Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing – February 17, 2015

1:11 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us on this snow day, and we thought, as we’ve done in the past, we would do a phone briefing so we can try to address as many questions as possible, and tomorrow we’ll be back at the podium. I don’t have anything at the top, so why don’t we go to our first question?
OPERATOR: Thank you. And ladies and gentlemen, if you do wish to ask a question, you may queue up at this time by pressing * 1. Again, for any questions, please queue up by pressing * 1. Please allow just a few moments as questioners queue up.
This question will come from Nicole Gaouette with Bloomberg News. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Nicole.
QUESTION: Hi, Jen. Apologies for kid sounds in the background and thank you for doing the call.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask if you guys had any comment or reaction to the beheadings in Libya of Coptic Christians.
MS. PSAKI: Well, you may have seen, Nicole, we put out a statement, as did the White House, over the weekend. So I would certainly point you to that. Clearly, there are a number of foreign ministers and officials coming here later this week for the CVE summit, and certainly we expect, given these recent events, that this will be one of many issues discussed while we’re there. But I would point you to the statements we put out this weekend.
QUESTION: All right. Can I follow up with another question?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: This is about a report put out by a cyber security firm saying that – it implies that the NSC has been embedding surveillance tools in computers that it sends to other countries, most specifically Iran, Russia, Pakistan, China, Afghanistan. I know policy on commenting about these issues, but I’d like to see if you have anything to say.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are aware of the recently released report that you’re referring to. We’re not going to comment publicly on any allegations that the report raises, nor discuss any details. I believe the NSA has put out a few comments, so I would certainly point you to comments from the intel community that they put out over the weekend.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Nicole.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And our next question will come from Matthew Lee with the Associated Press. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hello, Matthew.
QUESTION: Hello, Jen. How are you?
MS. PSAKI: Good.
QUESTION: Good. I’ve got a couple here.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) do them all – do you want me to do them all at once, or —
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: — one by one? On Egypt, have you seen President Sisi’s comments about wanting a UN intervention in Libya, and if you have, what do you think of them?
MS. PSAKI: We have seen his comments about wanting an intervention, I believe is how he referred to it. We don’t have anything specific. As you may have heard, the UN, I believe, is meeting in the next couple of days to discuss some of these issues. So we’ll certainly be in touch with our counterparts on that, but we don’t have anything specific at this point in time.
QUESTION: Okay. You don’t – in general, you don’t have a position on whether this is a good idea or a bad idea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re going to let the discussion play out. Obviously, we all have a concern about the threat of ISIL. I think that there’s no secret about that. There’ll be a discussion and, I’m sure, a range of proposals put out there, but I don’t think we’re going to get ahead of any process.
QUESTION: All right. On the CVE event, do you guys have a list of who’s coming yet?
MS. PSAKI: I believe we’re planning to put that out, Matt. I’m happy to take that and make sure that you guys all get a list. I know there was an extensive background briefing yesterday, but I don’t believe it listed the —
QUESTION: No, it didn’t.
MS. PSAKI: So why don’t we follow up on that and see if we can get you guys a more extensive list? It also may, of course, come from the White House, given it’s – the first two days are there. So we’ll check with them and see what we can get out and around to everyone.
QUESTION: Okay. Then on Ukraine, I know there’s a Security Council meeting later today, so I am not sure you are going to want to – or have anything new to say about the situation there, particularly in Debaltseve. But if you do have something that Ambassador Power isn’t going to say, could you slide it to us?
MS. PSAKI: On Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: About – well, I mean, I can reiterate – as you may have seen over the weekend, we put out a statement about our grave concern about the deteriorating situation in and around Debaltseve and eastern Ukraine. We’ve seen the OSCE special monitoring mission confirm that attacks continue in this area, as well as other locations, including around Luhansk and Donetsk. We also understand that the OSCE special monitoring mission has been refused access to Debaltseve by the Russia-backed separatists while they have ratchet up the intensity of their attacks on the city. And we’ve also seen reports, as I’m sure you have as well, that the leaders of Russia, Germany, and Ukraine agreed on measures to allow the OSCE to monitor the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, including in the city of Debaltseve, but that has not, of course, yet affected the separatists’ willingness to abide by that. And I’m sure Ambassador Power, as you mentioned, will have more to say, but that’s the picture of where things stand.
