Tagged: TerroristAttack

News in Brief 10 April 2015 (PM)

10 Apr 2015

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Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, Stephane Dujarric leads the noon media briefing. UN Photo/Zach Krahmer

Death of protestor in Central African Republic deplored by UN

The United Nations says it deplores the death of a protestor who was part of a group which attacked a base of UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.

UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric says that the group of between 300 and 400 people attacked the base in Kaga-Bandoro, nearly 350 kilometres north of the capital Bangui.

“Peacekeepers tried to contain the protestors, some of whom were armed with knives and who tried to enter the camp and tried to set it on fire. Peacekeepers fired warning shots. The Mission deplores the death of one protestor. Several were injured and have been admitted to the Mission’s hospital.” (15″)

UN human rights chief visits Burundi

The UN’s top human rights official is beginning  a three-day visit to Burundi.

During his first official mission to the African country as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, is scheduled to meet the President and other senior government officials.

The UN human rights chief will also travel to Gitega to visit the Humura Centre for victims of domestic violence.

He will also participate in a round table discussion on human rights and elections in Burundi.

Global agencies call for urgent action to avoid groundwater depletion

UN agencies and their partners have called on the international community to manage the increasingly urgent depletion and degradation of limited groundwater resources.

The call by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN cultural agency (UNESCO) and their partners comes as the 7th World Water Forum gets underway in South Korea.

Stephanie Coutrix, United Nations.

Duration: 1’32″

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News in Brief 09 April 2015 (AM)

9 Apr 2015

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UNESCO logo

Bangladeshi authorities urged to bring killers of blogger to justice

Authorities in Bangladesh have been urged by the head of the UN cultural agency (UNESCO) to find and prosecute the killers of blogger Washiqur Rahman Babu.

Mr Rahman was reportedly hacked to death by two men with knives and meat cleavers as he left his home in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, to go to work on 30 March.

UNESCO Director General, Irina Bokova, condemned his murder and said that freedom of expression and free debate cannot thrive in a climate of fear and self-censorship.

US$174.4 million sought to assist Nigerian refugees

United Nations agencies and their partners have urgently appealed for US$174.4 million to help thousands of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

According to the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) brutal attacks by Boko Haram terrorists in north-eastern Nigeria have forced 192, 000 people to flee to neighbouring countries.

UNHCR says the funds are to provide life-saving assistance to at least 74, 000 Nigerian refugees in northern Cameroon, 18,000 in south-west Chad and 100,000 Nigerian refugees and returning Niger nationals in Niger.

Meeting in South Korea explores how to promote sustainable development

A three-day meeting opened in South Korea city of Incheon on Thursday to explore ideas of how to promote sustainable development.

Leaders representing governments, the private sector, academia and civil society are attending a UN forum held under the slogan “Development cooperation for people and planet: What will it take?”

One of the ideas they are exploring is how to mobilize significant financial resources for sustainable development.

Stephanie Coutrix, United Nations.

Duration: 1’50″

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Speeches: Combatting Terrorism: Looking Over the Horizon

Thank you, Ruth. It is great to be here at SAIS – a place that has always emphasized an interdisciplinary approach to international affairs and a place well suited for this discussion about the need to address underlying causes of violent extremism in order to support current efforts to defeat terrorist networks.

From Copenhagen to Cairo, from Paris to Peshawar, in Nigeria, Libya, and China, violent extremists have perpetrated bombings, kidnappings, and shootings this year. Violent extremism is spreading geographically and numerically, and every corner of the globe is at risk. No country or community is immune. Intelligence officials argue that terrorism trend lines are worse than at any other time in modern history; despite the tactical successes of our intelligence gathering, military force, and law enforcement efforts, terror networks are spreading and new threats are emerging around the world. Accordingly, the United States and its allies in the fight against terrorism must strengthen our comprehensive strategy to address the underlying drivers that fuel the appeal and spread of violent extremism. That is precisely why President Obama recently hosted the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism. Joining with leaders of foreign governments, international organizations, the private sector and civil society, President Obama and Secretary Kerry launched a global effort to address the enablers of violent extremism in order to prevent the emergence of new terror threats.

It is worth putting this pivotal moment in historical context.

As we look back on the terrorist challenge of past decades, several broad phases are discernible. We saw terrorism in the 1970s, 80s, and even 90s largely in the context of political movements, nationalists and separatists, regarding terror as a tactic used most often for political gains. Our national and international organizations dedicated to addressing these movements were modest, and our response paired political, criminal justice and law enforcement efforts.

In the 1990s, however, terror attacks against U.S. targets at home against the World Trade Center and abroad against the U.S. Embassies started to shift our thinking about and approach toward terrorism. It was no longer seen only as a foreign political challenge. Of course, after the 9/11 attacks against the United States, the U.S. mobilized anew, developing extraordinary military and intelligence capabilities focused on better understanding, tracking, and where necessary, attacking terrorists and terror networks. Working closely with a small number of partners, we also developed intelligence networks and refined military operations to detect terrorists and foil their plots, and we enhanced border security, law enforcement, and other tools to protect the homeland. With the killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2011 and of countless other terror leaders, al-Qa’ida’s core was beaten back.

Yet despite the world’s devotion of enormous military and intelligence resources – as well as human treasure – the threat of violent extremism persists. Over the past 13 years, violent extremist movements have diffused and proliferated. Increasingly, they have sprung from within conflicts worldwide. And they have exploited grievances and divided societies in order to further their own aims. Weak, illegitimate, and repressive governments inadvertently created opportunities for terrorists to capitalize on popular resentment of governments make common cause with local insurgents, the discontented, and criminal networks, and operate in poorly governed territory. Additionally, terrorist methods and goals have diversified. They now control large territories in several regions of the world.

Let me offer specific illustrations of these dynamics: Tehrik-e-Taliban has long exploited local grievances in the tribal belt along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in order to sustain itself. Members of Al-Qa’ida’s network in East Africa blended with militants from the Council of Islamic Courts to create al-Shabaab. In the loosely governed expanses of the Sahel, extremists including AQIM associated with disenfranchised Tuareg tribes to expand its power base. In Libya, Ansar al-Sharia exploited post-Gaddafi factional violence to cement itself in the Libyan landscape. And the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or Daesh today, dramatically expanded its reach and power by capitalizing on Sunni political disenfranchisement in Iraq. The rise of Daesh is on all of our minds, but it is only one manifestation of a trend that we have witnessed over the last decade. Violent extremist groups have been expanding their control and resonance in South Asia, the Sahel, the Maghreb, Nigeria, Somalia, and in the Arabian Peninsula.

Of course, the U.S. approach and that of our partners in the fight against violent extremism has been adapting as well. We continued to pursue military force to go after terrorist leaders plotting to attack the U.S. or its interests and continued to refine our intelligence capabilities. We proved adept at taking key terrorists off of the battlefield. We also adopted more comprehensive approaches toward terrorism and violent extremism, adapting to the evolving threats we faced. For example, we placed greater emphasis on building the capacity – including military, intelligence, and civilian – of our partners to address threats within their own borders and region, as well as expanding efforts to reduce the radicalization that was leading individuals to join terrorist groups. We strengthened the international counterterrorism architecture by working with our Western allies and Muslim-majority partners to launch the Global Counterterrorism Forum in 2011. This platform allows experts from around the world to share good practices and devise innovative civilian-focused approaches to addressing the terrorist and violent extremist threats freed from the politics and process of traditional multilateral bodies. That same year, the U.S. inter-agency Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication was created to more effectively counter the violent extremist narrative. And the U.S. sought to place greater emphasis on the role of law enforcement and the wider criminal justice system in preventing terrorism and bringing terrorists to justice within a rule of law framework, thereby strengthening the international cooperation that is so essential to addressing the threat. More broadly, from his first day in office, President Obama has made clear that to be successful, all of our efforts to counter terrorism and root out the violent ideology that underpins it, must be done consistent with American values and be rooted in respect for human rights.

Still, the threat of violent extremism continues to metastasize in different dimensions. A new variant of terrorist threat is foremost on our minds today. Some of the most violent extremist groups, such as Daesh or Boko Haram, differ from Al Qaeda, because they are not similarly devoted to dogmatic treatise, militant hierarchy, or simply destroying existing state authority. Many of these new actors they seize land, resources, and population to consolidate geographic control and advance their apocalyptic visions. They violate human rights in the most egregious ways imaginable, exacerbate communal differences, and lure foreign fighters to incite violence around the world. These groups destabilize entire regions and inspire, if not actively plot, attacks on the US homeland and against our allies. They violate and undermine every aspect of the progressive norms and order that the international community painstakingly built from the ruins of World War II. They pose very real threats to U.S. interests and to international stability as they propagate and violently pursue their nihilistic goals.

The international community has responded accordingly. ISIL’s sudden and dramatic rise has animated a robust military coalition to defeat it, which the coalition will most certainly do. But physically dislodging terrorist safe havens requires a comprehensive and costly military effort, and removing violent extremists from the political landscape of failed states or failing communities is a long-term process. The most effective and useful way to address the metastasizing threat of violent extremism is to prevent its spread through less costly and destabilizing methods, to better enable the success of the our military efforts to defeat terrorism where it already has rooted. The long game lies in building an international coalition to prevent the rise of the next ISIL.

This requires a clear-eyed view of why these groups have been successful. It is not solely because of their extremist ideology, as important as it is to counteract the vitriolic incitement. These groups are more opportunistic and cynical. For example, Boko Haram exploits unrelated local grievances and decades of neglect of the Muslim north. Daesh, a successor to the former al-Qa’ida in Iraq, emerged from the inferno of Syria’s civil war and capitalized on Iraq’s political difficulties. Al Shabaab drew its strength from Somalia’s state failure, rampant corruption, and inter-clan rivalry for resources, and these conditions allow the group to continue governing rural parts of Somalia. As the group was militarily dislodged from city centers, it began seeking common cause with aggrieved minorities along Kenya’s coast, using attacks to stoke ethnic and religious tensions.

The adaptation of terror organizations highlights the need for us to continue adapting our approach to violent extremism. These realities demand thinking about violent extremism not simply in terms of individual radicalization but also in the context of dynamics that make entire communities vulnerable to radicalization, co-optation, or exploitation.

How can we most effectively do this? We know there are many forces that drive individuals to violence. Current research, including interviews with former violent extremists or rehabilitated terrorists consistently reveals that there is no single driver of violent extremism. Rather, there are a number of common ones including: boredom, intergenerational tensions, the search for greater meaning in life, perceived adventure, attempts to impress the local community, a desire for increased credibility, to belong or gain peer acceptance, and revenge.

Similarly, there is no one driver of community-wide radicalization. Participants in last month’s White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism cited social rejection, political disenfranchisement, and economic exclusion as underlying conditions conducive to the spread of violent extremism. Yet the phenomenon of political, economic, and social marginalization as a driver of violent extremism is not new, nor is it synonymous with any one region, religious tradition, or culture. Marginalization is a strong “push factor” for many individuals and groups, and it creates a vulnerability to ideological and charismatic “pull factors.” Extremist narratives therefore become more intellectually and emotionally attractive to these marginalized communities.

Support for violent extremism does not take hold only under illiberal, authoritarian regimes; it festers anywhere liberty is denied. Even in societies with legal frameworks that guarantee respect for human rights, extremists have found resonance by exploiting real or perceived social and economic discrimination. While we may not know the precise reasons why the Charlie Hebdo attackers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi resorted to terrorism, we can see how violent extremists seek to exploit discontentment. In the low-income housing projects outside of Paris where the brothers grew up, the youth unemployment rate stands at more than 25 percent, and residents often complain of unresponsive law enforcement in the face of soaring crime and blatant hiring discrimination.

Although not the sole driver of violent extremism, marginalized and alienated groups provide “seams of vulnerability” for terrorists to exploit in their efforts to recruit and seek support. Simply put, people who think that they have nothing to lose and that playing by the rules of the system provides no avenue to opportunity or success become more susceptible to being drawn to violent radical actions to upend the status quo. We must therefore anticipate and monitor, if not ideally stitch up, these seams of vulnerability. This is the concept of preventing the rise of violent extremism before it becomes a terrorist threat. To execute this prevention strategy wisely, we need to refine how we think about policies and programming to enhance our understanding of what makes communities vulnerable to radicalization, co-optation, or exploitation by violent extremists, and we need a strategy to prioritize the allocation and alignment of resources to address first those seams most vulnerable to terrorist exploitation.

This preventive approach requires policymakers and experts to expand their focus beyond today’s dangerous threats. They must look to include communities that have not yet become terror safe havens or active conflict zones but that show susceptibility either to ideological radicalization or simply to making common cause with foreign terrorist organizations. Effective prevention requires us to work not in violent extremism “hot spots,” safe havens, or in active conflict but at the periphery – the places that terror networks will seek to penetrate as they expand their spheres of influence or as they are displaced from their current safe havens.

Prevention through addressing vulnerabilities on the periphery of terror networks broadens available interventions to include diplomatic, political, and economic tools. These approaches are possible in non-crisis environments, where bilateral cooperation is stable, development professionals have access to target populations, civil society organizations exist, youth can attend school, and adults devote their energies to economic activity, not fighting – all necessary conditions for development assistance and related interventions to take root and lead to improvements in governance and long-term economic growth.

A focus on broader interventions to address underlying factors on the periphery creates new opportunities for success in the struggle against violent extremism. Not every potential partner can participate in a military coalition, and many states are committed to international assistance programs that can be tailored to this particular challenge. A prevention approach further enlarges the coalition of effective interveners to include civil society and the private sector, who find it challenging to work in crisis zones. Civil society organizations, especially local voices, actors, and networks are essential, since they have intimate knowledge and authentic credibility to mediate disputes and misunderstandings, among communities or with state actors. Civil society organizations are especially well-suited to partner with women and youth, two groups critical for successful community resilience. For example, during last month’s White House Summit, a civil society leader from a West African country described the long, difficult process she undertook to earn the trust of a group of local imams in order to start a book club program to teach critical thinking and reasoning skills at several madrassas. Only a local actor could have won the imams’ trust, underscoring why one of non-state actors are so critical for prevention work.

The private sector can also play a role on the periphery. Building alliances with the private sector strengthens community resilience, by providing more economic opportunity to citizens and showcasing new innovation, growth, and connectivity. More private sector growth can offer another way to dampen the appeal of extremism and stabilize communities.

President Obama hosted the Summit to draw more attention to the importance of addressing the broad enablers of this extremism and to highlight the role of local communities and civil society in this effort. The President defined the Summit goal as “preventing [violent extremist] groups from radicalizing, recruiting or inspiring others to violence in the first place,” and he challenged the international community, to come up with a positive, affirmative antidote to the nihilism that terrorists peddle: “If we’re going to prevent people from being susceptible to the false promises of extremism,” he said, “then the international community has to offer something better.” The event may well prove to be a pivotal moment in the global struggle against violent extremism, opening the way to a more comprehensive, affirmative, and far-reaching effort to prevent the spread of terrorist networks.

The meeting convened an unprecedented diversity of stakeholders from more than 65 governments, civil society leaders from more than 50 countries, and two dozen private sector institutions, who engaged in an honest, straight-forward discussion about the broader enablers of violent extremism and its effects on their communities. “We know that poisonous ideologies do not emerge from thin air,” United Nations Security General Ban Ki-moon declared, as he pointed to “oppression, corruption, and injustice” as drivers of violent extremism. He cautioned that “all too often counterterrorism strategies lack basic elements of due process and respect for the rule of law.” Dr. Peter Neumann of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization cited evidence that social and political marginalization render people receptive to violent extremism. Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Judeh addressed the role of Islam and called for an interfaith unity. “Religious authorities representing all religions on the face of this earth,” he said, “must unite on a narrative that discredits extremist ideology, dispels its foundations, and preaches moderation and interfaith harmony.”

The delegates outlined an ambitious, affirmative action agenda to address violent extremism. Governments, civil society, the private sector, and multilateral bodies committed to take action, both collectively and independently, in eight broad areas:

  • Encouraging local research and information-sharing;
  • Expanding the role of civil society, especially the role women and youth;
  • Strengthening community-police and community-security force relations;
  • Promoting the counter-narrative and weakening the legitimacy of violent extremist messaging;
  • Employing educational approaches and amplifying mainstream religious voices to build resilience;
  • Preventing radicalization in prisons and rehabilitating and reintegrating violent extremists;
  • Identifying political and economic opportunities for communities vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment;
  • Providing development assistance and stabilization efforts.

Several delegations have already pledged commitments in support of this comprehensive agenda. The United Nations will convene a special event this year to bring faith leaders from around the world together to promote mutual understanding and reconciliation. Japan announced a $15.5 million contribution to build capacity in the Middle East and North Africa to counter terrorism and violent extremism, including by strengthening community resilience. The European Union will create a Round of Eminent Persons from Europe and the Islamic world to encourage intellectual exchanges and promote dialogue on the cost and ramification of terrorism in our societies and to launch additional programs on how to link education and countering violent extremism. Norway will significantly expand its support for education training programs targeting populations at risk of radicalization and contribute $600,000 to the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, and the Republic of Korea will engage IT companies to develop new initiatives to counter violent extremism.

Several delegations pledged support for counter-messaging initiatives. With European Union support, Belgium is establishing the Syria Strategic Communications Advisory Team to develop a communications strategy to provide subtle counter-narratives. The African Union has pledged to work through the Network of African Journalists for Peace to launch a continent-wide, counter-violent extremism messaging campaign, and through its Against Violent Extremism Network, Google Ideas is challenging the terrorist narrative, by leveraging and trumpeting the testimonials of more than 500 rehabilitated former extremists from 40 countries.

In addition, many countries and organizations, including Albania, Algeria, the African Union, Australia, Denmark, Djibouti, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Norway, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, are already planning to host follow-on regional or thematic summits in an effort to involve more countries, civil society organizations, and companies in this process.

The Summit’s commitment to preventing violent extremism widens the aperture on the problem and invites deployment of development and broader foreign assistance programs to those communities particularly vulnerable to radicalization to violence.

The United States’ is committed to this multilateral action agenda. The U.S. is already working through the Global Counterterrorism Forum to support community-oriented policing in South Asia, the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and elsewhere; nurturing entrepreneurship and strengthening innovation in emerging markets through our Global Entrepreneurship Summits and the Global Innovation through Science and Technology program; and rallying our partners across a broad array of sectors—including heads of the entertainment and technology industries, philanthropists, and policy makers—to expand economic opportunities for vulnerable and marginalized communities. In addition to the $188 million in programs that the State Department and USAID are already dedicating to implementation, President Obama has requested nearly $400 million in additional resources in the 2016 budget for the State Department to support a wider range of counterterrorism partnerships, including programs to address violent extremism.

Stay tuned for progress on this effort. President Obama invited Summit participants to reconvene at a leaders’ summit on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in September, when heads of governments, organizations, and corporations will announce the programs and policies they have undertaken to address the drivers of violent extremism and implement the action agenda. The Summit agenda ultimately promises to identify areas of greatest risk to violent extremism and help prioritize the deployment of resources and expertise to prevent terrorism from taking hold.

Several Summit participants called the meeting a milestone in the global effort against violent extremism and a turning point for the U.S. in moving toward a holistic approach that embraces Muslim and marginalized communities, as well as the role of civil society and the private sector. The challenge now is to build on this momentum so that it produces practical and tangible outcomes. It is an opportunity to supplement, expand, and innovate for the next generation. We can complement a counterterrorism strategy that has had success in addressing immediate threats with a more comprehensive approach to prevent the emergence of new threats. This preventive approach is affirmative: by employing a broad range of tools, including diplomatic, political, development, and communications levers, it seeks to empower individuals and their communities to resist extremism without the risk of further alienating them. This approach may also prove more sustainable in employing a wider array of actors and interventions to prevent terrorist threats from expanding or emerging in the first place.

Although preventing violent extremism entails harnessing a broader toolkit than intelligence gathering, military force, and law enforcement has built to date, it does not mean that development assistance or strategic communications will replace security interventions in countering terrorism. The United States government will continue to defend the American people and its interests abroad by targeting and eliminating current terrorist threats. The President’s commitment to comprehensively preventing violent extremism will advance new tools to complement and enhance, not replace, current counterterrorism efforts.

The White House Summit already has spurred new investments and innovative programs to address the underlying drivers of violent extremism. Yet realizing this approach will not happen overnight, even here in the United States. It is, by definition, a generational effort. But the United States and our partners have embraced the need to look over the horizon, to get ahead of the next violent extremism challenge.

At the Summit, Secretary Kerry announced: “We can send a clear signal to the next generation that its future will not be defined by the agenda of the terrorists and the violent ideology that sustains them; we will not cower, and we will prevail by working together….Our collective security depends on our collective response.” When world leaders reconvene on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this September, they will have a historic opportunity to consolidate this more comprehensive approach to counterterrorism.

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

January 05, 2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:30 P.M. EST

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It’s nice to see you all.  Hope you’re feeling as rested and recharged as many of us here at the White House.  I know that I am. 

Some of you are — although I don’t see too many tan faces in the audiences, just on the side.  So —

Q    Happy New Year.

MR. EARNEST:  Happy New Year to you, Goyal.  So I don’t have anything to start, Julie, so let’s go straight to your questions.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Happy New Year.  Congress comes back tomorrow with Republicans in charge, and I’m wondering if the President has spoken to Mitch McConnell or the Republican leaders either while he was in Hawaii or since he’s been back, and if he has any plans to meet with them this week.

MR. EARNEST:  Julie, I don’t know of any presidential calls that occurred while the President was in Hawaii.  I believe that both the President and the incoming Senate Majority Leader were spending some downtime with families over the holidays.  But I would anticipate that the President will have an opportunity to sit down with congressional leaders in the first couple of weeks that they’re back here.  I don’t have a specific date at this point, but I would anticipate that that’s something that will happen if not this week, then the week or two after that.

Q    He’s occasionally spoken to Republicans at their retreat; that’s in Pennsylvania this year.  Do you know if he has plans to travel to that?  Has he been invited?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know whether or not he’s been invited.  I am aware that those are their plans, but I don’t know yet whether or not the President will attend.

Q    Okay.  One of the first things that McConnell has said that he plans to bring up is the Keystone pipeline.  There’s going to be a hearing on it on Wednesday.  The House plans to vote relatively soon.  The President was pretty non-committal in his end-of-the-year press conference.  When he was asked about a veto, he said we’ll take that up in the new year.  We’re now in the new year, we know that this is coming up.  If Congress sends him a bill forcing him to move forward on the Keystone pipeline, will he veto it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m going to reserve judgment on a specific piece of legislation until we actually see what language is included in that specific piece of legislation.  I will say, as you noted, Julie, he did discuss this at his end-of-the-year news conference a couple of weeks ago, and he did note that the pipeline would have I think what he described as a nominal impact on gas prices in this country.  But he was concerned about the impact that it could have on carbon pollution and the contribution it could make to carbon pollution, the negative impact that that has on the public health of people all across the country, and the impact that that has on our ability to build communities across the country.  As we see weather disasters worsen, as we see in the form of wildfires or more severe hurricanes, that only adds to costs.  So the President does harbor those concerns.

The other concern, frankly, that we have is that this is a — that pipeline projects like this in the past had been resolved in a fairly straightforward administrative way; that there is a process that is conducted by the State Department to evaluate a project and determine whether or not it’s in the national interest of the United States.  That’s how previous pipelines like this have been considered, and we believe this one should be considered in that same way too.

The last thing I’ll say about this is there also is an outstanding ruling that we’re waiting on from a judge in the state of Nebraska to determine what the route of the pipeline would be if it’s built through the state of Nebraska, which means there’s actually not a finalized plan on the table yet for final sign-off.  So we don’t want to put the cart before the horse here, and that is why in the past we’ve taken a rather dim view of legislative attempts to circumvent this well-established process.

So all that said, I’m not prepared at this point to issue a veto threat related to that specific piece of legislation, but we will take a careful look at it with all those things in mind.

Q    Is it fair to say that the President would be urging Democrats to vote against the legislation approving the pipeline?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’ll see what the legislation actually includes before we start urging people to vote one way or the other.

Q    Okay.  And if I can just ask on one other topic, just on something that came up while the President was in Hawaii.  Representative Steve Scalise apologized for speaking to a white supremacist group 12 years ago.  Does the President believe that Scalise should stay in leadership?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Julie, it is the responsibility of members of the House Republican conference to choose their leaders.  And I’m confident that in previous situations we’ve seen members of the conference actually make the case that who they choose to serve in their leadership says a lot about who they are, what their values are, and what the priorities of the conference should be.  Now, we’ve also heard a lot from Republicans, particularly over the last few years, including the Chairman of the Republican Party, about how Republicans need to broaden their appeal to young people and to women, to gays and to minorities; that the success of their party will depend on their ability to broaden that outreach.

So it ultimately will be up to individual Republicans in Congress to decide whether or not elevating Mr. Scalise into leadership will effectively reinforce that strategy.

Q    So far, Republican leadership seems to be standing by Scalise.  Does the President feel that’s appropriate?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, he believes that it’s ultimately their decision to make.  But there is no arguing that who Republicans decide to elevate into a leadership position says a lot about what the conference’s priorities and values are.  I mean, ultimately, Mr. Scalise reportedly described himself as David Duke without the baggage.  So it will be up to Republicans to decide what that says about their conference.
Jeff.

Q    Josh, the Afghan President said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that the United States should consider reexamining its timetable for taking U.S. coalition troops out of Afghanistan.  Is that something that the White House has discussed with him?  And is it something that the U.S. would consider at this point?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, what the President has been really clear about is what our strategy in Afghanistan is; that after the end of the year, we are now in a situation where the combat mission in Afghanistan for U.S. military personnel has ended.  The Afghans are now solely responsible for the security of their country.

There is an enduring U.S. military presence and NATO coalition military presence in Afghanistan to carry out two other missions.  The first is a counterterrorism mission.  We continue to see remnants of al Qaeda that do have designs on destabilizing the region and U.S. interests.  We also continue to see a need for U.S. military personnel to play an important role in training and equipping Afghan security forces to continue to take the fight to those terrorist elements and to preserve the security situation in the country of Afghanistan.

There are a lot of hard-won gains that have been made in Afghanistan as a result of the bravery of U.S. military personnel and our coalition partners.  Much of that work — many of those accomplishments are due to the effective coordination between United States military and Afghan security forces, and we want to see that kind of coordination continue, even as Republicans take on — Republicans — even as Afghans take sole responsibility for their security situation.

Q    Freudian slip?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  We’re all sort of working out the cobwebs from the layoff. 

Q    What was your reaction then, or the White House’s reaction, to his comments in that interview?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, and I guess this is the other part of the answer that’s also important is the fact that we continue to have military personnel in Afghanistan to carry out these two missions.  The counterterrorism mission and the training mission, the training of Afghan security forces, is indicative of the ongoing commitment that the United States has to the government of Afghanistan; that we built a strong working relationship with the unified government there and the United States and countries around the world who have invested so much in Afghan security continue to be invested in the success, both political and economic, of the Afghan people.

And the United States is prepared to continue that partnership.  But as it relates to the strategy associated with our military footprint, we’ve been pretty clear about what that strategy is.  More importantly, the Commander-in-Chief has been clear about what that strategy is.

Q    On a separate topic, oil prices continue to fall with some resulting falls in the stock market today.  Is the White House concerned about this trend?  And are you watching it?  What is your reaction to it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll say a couple of things about that.  The first is, I’m always very hesitant to draw any conclusions or offer any analysis about movements in the stock market.  I know that there are some who have observed — this is a little of a chicken-and-the-egg thing — that some of the fall in energy prices is a direct response to a weakening economy and a fall in the stock market.  So it may not be that one is causing the other; there could sort of be a reinforcing effect there.

What I will say more broadly is that we’ve talked before about why we believe that falling gas prices are, as a general matter, pretty good for the economy and it certainly is good for middle-class families that are being pinched.  And when they go to the pump and they see that the prices at the pump are up to a dollar cheaper than they were last year, that certainly means more money in the pocket of middle-class families.  That’s good for those middle-class families that the President believes are so critical to the success of our economy.

It also is a testament to the success that the U.S. has had over the last several years, in part because of the policies put forward by this administration, to increase production of domestic oil and gas.  It also is a testament to some of the policies this administration put in place five years ago to raise fuel-efficiency standards.

Q    But, Josh, I understand all these things that you want to list, but is the White House concerned about the economic implications of these falling oil prices?

MR. EARNEST:  This is something that we’re always monitoring.  I believe we talked about this a little bit at the end of last year.  But we’re always monitoring the impact that any sort of policy area would have on the economy, so it’s certainly something that we’re watching.  I think that as a general matter, speaking broadly, the impact of falling energy prices has been good for the U.S. economy.

Michelle.

Q    Any response to these recent statements by North Korea?  And are you surprised by the nature of some of them — that they’re coming from a state, even though that state is North Korea?

MR. EARNEST:  They’re not particularly surprising.  We’ve seen comments from the North Koreans in the past.  As it relates to the subject that’s received so much attention in the last few weeks, the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, the administration spoke pretty clearly at the end of last week by putting in place a new economic sanctions regime against three North Korean entities and 10 individuals as part of our proportional response to that specific hacking incident.

Q    And the speculation that’s been out there from some analysts that it actually might have come from somewhere else besides North Korea, does the administration see no merit to some of those sort of statements out there?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is an investigation that’s being conducted by the FBI.  They’ve obviously devoted significant resources to this.  They have their own area of expertise when it comes to these matters, and they have come to the conclusion, based on the evidence, that North Korea was responsible for this.  And I don’t see any reason to disagree with the conclusions that they’ve arrived at.  If you have questions about why they’ve arrived at that conclusion, you can direct it to them.

