actions are an attempt to undermine the Venezuelan Government are false. The goal of these sanctions is to persuade the Government of Venezuela to change their behavior.
Let me touch on one thing, because I think somebody asked it yesterday. It came up on the background call, which is the specifics of the language used in the fact sheet that stated that this was a national emergency. I think it’s important for everybody to understand – I think Elliot asked this yesterday if I remember – that this is how we describe the process of naming sanctions, and there are 20 to 30 other sanctions programs we have. So if you look at similar fact sheets – I understand people look at the context of what’s happening on the ground, but it’s consistent with how we announce and how we describe putting sanctions and putting these executive orders in place.
QUESTION: There’s another angle here. President Maduro is using this action by the President as an excuse to ask today and probably will get special powers, like President Chavez did several years ago, to allow him to do anything he wants to. And he’ll probably get that today.
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those announcements. I think our view, obviously, continues to be that he needs to spend more time listening to the views of the Venezuelan people. So that’s what we would recommend.
QUESTION: The – one more?
MS. PSAKI: Anymore on Venezuela before we continue?
QUESTION: The —
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The charge d’affaires, Maximilian Arvelaez, was called today by the minister of the exterior, Delcy Rodriguez. Do you have any readout on the meeting, what they talked about?
MS. PSAKI: The recall of the charge back to Venezuela or another meeting are you referring to?
QUESTION: Another meeting, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any readout of that. We’ve been having ongoing discussions about their desire to have a dialogue about our presence in Venezuela. I don’t have any specific readouts, though.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to —
QUESTION: I’ve got another one on this.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The Cuban state press is saying today that Fidel Castro penned a letter to President Maduro congratulating him for his, quote, “brilliant and valiant speech in the face of U.S. brutal plans.” First of all, do you have a reaction to that? And could this kind of rhetoric affect ongoing talks between the U.S. and Cubans?
MS. PSAKI: Discussions on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba will continue as planned, so no, we do not. On the first part, I think I would go back to what I stated about our intention here. It’s not promoting unrest in Venezuela, as was suggested in the speech, or undermining Venezuela’s economy or its government. It’s making clear and sending a strong message about how – about the fact that we don’t accept human rights abusers, corrupt officials – it’s the sanctioning of seven individuals and giving the President the authority to do more as needed.
QUESTION: So there’s no —
QUESTION: So you