QUESTION: Okay. Have you seen (inaudible) literally just come out within the last 20 minutes, the statement from Senators McCain and Graham on Ukraine, which opens with the sentence: “The Chancellor of Germany and the President of France, with the support of the President of the United States, are legitimizing the dismemberment of a sovereign nation in Europe for the first time in seven decades. It is inexcusable.” And then it goes on. Is that what’s going on here? Is the United States, along with Germany and France, legitimizing the dismemberment of a sovereign nation in Europe?
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen their statement, and I’m happy to take a look at that, Matt, but I can absolutely assure you that the Secretary, the President, every member of our national security team remains committed to the exact opposite, which is respecting – helping Ukraine and ensuring that their sovereignty, their territorial integrity are respected. We certainly believe that a diplomatic approach and a political approach is the right approach here, but the same options that were on the table a week ago or two weeks ago remain on the table. And so we’ll continue to have internal discussions as we’ve been having about the appropriate assistance.
QUESTION: Interestingly, the second paragraph of their statement says that – says what you just said, that “Western leaders say there is no military solution to the conflict in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin clearly doesn’t think so.” Is that – do you believe that President Putin – is it the Administration’s assessment that President Putin agrees that there is no military solution to the Ukraine conflict and that he wants a diplomatic solution?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I certainly am not in the business of explaining what President Putin thinks or means. I think our belief here in the Administration – and I would be surprised if others disagree – is that getting into a proxy war with Russia is not anything that’s in the interest of Ukraine or the interest – in the interest of the international community. And certainly, as we weigh options, we weigh that as one of the factors.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, can I tell you one more thing, because I didn’t – I was not as specific as I meant to be? The UN Security Council announced there will be a meeting on Libya tomorrow, so we expect, certainly, they’ll discuss a range of options then.
QUESTION: I mean, my – okay, thanks. But in terms of – the Administration, though, believes – since you continue to say that there’s no military solution, you continue to believe that the Russians believe that too?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they signed off, as you know, Matt, on not one but the Minsk agreement and then the implementation of the Minsk agreement, which would —
QUESTION: Right, but you’re accusing them of violating not just this latest Minsk agreement but also the September Minsk agreement (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Correct. And in our view, they’re all connected – that this agreement is the implementation of the September agreement.
QUESTION: All right. So you’re still hopeful that it will work. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly continue to believe that a diplomatic approach and an approach that has Russia and the Russian-backed separatists abiding by the commitments they’ve made is the best approach forward.
QUESTION: All right. Two more real brief ones.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: This delegation in Havana today, Senator Warner said that talks will resume – the normalization talks are – will resume next week. Do you have dates for that? Is that – first of all, is that correct? And second of all, do you have the dates?
MS. PSAKI: I do. We’ll have a more extensive media note, I expect, in the coming days, but I can confirm that the talks will be held on the 27th here at the State Department, the 27th of February.
QUESTION: Okay. And last one real quick: Do you have any reaction or thoughts about the Israeli supreme court’s ruling in the Corrie case, the Rachel Corrie case – they’re throwing out the lawsuit?
MS. PSAKI: Let me – I don’t believe I have anything new on that, Matt, though I know – did that happen just today?
QUESTION: I believe it happened yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Yesterday. Let me check with our team on that and I’m sure we can get something around on it. We’ve obviously spoken to that case a number of times, so we’ll get you something updated.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, Matt.