Q    And the President called this incident an act of “cyber vandalism.”  But we know that there is a review going on as to whether North Korea should be on the list of state sponsors of terror.  So does that mean that there’s a possibility the President is going to reconsider what he called this hack?  Or is that review of North Korea possibly being on the list based on purely other activities by North Korea? 

MR. EARNEST:  It does not mean that the President is reconsidering the way that he talks about this, but what is prudent is that our national security team is always reviewing the actions, particularly of nations like North Korea, to determine the proper policy response, and in some cases, whether or not that includes including them on the state sponsor of terrorism list.

Now, there are — I will say that there is a very specific technical definition for how states, or why individual countries, should be added to that list.  And so we will work very carefully to determine whether or not the actions that have been taken by North Korea meet that very specific technical definition.

Q    And I mean, the fact that North Korea is not on that list, Cuba is, both are under review — that doesn’t say a lot about that list and its weight.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I actually think that it might actually say quite a bit about the weight of that list.  The fact that we take so seriously those nations that do sponsor acts of terrorism, that they are in a very small club.  But that is a list that you don’t want to be on, and it’s a list that we take very seriously as we formulate a foreign policy that protects the national security interest of the United States. 

And the fact that we make a very — take a very deliberative approach to determining whether or not a country should be added to the list or removed from the list I think is an indication of just how serious a matter a state sponsor of terrorism is.

Q    Thanks, Josh.

MR. EARNEST:  Move around a little bit.  Justin.

Q    I want to go back to Mitch McConnell.  He, in an interview this morning — from the Washington Post, said that the single best thing that the Republican Congress can do is not mess up the playing field for 2016, the Republican presidential nominee.  So I’m kind of interested in the inverse of that question, which is, is that President Obama’s kind of number-one priority headed in for the last two years?  Or to what extent is preparing the Democratic Party for the 2016 elections and the leader that would presumably continue his vision a priority or something that’s on your guys’ agenda?  And conversely, to what extent are you guys trying to foil Mitch McConnell’s plan to sort of — he wanted the Republicans to seem less crazy, I guess —

MR. EARNEST:  Scary, I think is the —

Q    Scary, yes.

MR. EARNEST:  Typically, the beginning of the year is a time for optimism, where we set our sights high, where we really pursue our grandest ambitions, we make New Year’s resolutions for ourselves about how much we’re going to read more books or go to the gym more often.  And suggesting that they’re going to be less scary is not exactly the highest ceiling I can imagine for their legislative accomplishments this year, but a worthy pursuit nonetheless.

What I will say is that the President does have, in the vein of ambition, a lot that he wants to try to get done this year.  And over the course of this week even, you’ll hear the President talk quite a bit about steps that he can take to strengthen our economy, particularly to benefit middle-class families.  The President believes our economy is strongest when we’re growing from the middle out.  And I do think you can hear the President — expect to hear the President talking in detailed fashion about some of the executive actions that he can pursue and some of the legislative proposals that he’ll put forward that he believes deserve bipartisan support.

And this is something — this is a little different than what we’ve done in the past — this is an opportunity for him to talk about the State of the Union address as we get closer to the date where he’ll actually give the speech.  So a little bit more of a preview than we’ve seen in previous years. 

And I do think it is indicative of the kind of energy that the President is feeling, and, frankly, even optimism that the President is feeling; that we can build on the kind of momentum that we’re seeing in our economy right now to put in place policies that will be good for middle-class families and be good for the broader U.S. economy.

Are Democrats and Republicans going to agree on every aspect of the President’s strategy?  Probably not.  But are there some things where we feel like we can work together to get things done that will be consistent with the ambitions of both parties, and consistent with a strategy that will be in the best interests of the country and middle-class families in the country?  Yes, I think we can.  And whether it’s — I also noted in that same interview, Senator McConnell talked about finding new ways to invest in infrastructure.  He talked about policies we can put in place to open up markets for U.S. businesses.  And he talked about tax reform. 

So these are all areas where there does stand the potential for bipartisan agreement, and the President is certainly going to pursue them.  The President is also going to pursue some other things that Republicans may not like that he can do on his own.

Q    So I mean, I recognize I kind of teed you up there to talk about the next week, but I am actually interested in the sort of 2016 question, the extent to which this is starting to enter your guys’ kind of calculations.  Politically, obviously the President’s time in office is waning, but his legacy and — will be extended and especially influenced by his successor.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President, as you may have heard from some of my colleagues after the last midterm election, that the way — the President sees it a little bit differently; that essentially, today marks the beginning of the fourth quarter of his presidency.  And as the President, an avid basketball fan, has observed, a lot of really important things happen in the fourth quarter.  And I think the President believes that’s true not just in an NBA basketball game, it’s also true of a presidency.  And he wants to make it true of his presidency.

And that I do think is why you will see the President pretty energized when he appears later this week, that he’s going to have a pretty ambitious list of priorities that he wants to achieve.  We’re going to look for opportunities to work with Republicans to make progress on those priorities.  And where Republicans don’t agree, you’re going to see the President take decisive action to make progress on his own where he can.

And that is, I recognize, not a significant departure from the strategy that we have employed in the last couple of years, but I do think that you’re going to see the President be even more energized and even more determined to make progress on behalf of middle-class families.  That’s, after all, the reason the President ran for this office in the first place.  And the President is going to spend a lot of time focused on that here in the fourth quarter of his presidency.

And I guess — so I guess the last part of that is — and all that is to say, that means that the presidential election in 2016 is quite a ways off still.  And the President believes that we should be focused on the kinds of policy priorities that are going to benefit middle-class families.  There will be plenty of time for politics.

Q    And then just on Steve Scalise, I know that you talked a little bit about it with Julie, but I’m wondering, did the President have a reaction to hearing that he had attended these rallies or the statement that you attributed to him?  Have you had a conversation with him about it?  Or does he think Steve Scalise should resign over this?  Are there those sorts of kind of feelings or sentiments coming from —

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven’t spoken to him directly about this specific issue.  I can tell you that — but I do feel confident in relaying to you that the President does believe that ultimately it’s the responsibility of individual members of the House Republican conference to decide who they want to elect as their — as the leader of their conference.  And certainly, who those elected leaders are says a lot about who the conference is and what their priorities and values are.  And they’re going to have to answer for themselves whether or not elevating somebody who described himself as “David Duke without the baggage” sort of reinforces the kind of message that the House Republican conference wants to project.

Cheryl.

Q    Yes, thanks.  Just on the legislative agenda, do you see the omnibus as sort of the model where you’re going to start seeing legislation that may have some things that you really don’t like but you’re going to sign it anyway because it’s probably the best compromise you’re going to get?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question.  I would anticipate that anything — that the most substantial pieces of legislation that we hope to get done will necessarily be compromises.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that those pieces of legislation will include things that we strenuously oppose, it just may be that there are pieces of legislation that we feel like don’t go quite far enough but are certainly a positive step in the right direction.

But I think either of those scenarios fits what would be an acceptable definition of a compromise.  And I would anticipate that when we’re operating in an environment where we have Republicans in charge of the Congress and a Democrat in charge of the White House, that compromise is going to be the name of the game. 

And I certainly will hope, and the President certainly hopes, that Republicans are in — will pursue our work together in that spirit.

Olivier.

Q    Josh, the country’s largest police union today said the national hate crime statute should be expanded to include attacks on police officers.  Does the President agree?

MR. EARNEST:  I hadn’t seen that statement.  I think that’s something that we’ll have to consider.  Obviously, we certainly condemn in the strongest possible terms any sort of violence against police officers.  And just a couple of weeks ago in New York we saw a brazen act of violence that really shook that community in New York.  And even here a couple weeks later, the thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House, including the President and First Lady, continue to be with the families of those two officers who were killed in that terrible attack.

So I think the question, though, is ultimately, what are the kinds of things that we can do to make it safer for police officers to do their important work.  And this will be among the things that will be considered by the taskforce that the President appointed at the end of last year.  They’re going to be holding their first public meeting next week.  They’ll hear from the representatives of law enforcement organizations.  Because the President does believe that building stronger bonds of trust between the community and the law enforcement officers who are sworn to serve and protect that community is in the best interest, both of the police officers and the citizens of those communities. 

So trying to find that common ground and putting in place policies and looking for best practices where other communities have been able to identify that common ground is going to be part of the very important work of this taskforce and the President is looking forward to their findings.

Jon.

Q    Back to North Korea.  Given that there have been some doubts raised about — private-sector analysts looking at this and raising doubts about whether or not North Korea was actually responsible for the hack, is there some consideration to declassifying the evidence that shows that, in fact, North Korea has done this to give some confidence in the finding of the FBI on this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I know that I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there were a couple of private-sector organizations that have endorsed the findings of the FBI.  So there are some people who have looked at the evidence and come down on a couple different sides of this.  Obviously what they’re dealing with here is something that’s pretty sensitive.  The evidence that they have reviewed and obtained by making it public does give a pretty strong indication to the North Koreans and, frankly, to other bad actors about the techniques that we use to investigate and to attribute these kinds of attacks. 

So it’s a tricky business here.  I wouldn’t rule out in the future that the FBI may be able to be more transparent about their findings.  But I’d refer you to them in terms of what they feel like they can comfortably release without undermining some of the strategies that they use, both to protect our infrastructure but also to investigate intrusions.

Q    And by using the phrase or the word cyber vandalism to describe this, is the President downplaying the significance of it?  Cyber vandalism, or the word “vandalism” sounds a lot less serious than the word terrorism, as some others have suggested.

MR. EARNEST:  I think it sounds less serious, but the President certainly believes — takes this incident, this attack, as something serious.  It had a serious financial impact on this American company.  It obviously had a serious impact on some of the values that we hold dear in this country about freedom of expression and freedom of speech. 

So it was not the President’s intent to downplay this at all.  I think the President was looking for a way that most accurately described exactly what had occurred.

Q    Okay.  Two other topics.  One, the news over the weekend that Boko Haram has taken over a Nigerian base on the border with Chad.  How much confidence does the White House have in the ability of the Nigerian government to deal with this threat?  How significant do you think the threat of Boko Haram is, and what’s the United States — is there any role for the United States to do anything about it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll say a couple things about this, Jon.  The first is, there obviously is a counterterrorism cooperation relationship between the United States and a number of countries in Africa, including Nigeria.  And that kind of cooperation has been valuable in the past in trying to help central governments in Africa and other places in the world, frankly, combat some of these extremist elements in their countries. 

So that counterterrorism relationship is ongoing.  The clearest manifestation of that cooperation is the deployment of some military personnel that are on the ground in Nigeria to try to help recover those girls who were kidnapped from that school relatively early last year.  So that work is ongoing, but this is very difficult work and we’re going to continue to cooperate with the Nigerians as they try to do a better job of securing their country.

Q    But isn’t this an indication that that cooperation is not working at all?  I mean, first of all, the girls haven’t been rescued.  That’s on one side.  The other side, Boko Haram seems to be on the march.  I mean, they’ve actually overtaken a military base that was set up, in large part, to fight Boko Haram.  I mean, doesn’t this show that whatever cooperation we have with the Nigerians just isn’t working?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it shows that there is — that they face a very serious threat in Nigeria.  And the United States, it does have this relationship with Nigeria that we value, it’s a military-to-military relationship.  We also share some other intelligence assets that have been deployed to fight Boko Haram.  But this is certainly something that we’re concerned about.

Q    And just one last question on the Cuba deal.  Part of it was the Cuban government agreeing to release 53 political prisoners.  Do you have an update for us on how many of the 53 have been released?  Have they all been released, and who they are?

MR. EARNEST:  For a specific update — I’m going to have to take the question and we’ll get back to you — it’s my understanding that not all of them have been released at this point.  But as part of the agreement that was brokered that this prisoner release that the Cuban government decided to undertake on their own in the context of these discussions would take place in stages.

Q    so you’re confident they’re going to follow through on this?  I mean, there’s also been reports that the Cubans have arrested some additional political prisoners.

MR. EARNEST:  What I would say is, at this point, there is no reason to think that they are walking back any part of the agreement.  But we’ll see if we can get you some more details.

J.C.

Q    How concerned is this administration and how closely has this administration been and how closely has this administration been monitoring what is going on in Wall Street right now where the Dow has gone below 300, and the Euro has reached its lowest mark in nine years?  The concerns are the instability of the Greek government and new elections there; that Greece will, in fact, abandon the Euro.  What is the situation?  How does the White House look at this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, JC, I can tell you that we’re always monitoring movements in the financial markets.  But in terms of sort of ascribing what may be driving those fluctuations in the market, I wouldn’t speculate on that.  But obviously this administration has been working very closely with our partners in Europe as they’ve worked to deal with some of the financial challenges that they faced over the last several years, both as it relates to some members of the EU, but also as it relates to the broader economic trends over in Europe.
You’ll recall that the Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman, spoke at this podium a couple of weeks ago, and he discussed some concerns about headwinds from Europe, that their weakening economy is certainly in the best interest of the U.S. economy.  But at the same time, the strength of the U.S. economy is due at least in part to some of the very important and difficult policy decisions that the President made early on in his presidency.
Mark.
Q    Gas taxes, Josh.  For the new year and of course the plunging oil prices and plunging price of the gallon has renewed the talk of raising gas taxes to help pay for infrastructure.  In the past, you guys have said that’s not on the table.  Is it on the table now?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s not something that we have proposed, and that’s been our policy.  We have put forward our own very specific proposal for how we believe we can make the investment that’s needed in infrastructure in this country.  That’s typically what the gas tax revenue is dedicated to, is investing in infrastructure.  And we have put forward our own specific plan for closing loopholes that only benefit wealthy and well-connected corporations, and using the revenue from closing those loopholes to investing in badly needed infrastructure upgrades.
There are some in Congress that have different ideas, including raising the gas tax.  That’s certainly something that we’ll take a look at it, but it’s not something that we have considered from here.
Q    Okay.  I ask because, among those proposals, Bob Corker and Chris Murphy have wanted to raise the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon over two years, I guess it is; you say there are others.  Two questions:  Are you, A, ruling a gas tax increase out?  And, B, is the President going to say something specific on infrastructure and gas taxes in the State of the Union speech?
MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have anything to preview at this point about — from the State of the Union on this specific topic.  But we may have more in advance of the speech, so stay tuned.
As it relates to specific proposals from Congress, we’ll certainly consider proposals that are put forward, particularly bipartisan proposals like that one that you mentioned.  But we’ve been really clear about what we think is the best way to get this done, and that is simply to close loopholes that benefit only the wealthy and well-connected corporations, and use that revenue to make badly needed investments in infrastructure that everybody benefits from.  I recognize that there are some other ideas out there, and we’ll consider those too, but we’ve been really clear about what we support.
Mara.
Q    Just to follow up on that — the gas tax is a kind of permanent, ongoing way to fund infrastructure.  What you’re talking about is a one-time-only closing of loopholes to get some money for infrastructure investments.  Do you think, as others have suggested, that the gas tax as a funding mechanism for infrastructure is broken and should be replaced by another mechanism?
MR. EARNEST:  I’m not saying that, although some have pointed out that the fact that we have — that our vehicles that are on the road are becoming more fuel efficient, which means they’re using less gas, which means that there’s likely to be less revenue from a gas tax.  But what we have said is that we believe there is a very specific way that we can close some loopholes that will generate revenue that will allow us to make some badly needed investments in infrastructure.
Q    But that’s not a permanent funding stream for infrastructure.  That’s just a one-time-only —
MR. EARNEST:  Well, it could be, because we’re talking about permanently closing the loopholes. 
Q    And that amount of money —
MR. EARNEST:  That would be a change in the tax policy.  It could be.
Q    I know.  But do you envision it as something that funds infrastructure over time?  I don’t really understand how that becomes a permanent infrastructure funding source.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’re not suggesting that we abolish the gas tax, right?  But there is revenue that could be gleaned from reforming the tax code, and generating revenue that could be used to invest in infrastructure.  And so that’s what our strategy is. 
I recognize that there are other people that have other ideas, and we’ll certainly consider those ideas as they put them forward.
Major.
Q    Is there reluctance to talk about the gas tax because you believe gas prices trending downward are likely to reverse in the not-too-distant future and you don’t want to mess with anything in the price market or taxes for fuel?
MR. EARNEST:  I think the reluctance that you’re perceiving from me is that we believe, frankly, that we have a better idea for how to do this, which is that by closing loopholes that only benefit wealthy and well-connected corporations we can actually invest in the kind of infrastructure that will create jobs, stimulate economic growth and put in place modern infrastructure that we can all benefit from.  So we’re open to these other ideas that others have put forward, but we believe our idea is better.  But I’m not willing to —
Q    But no matter what the price of gas is?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I mean, this is a position that we’ve had for some time, right?
Q    I know.  And there are a lot of energy economists who have said, well, look, this is a different — this is a time for a different conversation, because the prices are down and there is more room within what people used to budget, and the infrastructure needs of the country haven’t gotten any better, they’ve become more pronounced, if anything; and it’s time for a fresh look at this.  And I hear from you, you’re not inclined to give it a fresh look, and I’m just trying to figure out why.
MR. EARNEST:  I think what I’m trying to say is that we continue to remain open to giving it a look if somebody wants to put forward their own proposal.  Again, this sort of goes to Cheryl’s question, in some ways, about compromise.  We don’t believe that the best way to fund modernizing our infrastructure is to raise the gas tax, but some people do.  And we’re willing to consider those proposals.  We believe that the best way to do that is to close loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and well-connected corporations.
Q    And interpreting your comments earlier that you may or may not have a meeting — the President may or may not have a meeting with congressional leaders on the Republican side this week, it sounds like he probably won’t, looking at the schedule.  Is it fair to say that that is a lesser priority than getting out on the road and sort of previewing the State of the Union and displaying the President’s energetic pursuit of his own agenda, and not treating the new congressional Republican majority as a secondary item, but not as important as his own rhetorical flourishes for this week?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think we’re less focused on rhetorical flourishes and more interested in substantive policy ideas that will get our economy moving and benefit middle-class families.  That’s what we’re going to be focused on on the road, and that’s what we’re going to be focused on in our conversations with Democrats and Republicans who are in leadership positions in Congress. 
Look, the President met with congressional leaders a couple of times during the lame duck session, and I’m confident that he’ll do it again early this year.
Q    Right, but it’s just a different crew and a different power structure than during the lame duck.  I mean, I know this is many of the same participants, but they’re — 
MR. EARNEST:  Pretty much all of the same participants, isn’t it?
Q    Right, but they have different levels of power, and their proximity to them is completely different. 
MR. EARNEST:  But even in the context of those meetings that they had in the lame duck, they were talking about this — everybody knew what was going to happen after the first of year, right?  Everybody knew that the President wasn’t just meeting with the Senate Minority Leader, he was also meeting with the incoming Senate Majority Leader.
So I don’t think that that will substantively change the kinds of conversations that they’ll have early this year, which the President believes is important and he’ll do, but certainly there’s no reason we can’t do both, right?  What the President wants to do is he wants to make progress by debating and putting in place where possible substantive economic policy ideas that will benefit the middle class.  Some of those he can do on his own and he is going to do it.  Some of those he is going to require cooperation with Republicans in Congress to get it done and he is eager to do that, too.

Q    Right.  I know you don’t want to preview the State of the Union but the last time the President gave an address like that there was no war against ISIS.  There was no ongoing airstrike and a coalition to confront in two different countries.  Now there is.  So two questions.  To what degree will the President use the State of the Union to give the country an assessment of what has been accomplished and what remains to be done?  And how does the ongoing conflict influence the Defense budget that’s being put together and the ongoing discretionary cap limits that have one more year to go in a full budget cycle after this?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, the State of the Union hasn’t been written yet, so I wouldn’t want to speculate —

Q    Yes, but Cody has been working on it, as you and I both know.

MR. EARNEST:  He is — he has been — but ultimately he’s not the author of it, even he has been working on it.

Q    No, I know, but it’s not like there’s a bunch of blank pieces of paper hanging around.

MR. EARNEST:  No, but it’s not as if the final words that are on the page are going to be the ones that will be read by the President of the United States on January 20th.

Q    But you know these things get blocked out.  What I’m just trying to figure out is how much does the President feel it’s necessary or worthwhile to assess what is a not-insignificant national —

MR. EARNEST:  You’re asking a very legitimate question.  I’m just trying to make it clear that those are — we’re still having those kinds of discussions about what actually is going to be included in there and to what extent it will be included.  But I am confident, as a general matter, that the President will use the opportunity of that national address to talk about the threat that we face from ISIL and what the United States continues to do by leading this broader international coalition of more than 60 countries to degrade and ultimately destroy them.  This is a multi-front strategy that includes airstrikes that were taken in support of troops on the ground; it involves combatting foreign fighters; it involves counter-finance, which you’ve heard David Cohen from the Treasury Department talk about from here.  It talks about important work that needs to be done on the humanitarian front.  And it continues — it also includes the efforts that we have undertaken, working closely with our allies, to counter ISIL’s message in the Muslim world.  So this is a multifaceted effort and I am confident that you’ll hear the President talk about this a little bit at least.

As it relates to the second question about the Defense Department budget, there obviously are — there is an impact on the Defense Department budget as a result of these ongoing efforts.  It’s one of the reasons that our priorities for the lame duck was getting some increased funding so we could ensure that we had the necessary resources to carry out this strategy.  And one of the other things that we talked about in the context of the omnibus was how disappointed we were that Congress didn’t act on the kinds of budgetary reforms that both the civilian and military leadership at the Pentagon said were desperately needed.

And so I would anticipate that all of that — maybe not discussed in that much detail in the State of the Union, but it certainly will be a priority as we talk to Congress about the FY16 budget.

Q    And during the holiday break, several more detainees were repatriated from Guantanamo.  And the indication is that that’s going to be something that will be rather common in the next three or four months.  Would you be willing to say that this is something that this administration intends to accelerate in the early part of 2015 — to move as many detainees as are moveable out of Guantanamo in the early part of this year?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have, frankly, a lot of insight into what the short-term plans are in terms of who is — and sort of what sort of agreements are being contemplated and what troops are up for transfer in the short term.  I can tell you that it continues to be an important priority of this administration to ultimately transfer all of the detainees out of Guantanamo.

Q    But the President has conceded publicly that’s not possible.  That some of them are too dangerous, it can’t be tried.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, which is why we need Congress to take some action to remove some of the obstacles that are preventing the President from doing something that he believes is clearly in the national interest, which is closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Q    One last thing.  David Cameron said over the weekend that the President calls him “bro.”  Is that true?  And is there any other pet names he has for world leaders?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  Well, to paraphrase a local baseball player here in Washington, D.C., that’s a clown question, bro.  (Laughter.)  I’m just teasing.

Q    You don’t mean that.

MR. EARNEST:  No, I don’t.  Mostly because I just wanted to use “bro” in my own response.  (Laughter.)  I am not able to give much more insight about the private communications between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom other than to —

Q    Having been revealed publicly, do you have any reason to doubt the Prime Minister’s assertion?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t because, as you know, they have a special relationship.  (Laughter.)

Peter.

Q    Given Mitch McConnell’s unusual admonition to the Republican majority that they should not be scary, I want to get a sense from you right now.  Does the President think the American people should be scared of a Republican governing majority?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s an interesting question.  (Laughter.)  I think the President has been pretty clear that there is a pretty stark difference of opinion about which policies are actually in the best interest of the country, about which — what kinds of policies are going to be in the best interest of middle-class families.  That is, after all, the President’s priority.  And I think by some of the policy choices we’ve seen some of the Republicans make, they don’t share that priority.  And that certainly is a strong difference of opinion. 

But, ultimately, I guess we’ll have to sort of see whether or not members of Congress choose to abide by the admonition of the new Senate Majority Leader.

One example I guess I can think of is the prospect of defaulting on the debt for the first time in our nation’s history is a scary prospect.  Hopefully it’s not going to come to that.  But we’ll have to see.

I guess I would say it this way.  The President does believe that there are some areas where we can cooperate.  So setting aside whether or not they’re scary or not, we do believe that there may be an opportunity for us to find some areas of common ground where Democrats and Republicans can come together to open up overseas markets for American businesses or to reform the tax code in a way that would actually make it more simple and more fair, and close loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and the well-connected.  So there may be some things that we can do to cooperate and actually make some progress for the American people.

Q    We know mayor — back to law enforcement and New York City Police Department but police departments nationwide, some of which have indicated the rank and file, they feel betrayed by the President, by Attorney General Eric Holder.  Earlier you indicated that the President basically feels — certainly feels a sympathy for the loss experienced by the families in New York, but does the President feel a sympathy with those police — members of police departments right now who feel targeted?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what the President believes is that it’s clearly in the best interests of people who are living in communities that have legitimate concerns and clearly in the best interests of law enforcement officers that have legitimate concerns to come together and try to strengthen the bond of trust between law enforcement officers and the communities that they’re sworn to serve and protect.  And that is a pursuit that is important and would benefit communities all across the country.  And it certainly would stand to benefit law enforcement officers who do the heroic work every day of getting up and putting on a blue uniform, and putting their lives on the line to protect the community that they work in.

And that is a calling that the President believes is worthy of our honor and respect.  And if there are things that we can do to make it safer for them to do that important work while at the same time inspiring greater trust in the communities that they are sworn to serve and protect, that that’s a good thing, that that is a laudable goal and ultimately it will have the effect of fighting crime in communities all across the country.

Q    Mayor Bill de Blasio is going to speak in a matter of moments — when we leave this briefing, we’ll hear some of his remarks given the latest that’s been taking place up there.  Recently, Police Commissioner Bratton has called it very inappropriate that the officers turned their back to the mayor during the eulogy for officer Ramos.  Does the President agree with Bratton?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven’t spoken to the President about it.  I do think that Commissioner Bratton did have I think an important view that he expressed on this.  He described — this is a letter that he sent to police precincts all across the city of New York.  And he said, “It was not all officers, and it was not disrespect directed at Detective Ramos.  But all the officers were painted by it, and it stole the valor, honor and attention that rightfully belonged to the memory of Detective Rafael Ramos’s life and service.  That was not the intent, I know.  But it was the result.” 

Q    So I guess, simply, even if — broadly speaking, does the White House think that action is inappropriate?

MR. EARNEST:  I think what I will say is that the part of Commissioner Bratton’s letter I think that resonates most strongly here at the White House is that those who are attending those funerals are there to pay their respect for the service and sacrifice of the two officers who were being laid to rest.  And certainly the President has — believes that their service and their sacrifice is worthy of celebration and respect, and should be afforded all of the outward symbols of honor that they’ve been given.  And I think that’s what the vast majority of the people who attended those funerals, including police officers who attended those funerals, actually gave.

Q    Digressing very briefly, we just learned a short time ago that two aspiring U.S. ski team members were killed in an avalanche in Austria.  That information is just coming to us, I don’t know whether you guys have been made aware or if the President was aware or had any thoughts, given that tragedy to U.S. aspiring Olympic athletes.

MR. EARNEST:  Peter, I was not aware of that report.  Obviously, the President has on a number of occasions had the opportunity to welcome Olympic athletes to the White House, both as they’re preparing for competition and after they have competed.  And, obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with those who were apparently lost in this specific incident.

These are young men and women who make our country proud, and certainly they dedicate their lives to their pursuit and their calling and their passion, which is the performance in their sport.  And so I am not aware of this specific report but certainly if it’s true it is a tragedy.

Q    Josh, another update over the holidays would be these recommendations to reform the Secret Service.  And I wonder, has the President actually been given some sort of a report or a briefing?  And where is the White House specifically on this increased speculation that we might see the security fence outside raised?  That was one of the recommendations.  So where specifically is the President, White House staff on that?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question, Ed.  I don’t know whether or not the President has received this specific briefing but we’ll follow up with you on this.  And as you’ll recall, the President did have interest in reviewing this report.

Q    Right.  I just wanted to get it on the record.

MR. EARNEST:  We’ll follow up with you.

Q    Specifically working with Congress, following up on both Julie and Major on the meeting — not just the meeting itself, but why not meet with Republican leaders this week.  But you and others are giving this impression the President is ready to work with Republican leaders but no meeting this week probably.  Instead, he is going out on the road on his own and he did this interview with NPR over the holidays where he said, I’m ready to start vetoing a lot more stuff and there’s going to be a lot more executive action.  So aren’t you saying he’s going to work with Republicans, but his actions are actually speaking louder than those words?

MR. EARNEST:  Well Ed, I think the President’s action to invite Congressional leaders, both Democrats and Republicans to the White House just a couple of days after the midterm elections, and talk about where that common ground is, I do think that speaks to the President’s — the priority that the President places in working with Republicans to make progress for the American people.  But you’re also right that the fact that the President is going to start the new year by announcing some new executive actions and some new policy proposals that will benefit middle-class families indicates that he’s most focused on results.  He’s mostly focused on substantive policy ideas that will benefit middle-class families.

Q    But they haven’t even been sworn in yet, and you’re already talking about, he’s moving forward on executive action.    He’s going out on the road to go directly to the American people — he’s free to do that but they haven’t even been sworn in yet, and you’re saying he’s getting ready to do more executive action.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, he is.  And the President is determined to make progress where he can on his own.  As the President has said many times, particularly in the aftermath of the midterm elections, we can’t allow a disagreement over one thing to be a deal-breaker over all the others.  So, I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are going to be critical of policy proposals that the President pursues on his own to benefit middle-class families.  That may be an area where an honest disagreement exists. 

What we’re mostly focused on when we have conversations with Republicans, though, is figuring out, where is there common ground?  Where do we agree?  And the disagreements may be more plentiful, but that’s all the more reason we should spend a lot of time looking for that area of common ground and the President will do that.  He did that at the end of last year, he’ll do it as this year gets underway as well.

Q    Last thing.  Republicans talking again as they have many times before about trying to change the President health care law.  And I want to ask you specifically, not about that, but about this new book from Steven Brill, because this was not a quick drive-by.  He spent I believe 19 months interviewing a lot of people around here and from what I’ve seen of it so far, he points out the good of getting millions more people insurance, but both in the book and some of his early television interviews he’s indicating that he believes — this is after studying it very closely — it’s a raw deal for taxpayers; that a lot more people are getting insurance but the taxpayers are picking up that tab.  And that the health care costs are not coming down because of the law itself, despite what was promised.

MR. EARNEST:  Well let me say a couple things about that, Ed.  The first thing is it’s important for people to remember the Affordable Care Act substantially reduced the deficit, which is good for the economic health and the fiscal health of the country, and also good for taxpayers.  And we have seen that the growth in health care costs has been lower than at any other time in recorded history — in almost 50 years since they’ve been measuring that specific statistic.

We’ve also seen the average premium for employer-based health care coverage — these are individuals who are essentially not really affected by the Affordable Care Act and certainly aren’t getting health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act — they saw that their premiums only went up 3 percent, even though in previous years it had been going up by double digits every year.

So one of the goals, as Mr. Brill points out in this book, has been to limit the growth in health care costs and the numbers indicate that very early on, that there has been very important success associated with the Affordable Care Act in doing exactly that.  And that’s something that we’re going to continue to do in addition to expanding coverage and getting more people covered with health care; in addition to putting in place the kind of patient protections that the President has long advocated — everything from ensuring that men and women can get the kind of preventative health care maintenance, annual checkups and things;  that those can be covered free of charge; that you can’t be discriminated against because you have a preexisting condition.  We can put in place all of those things and we can actually limit the growth in health care costs, and that’s what the Affordable Care Act has done.

Q    And he also has this conclusion that from talking to the President own advisors, that people in the West Wing believe that the real chief of staff is Valerie Jarrett, and that when the author pressed the President himself in an interview, he just wouldn’t comment on that.  Why wouldn’t the President knock that down, why wouldn’t he say Valerie Jarrett is not my chief of staff?

MR. EARNEST:  I think because everybody already knows that.  And I think that Ms. Jarrett obviously plays a very important role here in the West Wing and in advising the President of the United States, but I think even she would tell you that she’s not the chief of staff and doesn’t want to be.

Alexis.

Q    Josh, can I follow up?  I have two quick questions.  One is a personnel question.  You had anticipated that the President’s Counselor, and maybe his senior advisor — I’m talking about Podesta and Pfeiffer — might leave in a few weeks.  Can you update us on whether they’re going to be departing the White House soon?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any updates on any personnel matters at this point.

Q    You can’t say whether John Podesta will indeed be leaving?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can say — I mean, we said that when he started last year that he would essentially be serving through the end of the calendar year.  He’s going to stay on at the beginning of this year to help with the State of the Union.  I don’t have an exact date for his departure though.

Q    But maybe February?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any guidance on that, but we’ll keep you posted.

Q    Ok.  And you don’t want to say anything about Dan?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’d say lots of things about Dan.  (Laughter.)  But in terms of any personnel announcements associated with Dan I’m not aware of any.

Q    The second question is, at the end of the year, the percentage of people who said that they approved of the job that the President was doing went up.  And lots of people have analyzed the polling numbers and why that is, and I was just wondering if the White House could share its own interpretation of why that percentage went up at the end of the year.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think, like financial markets, it’s always a tricky, risky business to try to analyze what’s actually driving fluctuations in poll numbers.  I can tell you that — I think what I’d rather do is sort of convey to you why so many people in this building felt really optimistic heading into the holidays at the end of last year, and that is because we did feel like over the course of the last six weeks or so of last year that we had been able to make a lot of progress on a variety of important policy priorities that the President ha

Boko Haram Takes the Fight to Cameroon

The militant group has launched a series of attacks along the Cameroon border. “The coordinated assaults on five towns and villages showed a change in tactics by Nigerian Boko Haram fighters, who have focused on hit-and-run raids on individual settlements in the past, Information Minister Issa Tchiroma added. Boko Haram’s campaign to carve out an Islamist caliphate has spread from its stronghold in northeast Nigeria to neighboring Cameroon, raising fears for an already unstable region also threatened by Islamist militants in the Sahel. (VOA http://bit.ly/1xud2cD)

Displaced Muslims Precariously Trapped in Central African Republic Village…”About 500 Muslims, mainly ethnic Peuls, have been in the town of Yaloke in western C.A.R. since fleeing there nine months ago to escape hostile Christian and animist anti-balaka militia.In Yaloke, they have had some protection from French and United Nations peacekeepers, and have been receiving some food aid. But they are trapped in a small area and unable to move outside it for fear of attacks. Health conditions have deteriorated. VOA http://bit.ly/1xucTpw)

Best commentary of the 10 year Anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami: Nancy Lindborg, Assistant USAID Administrator and incoming president of the US Institute for Peace on the six lessons the international community should draw from the tragedy. (HuffPo http://huff.to/1xd6WLE)

Africa

Dozens of new Ebola cases have erupted in Liberia, near the border with Sierra Leone, Liberian health officials warned Monday, marking a setback amid recent improvements. (AP http://yhoo.it/13F8J01)

The United Nations said on Monday it had begun delivering food aid to war-torn South Sudan via the Nile River from Sudan for the first time since it became independent in 2011, warning the country could face a “hunger catastrophe”. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1rvtfeT)

The United States launched an airstrike against a senior Shabab militia leader in southwestern Somalia on Monday, a Pentagon spokesman disclosed. (Time

Sierra Leone started a fresh push against the virus in mid-December. It is concentrating its efforts in the north and west of the country. The government prohibited public gatherings at Christmas. The northern district of Port Loko marked the holiday by declaring a lockdown as health workers went door to door. Health ministry spokesman Sidie Y Tunis said that’s ongoing. (VOA http://bit.ly/1zrF03N)

With a population that has already passed the 50 million mark and a sustained unemployment rate of more than 25%, attention is being focused on South Africa’s child grant incentives for single mothers which may be encouraging young women to bear children to get an income. (VOA http://bit.ly/1BfopTb)

Recent studies indicate Burundi is the hungriest place on earth. War, poverty and overpopulation have left up to two thirds of the residents with chronic food shortages, stunting people’s growth physically and also professionally, while rising demands for scarce resources pose serious problems for Burundi’s stability. (VOA http://bit.ly/1zrEVNE)

Birth control is a divisive issue across much of Africa – it challenges culture, religion and patriarchy. In Dakar, bringing religious leaders into the discussion has been an important step to overcoming resistance in Senegal. (VOA http://bit.ly/1BfoqXr)

In some African countries, the social and economic forces collide on workplace issues like parental leave. While some countries are moving to extend leave, others are having a hard time enforcing the laws they already have. (VOA http://bit.ly/1wY0U1H)

Roche Holding AG said U.S. health regulators have approved its Ebola test for emergency use in response to the world’s worst outbreak of the disease in West Africa. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1rvtcjn)

MENA

Arab U.N. delegations on Monday endorsed a Palestinian proposal to forge a peace deal with Israel within a year and end Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories by late 2017, despite fierce Israeli and U.S. opposition. (Reuters http://reut.rs/1xu9Pqi)

Three Al-Jazeera journalists are marking one year since they were arrested in Egypt on charges of supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood, as they look toward a court date Thursday to appeal their case. (VOA http://bit.ly/1wY0mJ9)

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has condemned a series of airstrikes on targets in the city of Misrata amid an upsurge in fighting across the war-torn North African country, adding that any further escalation in hostilities could plunge the nation back into “all-out war.” (Ekklesia http://bit.ly/1xu9BQ7)

An Egyptian prosecutor referred 15 alleged members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood to a military court on Sunday on violence-related charges, the state news agency reported. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1wwuYfH)

Asia

Thousands of Afghans are pouring into makeshift camps in the capital where they face a harsh winter as the Taliban return to areas once cleared by foreign forces, who this week are marking the end of their combat mission. (AP http://yhoo.it/13F8KRI)

The suspected mastermind of the 2008 militant attacks on Mumbai that killed 166 people has won an appeal against his detention in Pakistan. (VOA http://bit.ly/1xud9F4)

South Korea on Monday proposed restarting a dialogue with North Korea on issues of mutual concern, such as reuniting families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. This outreach to the North comes at a time of growing antagonism between Pyongyang and the West over issues of cyberattacks and human rights abuses. (VOA http://bit.ly/1xudcR6)

The grip on Internet freedom in China has tightened once again, with Google’s Gmail largely inaccessible for a fourth day. An internet transparency monitor reports the e-mail service is 84 percent blocked in the country after months of disruptions. (VOA http://bit.ly/1zrF0AU)

The Americas

A non-governmental group that tracks crime in Venezuela says the country’s homicide rate rose again in 2014. (AP http://yhoo.it/13F8JNz)

A lawyer for Hipolito Mora says the Mexican vigilante leader and 26 of his followers face murder charges for a Dec. 16 confrontation with another group that killed 11. (AP http://yhoo.it/13F8It2)

The Census Bureau said the U.S. population grew a bit less than 1 percent over the last year and will hit 320,090,857 at New Year. (VOA http://bit.ly/1xudaJ3)

Opinion/Blogs

Crowdsourced Anticorruption Reporting, 2.0 (The Global Anticorruption Blog http://bit.ly/1ED9DLZ)

Peter Piot: the veteran scientist who helped to raise the alarm over Ebola |(The Guardian http://bit.ly/13FOiAb)

Exploring Border Issues through Film (Development Diaries http://bit.ly/13FOlfk)

Broken Windows: Mending the Cracks (People, Spaces, Deliberation http://bit.ly/13FOqzM)

Data exchange helps humanitarians act fast and effectively (The Guardian http://bit.ly/1ED9Q1I)

Discussion

comments…

Remarks by the President in Year-End Press Conference

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

December 19, 2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:53 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  We’ve really got a full house today, huh?  Well, all I want for Christmas is to take your questions.  (Laughter.)  But first let me say a little bit about this year. 

In last year’s final press conference, I said that 2014 would be a year of action and would be a breakthrough year for America.  And it has been.  Yes, there were crises that we had to tackle around the world, many that were unanticipated.  We have more work to do to make sure our economy, our justice system, and our government work not just for the few, but for the many.  But there is no doubt that we can enter into the New Year with renewed confidence that America is making significant strides where it counts.

The steps that we took early on to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s.  All told, over a 57-month streak, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs.  Almost all the job growth that we’ve seen have been in full-time positions.  Much of the recent pickup in job growth has been in higher-paying industries.  And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.

Our investments in American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth also since the 1990s.  America is now the number-one producer of oil, the number-one producer of natural gas.  We’re saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas.  And effectively today, our rescue of the auto industry is officially over.  We’ve now repaid taxpayers every dime and more of what my administration committed, and the American auto industry is on track for its strongest year since 2005.  And we’ve created about half a million new jobs in the auto industry alone.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 10 million Americans have gained health insurance just this past year.  Enrollment is beginning to pick up again during the open enrollment period.  The uninsured rate is at a near record low.  Since the law passed, the price of health care has risen at its slowest rate in about 50 years.  And we’ve cut our deficits by about two-thirds since I took office, bringing them to below their 40-year average.

Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading.  We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL — a coalition that includes Arab partners.  We’re leading the international community to check Russian aggression in Ukraine. We are leading the global fight to combat Ebola in West Africa, and we are preventing an outbreak from taking place here at home. We’re leading efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China that’s already jumpstarting new progress in other countries.  We’re writing a new chapter in our leadership here in the Americas by turning a new page on our relationship with the Cuban people. 

And in less than two weeks, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over.  Today, more of our troops are home for the holidays than any time in over a decade. Still, many of our men and women in uniform will spend Christmas in harm’s way.  And they should know that the country is united in support of you and grateful not only to you but also to your families.

The six years since the crisis have demanded hard work and sacrifice on everybody’s part.  But as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we’ve accomplished — more jobs; more people insured; a growing economy; shrinking deficits; bustling industry; booming energy.  Pick any metric that you want — America’s resurgence is real.  We are better off. 

I’ve always said that recovering from the crisis of 2008 was our first order of business, and on that business, America has outperformed all of our other competitors.  Over the past four years, we’ve put more people back to work than all other advanced economies combined.  We’ve now come to a point where we have the chance to reverse an even deeper problem, the decades-long erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes, and to make sure that the middle class is the engine that powers our prosperity for decades to come. 

To do that, we’re going to have to make some smart choices; we’ve got to make the right choices.  We’re going to have to invest in the things that secure even faster growth in higher-paying jobs for more Americans.  And I’m being absolutely sincere when I say I want to work with this new Congress to get things done, to make those investments, to make sure the government is working better and smarter.  We’re going to disagree on some things, but there are going to be areas of agreement and we’ve got to be able to make that happen.  And that’s going to involve compromise every once in a while, and we saw during this lame duck period that perhaps that spirit of compromise may be coming to the fore.   

In terms of my own job, I’m energized, I’m excited about the prospects for the next couple of years, and I’m certainly not going to be stopping for a minute in the effort to make life better for ordinary Americans.  Because, thanks to their efforts, we really do have a new foundation that’s been laid.  We are better positioned than we have been in a very long time.  A new future is ready to be written.  We’ve set the stage for this American moment.  And I’m going to spend every minute of my last two years making sure that we seize it.

My presidency is entering the fourth quarter; interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter.  And I’m looking forward to it.  But going into the fourth quarter, you usually get a timeout.  I’m now looking forward to a quiet timeout — Christmas with my family.  So I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy New Year.  I hope that all of you get some time to spend with your families as well, because one thing that we share is that we’re away too much from them.

And now, Josh has given me the “who’s been naughty and who’s been nice” list — (laughter) — and I’m going to use it to take some questions.  And we’re going to start with Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico.  There you go, Carrie.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’ll start on North Korea — that seems to be the biggest topic today.  What does a proportional response look like to the Sony hack?  And did Sony make the right decision in pulling the movie?  Or does that set a dangerous precedent when faced with this kind of situation?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me address the second question first.  Sony is a corporation.  It suffered significant damage.  There were threats against its employees.  I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced.  Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.
 
In this interconnected, digital world, there are going to be opportunities for hackers to engage in cyber assaults both in the private sector and the public sector.  Now, our first order of business is making sure that we do everything to harden sites and prevent those kinds of attacks from taking place.  When I came into office, I stood up a cybersecurity interagency team to look at everything that we could at the government level to prevent these kinds of attacks.  We’ve been coordinating with the private sector, but a lot more needs to be done.  We’re not even close to where we need to be.
 
And one of the things in the New Year that I hope Congress is prepared to work with us on is strong cybersecurity laws that allow for information-sharing across private sector platforms, as well as the public sector, so that we are incorporating best practices and preventing these attacks from happening in the first place.

But even as we get better, the hackers are going to get better, too.  Some of them are going to be state actors; some of them are going to be non-state actors.  All of them are going to be sophisticated and many of them can do some damage. 

We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.  Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like.  Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.
 
So that’s not who we are.  That’s not what America is about.
Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities, and this and that and the other.  I wish they had spoken to me first.  I would have told them, do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.  Imagine if, instead of it being a cyber-threat, somebody had broken into their offices and destroyed a bunch of computers and stolen disks.  Is that what it takes for suddenly you to pull the plug on something?

So we’ll engage with not just the film industry, but the news industry and the private sector around these issues.  We already have.  We will continue to do so.  But I think all of us have to anticipate occasionally there are going to be breaches like this.  They’re going to be costly.  They’re going to be serious.  We take them with the utmost seriousness.  But we can’t start changing our patterns of behavior any more than we stop going to a football game because there might be the possibility of a terrorist attack; any more than Boston didn’t run its marathon this year because of the possibility that somebody might try to cause harm.  So let’s not get into that way of doing business.

Q    Can you just say what the response would be to this attack?  Wwould you consider taking some sort of symbolic step like watching the movie yourself or doing some sort of screening here that —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ve got a long list of movies I’m going to be watching.  (Laughter.)

Q    Will this be one of them?

THE PRESIDENT:  I never release my full movie list. 

But let’s talk of the specifics of what we now know.  The FBI announced today and we can confirm that North Korea engaged in this attack.  I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco [Franco].  (Laughter.)  I love Seth and I love James, but the notion that that was a threat to them I think gives you some sense of the kind of regime we’re talking about here.

They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond.  We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.  It’s not something that I will announce here today at a press conference.

More broadly, though, this points to the need for us to work with the international community to start setting up some very clear rules of the road in terms of how the Internet and cyber operates.  Right now, it’s sort of the Wild West.  And part of the problem is, is you’ve got weak states that can engage in these kinds of attacks, you’ve got non-state actors that can do enormous damage.  That’s part of what makes this issue of cybersecurity so urgent.

Again, this is part of the reason why it’s going to be so important for Congress to work with us and get a actual bill passed that allows for the kind of information-sharing we need.  Because if we don’t put in place the kind of architecture that can prevent these attacks from taking place, this is not just going to be affecting movies, this is going to be affecting our entire economy in ways that are extraordinarily significant.

And, by the way, I hear you’re moving to Europe.  Where you going to be?

Q    Brussels. 

THE PRESIDENT:  Brussels.

Q    Yes.  Helping Politico start a new publication. 

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, congratulations. 

Q    I’ve been covering you since the beginning.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think —

Q    It’s been a long road for the both of us.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think there’s no doubt that what Belgium needs is a version of Politico.  (Laughter.) 

Q    I’ll take that as an endorsement. 

THE PRESIDENT:  The waffles are delicious there, by the way. 
Cheryl Bolen.  You’ve been naughty.  (Laughter.)  Cheryl, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Looking ahead to your work with Congress next year, you’ve mentioned as an area of possible compromise tax reform.  And so I am wondering, do you see a Republican Congress as presenting a better opportunity for actually getting tax reform next year?  Will you be putting out a new proposal?  Are you willing to consider both individual and corporate side of the tax ledger there?  And also, are you still concerned about corporate inversions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think an all-Democratic Congress would have provided an even better opportunity for tax reform.  But I think, talking to Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell that they are serious about wanting to get some things done.  The tax area is one area where we can get things done.  And I think in the coming weeks leading up to the State of Union, there will be some conversations at the staff levels about what principles each side are looking at.

I can tell you broadly what I’d like to see.  I’d like to see more simplicity in the system.  I’d like to see more fairness in the system.  With respect to the corporate tax reform issue, we know that there are companies that are paying the full freight — 35 percent — higher than just about any other company on Earth, if you’re paying 35 percent, and then there are other companies that are paying zero because they’ve got better accountants or lawyers.  That’s not fair. 

There are companies that are parking money outside the country because of tax avoidance.  We think that it’s important that everybody pays something if, in fact, they are effectively headquartered in the United States.  In terms of corporate inversion, those are situations where companies really are headquartered here but, on paper, switch their headquarters to see if they can avoid paying their fair share of taxes.  I think that needs to be fixed. 

So, fairness, everybody paying their fair share, everybody taking responsibility I think is going to be very important. 

Some of those principles I’ve heard Republicans say they share.  How we do that — the devil is in the details.  And I’ll be interested in seeing what they want to move forward.  I’m going to make sure that we put forward some pretty specific proposals building on what we’ve already put forward.

One other element of this that I think is important is — and I’ve been on this hobby horse now for six years.  (Audience member sneezes.)  Bless you.  We’ve got a lot of infrastructure we’ve got to rebuild in this country if we’re going to be competitive — roads, bridges, ports, airports, electrical grids, water systems, sewage systems.  We are way behind. 

And early on we indicated that there is a way of us potentially doing corporate tax reform, lowering rates, eliminating loopholes so everybody is paying their fair share, and during that transition also providing a mechanism where we can get some infrastructure built.  I’d like to see us work on that issue as well.  Historically, obviously, infrastructure has not been a Democratic or a Republican issue, and I’d like to see if we can return to that tradition.

Julie Pace.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to ask about Cuba. What would you say to dissidents or democracy advocates inside Cuba who fear that the policy changes you announced this week could give the Castro regime economic benefits without having to address human rights or their political system?  When your administration was lifting sanctions on Myanmar you sought commitments of reform.  Why not do the same with Cuba?

And if I could just follow up on North Korea.  Do you have any indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country, perhaps China?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ve got no indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country.

With respect to Cuba, we are glad that the Cuban government have released slightly over 50 dissidents; that they are going to be allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations human rights agencies to operate more freely inside of Cuba and monitor what is taking place.

I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people. And as I said when I made the announcement, I don’t anticipate overnight changes, but what I know deep in my bones is that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing has changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome.
 
And this gives us an opportunity for a different outcome, because suddenly Cuba is open to the world in ways that it has not been before.  It’s open to Americans traveling there in ways that it hasn’t been before.  It’s open to church groups visiting their fellow believers inside of Cuba in ways they haven’t been before.  It offers the prospect of telecommunications and the Internet being more widely available in Cuba in ways that it hasn’t been before.

And over time, that chips away at this hermetically sealed society, and I believe offers the best prospect then of leading to greater freedom, greater self-determination on the part of the Cuban people. 

I think it will happen in fits and starts.  But through engagement, we have a better chance of bringing about change then we would have otherwise.

Q    Do you have a goal for where you see Cuba being at the end of your presidency?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think it would be unrealistic for me to map out exactly where Cuba will be.  But change is going to come to Cuba.  It has to.  They’ve got an economy that doesn’t work.  They’ve been reliant for years first on subsidies from the Soviet Union, then on subsidies from Venezuela.  Those can’t be sustained.  And the more the Cuban people see what’s possible, the more interested they are going to be in change. 

But how societies change is country-specific, it’s culturally specific.  It could happen fast; it could happen slower than I’d like; but it’s going to happen.  And I think this change in policy is going to advance that.

Lesley Clark.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I had a number of questions on Cuba as well.  Appreciate that.  I wanted to —

THE PRESIDENT:  Do I have to write all these down?  How many are there?  (Laughter.)  “A number” sounded intimidating.

Q    As quick as I can.  As quick as I can.  I wanted to see if you got an assurances from the Cuban government that it would not revert to the same sort of — sabotage the deal, as it has in the past when past Presidents had made similar overtures to the government.
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Meaning?  Be specific.  What do you mean?

Q    When the Clinton administration made some overtures, they shot down planes.  They sort of had this pattern of doing provocative — provocative events.
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so just general provocative activity.

Q    Provocative activities any time the U.S. has sort of reached out a hand to them.  I wanted to see what is your knowledge of whether Fidel Castro — did he have any role in the talks?  When you talked to President Raul Castro, did Fidel Castro’s name come up?  Or did you ask about him?  How he’s doing?  People haven’t seen him in a while.  Given the deep opposition from some Republicans in Congress to lifting the embargo, to an embassy, to any of the changes that you’re doing, are you going to personally get involved in terms of talking to them about efforts that they want to do to block money on a new embassy?

THE PRESIDENT:  All right, Lesley, I think I’m going to cut you off here.  (Laughter.)  This is taking up a lot of time.

Q    Okay, all right.

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  So, with respect to sabotage, I mean, my understanding of the history, for example, of the plane being shot down, it’s not clear that that was the Cuban government purposely trying to undermine overtures by the Clinton administration.  It was a tragic circumstance that ended up collapsing talks that had begun to take place.  I haven’t seen a historical record that suggests that they shot the plane down specifically in order to undermine overtures by the Clinton government.

I think it is not precedented for the President of the United States and the President of Cuba to make an announcement at the same time that they are moving towards normalizing relations.  So there hasn’t been anything like this in the past. That doesn’t meant that over the next two years we can anticipate them taking certain actions that we may end up finding deeply troubling either inside of Cuba or with respect to their foreign policy.  And that could put significant strains on the relationship.  But that’s true of a lot of countries out there where we have an embassy.  And the whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with that government than not. 

So I would be surprised if the Cuban government purposely tries to undermine what is now effectively its own policy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they take at any given time actions that we think are a problem.  And we will be in a position to respond to whatever actions they take the same way we do with a whole range of countries around the world when they do things we think are wrong.  But the point is, is that we will be in a better position I think to actually have some influence, and there may be carrots as well as sticks that we can then apply.

The only way that Fidel’s name came up — I think I may have mentioned this in the Davie Muir article — interview that I did — was I delivered a fairly lengthy statement at the front end about how we’re looking forward to a new future in the relationship between our two countries, but that we are going to continue to press on issues of democracy and human rights, which we think are important. 

My opening remarks probably took about 15 minutes, which on the phone is a pretty long time.  And at the end of that, he said, Mr. President, you’re still a young man.  Perhaps you have the — at the end of my remarks I apologized for taking such a long time, but I wanted to make sure that before we engaged in the conversation he was very clear about where I stood.  He said, oh, don’t worry about it, Mr. President, you’re still a young man and you have still the chance to break Fidel’s record — he once spoke seven hours straight.  (Laughter.) 

And then, President Castro proceeded to deliver his own preliminary remarks that last at least twice as long as mine.  (Laughter.)  And then I was able to say, obviously it runs in the family.  But that was the only discussion of Fidel Castro that we had. 

I sort of forgot all the other questions.  (Laughter.) 

Q    I have a few more if you’re — how personally involved are you going to get in —

THE PRESIDENT:  With respect to Congress?  We cannot unilaterally bring down the embargo.  That’s codified in the Libertad Act.  And what I do think is going to happen, though, is there’s going to be a process where Congress digests it.  There are bipartisan supporters of our new approach, there are bipartisan detractors of this new approach.  People will see how the actions we take unfold.  And I think there’s going to be a healthy debate inside of Congress. 

And I will certainly weigh in.  I think that ultimately we need to go ahead and pull down the embargo, which I think has been self-defeating in advancing the aims that we’re interested in.  But I don’t anticipate that that happens right away.  I think people are going to want to see how does this move forward before there’s any serious debate about whether or not we would make major shifts in the embargo.

Roberta Rampton.

Q    I want to follow on that by asking, under what conditions would you meet with President Castro in Havana?  Would you have certain preconditions that you would want to see met before doing that?  And on the hack, I know that you said that you’re not going to announce your response, but can you say whether you’re considering additional economic or financial sanctions on North Korea?  Can you rule out the use of military force or some kind of cyber hit of your own?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think I’m going to leave it where I left it, which is we just confirmed that it was North Korea; we have been working up a range of options.  They will be presented to me.  I will make a decision on those based on what I believe is proportional and appropriate to the nature of this crime.

With respect to Cuba, we’re not at a stage here where me visiting Cuba or President Castro coming to the United States is in the cards.  I don’t know how this relationship will develop over the next several years.  I’m a fairly young man so I imagine that at some point in my life I will have the opportunity to visit Cuba and enjoy interacting with the Cuban people.  But there’s nothing specific where we’re trying to target some sort of visit on my part.

Colleen McCain Nelson.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you are.

Q    You spoke earlier about 2014 being a breakthrough year, and you ended the year with executive actions on Cuba and immigration and climate change.  But you didn’t make much progress this year on your legislative agenda.  And some Republican lawmakers have said they’re less inclined to work with you if you pursue executive actions so aggressively.  Are you going to continue to pursue executive actions if that creates more roadblocks for your legislative agenda?  Or have you concluded that it’s not possible to break the fever in Washington and the partisan gridlock here?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think there are real opportunities to get things done in Congress.  As I said before, I take Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell at their words that they want to get things done.  I think the American people would like to see us get some things done.  The question is going to be are we able to separate out those areas where we disagree and those areas where we agree.  I think there are going to be some tough fights on areas where we disagree. 

If Republicans seek to take health care away from people who just got it, they will meet stiff resistance from me.  If they try to water down consumer protections that we put in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis, I will say no.  And I’m confident that I’ll be able to uphold vetoes of those types of provisions.  But on increasing American exports, on simplifying our tax system, on rebuilding our infrastructure, my hope is that we can get some things done. 

I’ve never been persuaded by this argument that if it weren’t for the executive actions they would have been more productive.  There’s no evidence of that.  So I intend to continue to do what I’ve been doing, which is where I see a big problem and the opportunity to help the American people, and it is within my lawful authority to provide that help, I’m going to do it.  And I will then, side-by-side, reach out to members of Congress, reach out to Republicans, and say, let’s work together; I’d rather do it with you.

Immigration is the classic example.  I was really happy when the Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill.  And I did everything I could for a year and a half to provide Republicans the space to act, and showed not only great patience, but flexibility, saying to them, look, if there are specific changes you’d like to see, we’re willing to compromise, we’re willing to be patient, we’re willing to work with you.  Ultimately it wasn’t forthcoming.

And so the question is going to be I think if executive actions on areas like minimum wage, or equal pay, or having a more sensible immigration system are important to Republicans, if they care about those issues, and the executive actions are bothering them, there is a very simple solution, and that is:  Pass bills.  And work with me to make sure I’m willing to sign those bills. 

Because both sides are going to have to compromise.  On most issues, in order for their initiatives to become law, I’m going to have sign off.  And that means they have to take into account the issues that I care about, just as I’m going to have to take into account the issues that they care about.
 
All right.  I think this is going to be our last question.  Juliet Eilperin.  There you go.
 
Q    Thanks so much.  So one of the first bills that Mitch McConnell said he will send to you is one that would authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  When you talked about this in the past, you’ve minimized the benefits and you highlighted some of the risks associated with that project.  I’m wondering if you could tell us both what you would do when faced with that bill, given the Republican majority that we’ll have in both chambers.  And also, what do you see as the benefits?  And given the precipitous drop we’ve seen in oil prices recently, does that change the calculus in terms of how it will contribute to climate change, and whether you think it makes sense to go ahead with that project?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I don’t think I’ve minimized the benefits, I think I’ve described the benefits.  At issue in Keystone is not American oil.  It is Canadian oil that is drawn out of tar sands in Canada.  That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks, and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it all the way through the United States down to the Gulf.  Once that oil gets to the Gulf, it is then entering into the world market, and it would be sold all around the world. 