Okay, we’re ready for the next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you very much. Our next question will come from Arshad Mohammed with Reuters. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, just to follow up on two things.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: One, on Ukraine: Is the – given that – well, do you take a position on whether the cease-fire has been respected or has not been respected, given the continuing fighting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, we’ve seen reports – and many reports, I should say – that fighting in Ukraine’s east continues but the quantity and intensity of attacks has decreased, with the dramatic exception being Debaltseve. So we’ve also seen some reports of some fighting outside the strategic coastal city of Mariupol. So our view continues to be that Russian separatists, in fact, cannot pick and choose in which areas they want to respect the cease-fire, and the February 12th implementation package agreed to in Minsk calls for a general cease-fire in all areas. The separatists’ offensive underway in Debaltseve is a flagrant breach of the cease-fire, but there remains an opportunity to abide by the cease-fire, to respect it in all areas of Ukraine, and that’s certainly what was agreed to last week as well as in September.
QUESTION: So notwithstanding what you yourself describe as the flagrant breach of the cease-fire around Debaltseve, you feel that you still need to give this diplomatic process time to play out, even though there’s still fighting?
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct. That – yes, that’s correct.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you – given the continued fighting, are you any closer to imposing additional sanctions on Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: I have nothing to announce right now, but the United States and our EU partners and allies continue to coordinate closely on sanctions. We welcome the EU’s formal announcement of new individuals and entities sanctioned for their role in violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And again, we’ll continue to coordinate closely, but I have nothing to predict or outline for you today.
QUESTION: Okay, and on Egypt and Libya —
QUESTION: — was it a good idea for the Egyptian Government to unilaterally carry out airstrikes following the killing of the 21 Egyptian Christians?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, as you know, but I have to note it, we certainly don’t confirm military action on behalf of other countries. I will say, broadly speaking, obviously ISIL’s – obviously, we’ve seen the reports from the weekend. We put out extensive comments on them. We certainly respect the right of countries to make their own decisions about their own self-defense and defense of their own country. As we noted in a readout this weekend, the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Shoukry and offered his condolences, and he indicated in the call that he would be discussing a response with his military, and that was the call from over this weekend.
QUESTION: When you say “he indicated,” you mean Foreign Minister Shoukry?
MS. PSAKI: Correct, that’s right, yes.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) President Sisi would be discussing it with his military?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that Egypt, the Egyptian Government would be, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So we should take from that that you really don’t fundamentally object to another country bombing a third country after an incident like this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, to be clear – and since you gave me the opportunity, as you know, we continue to believe that in Libya the best path forward is a political process, one that’s being led by the UN. And as you know, that is the process that’s trying to work through the disagreements between different parties and entities on the ground. But I think, broadly speaking, without confirming any action, obviously threats from ISIL or countries’ desires to defend themselves is different than that.
QUESTION: And then one more on Argentina.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: As I believe you know, the Argentine foreign minister has written to Secretary Kerry. The letter seems to have two components to it. One is what they say is a reiteration of their request that the United States take up the issue of the 1994 bombing in bilateral talks with Iran. The second part of the letter seems to suggest that it’s somebody else’s responsibility to figure out what happened in that bombing, which remains unsolved all these years later.
What is your response to the letter? Do you have any intention of bringing up that bombing in your bilateral nuclear talks with the Iranians? And do you concur with what seems to be the implication of the letter, that it’s the United States or somebody else’s responsibility to discover what happened in Argentina all those years ago?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that for over 20 years the United States and the international community have worked with the Government of Argentina as well as victims of the bombing and their families in search for justice. And the special prosecutor staff must not stop the pursuit of those responsible for this brutal terrorist attack. This is an ongoing investigation, naturally, as you know, led by the government on the ground, so we’re not going to comment on other specifics. But clearly, we have in the past contributed where we can information and that will continue.
As it relates to the Iran negotiations, the Iran negotiations remain focused on the nuclear issue. That will continue.