So there’s no — I won’t say “no” — there is very little impact, nominal impact, on U.S. gas prices — what the average American consumer cares about — by having this pipeline come through.  And sometimes the way this gets sold is, let’s get this oil and it’s going to come here.  And the implication is, is that’s going to lower gas prices here in the United States.  It’s not.  There’s a global oil market.  It’s very good for Canadian oil companies and it’s good for the Canadian oil industry, but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to U.S. consumers.  It’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers.
 
Now, the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs.  Those are temporary jobs until the construction actually happens.  There’s probably some additional jobs that can be created in the refining process down in the Gulf.  Those aren’t completely insignificant — it’s just like any other project.  But when you consider what we could be doing if we were rebuilding our roads and bridges around the country — something that Congress could authorize — we could probably create hundreds of thousands of jobs, or a million jobs. So if that’s the argument, there are a lot more direct ways to create well-paying Americans construction jobs.
 
And then, with respect to the cost, all I’ve said is that I want to make sure that if, in fact, this project goes forward, that it’s not adding to the problem of climate change, which I think is very serious and does impose serious costs on the American people — some of them long term, but significant costs nonetheless.  If we’ve got more flooding, more wildfires, more drought, there are direct economic impacts on that. 

And as we’re now rebuilding after Sandy, for example, we’re having to consider how do we increase preparedness in how we structure infrastructure and housing, and so forth, along the Jersey Shore.  That’s an example of the kind of costs that are imposed, and you can put a dollar figure on it.

So, in terms of process, you’ve got a Nebraska judge that’s still determining whether or not the new path for this pipeline is appropriate.  Once that is resolved, then the State Department will have all the information it needs to make its decision. 

But I’ve just tried to give this perspective, because I think that there’s been this tendency to really hype this thing as some magic formula to what ails the U.S. economy, and it’s hard to see on paper where exactly they’re getting that information from.

In terms of oil prices and how it impacts the decision, I think that it won’t have a significant impact except perhaps in the minds of folks — when gas prices are lower, maybe they’re less susceptible to the argument that this is the answer to lowering gas prices.  But it was never going to be the answer to lowering gas prices, because the oil that would be piped through the Keystone pipeline would go into the world market.  And that’s what determines oil prices, ultimately.

Q    And in terms of Congress forcing your hand on this, is this something where you clearly say you’re not going to let Congress force your hand on whether to approve or disapprove of this?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll see what they do.  We’ll take that up in the New Year.

Q    Any New Year’s resolutions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll ask — April, go ahead. 

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Last question, I guess.  (Laughter.)  Six years ago this month, I asked you what was the state of black America in the Oval Office, and you said it was the “the best of times and the worst of times.”  You said it was the best of times in the sense that there was — has never been more opportunity for African Americans to receive a good education, and the worst of times for unemployment and the lack of opportunity.  We’re ending 2014.  What is the state of black America as we talk about those issues as well as racial issues in this country?

THE PRESIDENT:  Like the rest of America, black America in the aggregate is better off now than it was when I came into office.  The jobs that have been created, the people who’ve gotten health insurance, the housing equity that’s been recovered, the 401 pensions that have been recovered — a lot of those folks are African American.  They’re better off than they were.

The gap between income and wealth of white and black America persists.  And we’ve got more work to do on that front.  I’ve been consistent in saying that this is a legacy of a troubled racial past of Jim Crow and slavery.  That’s not an excuse for black folks.  And I think the overwhelming majority of black people understand it’s not an excuse.  They’re working hard. They’re out there hustling and trying to get an education, trying to send their kids to college.  But they’re starting behind, oftentimes, in the race.

And what’s true for all Americans is we should be willing to provide people a hand up — not a handout, but help folks get that good early childhood education, help them graduate from high school, help them afford college.  If they do, they’re going to be able to succeed, and that’s going to be good for all of us.

And we’ve seen some progress.  The education reforms that we’ve initiated are showing measurable results.  We have the highest high school graduation that we’ve seen in a very long time.  We are seeing record numbers of young people attending college.  In many states that have initiated reforms, you’re seeing progress in math scores and reading scores for African American and Latino students as well as the broader population.  But we’ve still got more work to go.

Now, obviously, how we’re thinking about race relations right now has been colored by Ferguson, the Garner case in New York, a growing awareness in the broader population of what I think many communities of color have understood for some time, and that is that there are specific instances at least where law enforcement doesn’t feel as if it’s being applied in a colorblind fashion. 

The task force that I formed is supposed to report back to me in 90 days — not with a bunch of abstract musings about race relations, but some really concrete, practical things that police departments and law enforcement agencies can begin implementing right now to rebuild trust between communities of color and the police department.

And my intention is to, as soon as I get those recommendations, to start implementing them.  Some of them we’ll be able to do through executive action.  Some of them will require congressional action.  Some of them will require action on the part of states and local jurisdictions. 

But I actually think it’s been a healthy conversation that we’ve had.  These are not new phenomenon.  The fact that they’re now surfacing, in part because people are able to film what have just been, in the past, stories passed on around a kitchen table, allows people to make their own assessments and evaluations.  And you’re not going to solve a problem if it’s not being talked about.

In the meantime, we’ve been moving forward on criminal justice reform issues more broadly.  One of the things I didn’t talk about in my opening statement is the fact that last year was the first time in 40 years where we had the federal prison population go down and the crime rate go down at the same time, which indicates the degree to which it’s possible for us to think smarter about who we’re incarcerating, how long we’re incarcerating, how are we dealing with nonviolent offenders, how are we dealing with drug offenses, diversion programs, drug courts.  We can do a better job of — and save money in the process by initiating some of these reforms.  And I’ve been really pleased to see that we’ve had Republicans and Democrats in Congress who are interested in these issues as well.

The one thing I will say — and this is going to be the last thing I say — is that one of the great things about this job is you get to know the American people.  I mean, you meet folks from every walk of life and every region of the country, and every race and every faith.  And what I don’t think is always captured in our political debates is the vast majority of people are just trying to do the right thing, and people are basically good and have good intentions.  Sometimes our institutions and our systems don’t work as well as they should.  Sometimes you’ve got a police department that has gotten into bad habits over a period of time and hasn’t maybe surfaced some hidden biases that we all carry around.  But if you offer practical solutions, I think people want to fix these problems.  It’s not — this isn’t a situation where people feel good seeing somebody choked and dying.  I think that troubles everybody.  So there’s an opportunity of all of us to come together and to take a practical approach to these problems.

And I guess that’s my general theme for the end of the year — which is we’ve gone through difficult times.  It is your job, press corps, to report on all the mistakes that are made and all the bad things that happen and the crises that look like they’re popping.  And I understand that.  But through persistent effort and faith in the American people, things get better.  The economy has gotten better.  Our ability to generate clean energy has gotten better.  We know more about how to educate our kids.  We solved problems.  Ebola is a real crisis; you get a mistake in the first case because it’s not something that’s been seen before — we fix it.  You have some unaccompanied children who spike at a border, and it may not get fixed in the time frame of the news cycle, but it gets fixed. 

And part of what I hope as we reflect on the New Year this should generate is some confidence.  America knows how to solve problems.  And when we work together, we can’t be stopped. 

And now I’m going to go on vacation.  Mele Kalikimaka, everybody.  (Laughter.)  Mahalo.  Thank you, everybody.

END
2:45 P.M. EST

FBI cautions U.S. firms of hackers trying to overwrite companies’ data files

CybersecurityFBI cautions U.S. firms of hackers trying to overwrite companies’ data files

Published 4 December 2014

On Monday, several cybersecurity officers of U.S. businesses received a five-page “flash” warning from the FBI to be cautious of hackers that may use malware to override all data on hard drives of computers, including the master boot record, which prevents them from booting up. “The overwriting of the data files will make it extremely difficult and costly, if not impossible, to recover the data using standard forensic methods,” the warning read.

Introducing malware like DBAN can delete all data on the drive // Source: fzgh.org.cn

On Monday, several cybersecurity officers of U.S. businesses received a five-page “flash” warning from the FBI to be cautious of hackers that may use malware to override all data on hard drives of computers, including the master boot record, which prevents them from booting up. “The overwriting of the data files will make it extremely difficult and costly, if not impossible, to recover the data using standard forensic methods,” the earning read. The FBI regularly issues cyber alerts to the private sector when it detects or is notified of an intrusion, the Daily Mail quotes an FBI spokesman to say that “This data is provided in order to help systems administrators guard against the actions of persistent cyber criminals.”

The warning comes after Sony Pictures Entertainment reported last Monday that it had been attacked by the hacking group, Guardians of Peace (GOP). The FBI report did not mention names of businesses that had been victims of the cyberattacks but many cybersecurity analysts say the descriptions issued by the agency is similar to those of the Sony attack. “This correlates with information about that many of us in the security industry have been tracking,” said a cybersecurity official who received the FBI alert. “It looks exactly like information from the Sony attack.”

The Sony attack resembles similar hacks against companies in South Korea and the Middle East, including a 2012 attack on oil producer Saudi Aramco that shut down roughly 30,000 computers. Some cybersecurity analysts believe those attacks were launched by hackers working on behalf of the governments of North Korea and Iran. The FBI report did note that some of the software used by the hackers had been compiled in Korean, but the agency did not link any possible connections to North Korea. “I believe the coordinated cyberattack with destructive payloads against a corporation in the U.S. represents a watershed event,” said Tom Kellermann, chief cybersecurity officer with security software maker Trend Micro Inc. “Geopolitics now serve as harbingers for destructive cyberattacks.”

The attack on Sony crippled the firm’s corporate e-mail accounts, along with other critical operating systems, for a week. Sony has since “restored a number of important services” and is “working closely with law enforcement officials to investigate the matter,” a company spokeswoman told Reuters. While the FBI has help from DHS to investigate the attack, Sony has hired FireEye Inc’s Mandiant incident response team to help clean up its systems.

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FBI cautious U.S. firms of hackers trying to overwrite companies’ data files

CybersecurityFBI cautions U.S. firms of hackers trying to overwrite companies’ data files

Published 4 December 2014

On Monday, several cybersecurity officers of U.S. businesses received a five-page “flash” warning from the FBI to be cautious of hackers that may use malware to override all data on hard drives of computers, including the master boot record, which prevents them from booting up. “The overwriting of the data files will make it extremely difficult and costly, if not impossible, to recover the data using standard forensic methods,” the warning read.

Introducing malware like DBAN can delete all data on the drive // Source: fzgh.org.cn

On Monday, several cybersecurity officers of U.S. businesses received a five-page “flash” warning from the FBI to be cautious of hackers that may use malware to override all data on hard drives of computers, including the master boot record, which prevents them from booting up. “The overwriting of the data files will make it extremely difficult and costly, if not impossible, to recover the data using standard forensic methods,” the earning read. The FBI regularly issues cyber alerts to the private sector when it detects or is notified of an intrusion, the Daily Mail quotes an FBI spokesman to say that “This data is provided in order to help systems administrators guard against the actions of persistent cyber criminals.”

The warning comes after Sony Pictures Entertainment reported last Monday that it had been attacked by the hacking group, Guardians of Peace (GOP). The FBI report did not mention names of businesses that had been victims of the cyberattacks but many cybersecurity analysts say the descriptions issued by the agency is similar to those of the Sony attack. “This correlates with information about that many of us in the security industry have been tracking,” said a cybersecurity official who received the FBI alert. “It looks exactly like information from the Sony attack.”

The Sony attack resembles similar hacks against companies in South Korea and the Middle East, including a 2012 attack on oil producer Saudi Aramco that shut down roughly 30,000 computers. Some cybersecurity analysts believe those attacks were launched by hackers working on behalf of the governments of North Korea and Iran. The FBI report did note that some of the software used by the hackers had been compiled in Korean, but the agency did not link any possible connections to North Korea. “I believe the coordinated cyberattack with destructive payloads against a corporation in the U.S. represents a watershed event,” said Tom Kellermann, chief cybersecurity officer with security software maker Trend Micro Inc. “Geopolitics now serve as harbingers for destructive cyberattacks.”

The attack on Sony crippled the firm’s corporate e-mail accounts, along with other critical operating systems, for a week. Sony has since “restored a number of important services” and is “working closely with law enforcement officials to investigate the matter,” a company spokeswoman told Reuters. While the FBI has help from DHS to investigate the attack, Sony has hired FireEye Inc’s Mandiant incident response team to help clean up its systems.

Homeland Security, Criminal Justice, Law & Public Policy - Master of Science Legal Studies 100% online - CALU Global Online
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Two Europes or One Europe?

European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Valedictory speech by President Barroso

European Parliament plenary session

Strasbourg, 21 October 2014

Mr President, Honourable Members,

First of all, I would like to thank you for the invitation to address this Parliament in what would be the last time I have this opportunity. In fact, we are coming to the end of my second mandate as the President of the European Commission and I am very happy to be here with you and my colleagues to present to you our bilan, since this is my second Commission, I think I can also refer to the last ten years.

I want to share with you my feelings, my emotions, what I think about the way the European Union has responded to these very challenging times and what I think are the most important challenges for the future.

I think you can agree with me that these have been exceptional and challenging times. Ten years of crisis, and response of the European Union to this crisis. Not only the financial and sovereignty debt crisis – let’s not forget at the beginning of my first mandate we had a constitutional crisis, when two founding members of the European Union rejected, in referenda, the Constitutional Treaty. So we had a constitutional crisis, we had a sovereign debt and financial crisis, and in the most acute terms we now have a geopolitical crisis, as a result of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The constitutional crisis that we had was in fact solved through the Lisbon Constitutional Treaty. The reality is that at that time, many people were saying that it would be impossible for the European Union to find a new institutional setting. And in fact there were moments of ambiguity and doubt. But basically, we could keep most of the acquis of the European Union, including most of the new elements of the Lisbon Constitutional Treaty, which was ratified by all Member States including those that today seem to have forgotten that they have ratified the Lisbon Treaty.

More recently – because I learned to leave to the end the economic issues because they are still with us – we had this very serious challenge and threat to our stability, in Europe, coming from the unacceptable behaviour of Russia regarding Ukraine. And we took a principled position. We offered Ukraine an association agreement and a free trade agreement and I am happy that, in spite of all the difficulties, Ukraine was there, signing and ratifying the association agreement, and I want to congratulate this Parliament, because the same day at the same hour the Parliament in Ukraine was ratifying this agreement, you were also ratifying the agreement showing you can offer hope to Ukraine as part of the European family of nations.

At the moment I am speaking to you, this crisis is not yet solved – we know that. But I think we can be proud that we have kept a position of principle, that we have condemned in the most unequivocal terms the actions of Russia and that in fact an association agreement was ratified, not only with Ukraine, but also with Georgia and Moldova because I believe we have a duty to those countries that are looking to Europe with their spirit and their hope to share with us the same future and because they want to share with us the same values.

At this moment we are still mediating and, today, there is a meeting mediated by the Commission on energy with the Russian government and the Ukrainian government, so a political negotiated solution is possible, we are working for that. It is in the interest of all the parties to have a political agreement, but a political agreement that respects the principles of international law, a political agreement that respects the right of country that is our neighbour to decide its own future and a political agreement that respects the sovereignty, the independence of that country. So, we should be proud of what we have been doing in this very challenging geopolitical crisis.

And we also had the financial and sovereign debt crisis. The reality is that the crisis was not born in Europe, but the fact is that because we were not prepared, because the Euro-area had not yet the instruments, we were very much affected by it – not only in financial terms, in economic terms, in social terms and in political terms. I think this crisis was probably the biggest since the beginning of the European integration process in the 50s of the last century. Let’s now put things into perspective.

Dear Members of Parliament,

Let’s remind ourselves what was the main opinion of most analysts in the economic and financial media, or even many of our countries or outside of Europe, about what could happen: everybody was predicting Greek exit, Greece exiting the Euro, and, of course, Greece exiting Euro would certainly, immediately have had a cascading effect in other countries, a domino effect that was indeed already felt in countries such as Ireland or Portugal. But let’s not forget, Spain was also under very heavy pressure, and Italy. We were staring into the abyss. I remember well what happened in discussions in the margins of G20 in Cannes in 2011, I remember well when analysts were predicting with almost unanimity a Greek exit and at least 50% of them were predicting the implosion of the Euro. And what happened? Not only was there no exit of the Euro, now we are to welcome the 19th member of the Euro, Lithuania will join us in the 1st of January 2015. And not only did Greece not leave the Euro area, it has enlarged and the European Union has been enlarging as well. This is a point that has been very much underestimated in our analysis.

2004, the year I had the pleasure and the honour to assume the leadership of the European Commission, do you remember that we were 15? Today, we have 28 countries. So we have almost doubled the membership of the European Union during this crisis. Is there a better proof of the resilience and the capacity of adaptation of our Union? The fact that we were able to remain united and open during the crisis I think confirms the extraordinary resilience and the strength of the European Union and this should not be underestimated.

I know that, for some, these things do not count for much. They are in a way making an idealisation of the past; they dream probably of a closed Europe; they think Europe was better when half of Europe was under totalitarian communism. I don’t think that. I think Europe today is better than when half of Europe was under communism. The fact that the European Union was able, during all this crisis, to open, to consolidate and to unite on a continental scale almost all of Europe around the values of peace, of freedom and of justice, I think it is a great thing we should commemorate and not to be ashamed of, as some seem to be.

So, this is I think also a reason to commemorate. Many people were predicting, as you probably remember, those of you following these issues at that time, that the European Commission would not be able to function with 25 or 27 or 28 Members, that the European Union would be blocked. The reality is that the European Union was not blocked by the enlargement; the reality that I can share with you now is that sometimes it was more difficult to put together some of the founding Members of the Union than all the 28 countries of Europe.

So I think we should be proud of that as well, collectively, because the European Union was able to remain united and open during the crisis. And when I say open, I mean it in all senses of the word, including with an open attitude towards the world. For instance, when we have promoted a proactive climate agenda after the failure of the Doha Development Round and the Doha trade talks. And we are now leading in that sense, because I believe that trade can be one of the best ways to support growth globally and in the European Union. Or when we, because it was an initiative of the European Union, went to the former President of the United States of America, inviting him and convincing him to organise the first G20 meeting at Heads of State or Government level, because that was a way of having a global cooperative approach and to avoid the return to ugly, nasty protectionism. That could be a temptation in times of crisis. So we were able to keep Europe not only united and, in fact, enlarging its membership, but also open to the rest of the world.

But now, are we stronger or are we weaker? I know that the most critical people today will say that we are weaker. But are we really?

In fact, when the crisis erupted, we had almost no instruments to respond to it. We were facing, as it was said at that time, an unprecedented crisis. Yet we had no mechanisms, for instance to support the countries that were facing the immediate threat of default. A lot has been done. We have collectively, the Commission and the Member States and always with the strong support of the Parliament, we have created a new system of governance. We have today a much more reinforced governance system than before, including with unprecedented powers for the community institutions, and we have done everything to keep the community method at the centre of our integration. For instance, the Commission today has more powers in terms of governance of the Eurozone than before the crisis. The European Central Bank has today the possibility to make direct supervision of the banks in Europe, something that would have been considered impossible earlier; it would have been almost unimaginable before the crisis. And I remember when we spoke about the banking union, when I gave an interview saying that we need a banking union, I received some phone calls from capitals saying ‘Why are you speaking about the banking union? This is not in the Treaties’. And I responded, ‘Yes it is not in the Treaties, but we need it if we want to fulfil the objective of the Treaties, namely the objective of stability and growth’. And today we have a banking union.

Honourable members,

If we look at things in perspective and we think where we were ten years ago and where we are now, we can say with full rigour and in complete observance of the truth that today the European Union, at least in the euro area, is more integrated and with reinforced competences, and we have now, through the community method, more ways to tackle crisis, namely in the euro zone. Not only in the system of governance in the banking union, but also in the legislation of financial stability, financial regulation, financial supervision.

We have presented around 40 new pieces of legislation that were all of them approved by the European Parliament. And once again I want to thank you, because in almost all those debates the European Parliament and the European Commission were on the same side of the debate and were for more ambition, not less ambition for Europe. And so today, I can say that we are stronger, because we have a more integrated system of governance, because we have legislation to tackle abuses in the financial markets, because we have much clearer system of supervision and regulation. So, I think we are now better prepared than we were before to face a crisis, if a crisis like the ones we have seen before should come in the future.

Of course, you can say that there are many difficulties still. Yes, and I am going to say a word about this in a moment regarding the prospects for growth, but please do not forget where we were. We were very close to default, or, to use a less polite word, to a bankruptcy of some of our Member States. And look at where we are now. From the countries that had to ask for adjustment programmes, Portugal and Ireland exited the programme successfully. Ireland is now one of the fastest growing countries in Europe. And in fact all the others that were under the imminent threat of collapsing, are now in a much more stable mood. Spain, that asked for a programme for the banks, also has improved successfully. So in fact only two countries of all those, because we should not also forget the Central and Eastern European countries that also had adjustment programmes, even if they were not yet in the euro area, only two countries are still completing their adjustment programmes.

The deficits now on average in the Eurozone are 2.5%. This is much less than in the United States or in Japan. So, in terms of stability, we are much better now than before. By the way, the Eurozone has a trade surplus. The European Union in general now will have a surplus in goods, in services and, for the first time in many years, in agriculture.

I am saying that because very often the opinion in some of the political sectors is that we are losing with globalisation. This is not the case. Some countries of our Union in fact are not winning that battle, but on average we can say that Europe is gaining the global battle in terms of competition, namely in terms of trade and investment.

But of course, growth is still timid. I think that basically we cannot say that the crisis is completely over, because threats remain, but we have won the battle of stability. Today nobody in the world will honestly bet on the end of the euro. The euro has shown that it is a very strong, credible and indeed stable currency. The reality is that our growth is still timid and clearly below expectations.

So what can we do for growth? This is the important question. And for that I need to make a reminder once again. I know very well that very often the European Union policy and namely the European Commission policy has been presented as completely focused on austerity. I think this is a caricature.

We have constantly asked at least for three important lines – fiscal consolidation certainly, for the countries that are feeling the pressure of the markets. It would be completely irresponsible if they could not frontload a programme of rigour to correct their public finances, but we have always said with equal vigour, probably some would not like to listen, the need for structural reforms, for competitiveness, because the reality is that even before the crisis we were growing under our potential, that is the reality, and with serious problem of lack of competitiveness in some of our countries and so that is why we needed more ambitious structural reforms.

But we have also argued in favour of investment. I have always said that we need more investment, public and private investment. Private investment will come the more we show that we have competitive economies that we can attract private investment. Indeed I am now happy to see that most of our countries, certainly at a different pace, but they are pursuing ambitious structural reforms that would have been considered completely impossible before the crisis.

And the reality is, if we want to be honest in terms of the analysis that the countries that have suffered the most during the financial crisis were precisely those that have lost in terms of cost competitiveness before the crisis. And now, for instance the reforms that have been made by Spain, by Ireland, by Portugal, by Greece, are impressive.

Now, apart from the political consolidation and the structural reforms, we have always seen the need for more investment. Private investment, but public investment as well. You will remember the debate about the MFF. President Schultz remembers certainly. We were together in many meetings asking the Member States to do more in terms of investment and the most important instrument we have at European level for investment is the Multiannual Financial Framework, that is around one trillion euros.

So if there is not more ambitious investment it was not because of a lack of ambition of this Commission, or a lack of ambition of this Parliament. It was because of the opposition of some capitals. This is the reality. We are for solid investment, targeted investment for growth. Not only with the MFF. Remember the proposals that for instance here in the State of the Union speeches with you I have put forward. The increase of the capital for the EIB that finally was agreed. The project bonds that the Member States have accepted, but only as pilot project bonds. The facility that we have created for SMEs with loans from the EIB and funds from the structural funds, from our budget. Unfortunately only two countries wanted to pursue that line.

Or, for instance, the programme for youth, the Youth Guarantee that we have proposed and that the Member States have agreed. But now with the Youth Employment Initiative, only two countries have accepted to have a dedicated programme for youth employment.

So, my dear colleagues, let’s be clear: we are for investment. I wish all the best to the new Commission and to my friend and colleague Jean-Claude Juncker, to have the support of the Member States for a more ambitious investment programme for the next years. I believe this is possible now, I believe the awareness is much bigger on this matter. But once again this is part of a comprehensive strategy that combines fiscal consolidation with structural reforms and investment, and, of course, all the measures taken by us in terms of the banking union and in terms of financial regulation for stability.

And I’m saying this with this vigour because I think it would be now a mistake, after everything we have done, to give up, to show less determination, to abandon the road of structural reform. I think we have done a part of the job, stability is broadly there, growth, even if it is slower than what we would like to have, but now we need determination to complete the reforms so that sustainable growth, not growth fuelled by debt, excessive public or private debt – because such growth is artificial, it’s a fictional growth, and afterwards, sooner or later, we would pay the price – but sustainable growth – that I believe it is possible if we continue the courageous path of reforms and a stronger governance for the European Union.

I don’t have the time now to go over all the other policies we have been developing over the years. But let me just highlight one or two, because I think they are very much at the moment of decision, and I think they are important.

I’m extremely proud that is was my Commission in my first mandate, in 2007, that put forward the most ambitious programme for climate protection in the world. And we are still leading in the world in terms of the climate agenda.

In fact, we were able to join the climate agenda with the energy security agenda, and I’m saying that because this week we are going to have an important discussion in Brussels at Heads of State and Government level, and I hope that the European Union will keep its leadership role – of course not to be isolated but to have others, because we have a responsibility towards our planet. And this is was certainly one of the great advances of these years, that the European Union was able to make the most important and bold steps in terms of fighting climate change.

Another area where I think we could very proud is – in spite of all the restrictions because of our financial situation – that it was possible in the MFF to get 30% more for Horizon 2020, for research and technology. I think there is a great opportunity now for us to do more in that area, as also in the culture side, with our Creative Europe programme.

The reality is that in some areas it was possible, in spite of the economic and financial crisis, to increase investment at European level.

But I’m also very proud that in spite of the pressures of our budgets, we could always be there in terms of development aid and neighbourhood policy.

Whenever there was a big tragedy in the world, from the tsunami in Indonesia to the recent Ebola crisis, from the Syrian refugee crisis to Darfur, we were there, we were among the first. And I think we, Europeans, should also be proud of that, because we are still, together with our Member States, the most important donor for development aid in the world. That is something that corresponds very much to our values and I’m happy that in spite of all the crises we did not abandon our obligations in terms of development cooperation.

I have already said a word about trade. I think it is very important to keep an ambitious trade agenda, an open Europe but for free and fair trade. And the Commission has concluded a record number of agreements, not only with South Korea, Singapore, Central America – the first region to reach an agreement -, Peru, Ecuador, recently with Canada, with Western Africa, Eastern Africa and Southern Africa. And I could also mention some others that are now progressing, like Japan, the United States and also an investment agreement with China.

So we are the most important trade bloc in the world. We are the biggest economy in the world.

And I’m saying that because today I know it’s very fashionable the pessimism, the defeatism about Europe, what I call the intellectual glamour of pessimism. But I believe that we have a good record to show and I believe that together, collectively, we are much stronger and we can better defend our interests and protect our values.

Dear colleagues – I call you colleagues because I believe we have been sometimes in discussions but we have been colleagues in this great enterprise that is the European project -, I think politically we have some lessons to draw.

One is that we have shown great resilience. I think we can say that the forces of integration are stronger than the forces of disintegration. And I believed that day and night, sometimes in very dramatic moments, sometimes when I had to make dramatic appeals to some capitals: to the richer countries, asking them to show more solidarity; and to the poorer countries asking them to show more responsibility.

Sometimes we have done it very discretely, it’s true. The European Commission is probably more discreet than others. I did not want the Commission to be part of the cacophony of different voices during the most acute moments of the crisis. It was extremely market sensitive that situation. But I can tell you, in my full conscience, that we have done everything we could with existing instruments to avoid the fragmentation of the euro or to avoid a division in the European Union. And I very often had to call on my colleagues in the European Council, Heads of State and Government, to show the ethics of European responsibility.

But one of the lessons I draw from this is that if eventually it was possible to come to decisions, it is true that it was sometimes extremely painful and difficult. And took time. We have said also, and I think it is something that we can all agree: democracy is slower than the markets are.

The Commission would have preferred, and I’m sure this Parliament as well, decisions to be bolder, more comprehensive, faster. But we are a Union of democratic states, we are not a super state. And we have to respect different sensitivities.

One of the conclusions I draw from these ten years of experiences is the need to cooperate between institutions. I know sometimes it is more popular to put forward impossible ideas and to criticise others. But I firmly believe that we need to engage with different institutions, that it is not a solution to oppose the countries to the European Union. On the contrary, we have to show to our countries that they are stronger if they are part of the European Union. That we are not diluting their national identity but, on the contrary, we are asking them to share their sovereignty so they can project better their interests globally. I’m firmly convinced of this.

And I’m saying this to you now, as I am leaving in a few days: my only interest is that these lessons are learned so that we do not repeat some mistakes in the future. At the same time, I think we can say that it is not through confrontation but through cooperation that we can attain our objectives.

At the moment I prepare to hand over this very challenging and interesting job to my good friend Jean-Claude Juncker, I want to say here, on my behalf and on behalf of all my colleagues of the Commission, that we wish the new Commission all the best, that they have a great challenge ahead of them but that they could count also on our support. And I’m sure of the support that this Parliament is going to give to them.

Because, Mr President, the relations were not always perfect. But I think you can agree that we were able to establish a fruitful relationship between the Parliament and the Commission.

I’ve been in this Parliament more than 100 times. There was never a Commission that was so often represented in the Parliament as my two Commissions. We have established this cooperation and I’m so grateful because this Parliament, sometimes with very strong demands, was always supportive of the community method, was always supporting the community institutions. And I believe this is very important for the future of Europe.

My dear colleagues of the European project,

The way to solve the problems we have in Europe is not through revolution and even less through counter-revolution. It’s by compromise, it’s by reform. Evolution and reform. We have to reform to adapt to the new challenges but not with new clashes between the institutions, not with clashes against our countries. And I believe that if this idea of strong cooperation putting the European common good above all else, I think my colleague and friend Jean-Claude Juncker and his new Commission will have success, of course based on the support I’m sure you are going to give them.

Because the European Union is a union of values. In these last days I had to face many journalists and they asked me ‘what was your most emotional moment? Which moment did you prefer?’ And I have many, and I also had very difficult ones, to be honest. But one of my most emotional moment was when, on behalf of the European Union, together with Martin Schulz and the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, we received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the European Union.

I think this was a powerful reminder sent to us from the global community that we count in this world and that what we do is very important. That the values that were at the origin of the creation of our Union, namely the value of peace, are still at our essence today. And that we have to fight for them.

And I think is the moment I really said I want to share with all those in the different institutions, including this Parliament, that have been working for a united, open and stronger Europe. And when I leave this office, with all my colleagues at the Commission, I can tell you that we have not achieved everything we could, or everything we would have liked to have achieved, but I think we have worked with the right conscience, putting the global interest of the European Union above specific interests. And I believe that now there are conditions to continue to do work for a united, open and stronger Europe.

I thank you for your attention.

Auf wiedersehen, goodbye, au revoir, adeus.

Muito obrigado, thank you very much.

Following the statements of the Members of the Parliament, President Barroso made the following closing remarks:

Mr President,

I should like to take up a number of the points raised by the previous speakers. Firstly, I believe that proof that we – and by “we” I mean the Commission of which I have had the honour of being Presidentare on the right track lies in the fact that the criticisms have come from the opposite ends of the spectrum, though often couched in the same terms, resolutely ignoring the difficulties and extraordinary challenges that we have had to face and failing to put forward any coherent response.

The truth is that we have been through possibly the worst economic and financial crisis we have seen since the countries of Europe began to come together and that it was not the European Union or Europe that spawned the crisis. This is what some defenders of national sovereignty, as they like to call themselves, do not or will not understand. It was not Europe that created excessive private debt or caused the financial sector to behave irresponsibly. Quite the opposite – this all took place under national scrutiny, or rather lack thereof. Europe is the answer. We now have one of the most ambitious regulatory and supervisory systems in the world, if not the most ambitious. In other words, saying that Europe is worse off because of the European Union is simply not true. It shows a complete lack of respect and a lack of intellectual rigour. Europe is not responsible for the financial crisis, which had its roots in the United States. Europe had its weaknesses, but what the European Union did was to respond. The blame for this does not lie with the European Union, and I believe this is something that all those who share the European ideal – be they at the left, right or centre of the political spectrum – should have the courage to state, because by remaining silent we will be reinforcing the populist rhetoric of the extreme right and extreme left.

I listened carefully to those of you who said that populism was on the rise and who laid the blame for this at the door of the European Union. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not true. It is abundantly clear that populism and xenophobia exist outside the European Union. Look at the anti-immigrant incidents that have taken place in Switzerland. Look at what happened in Norway when that terrorist killed all those young people because he was opposed to a multicultural Europe. Look at the Tea Party movement in the United States. Is Europe to blame for America’s Tea Party movement?

We are currently seeing an aggressive form of populism around the world, which espouses arguments from both the left and the right. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference. So to say the European Union is responsible for this shows a lack of intellectual rigour and a lack of political integrity. What we have to do, as Europeans, is to demonstrate that it was not Europe that caused the crisis or the public debt in the Member States. There was little that Europe could do when, for example, one Member State falsified its accounts. This is something Europe had to face. The first initiative of my second Commission was to ask the Member States to give us more powers to supervise national statistics, because in my first Commission this was rejected. And not by Greece. It was rejected by the big Member States, which were reluctant to hand more powers over to the European Union. So if we really want to have a debate, let us be quite clear and strict in terms of intellectual integrity and political candour.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is one thing that I would like to say to you with the greatest of conviction. The team that I have had the honour of heading has worked with enormous commitment and diligence, whilst always putting Europe’s interests first. There is something that I want to say to you, since this is a political assembly with a wealth of political dynamics, but where the emphasis is always on the common European good. My Commission was not made up of colleagues from the EPP, socialists or liberals. It was made up of people who worked for Europe. My party is the EPP and I am proud of that, but, as President of the Commission, my party is Europe and that is the message I wish to convey, in particular to the major forces of the pro-European centre-left and centre-right.  Differences must, of course, be aired, but they must not be allowed to weaken the pro-European camps. We cannot hand the extreme right or extreme left anything else on a plate. Pro-European forces must come together. They must have the courage to defend Europe. They must do so at national level, and not just here in Strasbourg. We need a major coalition of this nature for Europe because I believe that we have the strength to win the battles of the present and those of the future.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: October 21, 2014

2:17 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Hello. Welcome to the daily briefing. I am very, very sorry for the crazy time changes this week. It’s – I don’t like doing it either, but thank you for your patience and understanding. I have two items at the top, and then Lara, you will kick us off.

A travel update: Secretary Kerry has landed in Berlin, where tonight he will have a working dinner with German Foreign Minister Steinmeier to discuss a range of regional and international issues. Tomorrow he will participate in an event commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

And as you have seen, I am sure, from the statement I released just a few minutes ago, we can confirm that Jeffrey Fowle has been allowed to depart the DPRK and is on his way home to rejoin his family. We welcome the DPRK’s decision to release him. While this is a positive decision by the DPRK, we remain focused on the continued detention of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, and again call on the DPRK to immediately release them. And the U.S. Government will continue to work actively on both of their cases.

We thank the Government of Sweden for their tireless efforts. As you know, they are our protecting power in the DPRK. And we’ll provide additional details about his return home when we are able to do so. We won’t be able to provide a lot today, given he’s still en route back, but I will attempt to answer your questions.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: So what more can you tell us about how this came about? What kind of tick-tock can you provide? Can you specify what Sweden did to facilitate this process? And also, is he going straight home to his family or is he going to a hospital? Is he going somewhere to be debriefed, or do you expect him to be in Dayton, your hometown, shortly?

MS. HARF: Close to my hometown. I’m from Columbus. Close.

QUESTION: Well, Ohio.

MS. HARF: Ohio. I know. It is some good news for the Buckeye State today. I don’t have a lot more details I can share at this point. I’ll tell you what I can. We’ll probably be able to provide additional details over the coming days.

As you know, we’ve been actively working for the release of all of the American citizens being detained in North Korea. We don’t always go into details about our efforts. We say it from this podium a lot that we are actively engaged in this, but we can’t talk about what that looks like. I think I can probably leave it at that for now.

He has been evaluated by a doctor and appears to be in good health. He has, however, been in detention in North Korea. We will continue to provide any necessary consular assistance to him. We obviously have been providing it to his family. We will continue to provide it to him in the coming days and weeks if he requires that.

I think we’ll let the North Koreans speak for themselves about why they decided to do this, why now. But again, we are pleased that he was able to leave and urge the immediate release of the other two.

QUESTION: Is it fair to assume that the reason – one of the reasons why he was released and the other two have not been is that he has not been convicted of a crime at this point?

MS. HARF: I would let the DPRK speak to that.

QUESTION: Can you talk at all about how that might have played in some of the negotiations?

MS. HARF: I am not going to, at all, get into our efforts here or outline those —

QUESTION: And then to clarify, there were no U.S. envoys on the ground here, right? This was mostly facilitated by the Swedish diplomats in Pyongyang.

MS. HARF: Well, we’re not going to give more details in general. But as we said, I think in the statement, this was a Department of Defense plane at the request of the State Department flew to Pyongyang to meet Mr. Fowle, left Pyongyang with him. This, again, was a DOD plane at the request of us. They have those resources.

QUESTION: Okay. So if I’m reading between the line, then I’m understanding that North Korea kind of arbitrarily or for whatever reasons decided to release Mr. Fowle, and that this was not a product of negotiators, whether from the United States or other countries, being on the ground pressing for this.

MS. HARF: I’m not telling you to read between the lines or indicating that. What I am saying is we are actively working to have the Americans returned home who are detained in North Korea, and we’re not going to outline what that looks like.

QUESTION: Can you maybe tell us who made the first contact? Or was this done through – you thanked the Swedes, but was Japan involved as well?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details to share with you about this, probably to any of the questions. I’m sorry, guys. This is obviously happening very fast, and if we do have any more details to share we will try to.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that he’s in Guam at the moment and that he’s en route?

MS. HARF: I can confirm that that is where the plane flew from Pyongyang. I don’t know exactly if they’re still on the ground or if they’re on their way back. But we won’t have additional details to share about his return to the United States today.

QUESTION: Can you talk about this window —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) how unusual it is for a DOD plane to be involved? I know there have been other captives released.

MS. HARF: Sometimes people fly commercial. This is – this was – as I said in my statement, there was a time issue that – let me just go to it here. The Defense Department was able to provide transportation for Mr. Fowle in the timeframe specified by the DPRK. I think it was a timing issue.

QUESTION: So they didn’t specifically ask for a government plane? They just said he needs to leave by – in this time?

MS. HARF: As a condition of his release, as I said in the statement, the DPRK authorities asked the United States Government to transport him out of the country. And again, in this timeframe, the Department of Defense was able to offer a plane.

QUESTION: Can you talk more —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: One quick question. So from what we understand, Pyongyang reached out to the U.S. on this one?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to give more details about the discussions. In part – I would remind people that there are two Americans still detained in North Korea, and obviously we want to preserve our ability to work actively to get them home as well.

QUESTION: Has any message been sent from Pyongyang about those two?

MS. HARF: I would refer you to the North Korean Government to speak for themselves.

QUESTION: Are they next? Is anyone else next?

MS. HARF: Obviously, we hope they both are next.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the time period, one, for actually getting Mr. Fowle off North Korean territory? How long a window was that? 24 hours? 48 hours?

MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that, Roz. Let me take —

QUESTION: 72 hours?

MS. HARF: I don’t know. Let me take that question.

QUESTION: And how long were the discussions between the North Koreans, the Swedes – I’m assuming that they were acting as the interlocutors – and the U.S. on actually securing Mr. Fowle’s release?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to confirm any details about the discussions or the ways we try to get our American citizens home.

QUESTION: Did the North Koreans ask the U.S. to provide something in exchange for releasing Mr. Fowle without his having to set foot into a courtroom and possibly be punished?

MS. HARF: I’m just not going to confirm or get into any more of the details of our efforts to get him or any American home.

QUESTION: When was —

QUESTION: Can you say whether these efforts accelerated after the three of them appeared on U.S. media last month?

MS. HARF: I think our efforts are always intense to try and get our Americans home.

QUESTION: Was there any change, though, in terms of the negotiations?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into any more discussions on that.

QUESTION: What was the time period that the North Koreans asked for? You were —

MS. HARF: I said to Roz I would check on that. What I referred to in my statement?

QUESTION: The one that – right, exactly.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. I can check on that. I don’t have that information.

QUESTION: Were you – was the United States Government surprised that the North Koreans had alerted them – you all – to say send a plane, he’s coming out?

MS. HARF: Well, I think that we think this is a positive step, but that does not change the fact that we remain concerned about Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller. We work very hard in a variety of ways that we don’t publicly outline to get these Americans home.

QUESTION: You say you work very hard on ways to —

MS. HARF: We do.

QUESTION: — have American citizens released. Why can’t you say we have worked directly or indirectly with the North Koreans on this particular case?

MS. HARF: Because we’re not going to detail our efforts to get them home, in part because there are still —

QUESTION: But you are acknowledging that you are doing everything that you can —

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: — to have U.S. citizens released.

MS. HARF: But I am not going to get into the details about what that looks like, in part, Said, because there are still two Americans there that we feel need to be immediately released and returned home.

QUESTION: Did you have a reaction when Matthew Miller was sentenced to six years hard labor? Did you put out a statement?

MS. HARF: I think I have the statement. When I was asked about it at the briefing, I believe I said at the time that we have seen those reports and would urge the DPRK to immediately release him and return him home to his family.

QUESTION: Is it reasonable to assume that because the Pentagon was asked to remove Mr. Fowle from North Korean territory that he is going to stop first at a U.S. military installation in South Korea?

MS. HARF: I think – no, they went to Guam from Pyongyang, as I just said, where there is an American military installation, and then he will return home. I’m not going to detail the specifics of that travel, give him some time to get home and be reunited with his family.

QUESTION: And when was his family notified? And were they notified so quickly that they’re still here in the United States and weren’t able to travel to meet him part way, if not all the way?

MS. HARF: We’re not going to get into discussions about the discussions we have with the families. We have ongoing discussions with them. They were, of course, made aware of the fact that he would be coming home.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just trying to get a sense of how sudden was this decision by North Korea to release him. I mean, ostensibly, if it looks as if something is in place, people are sometimes given the ability to move from where they start —

MS. HARF: You also, hypothetically, want to make sure that it’s real and you don’t want to get the hopes of families up in case it’s not. So obviously, when we talk about consular assistance in these kinds of cases, broadly speaking, you want to make sure that, before you actually notify a family that their loved one will be coming home, that that is, in fact, the case.

QUESTION: But in this case —

QUESTION: When did you actually do the notification? Because the lawyer said today that they had not received official notification that he was on his way home. So when did —

MS. HARF: Well, he wasn’t on his way home until today.

QUESTION: Right. And I’m saying —

MS. HARF: Right. So we —

QUESTION: — within the last hour —

MS. HARF: –in general —

QUESTION: — the lawyer put out a statement saying we’re hearing it in the media but we haven’t gotten official notification.

MS. HARF: In general – I’m not going to get into specifics about notification here for privacy considerations and personal considerations, obviously. But in general, we want to wait to make sure that, in fact, he – the loved one is returning home. We did that in this case and the proper notifications were made.

QUESTION: He had been in detention since, according to North Korean authorities, April 29th. And even though he was married to a woman who ostensibly needed his assistance to basically translate for her because she’s not a native U.S. citizen, he was over there by himself as a tourist and supposedly not proselytizing. Do you believe his story?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s not about whether or not we believe his story. And I would remind people that we have a very strict Travel Warning in place telling Americans not to travel to North Korea for a variety of reasons. But no, it’s not – I think today it’s not about whether or not we believe his story. We believe, as we did today, we did yesterday, that he should be immediately released, as he has been, that he should be returned home. I just don’t have more analysis on his time there to give you.

QUESTION: Is Pyongyang willing for the U.S. to send envoys to North Korea now for the other two people who are being detained?

MS. HARF: I will let them speak for that willingness. We’ve seen in the past that often happen, and we have said we are ready to send one if they invite them to return. But to my knowledge, their position hasn’t changed on that. But again, I’d refer you to them.

QUESTION: Change topics?

MS. HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: ISIS.

QUESTION: No, no.

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MS. HARF: Okay. I probably don’t have much more to add, so let’s just do a few more.

QUESTION: Well, North Korea, but a different issue.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: What is your reaction to comments made by North Korea’s deputy UN ambassador on a couple of fronts? One, he said that the U.S. has been masterminding international criticism of North Korea’s human rights record. Basically in a VOA interview, he accused the U.S. of a smear campaign and said if this continued that North Korea will review its policy towards America. He also stated that there is a new policy in North Korea and it will result in an expansion of nuclear weapons.

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen the specifics in that interview, but I’d say a few points. The first is on the human rights situation in North Korea. We call it how we see it, and we are deeply concerned – and remain deeply concerned – about the ongoing, systematic, and widespread human rights violations in the DPRK. They are clearly documented by the UN’s Commission of Inquiry. This isn’t about the United States. This is about the world standing up and saying there’s a very serious human rights situation in North Korea.

So that’s how I would respond on the human rights side, but on the nuclear side, we and our parties in the Six-Party Talks have been very clear that our goal is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That is what we are working towards. That is what – if you talk about these talks in the past and what North Korea has said they were willing to do, we obviously believe that that needs to be the ultimate goal.

Said, yes.

QUESTION: Yes, can we —

QUESTION: Just very, very quickly, can you just clarify – you’ve said that you wanted to send an envoy and the North Koreans have refused. Have you offered to send anybody other than Robert King, or is it Robert King that you have said —

MS. HARF: Well, in the past, the invitation has been for him, and that offer stands on the table, if the invitation were to be re-extended. That’s what we’ve been focused on here.

QUESTION: But you haven’t put anybody else forward?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details about these discussions for you.

Said.

QUESTION: ISIS?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you – first of all, if you have an update on the situation in Kobani, can you share that with us?

MS. HARF: I don’t have much of an update. The situation, to my knowledge, hasn’t changed. Obviously, we did the resupply —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: — over the weekend, remains a serious fighting situation and contested area.

QUESTION: So is that like a one-day situation, or have we had airdrops since then on a continuous basis?

MS. HARF: We haven’t had airdrops since then, no.

QUESTION: So you haven’t?

MS. HARF: We have not.

QUESTION: You have not?

MS. HARF: We have not.

QUESTION: Is that because the Turks expressed displeasure with that?

MS. HARF: No, not at all.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: It’s because we – this was something we decided to do over the weekend, and as I said yesterday and as my Defense Department colleagues have said, we have the option to do this again if we feel it’s necessary. I don’t know if we will or not.

QUESTION: Today, President Erdogan said that Kobani was a strategic – of strategic importance for Turkey but not for the United States of America. Have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t see his comments, but we have talked very closely to Turkish officials, including President Erdogan, about our overall shared goal – a strategy we share – of taking the fight to ISIL. Obviously, when we told the Turkish Government that we would be taking this resupply near Kobani, it was because we believe it’s a very important location, that ISIL has increasingly put weapons and fighters and money and resources into. So we obviously believe it’s important or we wouldn’t be dropping weapons to the people fighting on the ground.

QUESTION: But the Turkish Government is doing everything it can to show that they don’t – you don’t have their shared goals and – because —

MS. HARF: I would strongly disagree with that, Said. Turkey’s announcement that it will facilitate the crossing of Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga into Kobani —

QUESTION: Have you seen any of that (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: — is an important contribution to coalition efforts to support forces there. That is a very significant step that they said they would take yesterday, and I think there’s a hesitancy to overlook those kind – or a tendency, excuse me, to overlook those kinds of announcements and just focus on what they’re not doing. But I think they’re doing some fairly significant things.

QUESTION: I know you addressed this, but the president of Turkey made it very clear that they have four goals: They want a no-fly zone; they want a safe haven; they want to topple the regime; and they want to target Syrian forces and Syrian air assets and so on, which at least for now, in conflict with your immediate goals.

MS. HARF: Well, Turkey is a strategic ally and a valuable part of this coalition, and they are taking a number of steps as part of it, including their announcement that they would facilitate this crossing of Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga. So we’ll continue to talk to them about what this looks like on the ground.

QUESTION: And the last question from me on this issue: During the campaign in Libya, some 26,000 air raids were conducted in Libya. Do you feel that what is going on or what has taken place since August 8th until now – and again, I’m trying to – at least in Iraq on August 8th it began – until now, had —

QUESTION: Syria. No, I was —

QUESTION: — in Iraq August 8th, but then last month it was in Syria. Since then, have they been able to, let’s say, deplete or to decrease the assets of ISIS on the way to their defeat?

MS. HARF: On the way what? What was that last one?

QUESTION: To their total defeat, as the stated goal is?

MS. HARF: Well, certainly, we know the coalition airstrikes have been successful in hitting their targets. They’ve eliminated hundreds of ISIL terrorists, they’ve destroyed ISIL military equipment, and disrupted supply lines and communications. And the more we address ISIL directly, the more resources they have to put into the fight, and the less they’re able to focus on other parts of Iraq and Syria, particularly.

So we know we’ve had an impact, but we also know this is going to be a long fight, and this is not about any one day or one week or one month of action; this is a sustained campaign. We feel we’ve made progress, but this is going to be a long campaign with ups and downs and ebbs and flows.

QUESTION: On the issue of —

QUESTION: Can we go back to the air drops?

MS. HARF: Yeah, and then I’ll go to you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday the Pentagon said that it had tried to deliver 28 bundles of weapons from the Iraqi Kurds to the fighters in Kobani. Twenty-seven made it; the twenty-eighth went off course. They destroyed it so that it wouldn’t fall into people’s hands.

MS. HARF: And – yeah, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Now there’s YouTube video of ISIL fighters claiming that they, in fact, did recover that wayward bundle, and they have grenades and RPGs and other small weapons. Given that the Pentagon says no, we took that out because we did not want that to happen, how prepared is the U.S. and its allies to deal with the propaganda value of whatever it is ISIL will do to try to change what the coalition says are the facts?

MS. HARF: Well, a few points: The first is we’ve seen that video, and we can’t confirm that what is in it is actually accurate. There’s obviously a lot of false information, particularly propaganda on the internet, and this may fall into that category. We’re seeking more information at this point, though. So can’t confirm it; seeking more information.

We know that part of ISIL’s strategy here is to wage a propaganda campaign. And that’s why one of our lines of efforts has been delegitimizing ISIL’s propaganda. And so that is something other countries can do; it’s something religious leaders can do. But that’s why, if you look at our five lines of effort, that’s one of them, which I think is pretty extraordinary.

QUESTION: So on the issue of the Peshmerga crossing the borders, it seems time is of the essence when it comes to Kobani. Are you in any kind of discussions with the Turkish Government about timeframe for this to happen, for the operation?

MS. HARF: Those discussions are continuing.

QUESTION: And who’s – and how is it going to happen? Who’s going to facilitate the movement of the Kurdish forces?

MS. HARF: I’d refer you to the Turkish Government. They may have more details on that. I – the answer is I don’t know what the timeframe is. I know we’re in discussions with them about it broadly.

QUESTION: But did you express any time preference?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. But again, I’m not the one having the discussions, so let me see if there’s more to share with you on that.

Anything else on ISIS?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Peshmerga: That – just the Peshmerga from Iraq. It would not include, let’s say, Kurdish fighters that could conceivably come from Turkey, could it —

MS. HARF: It’s – I’ll let the —

QUESTION: — that might include the PKK?

MS. HARF: I’ll let the Turks speak for themselves, but it is my understanding that it will facilitate the crossing of Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga.

QUESTION: Okay. So – and there are – even among the Peshmerga, there are some commanders that may be wanted by Turkey. Do they have immunity, to the best of your knowledge?

MS. HARF: From who?

QUESTION: From the Turks —

MS. HARF: Well, ask the Turks.

QUESTION: — that they would not arrest them as they cross?

MS. HARF: I would ask the Turks, Said.

QUESTION: But this is since a coalition effort.

MS. HARF: This is a coalition effort, but I would ask the Turks.

QUESTION: Would that be one of the conditions that you would say – tell the Turks, like —

MS. HARF: I don’t think we’re giving them conditions. This is an effort they’ve said they will undertake. They’ll have more details about it.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Any details on the deal with the Iraqi military to send 46,000 tanks?

MS. HARF: Yes, let me see what I have on that. Just give me one second.

On October 20th, the State Department approved a possible foreign military sale to Iraq for up to 46,000 rounds of M1A1 Abrams tank ammunition and associated equipment, parts, and logistical support for an estimated cost of $600 million. This is part of our effort to expedite defense material to the Government of Iraq in support of the fight against ISIL. The proposed sale will contribute, obviously, to the foreign policy and national security of the U.S. by helping improve the security of Iraq, a strategic partner. Obviously, the sale is subject to a 30-day congressional notification period, after which the Department and the Government of Iraq will conclude final administrative and technical details.

QUESTION: And when do you expect to deliver these tanks?

MS. HARF: When?

QUESTION: When, yeah.

MS. HARF: Well, I just said that it’s subject to a 30-day congressional notification period, after which we will finalize the sale.

QUESTION: Do you have any —

QUESTION: Is it tanks or just equipment and ammo?

MS. HARF: It is tank ammunition and associated equipment, parts, and logistical support.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: And how many tanks do you expect?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s not tanks.

QUESTION: It’s tank ammunition.

MS. HARF: It’s 46 – up to 46,000 rounds of ammunition and associated equipment and parts.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on —

MS. HARF: I don’t know how many tanks that goes into.

QUESTION: — on the visit and statements by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi? In Tehran, he met with Rouhani and met with (inaudible).

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, Iran and Iraq share a long border. They have had long relations. I think this is a routine visit by the prime minister of Iraq to Iran. I think he’ll be doing similar visits around the region to other neighbors as well. And we’ve urged Iran to send a message to the Iraqi Government that they need to govern inclusively; that’s key. We’ve obviously said that for months now.

QUESTION: But in the fight against ISIS, obviously Iran is willing and probably is taking place in the fight against ISIS, but you still consider that to be not a good thing.

MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t say that. I’ve said from this podium that every country has a role to play —

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: — that Iran, if they encourage the Government of Iraq to govern inclusively, if they – the Iraqi Security Forces, support them as the ones who should be taking this fight – not militias, not anyone else on the ground. That would be a way they could contribute.

QUESTION: So let me ask you straightforward: Do you object to having Al-Quds Brigade, which is an Iranian fighting force that is in Iraq, fighting ISIS?

MS. HARF: Well, what we’ve said is the people on the ground that need to fight ISIL are the Iraqi Security Forces, not militias.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: Prime Minister Abadi has talked about regulating militias, understands the historical challenges with Shia militia groups. We believe it should be the government security forces fighting ISIL.

QUESTION: But the Peshmerga is fighting them.

MS. HARF: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: I mean, the Peshmerga is not – at least is not technically part of the Iraqi army.

MS. HARF: Right. But – you’re right. But the Kurdish Regional Forces and the Iraqi Security Forces, who are working at an unprecedented level together, like we haven’t seen in the past.

QUESTION: What’s the status of the Sinjar?

MS. HARF: Sinjar? There has been some renewed fighting there, and we are deeply concerned about reports of their increasingly intense attacks against communities near and on Mount Sinjar, including against Yezidis who are there trying to protect their main civilian population. We’re continuing to assess the situation and assess what assistance we may be able to provide to those in need.

QUESTION: Did you get a response to or an answer to my question yesterday about whether the U.S. would send weapons or supplies to the ministry of interior?

MS. HARF: I – you – whether there was going to be a change.

QUESTION: Correct.

MS. HARF: I did and there is no change. There is not going to be any change – has no plans to change our security relationship with the Government of Iraq. And I think there were a lot of questions yesterday about certain ministers and who was aligned with what groups. I think a couple other points in response to that, one, we worked with members of Badr Organization who were part of the government in the previous government, and we will continue to do so here. I think it’s significant that these ministers, including this one, was approved by a majority of the Sunnis as well. So this is really all of the different parts of Iraq coming together, and if they’re willing to put their support behind these new ministers, I think that’s a pretty significant sign.

QUESTION: Can I change topics?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: To Vietnam?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: One of the prominent dissident bloggers in Vietnam, Nguyen Van Hai – also known as Dieu Cay – has been released and is on his way to the U.S.

MS. HARF: That is true.

QUESTION: Just wanted to know if you had a statement on that and what is the reason for his release, and why now, and is he going to be living here permanently?

MS. HARF: And welcome back, by the way.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. HARF: Good to have you back in the briefing room.

QUESTION: Good to be back.

MS. HARF: We welcome the decision by Vietnamese authorities to release this prisoner of conscience. He decided to travel to the United States after his release from prison, will arrive on Tuesday October 21st – so today. He decided himself to travel to the U.S. We have consistently called for his release and the release of all other political prisoners in Vietnam.

QUESTION: Do you think there will be more releases soon?

MS. HARF: We hope there will be.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you confirm reports that he was forced to leave the country —

MS. HARF: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: — after he – can you confirm reports that he was forced to leave the country after he was released?

MS. HARF: I would check with the Vietnamese authorities on that. We know that he decided to come to the United States after his release.

QUESTION: Is he coming here for medical attention? Because there were reports that he was ill.

MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that. I’m happy to check.

Yes.

QUESTION: Marie, I have a question on Cyprus and Turkey. As you maybe know, Cyprus says it will block any progress in Turkey’s talk to join the European Union in response to the Turkish illegal gas search in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus. My question is that – did the Government of Cyprus ask for your help to stop Turkey’s aggression in – against Cyprus?

MS. HARF: Well, as we’ve —

QUESTION: If you cannot answer, can you take —

MS. HARF: I can’t tell if you had a follow-up.

QUESTION: Can you take the question to —

MS. HARF: Well, I can just say a little bit about Cyprus.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: As we’ve always said, the United States recognizes the Republic of Cyprus’s right to develop its resources in its exclusive economic zone. We continue to strongly support the negotiation process conducted under UN good offices to reunify the island into a bizonal and bicommunal federation. That’s obviously been our policy for a long time.

QUESTION: The government spokesman said that what is happening actually Cyprus is another Turkey invasion against the island. What is your comment on that?

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen those comments, but we continue to believe that the island’s oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement. And it’s important, I think, to avoid actions that may increase tensions in the region.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the attack in Quebec by a radicalized man who killed a police officer?

MS. HARF: I do.

QUESTION: And how concerned are you with the monitoring of extremists by the RCMP?

MS. HARF: Well, we condemn this attack and extend our sympathies to the family and friends of the Canadian Forces soldiers. We have been in touch with Canadian officials and understand they are investigating the incident. Obviously, we deplore acts of violence towards military and law enforcement officials particularly, and stand ready to assist our Canadian partners as they investigate this act. I don’t have more details on it than that. They’ll probably have the latest on the investigation.

QUESTION: But is it a concern as it hits so close to home?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ll see what the investigation shows.