QUESTION: So with – but “focused” does not mean that you would exclude the possibility of raising other issues, as you have done in the case of ISIL and Iraq last summer. So the – what I’m trying to get at is not where the focus is. Obviously, the focus of the nuclear negotiations is the nuclear issue. The question is whether you will accept, reject, or consider the possibility of taking up Argentina’s request that you raise the bombing with the Iranians in those talks. Will —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of any plans to do that, Arshad.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Let’s move on to the next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. That will come from Margaret Brennan with CBS News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. Jen, two topics. The first on Ukraine. I’m wondering how confident the U.S. is now that we are, indeed, seeing the new column of Russian military equipment move towards Debaltseve. In the statement that your office put out yesterday, it said that the U.S. is monitoring reports. Do you have any more confidence in what’s happening on the ground, or conviction, I should say? And has Secretary Kerry spoken to his counterpart or anyone in the Ukrainian Government in the last 24 hours?
Same question in terms of conversations with the Libyans. Has Secretary Kerry spoken to anyone in the Libyan Government?
MS. PSAKI: He – I don’t have any Libyan calls to read out for you. As you know, the Secretary spoke over the weekend with Foreign Minister Lavrov. He also spoke with Ukrainian President Poroshenko on Monday about the ongoing efforts to encourage Russia and the Russian-backed separatists to abide by the cease-fire and the agreements of both Minsk and last week. I don’t have new information. We are certainly closely monitoring reports of a new column of Russian military equipment moving towards Debaltseve but don’t have any new information beyond what we put out this weekend.
MS. PSAKI: I think – unless Margaret has another, I think we’re ready to move on. Margaret, are you good? Or you want to – are you —
QUESTION: Yeah, no. Any plans to release any more images of what you are seeing on the ground, like you did over the weekend?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are always constantly looking at ways to share more information. I don’t have anything to predict at this moment. If we have it, we’ll certainly release it.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question in queue will come from Laura Koran with CNN. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hey, Laura.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Hi. Thanks for doing this.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I also have a few different topics I wanted to get to —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — but I’ll go through them quickly. If I could just go back to these executions in Libya.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
QUESTION: This seems to be another indication that ISIS is extending outside of Iraq and Syria. This is something we’ve seen for a while. I just wanted to press again: Is this something that the Administration is concerned about in terms of whether you would advocate for expanded coalition efforts outside of Iraq and Syria? Obviously, the new AUMF proposed language doesn’t limit geographically where those operations could be, so does this kind of prompt more discussions on that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, one, it’s clear that there are ISIL-affiliated terrorists in Libya. That’s not new. But that’s something, obviously, the tragic events of the last several days over the – and what happened to the Egyptian Copts – it certainly brings to light and brings to the surface that fact. We’re still assessing the extent of operational and tactical linkages to ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and that is not something we have any new assessment on.
In terms of military action, the President has authorized U.S. military action against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. As you noted, AUMF – the proposed AUMF does not include a geographic limitation, because we believe it would be a mistake to advertise to ISIL that there are safe havens for them outside of Iraq and Syria by limiting the proposed AUMF to specific countries. However, there hasn’t been a decision made to expand it, and that is not something that I anticipate at this moment.
Obviously – and as you also note, so let me just expand it to coalition military activity – that is also focused solely in Iraq and Syria. Obviously, military action is taken by individual countries, and certainly, we’d refer you to them, as I mentioned earlier. But the United States has not made a decision to expand beyond Iraq and Syria.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. And if I could switch gears rather dramatically, North Korea.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: The DPRK has asked, according to reports, the State Department to cancel a private conference at CSIS on human rights issues in North Korea, saying that they are not able to attend and yadda, yadda, yadda. That went forward today. Can you confirm that they, in fact, made this request to the State Department? And do you have any reaction to that request?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this was a privately organized event by the – by CSIS. It wasn’t something that the State Department organized, so certainly, they would be the ones to speak to it. I think, broadly speaking, the only request that would be made to us would be – as it relates to a private event would be related to the need for diplomats to travel outside of New York. That would require permission from Washington. We don’t speak to those, as a matter of policy. But obviously, this was a private event, so decisions about who they would invite, how they would go about the event, is really their decision.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. And then one last one.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I’m sure you saw the reports over the weekend that the Administration is frustrated with the Israeli Government over concern that there are leaks about the Iran talks coming from there. Can you extend – is that a concern that you’re hearing in the State Department, and is this something that’s causing you to consider – reconsider how you approach conversations with your Israeli counterparts?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first I think it’s important for everyone to know that conversations continue with Israel on the Iran nuclear negotiations. And just a couple of examples: Under Secretary Sherman met with Israeli NSA Cohen and the Minister for Intelligence and Strategic Planning Steinitz in Munich, and she’ll also see NSA Cohen again this week. And the Iran negotiations were obviously the main topic of negotiations. As you know, Secretary Kerry regularly speaks to the prime minister about this issue, as well as many others. And as our NSC colleagues have noted, NSA – National Security Advisor Rice maintains regular contact with her Israeli counterpart, National Security Advisor Cohen, on the full range of issues, including, of course, this issue – so we’re – with this issue.
So of course, we’re continuing our frequent and routine contact at various professional levels within the intelligence, military, and diplomatic spheres. And reports that that has been cut off or we are no longer consulting are simply inaccurate. I think if anyone knew who leaked information around – that appeared publicly, I think we’d all – that would be great, but that’s a never-ending question that nobody has an answer to as it relates to many topics. But as it relates to our relationship with Israel, our consultations on Iran are ongoing at many levels and many, many high levels, and reports over the weekend are just inaccurate.
QUESTION: Great. Thanks so much.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. The next question in queue will come from Justin Fishel with ABC News.
MS. PSAKI: Hey, Justin.
QUESTION: Hey, Jen. Laura got to my first question, which was just sort of assessing the presence of ISIS in Libya. It sounds like that doesn’t – that’s not a region you’re willing to expand to at this point in terms of airstrikes. Is – are you able to provide any battle damage assessment based on the Egypt strikes, considering it is in your interest to defeat and destroy ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: I am not and I’m still not in a position to confirm the actions of another government.
QUESTION: So if a tree falls in the woods and you’re not there to hear it, does it make a sound?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know if that’s the right analogy, but okay. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, so can you tell us anything about this – and forgive me if you already previewed this —
MS. PSAKI: That’s okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: — the State Department effort to combat the ISIS propaganda machine – what should we expect to come out of these conferences this week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there was a pretty extensive backgrounder over – that just happened yesterday, and so I’d certainly point anyone to that. But I would touch – and let me touch on a couple of components.
As many of you know and the White House has already previewed, the first two days are focused on the domestic agenda. The agenda on Wednesday is domestic efforts at the White House. So each of – and cities that are participating – there’s been long been a partner program – will have an opportunity to do a presentation on what they’ve learned to date. But it’s going to be broader than that. It’s not just countries. It’s NGOs. It’s a range of entities that have a role in this important effort.
So the focus of these discussions over the next couple of days will be to explore ways to counter violent extremism by identifying and addressing the conditions that can lead individuals to commit violent actions, as well as ways to prevent and intervene where appropriate. As you know, the final day, the 19th, will take place at the State Department, and the Secretary will be participating, and the President will also be delivering remarks that day. And there’ll also be a meeting to talk about the threat of foreign fighters – that will happen tomorrow – that the Secretary will also be participating in.
So we have a range of different activities that are happening. I think this is – our view on this summit is that this is an opportunity to talk about the path forward and it’s really, hopefully a catalyst for that. We all agree that this is one of the biggest challenges we’re facing – countering violent extremism around the world. That’s probably one of the reasons we have such a strong response from countries and entities who are participating. And this is an opportunity to not just share best practices but talk about where we go from here. So there’s, as I mentioned, partly a domestic focus but also an international focus that we’ll host here on Thursday.
QUESTION: What about making videos?