QUESTION: And about the monitoring of the extremists by the Canadian police? Is there –

MS. HARF: Well, I’ll let them speak to their efforts here. But obviously, we know that one of the challenges is fighters who will go overseas to fight with some sort of extremist group, a terrorist group, return home to Europe, to the West, to Canada, to the United States. We know it’s a shared challenge, so it’s obviously something we’re very focused on.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Yep. And then I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: Libyan Government gave orders to the Libyan forces to advance toward Tripoli and liberate it, as the government statement said. Do you support the government in this decision?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen those reports. I can check on that. I hadn’t seen them.

QUESTION: But the —

MS. HARF: Well, I hadn’t seen —

QUESTION: Anyway, do you support any move that the Libyan Government takes towards the militia and the gaining or getting back the capital?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve called on the Libyans to engage constructively in the UN-led political dialogue to resolve the ongoing crisis, to abstain from confrontation. But I hadn’t seen those reports, so let me check into those.

Yes, let’s go to Pam.

QUESTION: The ceasefire talks between the Nigerian Government and Boko Haram —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — that were due to start today, of course, did not start. We have the team of military advisors that is still in the region. Can you shed light on whether the U.S. advisors are going to play any – have played or will play any kind of role in these negotiations?

MS. HARF: They have not. They have not. I don’t have a prediction going forward, but they have not up until this point.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout of the calls that Kerry has made with regard to – in the last day or two – developments on Turkey? And what about North Korea?

MS. HARF: I can —

QUESTION: Not that he called Pyongyang, but —

MS. HARF: (Laughter.) I don’t think he did. (Laughter.) That would be breaking news that I could make. I do not have the call list from today. Let me check after the briefing.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MS. HARF: Ukraine.

QUESTION: Did you see the reports that the Ukraine army had launched cluster bombs in Donetsk and other places?

MS. HARF: We did. We’ve seen the report. We are not in a position to confirm the use of cluster munitions in eastern Ukraine. I’d note the Ukrainian authorities have denied use of such munitions, but have called again on all sides to take steps to protect civilian lives.

QUESTION: What’s the level of conversation between the U.S. and Ukraine regarding these allegations?

MS. HARF: Regarding these specifically?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. I don’t know the specifics.

QUESTION: Do you have comment on the apparent agreement between Russia and the Ukraine on the gas supply for the winter?

MS. HARF: We saw some of that coming out of the meetings in Milan that happened a few days ago. We obviously support the European Commission in its efforts to broker a commercially competitive compromise on gas sales that includes market pricing and payment of arrears. We have urged Russia to continue engaging with Ukraine and the EU on this issue. We hope a deal can be completed at the EC-brokered talks that are taking place in Berlin today. I don’t have the latest readout from Berlin, but we’ll get it.

QUESTION: Can I change topics?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comment on the resumption of indirect talks between Hamas and Israel regarding the ceasefire?

MS. HARF: We have seen those reports. I’d refer you to the parties to confirm their participation. Our teams in the region have continued to engage with the parties on the way forward in Gaza; of course, support efforts to reach a durable and sustainable long-term ceasefire.

QUESTION: Okay. So that would be my next question. Would the United States have any representative in these talks?

MS. HARF: I can check, Said.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Ebola?

QUESTION: Can I —

QUESTION: The Dominican —

MS. HARF: Did you have another on —

QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted to follow very quickly with a couple things.

MS. HARF: Okay. And then we’ll go to Ebola.

QUESTION: The Israeli authorities demolished three homes in Jerusalem today. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: I’ll get one for you. I didn’t see that. Sorry.

Ebola.

QUESTION: The Dominican Republic has joined other countries in banning entry to foreigners who’ve visited Ebola-affected countries. We know what the Obama Administration’s feel is, but is this in any way swaying you? There’s also new polls out today in which Americans are saying that they feel that there needs to be this travel ban.

MS. HARF: Well, a few points. We are not considering implementing visa bans at this time, but the Department of Homeland Security did today announce additional efforts and protective measures to prevent the spread of Ebola to the United States. And I’d refer you to them for the details, but just to give you a few of the top lines here, these measures go into effect tomorrow. They are that passengers arriving in the United States whose travel originates in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea will be required to fly into one of the five airports that have the enhanced screening and additional resources in place. So we’re already working with the airlines to implement these restrictions with minimal travel disruption – we – that’s the Department of Homeland Security.

And also, passengers flying into one of these airports – and to remind people, this is JFK, Newark, Dulles, Atlanta, and Chicago – flying into these airports from flights originating in any of these three countries will be subject to secondary screening and added protocols, including having their temperature taken, before they can be admitted into the United States. These airports account for about 94 percent of travelers flying to the U.S. from these countries, so —

QUESTION: Was the State Department consulted on this decision?

MS. HARF: Absolutely we were.

QUESTION: And did – and was this building supportive of it, given this building’s previous opposition to any sort of visa ban or visa restriction?

MS. HARF: Well, this is not a visa ban or a visa restriction. This is an additional procedure, a screening procedure that the Department of Homeland Security will do, so absolutely we were supportive of it.

Our position on visa bans hasn’t changed. You can’t control this epidemic through visas. And if you prevent people from traveling in legitimate ways, you’ll drive them underground, you’ll push them to illicit ways of traveling, which is even harder to track them and contain this. So our position on visa bans has not changed. The President said he’s not philosophically opposed to it, but our experts at this point have said it’s not the way to contain it. But we do support, certainly, the additional measures taken to protect us here in the United States.

QUESTION: My understanding is that these are flights that are coming directly from these West African countries.

MS. HARF: No. There are no direct, non-stop —

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: — commercial flights from any of these countries to any airport in the United States.

QUESTION: Right. So they would be flights from any of these countries that might route through London or Paris or Frankfurt or something.

MS. HARF: Route through other places.

QUESTION: Right, got it.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Marie, the forces – the U.S. forces, the military forces that were dispatched to sort of contain the – or to prevent the spread of the epidemic and so on – where are they, and what is their number? Could you update us on where they are now and what they are doing?

MS. HARF: I can – I don’t know if I have the latest on that. I’m happy to check with our team and my colleagues at the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Yeah, so – yeah, which countries and their number and so on, and what is exactly that they’re doing.

MS. HARF: Let me see if – I don’t think I have – let me check with our DOD colleagues. I know I got asked this earlier this week, but for some reason it is not in my book. It’s amazing that there’s something that’s not in this book.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the dispatching of Cuban aid workers —

MS. HARF: The Secretary spoke about it publicly last Friday —

QUESTION: He did?

MS. HARF: — when he said every country has a role to play, and —

QUESTION: Well, it seems that they have already – they sent more. They sent like 51 —

MS. HARF: Well, he’s spoken about the fact that they have provided a large number of resources, particularly given how small the country is, especially compared to other countries who have many more resources that they could be providing.

QUESTION: Were you able to find out whether there are any legal restrictions on the U.S. working with Cuba in something such as this health crisis?

MS. HARF: I wasn’t able to get an answer for you all on that. Let me see if I can keep pushing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:51 p.m.)

DPB#178

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: August 13, 2014

1:19 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have a few items at the top, and then happy to open it up for your questions.

First, a travel update. Secretary Kerry is now in Honolulu where he will give a speech at the East-West Center in Manila. It’s at 6:30 tonight, I believe. You can watch it on State.gov. He will meet with military leaders at U.S. Pacific Command Headquarters, and as I said, will deliver a speech this afternoon at the East-West Center on the U.S. vision for Asia Pacific engagement. I would encourage people to take a look at that.

On his stop yesterday in the Solomon Islands, the Secretary commemorated the World War II battles fought on Guadalcanal. He also met with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Gordon Lilo and the governor general to discuss sustainable development, ocean preservation, and how the island’s residents are coping with the effects of climate change.

Last item at the top: We have seen multiple news reports that are just coming out of the plane crash in Brazil on which presidential candidate Eduardo Campos was on board. We are saddened at this tragedy, express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. Our ambassador there is reaching out to senior Brazilian officials as we speak to formally convey our condolences as well.

Lara.

QUESTION: In Iraq, please. Today Prime Minister al-Maliki said he would not step down from his post until the Iraqi judiciary rules on whether or not his constitutional challenge to the process should go forward or not. I’m wondering if you all have any idea of how long this process might take as it speaks to some concerns people have raised about whether he will try to run out the clock on the 30 days he now – that designate al-Abadi has.

Also I’m wondering if you were able to get an answer to my question yesterday as to what level of confidence does the U.S. have in the Iraqi judiciary system.

MS. HARF: A couple issues, and then we’ll – I’m sure you’ll have follow-ups. The comments made by the prime minister today were similar to ones he’s made in recent days, quite frankly. And as I said yesterday, with all political systems there will be differences with how certain processes unfold. We never expected this to be completely seamless, but the United States firmly rejects any effort to achieve outcomes through coercion or manipulation of the constitutional or judicial processes.

And then look, I don’t want to get ahead of the constitutional process that’s underway. We just began the 30-day time clock for the Prime Minister-designate al-Abadi to form a new government. They are moving along with that process. So we will watch day by day as that plays out, but Prime Minister-designate al-Abadi is moving forward as part of this process, and that’s what we’ll be focused on in the coming days.

QUESTION: So you don’t believe this court challenge that Maliki is posing is going to be slowing that 30-day clock in any way?

MS. HARF: Well, look, the prime minister-designate is the one who is in charge of what happens during the 30-day clock, and he’s working actively towards that. And again, we would reject any efforts by anyone to use the judicial processes to manipulate or coerce the outcomes here. But there is a separate process and it’s the constitutional one, and that’s moving forward.

QUESTION: How is it that the designate has control of the clock when Maliki is still the prime minister?

MS. HARF: Well, he has control of the clock. What I meant was the progress that can be made in the 30 days to form a new government is in the hands of the prime minister-designate, who has the support, as I said over the last few days. He was nominated by the Shiite bloc, including many members of Prime Minister Maliki’s own party.

So we’ve seen these kind of comments from the current prime minister before, but separate from those comments there is a process under the constitution that is moving forward. And we expect that to move forward and we will continue watching what happens in the coming days.

QUESTION: Do you have any expectations of how long this court appeal will last?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any guess on that.

QUESTION: May I just follow up on that? I mean, his words were very critical of the United States, today – Maliki’s speech. He basically said that you espouse democratic values but you go ahead and sabotage the democratic process. What do you have to say to that?

MS. HARF: Well, the Iraqis have their democratic process that’s underway right now, and that process has led to a new prime minister-designate being named by the current prime minister’s own bloc. So the process is playing out how it should. Again, we knew this would not be without complication. Nothing ever is – certainly not here in Iraqi politics. But their own democratically, constitutionally outlined process has been ongoing and that’s what’s happening right now.

QUESTION: I know that you warned against manipulating whatever legal process in the courts or whatever to sow divisions and so on in Iraq. Has anyone talked to the prime minister personally to say refrain from doing that because you’re driving the country further into the abyss?

MS. HARF: We’ve certainly had conversations with a range of leaders, including Prime Minister Maliki, emphasizing, Said, that this is a key, critical time in Iraq on the security front, on the political front – they are very closely intertwined – and that nobody should do anything to prevent the progress that’s laid out under the constitution from taking place and from moving forward. Nobody should.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. HARF: We’ve certainly had those conversations.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, as we – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, they all welcome the prime minister-designate Haider Al-Abadi, but Maliki still has some support within the Shiites. He has some support within some, like, militant type of militias and so on. Are you concerned that he actually might resort to violence?

MS. HARF: I don’t want to venture to guess on that hypothetical, Said. There’s a process in place and that process is moving forward. What’s key here is that the President asked the prime minister-designate to name a government. This was the designate that his own bloc, Prime Minister Maliki’s own bloc selected. So I think that should speak very clearly about the support that Prime Minister-designate al-Abadi has. And, again, the process is moving forward.

QUESTION: Okay. And conversely, you deployed – or the United States deployed some 130 —

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: — advisors and so on to Erbil. Does that mean that the situation in Baghdad or around Baghdad is quiet enough where you don’t need this kind of advisory effort?

MS. HARF: Well, let’s be clear about what these 130 advisors will and will not be doing. They are focused squarely on looking at the humanitarian situation on Mount Sinjar and developing options to potentially move people and relocate people safely from the mountain. As we know, dropping food and water is not a long-term solution for the tens of thousands of people on that mountain. So these U.S. military personnel that have just gone in are assessing the best way to bring these people to safety, whether that’s some sort of airlift, whether that’s a humanitarian corridor. They’re looking at the options, they’ll present them to the President, and then he’ll make decisions about how – the best way that we can help do that will be.

QUESTION: And I know yesterday that you denied that there was any kind of pressure on Maliki to leave August from early June or mid-June right after the fall of Mosul. So no one has talked to him at that time, “It’s time for you to leave?”

MS. HARF: What we’ve always said, Said, is that there is a constitutional process and that process needs to move forward. There are very clear rules under that process for how a new prime minister for a new government is designated. We have encouraged everyone to play by those rules, period. And that’s the message that we’ve been sending for a very long time.

QUESTION: Marie?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: In your view that the federal court decision won’t have any impact on the formation on the new government?

MS. HARF: I don’t know, quite frankly, legally inside Iraq what the ramifications of that might be. That’s a hypothetical. I’m happy to check with our team. What I do know is there’s a constitutional process that has been followed here. It’s moving forward, and that’s what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you on one of the points you mentioned, saying it’s not a long-term solution to be dropping supplies to the Yezidis on the mountain.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: Is there —

MS. HARF: Which seems fairly self-evident, I think.

QUESTION: Certainly, but I was going to ask: Is there a timeline for how long they actually have? I mean, is this something that needs to be done immediately? Can they wait out —

MS. HARF: As soon as possible. I mean, every day we go by – look, we’ve now made six humanitarian airdrops onto the mountain. Up until this point, we delivered 100,000 – over 100,000 halal meals and over 27,000 gallons of fresh drinking water over six nights of airdrops. But the need is quite urgent. So that’s why the President, as the recommendation of the Secretary of Defense, sent in these advisors, because we know it’s very urgent. As I said, he – they – he – they will be looking at options, providing recommendations to the President to see what we could do to help move these people to a safer place. And our team is looking at that right now.

QUESTION: Marie, on that, can you explain what the State Department’s role, even if it’s a support role, will be with those advisors who were sent in?

MS. HARF: Yep. Well, obviously, we’re all working together out of Erbil, out of our consulate there. And there are some USAID, particularly, experts in humanitarian work who have gone in previously but who are still there who will be working very closely with this team. Obviously, they’re experts in humanitarian issues and they’ll be working very closely with the rest of our team as well.

QUESTION: Are those the DART advisors?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh, DART. And there are also some other folks, but mainly the DART advisors that went in over the weekend to Erbil.

QUESTION: But for those folks who have made it off the mountain by either extraction or wandered down —

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: — is State doing anything with those – I guess you could call them refugees, or certainly displaced people?

MS. HARF: We have a number of things we’re doing to try and help with the situation with internally-displaced people writ large in the area. Certainly USAID is focused on it; the UN is quite focused on it. There does remain quite a serious security challenge. So one of the reasons we have sent these advisors in to look at additional options is that we are heartened that some people have made it off the mountain, but we don’t believe that there’s a large-scale way for everyone to that would be safe and secure. Because we do need to have places for them to go where they won’t be under threat. So we are looking at that. We’re working – we are certainly working very closely with international organizations, with the Iraqis and the Kurds as well.

QUESTION: Just – Marie —

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: And for some of these – we’ve seen a lot of media reports, a lot of these are kids without their parents.

MS. HARF: Yes. It’s a horrific situation across the board. A lot of children. Again, every day that goes by it gets worse. That’s why we’ve every single day been providing food and water, but are urgently looking at what more we can do.

QUESTION: So is there anyone there on the ground now working specifically with the kids? I mean, within this DART team, within whatever State is doing?

MS. HARF: Let me check on that. I know – I’m sure there are. I know we’re helping on a wide range of – in a wide range of ways here. Let me check if there’s anything specifically for children, but it is a huge problem. You’re absolutely right.

Lucas.

QUESTION: Marie?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: With regard to the rescue of the Yezidis, how do these new advisors that are being added to the mission not constitute boots on the ground?

MS. HARF: Well, the President has been very clear that we will not be sending troops back in in combat roles. That’s the key phrase. They’re assessing. They’re not there in combat roles. They are U.S. military personnel, but they are operating out of a consulate and they are an assessment team, essentially. So they’re not performing combat roles.

QUESTION: But these advisors are not troops, you’re saying?

MS. HARF: Well, what the President has said specifically is what he will not do is introduce troops in combat roles. Both of those key points are important there. There have obviously been U.S. military advisors in Iraq for some time now, for several months now since we first announced the tranches would be going to assess the situation. So there are U.S. military personnel there, but the President’s key point has always been they will not be serving in combat roles. That hasn’t changed and that won’t change.

QUESTION: But when you have these advisors on the ground, any kind of rescue effort to bring the rest of the Yezidis off the ground – it’s been reported that 20-, 30,000 still remain – don’t you need to have boots on the ground to assist in this rescue effort?

MS. HARF: Well, a rescue effort is very different from combat. We have, as you know, air power over the skies of Iraq right now that the military is engaged in, as the President has spoken about. Those obviously aren’t combat troops on the ground. So we’re engaging in offensive airstrikes. Now there have been 24 in total since we began: seven related to the Mt. Sinjar humanitarian crisis in areas around the mountain, 17 in defense of Erbil. So we have air power from the sky and teams on the ground of assessors. They are not serving – you know this very well. There are specific roles that are combat roles, and that’s not what they will be doing. Any humanitarian action would be a humanitarian action. It would be – not be troops on the ground engaged in combat.

QUESTION: Right. But if a rescue effort involving helicopters, close air support – doesn’t that need to be coordinated with somebody on the ground?

MS. HARF: Certainly, and that would be coordinated with our assessment team on the ground, but also very closely coordinated with the Iraqi forces. That’s a key point here. The Iraqi forces, particularly the Kurdish forces in the north, are very engaged in this fight. They obviously have their combat troops on the ground, for lack of a more technical term. So it was all very closely coordinated with them.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the role and help of the international community?

MS. HARF: We are. Just a few points on this: The Brits have announced a $13.4 million package of emergency humanitarian assistance. As part of that package, they’ve flown with us to deliver water containers filled with safe drinking water and lanterns that can be used to recharge mobile phones. France and Australia have also offered to help deliver humanitarian supplies. Canada has offered assistance with broader humanitarian operations for displaced Iraqis. They’ve announced a large sum of money as well. The Saudis, the – and New Zealand and Germans have also announced to help as well. So we’re talking to partners about what can be done here. We obviously have unique capabilities that we can bring to bear.

QUESTION: And the French Foreign Minister Fabius said today, “When people are dying, you must come back from vacation.” He was imploring Western leaders to come back off of vacation. Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. HARF: I think you’ve seen President Obama and the Secretary and everybody, no matter where they are in the world, very deeply engaged on this issue, making decisions, getting updates, talking to their team. The miracle of modern technology is that you can do that securely from wherever you are. I can guarantee you we’ve had a number of conversations with my colleagues who are with the President and with his team, as have our folks here. So everybody is very, very, very deeply engaged on this issue.

QUESTION: And lastly, why didn’t you do more to help the Christians when they were being attacked earlier?

MS. HARF: Well, Lucas, look. We’ve done a number of things to help with the dire humanitarian situation in Iraq. And since Iraqi populations have started really over the past several months being threatened by ISIL, we have taken steps to increase the Iraqis’ capability to fight this threat. Whether it’s providing increased intelligence through surveillance and reconnaissance to help them go after targets, providing direct humanitarian assistance – we’ve done all of that.

Here, there was a limited and discrete and incredibly urgent humanitarian situation that we could bring assistance to. So when we saw a place where we could help, we did so. There are other ways you can help in other situations, but this, again, was a very discrete situation. The Iraqis had tried to do some of this and didn’t have all the capabilities.

QUESTION: Does Secretary Kerry support the expansion of airstrikes to hit targets? It was reported that ISIS has gotten hold of 30 M1 Abrams tanks.

MS. HARF: Well, the President outlined the two specific missions the airstrikes would be focused on last Thursday when he made this announcement. First, of course, was protecting the people on Mount Sinjar with the humanitarian aid, but also with the strikes around the mountain; and also protecting Erbil, which, of course, houses our people – many of them – but is also a key strategic city. So those are the two missions as of right now. The same principle would, of course, apply to Baghdad, because we have many people there.

But there’s a separate question here between how you defeat a terrorist group that is essentially acting like an army, right. ISIL’s a terrorist group that right now is taking territory and has heavy weaponry. That’s what we’re trying to do right now. But there’s a longer-term strategic issue of how you degrade the terrorist group’s abilities to take territory, to conduct attacks, and to do some of the things they want to do. Those are conversations that are happening together, and we’ll continue making decisions about how we can best do that going forward.

QUESTION: Marie, on this issue —

MS. HARF: Yeah, and then I’ll go to Arshad. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MS. HARF: No, that’s okay.

QUESTION: What are you relying on to defeat ISIL in the future? And they are gaining on the ground day by – day after day.

MS. HARF: Well, as I said, when you look at how you traditionally degrade a terrorist group, what are the kinds of things you can do, right. You can take out their leadership; you can reduce their operational capability; you can cut off their financing sources. We’ve done this other places, and there are a number of ways you can do that.

So that’s, in some ways, a little bit of a separate issue because they’re acting very much like an army in that they’re taking over territory. So right now, we’re focused on pushing them back from this territory, helping the Kurds, the Iraqis regain this territory, and then longer-term, helping the Iraqis develop the capabilities to degrade the terrorist group – whether it’s increased surveillance and reconnaissance even more so they can target their leadership, whether it’s increased weapons that we’re getting to the Iraqis and the Kurds.

All of those things are a longer-term conversation because, as we’ve always said, there’s no long-term American military solution here in Iraq. We need to help them build their capacity so they can degrade the terrorist group in the long run. Right now, what we’re trying to do, quite frankly, is prevent them from taking any more territory and to protect our people as well.

Arshad.

QUESTION: Marie, just (inaudible). You said in response to Lucas’s question that a rescue effort is different from a combat effort.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Definitionally, I think?

QUESTION: Yeah – no, no, it makes sense.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Would – does the U.S. Government – would providing security on the ground to try to facilitate the evacuation of people from Mount Sinjar – is that or would that be a combat role? Or is that conceivable to you as not a combat role?

MS. HARF: Well, two points: (a), I don’t want to get into sort of hypotheticals about what kind of support we might give and what that might look like or what any option might look like, (a), and I wouldn’t be able to make a determination based on that hypothetical. But the President has been clear that we will not put troops on the ground engaged in combat roles, period.

QUESTION: The reason I’m asking the question is that the American people are presumably interested in understanding under what circumstances there may be boots on the ground, and humanitarian experts argue that you have to have somebody who provides security on the ground when you’re trying to evacuate people, however you’re doing that – doing it by air so that the —

MS. HARF: Right, yep.

QUESTION: — choppers or whatever can land, doing it by land so that the lanes are – don’t come under attack. And so the reason I’m asking the question is that if providing security on the ground is not deemed to be a combat role, then conceivably, American soldiers could be put in, but be in danger or they could come under fire and so —

MS. HARF: Well, I understand the reason you’re asking the question.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: And to be clear, even our advisors are serving in a very dangerous place.

QUESTION: I get it.

MS. HARF: So just – even though they’re only in an assessing role, they are undertaking some very difficult work here. Again, there haven’t been decisions made about how to do this. We’ll have the assessment team provide recommendations to the President, and then when there is a path forward, we’ll talk about what the different pieces of that look like on the ground. I just really don’t want to get ahead of something where decisions haven’t been made, but again, President has been very clear – no troops in a combat role. That hasn’t changed, and we’ll figure out the best way to help get these people off the mountain.

QUESTION: But you wouldn’t – the nature of your answer, which is carefully, it seems to me, to preserve the President’s options since he hadn’t made any decisions yet —

MS. HARF: Like in general, the principle of mind is to preserve the President’s options from this podium.

QUESTION: Sure. So you would not rule out the possibility of American troops providing security on the ground?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to rule it in either, though. I really just don’t want to comment in any way on what this eventually might look like. There’s a team on the ground and we’ll see what they come back with. I’m just not going to rule things in or out.

QUESTION: And one other one: You mentioned the Kurdish forces that are on the ground. Is it conceivable to you that they could provide that kind of security?

MS. HARF: Certainly conceivable, yes.

QUESTION: A question about the international support: Prime Minister Cameron has indicated that Britain would be ready to help with the rescue effort. I just wondered, in terms of the others – France, Australia, Canada – have they mentioned they’d be willing to help with any of that, or is it just humanitarian supplies?

MS. HARF: We’re having those conversations with them right now and we’ll see what our assessment team comes back with and see what the path forward looks like, and we’ll continue having those conversations. Nothing specific to report out, though.

QUESTION: Madam, would you call all these new groups the new face of al-Qaida or supporters of Usama bin Ladin, or their followers?

MS. HARF: Well, what’s interesting about ISIS or IS, or whatever we want to call it this week, is that they’re, in some ways, even too brutal for al-Qaida, which is an extraordinary thought to think about. They’ve, in some – in many ways been rejected by al-Qaida because of how barbaric and truly nihilistic they’ve really been in attacking anyone who gets in their way – Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Christians, Yezidis, you name it. They have shown no bounds to their brutality.

But as we’ve said, there are terrorist groups that we watch very closely. This unfortunately has been a direct result of what we’ve seen in Syria and the situation there. We’ve watched it. It’s been a changing threat, but we continue to watch it and continue to figure out the best way to go after it. We also – we’ve talked a lot about whether this is a threat to the homeland or not. We’ll keep watching that. We always monitor for potential threats to the homeland, but we’re really focused right now on the threat they pose to our people and to the people of Iraq. That’s our immediate-term focus here.

QUESTION: When he said to you —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Just quick.

MS. HARF: Let me have – but he can have a follow-up.

QUESTION: One more quick question, thank you. Many experts are, Madam, saying that why don’t you also go after those who are supporting them financially and also arming them, including some names are coming like Saudi Arabia.

MS. HARF: Well, as we’ve said, we’re very concerned about their source of financing. Much of it comes from kidnappings, from thefts. Much of it comes from activities – criminal activities, for lack of a better term – that they undertake. We don’t have evidence that other governments are supporting them, but it is something that we know private citizens have supported. So we have constant conversations with our partners in the region, particularly in the Gulf, about private citizens that may be funding them and really cracking down on these financial networks, because a lot of this is that they’re able to get money. We also won’t hesitate to take further action on our own to disrupt financial networks, including through Treasury. I think they made some additional designations last week. We constantly see if there are ways we can help crack down, too.

QUESTION: Madam, most of the —

MS. HARF: One more. Yeah.

QUESTION: Madam, most of the financing comes in the name of charity.

MS. HARF: I’m not sure that’s true with ISIL. I think most of their financing comes from criminal acts like ransoms, kidnappings, and theft. I’m not sure if that’s actually true here, and I think any notion that the people that are part of ISIL are doing anything that is any way based in religion is just offensive and completely untrue.

Yes.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on the issue of advisors.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: What do you say to your critics from the Hill that are saying you are not doing enough, that this is actually just like window dressing, sending advisors; that you need a lot more and perhaps you need to pursue ISIL in Syria and other places?

MS. HARF: Well, I think that for the people on that mountain who have received food and water from the United States who have advisors in there right now seeing if we can get them off of that mountain, they wouldn’t call it window dressing, Said.

QUESTION: So is —

MS. HARF: And I also think we’ve taken 24 strikes over the past several days hitting ISIL targets. We – the President always takes into consideration a number of factors when making decisions about when and how to use military action. It’s an incredibly important decision. We don’t take it lightly. There are a range of factors that go into it. And as I said, we are looking long-term at how we fight ISIL.

QUESTION: Yeah, but their role – they went there before Sinjar, before the humanitarian situation exploded on Sinjar. So the role was really to —

MS. HARF: And we were working with the Iraqis to fight them then. We’re just doing it in a different way now. As the threat has changed, our assistance has changed.

QUESTION: Can I clarify something?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you all – is the government assessing right now – is it fair for – to me to assume that the assessment is on how the U.S. will address ISIL in the long term? Is that basically what you just said?

MS. HARF: Certainly. We’re – we’ve been looking at that for quite some time. That’s not new.

QUESTION: Not just in Iraq but also in Syria?

MS. HARF: Correct. And again, we’ve been looking at that for months and months, even before the latest offensives that started in June against Mosul. For a year or so now, we’ve been looking very closely at how you confront them in the long term.

QUESTION: And so in this year, have there been any conclusions or any recommendations?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve taken a number of steps, as you’ve seen. In Syria, it’s a different challenging operating environment so it’s a completely different picture there. We’ve worked with the moderate opposition to increase their ability to fight back against these groups. We’ve taken steps to cut off their funding. We’ve worked with other governments to do so. And we have worked particularly with the Iraqis to help them build their capacity to do this. Really, what’s going to have to happen here and what we’ve been focused on is how you get the necessary assistance, whether it’s monetary or with arms and weapons, with training, to these countries who are really in the crossfires here in terms of ISIL’s threat. So that’s a long-term issue we’re working on together.

QUESTION: Marie, on that, does the U.S. view the Syrian opposition, the FSA, as a partner in the fight against ISIS?

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: So when you say there’s been moves to support the opposition, has there been any increase to that of late, since we recognize the border but obviously ISIS does not between Iraq and Syria?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, I think I don’t have much update beyond what the President announced during his West Point speech when we said we were submitting to Congress a request to train and equip through the Department of Defense the Syrian opposition. We need Congress to act on that. But we’ve continued to work with them in a variety of ways, not of all of which we outlined, but certainly, we are continuing to work there. The threat picture is just a little bit different in Syria, given the fact that you have not only ISIS in Syria, but you have al-Nusrah, you have the regime, you have the opposition, and everybody – there’s not as clearly delineated battle lines, for lack of a better term. There’s a lot of people all in densely populated areas operating many times in very close quarters here. So we are working on it, but it’s a very different threat picture.