MS. PSAKI: Ah, okay. Sorry, I —
QUESTION: ISIS is basically making videos.
MS. PSAKI: — so much to talk about, Justin. Well —
QUESTION: But – and you may have seen – and you probably saw the French video, which was sort of the most – people see that as the most counterweight to the ISIS videos, because it did depict violence, but on the other side of things, like what happens when you join ISIS, this is – this could be your fate. Do you see sort of stepping up the rhetoric in that way?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s not just about stepping up the rhetoric. The challenge we’re up against, which I think many of you are familiar with, is that there are 90,000 pro-ISIL tweets or other social media responses every day. So we’re definitely beaten by volume, but we don’t believe that ISIL is an invincible force on social media. So what we’re working on now is aggregating and curating and amplifying existing content, so that means utilizing the 300-plus State Department social media accounts run by embassies, consulates, and individuals. It means also coordinating that with the social media accounts of other government agencies. It means expanding and giving more tools to the CSCC. It means determining what the best way to address this is moving forward.
We have a new head of CSCC who will be leading this effort to continue to improve our coordination and make sure we’re approaching this in the smartest, most strategic way. And as you mentioned, there are obviously best practices that we can learn from other countries. And part of this is not only sharing that but also determining who the right voices are. And we certainly are not under the illusion that the United States is the best voice in many of these cases.
There’ll also be – as it relates to the CVE summit, there’ll also be a session that the Secretary will be participating on that focuses on weakening the legitimacy and the resonance of the brand of violent extremism, so that’s going to include a panel on strategic communications and social media; it will include a discussion of how nonviolent religious issues and education can be elevated as a matter of international and local-level concern. And as I mentioned, it will look at best practices.
So this is an issue that we obviously take quite seriously and we work with many countries around the world to address – and entities – and we’re working to make sure that the federal government is as coordinated and efficient and strategic as possible.
QUESTION: Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, Justin.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question in queue will come from Barbara Usher with the BBC. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks. I have two questions just clarifying your answers on Libya, Jen. First of all, previously when you’ve been asked about reported airstrikes in Libya carried out by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, you said clearly that outside intervention is not helpful, which is not something you said on this reported Egyptian strike now. So has the position changed?
MS. PSAKI: I think I answered that earlier, Barbara, that question.
QUESTION: So can you just clarify again, please?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. What I said was: While I’m not going to confirm the outside military action of another country, we’ve long said that the best path forward for Libya is for a political process led by the UN. As you know, there’s a great deal of internal political and strife among parties in Libya, and that is why we think that effort and no intervention is the right approach there. But I don’t think anyone would put that in the same category as threats the government is feeling or a country is feeling against their own security interests, so – as it relates to ISIL. We see that as a different entity.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. And then just with regard to – you said that you were still assessing the extent of operational and tactical linkages between ISIS and its affiliates – the stated affiliate in Libya.
MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The analysis of the video put out about the Christian killings was that it was the most clearest sign or evidence of ISIS HQ involvement so far, given the content of it and the sophistication of the style. Is that being something – is that something that’s being looked at in terms of a clear linkage between ISIS in Syria and Iraq and ISIS in Libya?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Barbara, as I mentioned a little bit earlier, it’s clear and it has been clear, even before this horrific incident, that there are ISIL-affiliated terrorists in Libya. But that is different from whether there are operational and tactical linkages as it —
QUESTION: Yeah, but this would be an example of a tactical and operational linkage, wouldn’t it, if ISIS in Syria and Iraq is putting out a video on behalf of something happening in Libya.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Barbara, obviously there are a range of officials and entities in the United States Government that does assessments. We’re not talking about propaganda; we’re talking about operational linkages, which is different. So my – our assessment is as I outlined it before.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Rosalind Jordan with Al Jazeera English. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Roz.
OPERATOR: Okay, Ms. Jordan, your line is open. Please proceed with your question. Okay, we’re getting no response. We’ll move along to the next question. That will be from Felicia Schwartz with The Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Felicia.