QUESTION: Marie —

QUESTION: But as you’ve said, there’s been no progress with that statement the President made at West Point. Nothing’s happened on the Hill.

MS. HARF: We need Congress to act.

QUESTION: So without —

MS. HARF: Speaking of what Foreign Minister Fabius said about coming back from vacation. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So since they haven’t, is there thought to acting then in terms of what the President could do?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been acting. To be fair, we provide them with a wide range of assistance, not all of which you know we talk about publicly. But that’s continued and that will continue to increase.

QUESTION: Would you say that ISIS is as much of a threat to the United States as AQIM or AQAP?

MS. HARF: I would separate AQIM and AQAP. AQAP has demonstrated through attempted attacks their desire to attack the homeland, whether it was with the Christmas Day bomber, the other – the printer cartridge plot. They’ve very clearly shown their willingness to try to attack the homeland. So that’s why we’ve been quite focused on AQAP and worked with the Government of Yemen quite a bit. And this is sort of a country you can look at where we do have a very close counterterrorism relationship to fight a shared threat.

AQIM’s a little bit different. We haven’t seen the same – I mean, they’re obviously very dangerous; constantly vigilant. We haven’t seen the same level that we’ve seen from AQAP. AQAP’s really the affiliate that has been the most aggressive in terms of targeting the homeland.

But again, ISIL, as I said, has even been rejected by AQ. And we haven’t seen them in the same way focused on that. We’re constantly monitoring, constantly vigilant, and constantly on the lookout for any threats to the homeland. And it doesn’t mean this group isn’t horrific; it doesn’t mean they don’t threaten our people in Erbil. But again, they haven’t been as focused, necessarily, on external attacks and plotting and planning of those. Again, they’ve been mainly focused in Iraq on actually getting heavy weaponry and taking territory, which is very different than, I would say, AQIM.

QUESTION: Marie —

QUESTION: But with hundreds of Westerners holding passports as a part of this Islamic State, ISIL, ISIS – isn’t that the biggest threat to the homeland right now?

MS. HARF: It’s certainly a threat. And I – let me check on “hundreds.” I’m not sure if that’s the number. It very well may be. That’s —

QUESTION: The Attorney General said this is what it is.

MS. HARF: Well then, hey, if the Attorney General said it, it’s probably the number. But that is certainly a threat. A threat is some of these folks returning to Europe particularly or even to the homeland. We obviously have very strict border controls, security controls on who can come here. But that is a huge threat.

QUESTION: Also, would – Marie, going back to the rescue mission, would you say that Mount Sinjar is located in a combat zone?

MS. HARF: I don’t know technically what I would say. Clearly, there’s a lot of fighting going around it.

QUESTION: I mean, with ISIS surrounding —

MS. HARF: I know what you’re trying to get at here, but I will be clear again: The President has said there will be no troops engaged in combat roles, and you know what that means.

QUESTION: I do.

MS. HARF: I know. And that’s why I said it. But we want to be very clear that just because they’re not in combat roles, it doesn’t mean that they’re not operating in a very dangerous place.

QUESTION: Just most people watching this briefing say that Mount Sinjar is located —

MS. HARF: All three of them watching online, two of which are my parents. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, when people do watch highlights of this —

MS. HARF: They do. I – they do. They do.

QUESTION: — it’s going to be hard for people to think that Mount Sinjar, located near the Syrian-Iraq border – that this is not a combat zone and people dealing with the rescue mission aren’t engaged in some kind of combat, armed combat.

MS. HARF: Well, they won’t be, period. The President’s been clear about that. Again, it doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous, but I think one of the reasons that we are so focused on making clear what we will and won’t do here is because the President has been very clear about what needs to be – what needs to happen going forward in Iraq, what we’ve done in this Administration in terms of bringing troops home, and being very clear with people about why this is not a repeat of that, why that’s not going to turn into that. And I think that’s very important for him and for us to be very clear about that, and that’s why we keep harping on it.

QUESTION: Marie, on —

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the delivery of arms to the Kurds, especially that France and Britain have decided today to deliver military —

MS. HARF: No updates for you. Obviously, we believe they need to get weapons, everything as soon as possible, as quickly as possible. We’re working with the Iraqis and the Kurds on that, but no other update or details for you.

QUESTION: And what do you think about the Britain and France decisions?

MS. HARF: I don’t have more assessment of that. I know we’re focused on getting them the equipment they need.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MS. HARF: No, I don’t think yet.

QUESTION: No, it’s —

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, please. You mentioned total of 24 airstrikes —

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: — and six humanitarian drops, whatever.

MS. HARF: Six, yes. One each night since the President made the decision.

QUESTION: So you think it’s – the humanitarian crisis is getting better or it’s getting worse?

MS. HARF: Well —

QUESTION: And —

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: — the second question; related. The number of the – like, I mean, the people who are displaced are increasing or the same number or some —

MS. HARF: Well, those are two different questions. Let me take the first one.

We are heartened that some people have been able to leave the mountain, in part because we’ve taken military action around it. But we don’t believe that’s a long – a strategy for everyone to do so safely. So we know there’s still a very dire humanitarian situation on that mountain. That’s why we’re continuing to provide assistance and are looking at options for getting them off of it, quite frankly.

But second, I can get our numbers on internally displaced people. I would guess they’re the same or they’re still pretty high. I just don’t have the latest figures on that, so let me check on that.

QUESTION: So no more people are pushed to the mountain?

MS. HARF: No, correct. It’s my understanding that no more have been pushed to the mountain, but there still remain a number of people there.

QUESTION: Second question regarding the confronting with the ISIL or ISIS: How much Iraqi forces are playing a role, if any role?

MS. HARF: A huge role. The Iraqi forces and the Kurdish forces, as I’ve said a couple of times, are working very closely together to confront this in truly an unprecedented way we had never seen before. That’s something that we want to see continue. We think it’s a good thing for Iraq in general. And they are confronting them. On the ground you see them doing so. We’re helping them with some of these airstrikes around Erbil, but they need to have some more capabilities that we’re going to help them build.

QUESTION: So your understanding there is a coordination, or —

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: — kind of cooperation between them?

MS. HARF: Correct, yes. And between us as well.

QUESTION: And going back to the democratic process or the constitutional process you mentioned at the beginning of this briefing, what is your understanding of what is your – how do you explain it is linked to the security process which now going on in – at north of Iraq?

MS. HARF: Well, how it’s linked going forward —

QUESTION: Yes, I mean —

MS. HARF: Right. So in order for Iraq to be as strong as it can be to confront ISIL, we need a new government in place as quickly as possible. You need a prime minister – we have a president, we have a speaker – who can set the path for Iraq moving forward in terms of fighting this threat. They can make very clear they’re going to do this together. They can keep up the cooperation between all of the different regions. They can put additional resources to it. They can govern inclusively. They can help bring Iraq together to do this. And we’ll be with them. As the Secretary said, we’re looking at ways to do more once a government’s in place.

So it really is about the future of Iraq and getting past this political process, getting it in place, and really putting all of Iraq’s resources towards fighting this threat and, quite frankly, not towards a political process that should be over fairly soon.

QUESTION: So do you think that with a new government would be able – the new government would be able to confront the new reality that is now shaped by the presence of ISIL in Iraqi land?

MS. HARF: I think that the members of the new government, including the prime minister-designate, understand the incredibly dire security situation they are facing. I think they understand the urgency of it. I think they understand the need to do much, much more to work closely with us. And I think they know that Iraq’s future is at stake here, and they want to be a part of helping them have a better future. And I think that you really do see that among the Iraqi leaders our folks have been talking to. They understand how important this moment is and they understand how important it is to move quickly.

QUESTION: Can we go to Gaza?

QUESTION: Actually, can we —

MS. HARF: And then we’ll go to Gaza, Said, as soon as we’re done with Iraq.

QUESTION: Sure. The issue of arms for the Kurdish fighters. There have been reports that Peshmerga have been talking about an alliance with the PKK to fight ISIS.

MS. HARF: Oh, I hadn’t seen that.

QUESTION: Obviously, the PKK is designated by the U.S. as a terrorist group. Does that give any pause to the United States?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen those reports. Let me check with our team.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: And if we have any announces, happy to do it then.

Anything else on Iraq?

QUESTION: Marie, one more.

MS. HARF: One more on Iraq.

QUESTION: Did anybody from the Administration talk to Prime Minister Maliki today after his statement?

MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t know the answer to that.

Yep.

QUESTION: Can we go to Gaza?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Okay. Your counterpart at the White House said that the President spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Do you have any more information on this?

MS. HARF: I would refer to my counterpart at the White House.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you know that – whether the Secretary of State spoke with the Israeli prime minister on the issue of the ceasefire and —

MS. HARF: He spoke with him yesterday and on Monday. Not to my knowledge yet today.

QUESTION: Okay. So could you tell us: What is the American team doing in terms of extending the ceasefire?

MS. HARF: Well, Frank Lowenstein is on the ground.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: The team is working on this. Basically, there are three steps in this process. I’m just – I want to be a little more clear than I was yesterday, probably, about what we’re trying to get accomplished here. There’s a temporary humanitarian ceasefire in place now. That was step one. What we want is a more sustainable, longer-team ceasefire – that’s what we’re working on – the parties are working on with our advice in Cairo – or absent that, an extension of the current temporary one. And then, obviously, we would talk – and Elise isn’t here, but she asked about this yesterday – we talk about the details of reconstruction and what that might look like. We’re starting to have conversations with people, but obviously that would be further down the road.

So we’re focused right now on the fact that we’re almost at the end of the 72 hours. We hope they can get an agreement today and move to a sustainable ceasefire. If that is not possible, as I said, we hope they can get to an extension of the temporary ceasefire.

QUESTION: As far as a sustainable ceasefire is concerned, would it or should it address Palestinian grievances —

MS. HARF: Well —

QUESTION: — such as lifting the siege, opening the crossing points, and so on?

MS. HARF: Every day you ask about specifics —

QUESTION: Of course.

MS. HARF: — that it should address and every day I tell you I’m not going to talk about what specifics it should address.

QUESTION: Well, let me ask you a very specific thing. The Israeli press reported that the United States is willing to rebuild the Gaza harbor. Are you willing to rebuild the Gaza harbor?

MS. HARF: Well, Said, we’ve begun to have discussions with the Israelis, with the PA, the Egyptians, the UN, the EU, the Norwegians, and the Arab League about what efforts might entail and are preparing the groundwork, obviously, to do some long-term rebuilding here. But this all hinges first on us getting a sustainable ceasefire agreed to by both of the parties. So the conversations have started, but no more details beyond that.

QUESTION: Marie, absent from your list was the disarmament of Hamas. Is that of concern of the U.S. Government?

MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t lay out a list about what is part of the talks. Obviously, we – I said what we want to see happen but didn’t see what that should look like.

QUESTION: I thought you said you wanted to see three things.

MS. HARF: Right, the temporary humanitarian ceasefire is in place. I didn’t say what the substance of those decisions and agreements should look like. Obviously, long term that’s something that needs to be addressed.

QUESTION: Would you like to see Hamas disarmed?

MS. HARF: Obviously, yes. That’s a long-term goal of ours, but I’m not going to get into whether or not that’s a part of the discussions.

QUESTION: Okay. Could you confirm or if you have any information on the PA security personnel going into Gaza and perhaps being at the crossing points and so on?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any details on that.

QUESTION: Would you like to see them go in?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into —

QUESTION: Wouldn’t that bring Gaza under the —

MS. HARF: Said, you can try —

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I’m not going to outline what our positions are on any of these issues that may be a part of the talks in Cairo, and we’re not a direct party to the talks.

QUESTION: But it is your goal to see the Authority maintain authority over Gaza, correct? The Palestinian Authority?

MS. HARF: That is correct, but I’m not going to get into more details, Said. But to be fair, Hamas is the one who was responsible for the security of Gaza right now. And we’ve said that repeatedly.

QUESTION: But – although you will not talk with them, right?

MS. HARF: We will – we do not and will not talk with them.

Anything else on Gaza?

QUESTION: I just have one quick one.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: New York State Governor Andy Cuomo was in Israel today. He expressed, quote, “total solidarity” with the country during the Gaza war. Wondering if the State Department agrees with that or if these comments are helpful.

MS. HARF: I actually, quite frankly, haven’t seen them before I came in here. Look, we’ve said we are – stand very closely with Israel as they fight this threat. But it’s much more complicated than that, and I think much more complicated than those comments probably outline. What we’re focused on is getting – not what people say during visits, it’s on what we can get accomplished by helping the parties to get to a ceasefire here.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: New subject?

QUESTION: Iran?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Marie, I’m wondering if you’ve seen the tweets at the account that allegedly belongs to the Supreme Leader, saying over the last year he’s decided the officials hold talks with the U.S. on nuclear issues, but it didn’t work and they increased sanctions; it was a valuable experience to learn talks with the U.S. have absolutely no effect on reducing their hostilities and are useless. What do you make of that?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re still engaged through the P5+1 with talks with Iran, had a bilateral meeting just last week – was it last week; all of the weeks are running together now – in Geneva. And we focused on exclusively on the nuclear issue. We see them as an opportunity to test Iran’s seriousness to reach an agreement. If Iran passes this test, it will – it won’t be through words. It won’t be. It will be through concrete actions, verifiable actions, some of which we’ve seen. And I would note that we have not imposed additional nuclear-related sanctions since the Joint Plan of Action. We’ve been very clear about that. I’ve stood up here from this podium and argued strenuously against any.

QUESTION: So are there further meetings planned, though? Because this is not a positive endorsement or assessment.

MS. HARF: Yep. Well, as we – as I said last week as well, we expect there will be a P5+1 plenary with Iran, with the EU before UNGA. I expect there will be one at UNGA as well, possibly probably with ministers at the ministerial level. We’re engaged with them, quite frankly, every day on this issue.

QUESTION: Do you regard these tweets attributed to the Supreme Leader as bona fide? I mean, do you know that they’re – do you believe that this is actually the Supreme Leader tweeting?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen the tweets. I saw some other comments this morning that were very similar to this. I don’t know if I’m going to verify his Twitter account, but – (laughter) – I’d refer you to Twitter to verify that. How about that?

QUESTION: No, I just wanted to make sure that – anyway.

MS. HARF: We’ve seen comments like this before.

QUESTION: Sure.

QUESTION: Around the same time, President Rouhani has been pushing back on some hardliners. I think some colorful language for him to tell hardliners to “go to hell.” And I’m just kind of wondering if – what kind of support the U.S. is offering to him. I mean, if he is going out on a limb and he and the Supreme Leader are at odds here, what that might spell.

MS. HARF: Well, I would be cautious – well, first of all, this isn’t about U.S. support to President Rouhani. That has nothing to do with any of this. I would be cautious in drawing broad analytic conclusions about the relationship between the Supreme Leader and President Rouhani from any one set of public comments. I probably don’t have much more to add than that.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Madam, as India and Pakistan celebrate their independence this week, India has warned Pakistan stop proxy war over the border because some incidents have been going on over the border between India and Pakistan in the recent days. And yesterday, Prime Minister Modi was in the area and he was talking about this, that time has come for peace and lasting peace between the two countries. If these wars – proxy wars against India continues, then there’s no chance to have any peace between the two countries. Any —

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve seen the comments; as we have in the past, continue to encourage dialogue between India and Pakistan, welcome any and all positive steps the two sides can take to strengthen and deepen their dialogue and cooperation.

QUESTION: And are you – is the Secretary sending any messages on these two countries about this independence —

MS. HARF: Well, the Secretary just had a very good visit in India, has had a number of conversations when he was there, and I don’t think – he sent the message I just sent from here.

QUESTION: And one more quickly on the Secretary’s visit to India. Was there any discussion about this India-Pakistan as far as the Kashmir issues or these ongoing issues and proxy – all these border issues going on?

MS. HARF: I would expect there probably was, but I don’t know the specifics. So I can check for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On the same subject —

MS. HARF: Yes, Lucas. Let’s go to Lucas, and then I’ll go around to the back.

QUESTION: On the same subject?

MS. HARF: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m on the same subject. You —

MS. HARF: Oh, he’s on the same subject, too.

QUESTION: Pakistan.

MS. HARF: We’ll just walk around the room. Okay.

QUESTION: Today’s the three-year anniversary of Warren Weinstein’s kidnapping in Pakistan. I was wondering if the United States Government had an update.

MS. HARF: I don’t have much of an update for you. We remain concerned for the safety and well-being of Mr. Weinstein, continue to monitor the situation closely, and we continue to work actively with Pakistani authorities to try to secure his release. We remain in regular contact with his family in the United States, are providing all possible consular assistance – of course, strongly condemn kidnappings of any kind, call for the immediate release of the victim, and the prosecution of those responsible.

QUESTION: His family is demanding that the United States Government do more at – what is the highest level of exchange of talks?

MS. HARF: That we’ve had with the family?

QUESTION: Not the family, but with the Government of Pakistan. Has it gone to the prime minister level, or —

MS. HARF: I don’t know. I can check on if that’s something we can share, but I just don’t know the answer.

Yes.

QUESTION: Just one more —

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: — quickly, just follow-up.

MS. HARF: And then I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: As far as Pakistan’s government is concerned, they are really in trouble because Nawaz Sharif is calling for a national unity because of those – Imran Khan and other groups are going, protesting and demonstrating against because they’re saying that this election was illegal or against the constitution. Are you getting any feedback from the government? They are – if they have ask any kind of help, or —

MS. HARF: I don’t think – I think you’re referring – there’s some marches, I think, coming up. We don’t have any position on the planned marches – obviously, stand strongly in favor of a democratically-elected civilian government, but also the position of individual rights, including people to assemble peacefully.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you, Madam.

MS. HARF: Let’s go to the back. Yes.

QUESTION: Today, Pakistan has rejected the allegations by Indian Prime Minister Singh that they go against the spirit of recent moves towards resumption of the dialogue between the two countries. What is your position on that?

MS. HARF: Well, as I said, we’ve seen these comments. We continue to encourage dialogue between India and Pakistan, and we would welcome any and all positive steps that the two sides could take.

Yes.

QUESTION: Libya.

MS. HARF: Let’s go to Scott, and then we’ll go to Libya.

QUESTION: South Sudan.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: We’ve heard more from the UN Security Council about possible sanctions against people in South Sudan who are violating the ceasefire accord. Might those – might that include the real powers here – Riek Machar and Salva Kiir?

MS. HARF: Well, as you know, the Security Council had just traveled to South Sudan, including Ambassador Power was there as well. They warned Machar that the politically and ethnically motivated violence really put South Sudan at a great risk of famine, joined other council members in expressing concern that Mr. Machar had failed to implement the previously agreed-upon commitments.

So obviously, we can’t comment on potential future action or who that may include, but – which would, of course, have to be agreed to by the whole Security Council. But we are considering sanctions options as appropriate to target those who are acting to impede the peaceful resolution of the conflict in South Sudan, including and in particular those responsible for human rights violations or abuses or violations of international humanitarian law in South Sudan.

We are also considering what other steps we might take under our own executive order that the President signed on April 3rd that puts in place the architecture for further sanctions. We’ve already undertaken some but further ones as well. So we’re looking at both; we’re actively engaged in both.

QUESTION: When you say, “We are,” that’s the U.S. Government, correct?

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION:

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: August 4, 2014

2:28 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Thank you for your patience. I know we’re late today. A bit going on in the world.

Let me just start with a quick update for all of you or just an overview of what’s happening in the building. As you all know, we kicked off the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit this morning. This is a historic opportunity to strengthen ties with our African partners and highlight America’s longstanding commitment to investing in Africa’s development and its people. The summit theme, “Investing in the Next Generation,” reflects the common ambition to leave our nations better for future generations by making concrete gains in peace and security, good governance, and economic development. There’s long been bipartisan support for U.S. engagement with Africa, and the summit will build on that record.

The summit opened this morning with a civil society forum to underscore our longstanding investment in strong democratic institutions and Africa’s next generation of leaders. We support the aspirations of Africans from our open and accountable governance and respect for human rights. And we are deepening our connection with Africa’s young leaders who are promoting positive change in their communities.

There are also signature events today on investing in women for peace and prosperity, there’s a working luncheon on that issue, and investing in health, investing in health, investing in Africa’s future, and sessions on resilience and food security in a changing climate, and combating wildlife trafficking.

The day opened with the 13th African Growth and Opportunity – AGOA ministerial. AGOA, as you know, is our most generous trade preference arrangement. And finally, tomorrow will be a landmark U.S.-Africa business forum, which will provide opportunities for increased investment and trade between America and the continent. Africa, home to six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies, wants American investors who are looking to Africa like never before. In doing so, they’re creating new jobs and opportunities for Americans at home and abroad. Today’s challenge is to ensure these gains are expanded and spread to benefit of all of Africa’s people.

I have some readouts of the meetings. I can hold those for now and see if there’s interest, and those – with that, hello, welcome.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Matt —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: — go ahead.

QUESTION: So this is my colleague, Desmond Butler. He has some —

QUESTION: May I pull up a chair?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: — has some questions that I think he wants to ask you about USAID in Cuba.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: So I’m going to defer to him before we get into the Middle East and Ukraine —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — and everything else.

QUESTION: Jen, is it – does the Administration think it’s okay to use HIV clinics, health clinics, as a front for political activity in other countries?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would refute your description. I did read your story. Congress, as you know, funds democracy program in Cuba to empower Cubans to access more information and strengthen civil society. This workshop I think you’re referring to enabled support for Cuban civil society while providing a secondary benefit of addressing the desires Cubans express for information and training about HIV prevention. And we do programs, as you know, around the world that promote democracy and promote access to this type of information.

QUESTION: What’s a health clinic doing in a political program in an unfriendly country?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think this is specifically a program that was promoting civil society engagement and allowing people to have access to information that they may not have otherwise had.

QUESTION: And did the participants know that this was a political program when they were invited to do an educational seminar on HIV/AIDS?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the program – I, of course, was not a participant – but I think the program provided information and training about HIV prevention. That was a secondary benefit.

QUESTION: But the contractor said in the documents that this – they called it the perfect excuse for recruiting activists for a political program. Is that okay?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – again, I think it’s important to take a step back here about the kind of programs we do around the world, which again, as you may be aware but I think others aren’t, is – are programs that we inform Congress of. The Congress is aware of our efforts to promote everything from civil society engagement to engagement in countries where people don’t have the benefit of open society as is they – as in a place like Cuba. There was a secondary benefit here which was providing information about these programs.

QUESTION: So in sum, you think it’s okay? Because a lot of health organizations who have seen what happened with the CIA’s program in Pakistan that has set back vaccinations and probably led to deaths —

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would hardly group all of these issues together. I know it’s enticing to do so, but there are a range of programs that this contractor – it’s important to note – was supporting. The HIV prevention workshop was part of a broader attempt to work with people about things they care about, yet independent of the government. So this was a small example among many. There were community cleanups, cultural activities, tree plantings. There was one HIV workshop and information was provided, which was a secondary benefit on an issue that people were concerned about.

QUESTION: And the contractor called it a success story in a report for USAID. Is that how you view it? Is that a success story?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note that we have civil society engagement programs around the world, including in Cuba, and this is a program or these types of programs are programs that Congress is certainly familiar with.

QUESTION: And what about sending young people into Cuba with very little training after Alan Gross? Is there any pause in doing that sort of thing? It seems very risky.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the grantee provided assurances that it had appropriate security protocols in place, would strictly enforce those protocols. As you know, there were steps that were taken at the time, but certainly the security and safety of individuals participating in programs is certainly something to be cognizant of.

QUESTION: The details that we discovered certainly didn’t suggest that the security of the young people who were sent in was really thought through very well.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I know you were looking at some publicly available information that wasn’t classified. I don’t know that I have much more to add on it.

QUESTION: It wasn’t classified, but also far from publicly available.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think others could have found it. But —

QUESTION: Really?

MS. PSAKI: Do you have other questions, or shall we move on to a new topic?

QUESTION: I have one just on this. Why shouldn’t the Cuban Government, which has accused you of trying to – accused you of promoting regime change activity in – on the island, why shouldn’t they see this as that, as such an effort?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the USAID, as many people know, including governments around the world, have a longstanding history of supporting democracy and human rights. There are places some of these programs, including programs in Cuba, are operated in a discreet manner to help ensure the safety of those involved. This was not a program – this was a program that made information available. It wasn’t engaged with – it was engaged with local issues independent of the Cuban Government. So that was the focus of it.

QUESTION: Right. But you understand, given the U.S. history in Latin America, particularly with —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — in terms of regime change in the past, why shouldn’t the Cubans be suspicious? Why shouldn’t they think that this is something that is aimed at not simply educating their people but in fact changing and overthrowing their government?

MS. PSAKI: Because I think the facts about what the program are focused on are inconsistent with that view.

QUESTION: Don’t programs such as this actually endanger the work of people who are engaged in health and education and other humanitarian work under the USAID flag?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Roz, I think there are a range of programs that USAID oversees. Again, these programs are fully – Congress is fully briefed on these programs, and they promote a range of information sharing in countries around the world. And this was obviously a program and this contract was one that was approved through that process.

QUESTION: But doesn’t anyone in the U.S. Government understand that this is undermining the very credibility that is needed in order for these programs, which are run directly by USAID and through other contractors, namely NGOs, who are counting on the goodwill extended toward the U.S. Government in order to do their work effectively?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re jumping a bit to a conclusion there, Roz. I think there are programs around the world that are oriented towards developing a more vibrant and capable civil society consistent with democracy promotion programs worldwide. And obviously, this contract was in line with that.

QUESTION: But I have heard from others who do this kind of work who say that when USAID deviates into an area that is better suited for another agency – and we’ll just leave it unmentioned here – that it makes it more dangerous for their employees to carry out the work that they are trying to do. Wouldn’t it be simpler to put up a firewall?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just stop you there for a second, because I would hardly compare this to the work of other agencies. This was not a covert program. There are programs that are done discreetly in order to protect the safety of the people involved.

QUESTION: But the mission of the program undercuts the work which NGOs tell me that they are trying to conduct because the first thing that people will ask them is, “How do we know that you’re not CIA?”

MS. PSAKI: Well, strengthening a civil society and empowering a civil society to be more capable is something that that was the focus of this program. And that’s again, I think, what’s being communicated with any who have concerns.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary comfortable with this apparent mixing of missions?

MS. PSAKI: We would disagree with that characterization.

Did you have another on this, Nicole, or should we go on?

QUESTION: I want to go back to the idea of mixing of missions, because in the wake of the CIA’s activities in Pakistan we did see health workers killed and we have seen disease rates gone up, so it’s hard to refute the idea that using health missions as a cover for other activities, whether they be admirable ones like democracy promotion or not, has a really damaging effect on some U.S. priorities. Does – is that not recognized here in the building?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think, Nicole, broadly speaking of course, the safety and security of health workers is certainly something that we’re not only focused on, we do a great deal of work to ensure that with a range of other agencies across the federal government. But what I’m trying to convey here is that this program, which is through a contact through USAID, was done in a consistent manner of promoting information, making it available through civil society groups, separate from the government. And I would not compare the two.

QUESTION: So you don’t think —

QUESTION: But Jen, you said it yourself that this served a dual purpose, and one of those purposes was not disclosed to the people. So why shouldn’t people be suspicious all over the world when USAID does this programs? They didn’t even declare this was USAID for that matter.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, there are programs around the world that are focused on supporting independent youth groups, promoting more information to civil society, strengthening civil society around the world. I just wouldn’t – our view is we wouldn’t categorize it in that way.

QUESTION: This was a – you’re saying that overall it was a democracy-promotion program, a program to promote democracy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, I think there are a range – promoting a capable civil society is obviously – has a range of benefits.

QUESTION: Right. But promoting democracy is one of them? I mean, you guys do not regard Cuba as a democracy, do you?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think that there are —

QUESTION: So if you’re promoting something that is – that you say is antithetical to the Cuban Government’s way of ruling, governing, then clearly it’s aimed at regime change, no?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I stated it was separate from the Cuban Government, that the purpose was to provide a range of interests – information that was of interest to the Cuban people.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: But you’ve essentially said that a health workshop organized by USAID secretly in Cuba had a political purpose that was not declared.

MS. PSAKI: That’s not what I said.

QUESTION: Yeah, it —

MS. PSAKI: I think we’re ready to move on to the new topic.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Gaza —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Sure. One moment. Go ahead, Nicole. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just would like confirmation on reports that Alan Gross has refused to see the new U.S. head of mission there and to ask if you’ve heard from his family about his decision. I think his spokesman put it that he’s just decided it is not worth living anymore. The U.S. Government has not gotten him out; I’m sure not for lack of trying. Do you feel like you could have done more?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Nicole, let me first say that Cuban authorities have unjustifiably kept Alan Gross in prison for more than four years merely for helping Cuban citizens gain access to the internet, a goal the Cuban Government now espouses. We keep his case at the forefront of discussions with the Cuban Government, make clear the importance the United States places on his welfare. And we engage also with a range of our foreign counterparts at the highest levels and urge them to advocate for his release. So we urgently reiterate our call for the Cuban Government to release him immediately.

Absent written authorization, there’s really not more information I can share about those specific reports. We’ve seen the same ones you have seen.

QUESTION: Can we go —

QUESTION: All right. Can we go to the Middle East, if we’re done with Cuba?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) that one, one more.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: In view of the Alan Gross case, was it wise to continue these type of programs in Cuba?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think as I stated previously, the security arrangements were – and I think I answered this a few minutes ago. The security arrangements are something that we receive assurances from by those we work with. That was the case here too.

Middle East.

QUESTION: Middle East, yeah. Just on your – well, first of all, on the broader situation, I’d like to get what the Administration thinks about what’s going on right now. But before that, I want to get into your statement from yesterday on the UNRWA school. It was a pretty tough statement. I don’t think anyone can deny that or would argue with that. You certainly wouldn’t, would you? I mean, I can’t recall there being this kind of harsh criticism of Israel coming from certainly this Administration, but I can’t remember going back many years. So you clearly felt very strongly about what happened here.

And what I’m wondering is whether or not after – in light of this statement, and in light of the disgraceful shelling, as you called it, of this, if the Administration is prepared to do anything to back up these strong words with some kind of an action, a demonstrable action against or towards Israel. In other words, this – you supply Israel with weapons and ammunition all the time. Is there any discussion about limiting that?

MS. PSAKI: No. I think I would just reiterate that the statement was specifically about our concerns about the shelling in the neighborhood of the school, as you know. It was the seventh such attack. As we know, we’ve seen hundreds of individuals displaced in Gaza. We’ve seen – more than that I should say, but related to the schools, dozens have died in these incidents, and this was a reflection of our view that there’s more that Israel can do to prevent civilian casualties. That was what it was speaking to.

It does not change the fact that Israel remains an important security and strategic partner of the United States. We believe they have the right to defend themselves. While in that – while they have the right to defend themselves, there is more they can do in that regard to prevent events like those that happened just yesterday.

QUESTION: Right. But this – people have criticized this statement for – or criticized the Administration for being hypocritical and putting out a statement this strongly yet, at the same time, supplying Israel with weapons and armaments – weapons and ammunition that it uses in these attacks that you’re condemning. You don’t see a problem – you don’t see an issue there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think not just because of these events, but we still believe that our primary goal and objective here is to prevent the indiscriminate rocket attacks and terrorists coming up through tunnels into Israel. We haven’t – our concerns about that haven’t changed. It doesn’t mean that we can’t also call for a different type of approach or actions as Israel is defending itself.

QUESTION: All right. The – people on the pro-Israel – in Israel and on the pro-Israel side have also accused you all of hypocrisy, particularly for this line that says the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put the risk of so many – risk – put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians. Is the – the United States has been conducting drone strikes and other strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen for years in which innocent civilians have been killed and –

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think —

QUESTION: — collateral damage. Does this kind of statement from the State Department apply to – would you say the same thing to the Pentagon across the river?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we have – and Afghanistan is a good example, and we have used that example of a place where the United States has had to take steps over time, of course, to prevent civilian casualties, and we have done exactly that.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t see any difference – any dissonance between telling Israel that just the suspicion of militants being nearby isn’t enough to put at risk the lives of innocent civilians and what you’re —

MS. PSAKI: I think —

QUESTION: — what this government does itself?

MS. PSAKI: In fact, we’re saying we hold ourselves to a high standard, and we’ve had to keep ourselves to a high standard over time, and Israel should do the same.

QUESTION: Jen, let me just ask you on the statement themselves, because you said you’re appalled, and then Samantha Power, the Ambassador at the UN, called it horrifying. You both called for Israel to do more to stop.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In the interim, in past 24 hours since this thing happened, have you seen that Israel has really scaled back these attacks and have become more careful as a result of your statement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I just don’t have an analysis of that. I think we’re talking about how to approach things moving forward and not just in a couple of hours.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, let me ask you: Why don’t you have analysis? I mean when you say we want you to do this, how do you measure it? Do you have a gauge that you go by so you can look to see whether your statement –

MS. PSAKI: I think we can all measure it –

QUESTION: — has an effect –

MS. PSAKI: — publicly, and obviously we have our own means of gathering information. I just don’t have any more to share with you from here.

QUESTION: Okay. Now you keep repeating that Israel has a right to defend itself. Do you believe that doing such a strike, conducting such a strike, is part of Israel’s self-defense?

MS. PSAKI: I think our statement spoke to it yesterday, Said. That doesn’t change the fact that Hamas is a terrorist organization that has been attacking, launching rocket attacks, coming through tunnels. That is still our primary concern here.

QUESTION: Okay. Now on the issue – on the efforts to conduct or to do a ceasefire there, a lot of talk now that maybe they’re on the verge of doing a ceasefire. Are you involved in this process at all, or is the Secretary of State completely now disengaged, after being so frustrated with his efforts?

MS. PSAKI: No, quite the contrary, Said. I think the Secretary has been engaged through the course of the weekend with the same counterparts and interlocutors he was prior to the weekend, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, including the Qataris, the Turks, the Egyptians, others who have been engaged in this effort. Our objective here hasn’t changed. There needs to be a prolonged ceasefire in order to have a negotiation about these key issues. Otherwise it’s difficult to see how there can be stability and peace in the region.

QUESTION: Will the Secretary forego his ideas that he introduced to add to the Egyptian proposal and go back to the Egyptian proposal, since both Qatar and Turkey have been completely nixed out of the process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first I’d refute a couple of things you said. One is what we’re talking about here is a prolonged ceasefire where the difficult, key issues could be discussed. Obviously, there’s fighting that’s ongoing. There was a short ceasefire that happened today. The Egyptians have indicated an openness to hosting. Frank Lowenstein returned overnight. He’ll be back later this evening, but he’s prepared to return. But that doesn’t change the fact that that’s a – we feel is an important part of how to resolve the situation here. The Secretary will continue to be involved and engaged, because he wants to see an end to the violence on the ground.

QUESTION: And my last question. Early on in this conflict, I asked you at what point it becomes – Israel’s actions become – be termed as a genocide or a collective punishment and so on. Do you feel that by now that after maybe 11 – 10,000 injured and maybe 2,000 killed and so on, that it has gotten to that point?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’re going to —

QUESTION: Is there —

MS. PSAKI: We’re going to —

QUESTION: Is there a figure that at which point will you say enough is enough?

MS. PSAKI: I think, Said, even one civilian casualty is horrific. Obviously, there have been many more than that. I think the strength of our statement yesterday speaks to our concern, and they need to do more in this regard.

Nicole.

QUESTION: Is there any plan to replace Ambassador Indyk and have another senior negotiator?

MS. PSAKI: Frank Lowenstein has taken —

QUESTION: Sorry, what?

QUESTION: He has been replaced.

QUESTION: Oh.

MS. PSAKI: Frank Lowenstein has taken his place. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And —

MS. PSAKI: We won’t show him that part of the transcript. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Refresh.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: About this. Netanyahu have said during the last hours that there is a country that is helping all the situation, and he mentioned Qatar. He said there are some countries that are helping Hamas in taking all these weapons. Also he mentioned Iran. Is the U.S. talking with some of these countries to see what’s going on in their relation with Hamas?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have certainly been talking to the Qataris. We have not been talking to the Iranians about this, no. The Qataris have been an important interlocutor, and they were through the course of last week, not because they need to be in the middle of it, but because they have a relationship – an influential relationship with Hamas. And certainly we can sit there and talk with the countries that we all agree with, but that hardly creates a successful negotiation. So that’s why we’ve been engaged. The Secretary remains engaged with the Qataris and the Turks, and I expect that will continue.

QUESTION: But the U.S. agrees with the Israelis that the Qataris is helping Hamas in getting all these weapons that they are using to throw to Israel?

MS. PSAKI: I think that we – our view is that the Qataris can play a role here and that they have a relationship with Hamas in working towards a resolution.

QUESTION: I have just one more.

QUESTION: Do you believe that Qatar is providing Hamas with weapons?

MS. PSAKI: I did not state that.

Ali.

QUESTION: I have another one.

QUESTION: You’ve been pretty explicit in ascribing responsibility of this latest UN attack – school attack on the Israelis. Not to split hairs here, but the statement released over the weekend was a little less explicit, saying that the shelling was disgraceful, but it doesn’t actually directly ascribe responsibility to the Israelis. So from what you’re saying, can we understand that the State Department does ascribe blame or responsibility for this latest shelling to the Israelis?

MS. PSAKI: No. I was saying, look, we can’t – we don’t have all of the independently verifiable information here. We do know that there were coordinates that were provided. We have seen the context of the history here, and we’ve seen, of course, the shellings of six other UNRWA schools. We want to see a thorough investigation of this incident as well as the other six that have happened.

QUESTION: But it seems that this was the most vocal and tough, as other people have pointed out, statement condemning – not ascribing causality to what happened to the UN school, but condemning the Israelis for what they have done. So —

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a range of information that’s out there that you’re familiar with, including that we’ve talked about, which is the fact that they had the coordinates. But again, that’s why there are investigations about these incidents, and we’ll – we certainly support that.

QUESTION: And one final on this. Has Secretary Kerry communicated these concerns to Prime Minister Netanyahu since this latest attack?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he spoke with him briefly yesterday morning, and their phone call was cut off. I think there was some communications issue. But he has raised the – our concern about civilian casualties in the past, and certainly that’s consistent but not this specific —

QUESTION: Did he raise the questions about Israeli spying, for lack of a better word, on his telephone calls?

MS. PSAKI: There’s just nothing more I have to read out from the call.

QUESTION: Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What kind of communication error? Did Netanyahu hang up on him?

MS. PSAKI: Sometimes —

QUESTION: Was that the —

MS. PSAKI: Sometimes calls get cut off. You – it was a brief call, is what I’m trying to convey. Expect they’ll —

QUESTION: Well, was it – yeah, but your —

MS. PSAKI: There were —

QUESTION: — communication error —

MS. PSAKI: There was nothing —

QUESTION: — wasn’t one side slamming the phone down on the other, was it?

MS. PSAKI: There was nothing that interesting about it, no. That was not the case. That was not the case.

QUESTION: Okay. Did – in that brief phone call or in any conversations that other people in this building – Frank, I don’t know – or in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem since your statement – I mean, presumably, this conversation that you talked about that was interrupted was before the statement came out. Yes?

MS. PSAKI: I believe, yes.

QUESTION: Since the statement has come out and since Israelis and their supporters have reacted quite angrily to your rather harsh words, has there been any contact, conversations that you’re aware of between people in this building, including the Secretary, and the Israeli Government?

MS. PSAKI: Not the Secretary. And Frank’s been on plane. I’m certain we’ve probably been in touch on the ground, but I just don’t have any other readouts.

QUESTION: So in other words, you – you don’t know or there haven’t?

MS. PSAKI: Honestly, we’re – as you know, Ambassador Shapiro and others are in very close contact. I haven’t heard any readouts. We don’t typically get those.

QUESTION: Right. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary has not been.

QUESTION: Have you – are you aware of the criticism of your statement that’s come – that is coming from Israel and the pro-Israel community?

MS. PSAKI: Of course, I’ve seen information out there —

QUESTION: You are?

MS. PSAKI: — in news reports, Matt, but —

QUESTION: Okay, so the former ambassador – former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Mr. Oren, was on one of those shows earlier today and said this is not just – not the way that friends and allies treat each other. They don’t – what do you say to criticism like that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our concern here is not a reflection of our strong relationship with Israel. It’s about these specific incidents and the fact that they can do more to hold themselves to a high standard, one that they have put up there.

QUESTION: One of the – he said – he also said that you – that he would expect and that Israel should be able to expect more from its main ally. Do you – you don’t share that sentiment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s no country in the world I think that supports Israel’s security more than the United States, and that is evidenced by the amount of funding we give to the Iron Dome, by a range of steps we take. That hasn’t changed. I think we still – the strength of a relationship is often shown by the ability to express concerns when you have them, and this is a case.

QUESTION: All right. And then just getting back to the provision – the provision of U.S. military equipment to Israel. Because – given this statement that you made yesterday, that as back drop, does the Administration have any concern that weapons that it has either sold or given or transferred some other how to Israel is being used in what you call a disgraceful shelling of a UN school or similar incidents?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I just don’t have that level of information. I mean, certainly we expressed concern about the incidents here because we think there’s more that can be done. But as you know, these requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and don’t expect that will change.

QUESTION: Right. But there are those who would say that the U.S. – that you have condemned something here that the U.S. is actually complicit in because it is providing so – the support that you just talked about in answer to my previous question – providing that to Israel. You – the Administration is not concerned that the stuff that’s it’s sending to the Israelis is being used in military operations that you condemn as appalling and disgraceful?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we made clear that having military targets in an area doesn’t justify it. So I think the statement speaks to some of the concerns we had about materials that were used wherever they came from.

QUESTION: On this issue, Jen, your ally, Great Britain – Mr. Cameron – is doing a review of the arms that they are supplying to Israel to make – just for that very purpose – to see whether the ammunition or the arms were actually used on these schools attack. Are you – will you be doing the same?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we —

QUESTION: Is that something that you are considering?

MS. PSAKI: — already review all requests for military assistance on a case-by-case basis.

QUESTION: No. I’m not talking about the requests. He’s reviewing the whole package whether – to see whether their – these arms have been actually used in this particular incident, as they were called by —

MS. PSAKI: There’s no other review I have to read out for you.

QUESTION: Now when you mentioned high standard, the terrorists are shooting from hotels, they are shooting from schools, they are shooting from houses, which is a high standard to fight against terrorism. What kind of – how can you explain that?

MS. PSAKI: The terrorists are shooting from – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yes, from hotels. Today I saw pictures today from the IDF showing that they are shooting from hotels, they are shooting from restaurants, they are shooting from many crazy places that are civilian places. Do you have an idea of what is a high standard to combat terrorism?

MS. PSAKI: I think I’m going to leave it at the statement we issued yesterday.

Go ahead, Roz.

QUESTION: I want to go back to something that happened on Friday and then happened a couple of weeks before earlier in the conflict.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: When the first Israeli soldier was missing, the Israeli Government quickly said Hamas has captured him, we want him back. The U.S. echoed the message. Same thing happened on Friday and in both cases it turns out that both soldiers, sadly, were killed in action. What was the independent intelligence that the U.S. had in order to say, backing up Israel, Hamas, you have the soldier, give the soldier back? And then when it developed that the soldier was, in fact, killed in action and was buried on Sunday, there was nothing from this government. It brings to mind the Pat Tillman case.

MS. PSAKI: I would hardly make that comparison. We acted on information that was provided by not just Israel but also the UN. Obviously, there sometimes is information that isn’t yet verified from the ground, but if there was a risk of a – that an Israeli soldier was kidnapped, which was the information that we had available at the time, we certainly have no regrets about calling for their release.

QUESTION: Can you say what that information was? I mean, it’s very sensitive to say —

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think I’ll —

QUESTION: — or to accuse anyone of having captured a soldier.

MS. PSAKI: It was based on information we received from Israel as well as the UN.

QUESTION: But the important thing is it was basically the Israeli narrative. I mean, Hamas kept saying we don’t have the soldier, we did not capture a soldier. They kept yelling out since the very first moment, but you bought into the Israeli narrative and you acted on that premise, in essence giving Israel a green light —

MS. PSAKI: Said, it was based on information we received from both Israel and the UN.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Can I just ask a question that we’re hearing —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — about a possible ceasefire coming from the Islamic Jihad? Do you know anything about that? Palestinian Television has an interview with one of their top people.

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen those reports. I think we all saw there was a brief ceasefire today. Obviously, our view is there needs to be a prolonged one so there can be an opportunity for negotiation. I can check and see if there’s more that we have on that.

QUESTION: There’s also word that the Israelis may be considering what had been discussed in Cairo, this proposal from IJ and from Hamas.

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, if all sides agree to a ceasefire and a prolonged ceasefire and there’s an opportunity to have a negotiation about the key issues, we’d certainly support that. There’s been a range of conflicting reports over the last several days and weeks, so let’s see what the facts are and we can look into those.

QUESTION: Yes, please. There are reports —

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: — in the region that possibility of DAS – the Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns be – play a role in this process. Is there any confirmation or denying (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there were original – we were originally considering having him go out to Cairo. Obviously, after the events of the last couple days, I think it’s safe to say that’s currently on hold. I have mentioned Frank Lowenstein returned – is returning. He should be back later this evening. He is prepared to go back. And of course, we’ll assess if there are more individuals we should send should things resume on the ground.

QUESTION: So the Bill Burns issue is completely out of picture now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think, obviously, we’re assessing day to day what’s happening on the ground and what the needs are. And just like any senior diplomat, he’s prepared, as any – as Frank Lowenstein is prepared, if the situation on the ground warrants. But that’s not where we are at this particular moment.

QUESTION: Jen, on North —

MS. PSAKI: More on this particular issue?

QUESTION: Yeah, it’s a (inaudible) topic.

QUESTION: On North Korea?

MS. PSAKI: New topic?

QUESTION: No, not on North Korea.

QUESTION: Same topic.

QUESTION: Still the same thing.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. We’ll go to North Korea next (inaudible).

QUESTION: One, are you aware of the senior – a senior Iranian official saying that Iran helped Hamas improve the – its missile or rocket capability? And even if you’re not, I presume that you think that or your intelligence assessment is that Iran has supplied Hamas and others with this kind of thing. Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have long known that Iran provides weapons training and funding to Hamas. I don’t really have any more, and that remains a concern of ours. Obviously, as you know, our focus remains with Iran on the nuclear program and the nuclear negotiations. It doesn’t mean we don’t have existing concerns outside of that.

QUESTION: All right. And then just back on the one question – I think, was it Nicole who said – that you have zero to say at all about this report, this Spiegel report about the Israel spying or eavesdropping on the Secretary’s calls? Is that —

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to comment on intelligence reports. Some have asked sort of what precautions we take —

QUESTION: Well, how about commenting on a German magazine report? Do you want —

MS. PSAKI: A German magazine report on an intelligence report. Just so you are all aware, and I think many of you are, but the Secretary and his senior staff and everyone in the U.S. Government is aware of the threat posed by potential intercepts of publicly available and unencrypted communications. We have at our disposal tools such as secure phones and computers for highly classified communications, but there are also times we communicate less sensitive information via open lines to world leaders and others. We’re fully aware of the possible risks. We will continue to utilize open communications channels when appropriate and secure communications channels when necessary.

QUESTION: Are you aware of that being a particular risk or a similar risk to other countries in Israel? Does that apply – what – your statement that you just read there, does that apply to every country in the world?

MS. PSAKI: Applies to a range of countries.

QUESTION: Does —

MS. PSAKI: Certainly not going to list them.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking you to list them all, but should – does it apply to all countries in the world?

MS. PSAKI: That was not a country – that was not a how-we-handle-things answer broadly – specific to – I’m sorry. It wasn’t specific to Israel. It’s broadly our policy.

QUESTION: I know. Well, all right. Well, fair enough. But I mean, does it apply to every country in the world? I mean, does it apply the same way in Canada as it would in Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Depends on what you’re discussing, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, so that would seem to be a global – that would be a global policy that you’re talking about right there.

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s safe to say that we talk on classified lines sometimes —

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: — and unclassified lines other times.

QUESTION: But the risk or the concern of eavesdropping exists everywhere in the world, including in Israel, including in Senegal, including in Australia. Yes or no?

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, I’m not going to get into that level of specificity.

QUESTION: One more on this very point.

QUESTION: Why then – can I just —

MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to Nicole, and then we’ll go to you, Said.

QUESTION: Why use unsecure lines at all, unless perhaps there may be a value to using them? Perhaps you don’t mind being overheard. But why not always use secure lines?

MS. PSAKI: Because there are places and times where that’s just not possible, and there are a range of conversations that we certainly feel comfortable having over unsecure lines.

QUESTION: So you’re not surprised that the Israelis were spying on unclassified phone calls?

MS. PSAKI: Again, Said, I have no confirmation of those reports. I’m just speaking broadly to the precautions we take.

QUESTION: Well – but were you surprised by the reports?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Were you surprised by the reports? Since it was – he was conducting the peace talks at the time.

MS. PSAKI: I just – I’m not going to have more specifically on the reports, Said. I will say that the range of times that the Secretary was in the region and the number of meetings he had, regardless of the reports, it’s hard to see what wasn’t said during those meetings.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question. Avigdor Lieberman suggested today that perhaps making Gaza a ward of the UN, as it were, having it under international control similar to Bosnia or the earlier British mandate in Palestine, might be the way to resolve the conflict long term. Is that a realistic proposal from the U.S.’s view?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those comments. I’d point you do the UN. I’m happy to check and see if that’s something we’re advocating or supporting or have views on.

QUESTION: If you could, that would be great.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Do we have any more on this topic, or should we go to a new topic?

QUESTION: Yeah, it’s – yeah. It does follow up.

MS. PSAKI: More on this topic. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Somehow related, because it’s – the other day it was —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — in the part of the comparison, diplomacy, as we said, it was mentioned the issue of Egypt and if it’s compatible to the supplying Egypt to the – with arms is the same like Israel. And it was – it seems that this is reflecting back at the Egypt. And over there the – your counterpart in foreign ministry of Egypt is describing different words about unacceptable, ignorance, and all these thing. Do you have any comment about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that, obviously, we were in Egypt just two weeks ago. For about a week we lived there as they were hosting the Secretary for – as we tried to work through a ceasefire. We have a long and enduring strategic partnership with Egypt that will continue. But there are comments that we have made over the course of the last several months or longer, as Egypt has gone through this transition, when we’ve had concerns about issues, whether it’s freedom of media or arbitrary arrests, or our view that there’s more that they can do to continue to take steps on the path to democracy. And the comments made last week were completely consistent with that notion, so I would point you to that.

And I’d also say that we’ve long acknowledged that Egypt not only has a – faces a significant and growing threat from extremist groups, particularly in the Sinai, but that Egypt has an important strategic and security relationship with the United States. And one of the reasons we resumed, excuse me, an additional tranche of security funding just a few months ago was, one, that there were certifications that were met, but also because the security partnership and relationship is one that’s of vital importance to the United States.

QUESTION: So the issue is not how I understand it or accept it or realize it. It’s the issue of how the – your counterpart or the officials over there are understanding, especially when it was mentioned, according to them, it was mentioned that F-16 or Apache are not used against Egyptian people, as they said. Do you have anything to say about that? Because just Marie said that words. It’s like those weapons are not – are hold because Egypt using those weapons or Egyptian Government are using this weapon against their own people.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, again, I would just point you to the fact that there is certain funding that we have resumed with Egypt. There is additional funding that – there are additional steps as Egypt continues on its transition to democracy that Egypt needs to take. The comments made were completely consistent with concerns we’ve expressed.

But I just wanted to reiterate the importance of our strategic relationship and partnership. And we have continued throughout the past year to provide military equipment. So I think that speaks to how important we think that relationship is. I’d also note that the prime minister is in Washington this week, we certainly welcome here, for participation in the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which will proceed over the next couple of days.

QUESTION: Do you – are you going to discuss this issue with him?

MS. PSAKI: I would defer to them if these are issues they want to discuss, but I think there are a great number of topics that we can spend our time with the Egyptians on, whether it’s our security partnership or our work with them on the pursuit of a ceasefire in Gaza.

QUESTION: I have something.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead. North Korea? Oh, Elliot, did you want to go?

QUESTION: No, no, no. That’s fine. I had my questions answered already.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, all right.

QUESTION: On North Korea and on the —

MS. PSAKI: Oh, can we – let’s just finish the ceasefire. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. There were reports that Deputy Secretary William Burns was in Cairo over the weekend. Can you confirm it?

MS. PSAKI: He did not travel to Cairo over the weekend, no. Frank Lowenstein was there —

QUESTION: And is there any plans for him to travel there —

MS. PSAKI: We’re continuing to assess —

QUESTION: — for this —

MS. PSAKI: — based on what the situation is on the ground, but he has no plans to travel there today.

QUESTION: Oh, yeah. On North Korea, the possibility of the North Korea using biological weapons – does the State Department have any report on that? Because of last week reported by State Department on this. You have more detail on that?

MS. PSAKI: Can you repeat your question? Or what was your – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Possibility of North Korea using biological weapons, more than that, nuclear weapons, but they’re more wanting to – North Korea using biological weapons.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve expressed and have continuously expressed our concern about not only the threats from North Korea, but the recent set of missile launches by North Korea. This is an issue we’ve referred to the UN and continue to be engaged with discussions with them. I’m not aware of a new concern that’s –

QUESTION: Can you take the question about these issues, they’re using biological weapons instead of nuclear weapons?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’m not aware of that specifically, but I will see if there’s more to say.

QUESTION: Yeah, I have another question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: North Korea is – continue threatening United States and South Korea with their missiles or nuclear weapons.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What is your – United States reaction on – to do right away?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we would, once again, urge North Korea to refrain from taking provocative actions, and instead fulfill its international obligations and commitments. We remain steadfast in our commitment to the defense of our allies, including – and we will continue to coordinate closely with South Korea. As you know, we’ve spoken out in the past about how such provocative actions continue to heighten tensions in the regions and our concern about that.

QUESTION: But UN remain the sanctions, it does not work North Korea. But do you have a new action to do?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think these actions have been referred to the UN, and I would refer you to them if there’s more to say.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry will be traveling to Burma this weekend for ASEAN meetings.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you think the Secretary will be willing to meet with his North Korean counterpart if North Korea asks for such a meeting —

MS. PSAKI: No, there’s no –

QUESTION: — bilaterally?

MS. PSAKI: There’s no plan for that, nor do I anticipate that’s something that would take place.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Let’s – can we finish Asia —

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. PSAKI: And then –

QUESTION: Can we move to Asia? Thanks.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: So Japan has named five disputed islands, and the Chinese have denounced it. I wondered if you had any comments on whether you thought this was a provocative action by Japan.

MS. PSAKI: Is this – I’m sorry. I want to make sure I’m referring to the right thing. You said Japan has named – can you say this one more time?

QUESTION: Yeah. There were I think – what is it – 158 islands or so, and as you know, there’s some disputed islands.

MS. PSAKI: Of course.

QUESTION: Japan has named a handful of them, five of them on Friday I believe, and China has denounced it. And I wondered if you had any comments about that.

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check with our team on that. We’re happy to get you a comment on it. My apologies.

QUESTION: Thanks, Jen.

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t have that with me here today.

Go ahead. Let’s finish Asia. An Asia issue? Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Republicans in the Senate are refusing to confirm Mark Lippert as new ambassador to South Korea, claiming he’s a political appointee – nominee. Do you have any comment on this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d say that Mark Lippert, who has been the chief of staff at the Defense Department, has been a close advisor to the President, has served proudly his country in the military. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on several occasions. I think his qualifications speak for themselves and he – South Korea and the United States would be well served having him there.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: India.

MS. PSAKI: India, sure.

QUESTION: I hope you had all good time spending two days in India. What we would like to know, beyond joint statements that this was the historical visit by the Secretary under the new government of Prime Minister Modi, what do we get out of this year’s – this under the new government, strategic dialogue? Have we achieved anything, U.S.-India relations under this convention?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, it was the highest-level visit of a member of the Obama Administration to India since Prime Minister Modi was inaugurated. In addition to the strategic dialogue, he did have a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister, and it was the Prime Minister’s first cabinet-level meeting with a U.S. official. And discussions during that meeting covered a wide range of topics with considerable focus, in large part, on Mr. Modi’s economic vision, how the United States can help to advance that vision, including through support to the energy sector and through clean energy initiatives.

There was also significant discussion of the WTO, with the Secretary reiterating our position that unraveling the Bali Accord was not in India’s interests and was not in keeping with Mr. Modi’s vision of opening the economy. They also discussed Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as India’s Look East policy. So I would hardly see this visit as an ending or a conclusive visit as much as a beginning of an important relationship with a new government and one that has great strategic value to the United States.

QUESTION: You think the Secretary has melted the ice from the past between the two countries, what had been going on?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it was certainly a warm visit and a warm meeting, so hopefully that will melt the ice.

QUESTION: Quickly one more on Afghanistan.

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) He set it up for me.

QUESTION: Afghanistan, quickly. (Laughter.) Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Almost 15 years ago, people of Afghanistan were very thankful to the U.S. for getting freedom from the Taliban and al-Qaida. Again today they are asking the international community or the U.S.’s support or UN help to have a relief because they are still in the limbo – I mean, as far as this presidential election and all those things, and al-Qaida is still coming back and all that. So what is the future they are asking now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would – I’m not sure what I can speak to what they’re asking as much as where things stand now. The Secretary has been very engaged in this, as you know. He recently visited Afghanistan. We have senior officials who’ve been consistently on the ground. After a break for the Eid holiday, the election audit has resumed, and notably, both candidates are participating and sent candidate agents to observe the process. The IEC, along with the UN, has continued to improve the audit process so it will move forward more quickly and efficiently. We remain confident that the two candidates and their supporters will be able to work together effectively in the government of national unity. I think, of course, the people of Afghanistan want to see the conclusion of this process so that they can move forward. And the United States will, of course, continue to be an important – play an important supporting role of the Afghan – for the Afghan people.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Jen, could I ask a quick question on Lebanon?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Lebanon.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, can we go to Russia?

QUESTION: Sure, sure.

MS. PSAKI: Ladies first, and then we’ll go to Lebanon.

QUESTION: Of course. I’m sorry. (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Russia.

QUESTION: I did.

QUESTION: Oh, I didn’t hear it.

QUESTION: A couple of briefings ago, Marie said that you guys continue to see weapons shipments from Russia into Ukraine. I’m wondering what, if any, detail you can give us on what you’re seeing, where you’re seeing it going, when you saw it go.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: I will see, Nicole, if there’s any other details we had beyond what we have – we do continue, of course, to see evidence that Russia is supplying the separatists with arms, materiel, and training. I think Marie noted evidence last week that the Russians intend to deliver heavier, more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine. Since the shootdown of the MH17, multiple rocket launcher activity at – there has been multiple rocket launcher activity – sorry – at a Russian site in southwest Russi