QUESTION: Quick question for you. Federica Mogherini tweeted that she would meet with Kerry and Choukry and others on Thursday about Libya. Is that a sideline meeting? Do you have any more information about it?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen that tweet, and we’re looking into it. Obviously, the schedule is still coming together for later this week, but I don’t have any details or plans for a Libya side meeting at this point to announce.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
OPERATOR: Thank you. The next question will be from Lalit Jah with PTI. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Lalit.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing this. Two questions on south Asia.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: What’s your take on the agreement which has been signed between India and Sri Lanka on (inaudible) nuclear deal?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. One second, Lalit. Well, we are aware of the announcement. We welcome regional cooperation on nuclear energy that is consistent with IAEA safeguards and other international standards and practices. Beyond that, I don’t have additional details to readout. I’d certainly refer you to those countries for additional information on the agreement.
QUESTION: I have also one question on the business of – visit by the new Pakistani army chief – ISI chief to Kabul today.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
QUESTION: How do you see that development there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve long said that we welcome the prospect that we bring deepening cooperation (inaudible) Afghanistan, Pakistan. We know that obviously there’s a one-day meeting, as you referenced today, to discuss security cooperation, so certainly we think that falls into the category of efforts to deepen cooperation, which we would support.
QUESTION: I have one more.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Since you haven’t spoken to this in the past about (inaudible), have you seen the speech given by the Prime Minister Modi in Delhi today on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen the speech; we can take a look at it. But did you have a specific question about it or anything that you wanted to ask about?
QUESTION: No. He spoke about the latest spate of intolerance in general. But what’s the U.S. view on that – on this speech?
MS. PSAKI: Say that one more time? He spoke about which piece?
QUESTION: He spoke about religious freedom and religious intolerance in India and how the government is committed to it. Since U.S. – you haven’t spoken from the podium about it, (inaudible) about minorities in India. So how do you see his speech?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t taken a look at the speech. I can say broadly that, certainly, religious tolerance and freedom is something that we support around the world, including in India. And as you know, human rights issues are always a topic of conversation when we meet with counterparts and leaders around the world.
QUESTION: If you can have a look at it and if you have anything to say (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Sure, we’re happy to do that, Lalit.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MS. PSAKI: Sure thing.
OPERATOR: Thank you. We do have a follow-up in queue from Matthew Lee.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
OPERATOR: Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Jen. Sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I just wanted to – can you hear me?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
QUESTION: I just wanted to – in response to these repeated questions about the Egyptian – alleged Egyptian bombings in Libya, you said you’re not going to confirm outside military action by a foreign country. Is this is a Libya-specific rule? Because it seems like for the past almost year you’ve been almost daily talking about Russian Government attacks in Ukraine – or at least connections to. I can remember specific examples when you have confirmed foreign military action in third countries. Is this just a Libya thing?
MS. PSAKI: I know you are a stickler for these sorts of things, Matt. I’m not going to confirm reports of actions of the government of Egypt in Libya.
QUESTION: Okay. But the Pentagon has been talking about the actions of foreign governments like the UAE air force and the Jordanians, and that kind of thing, in Syria and (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Correct, which are coordinated with the United States as part of a coalition.
QUESTION: Okay. So if it’s not coordinated then you don’t talk about it?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give you a hard and fast rule here. I think the Government of Egypt and others have spoken to this, so I don’t think you need confirmation from us.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. We do have a follow-up as well from Rosalind Jordan. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Roz.
QUESTION: Hey, Jen, can you hear me?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Yep, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Hi. Okay. Let’s talk about ISIL and Syrian rebels. Turkish media is reporting that apparently the U.S. and Turkey have reached an agreement on training Syrian rebels, upwards of 2,000 members in the province of Kirsehir. I’m not sure if I’m saying that right. That the training will start in March, and that the formal deal will start – will be signed in Turkey in the next two or three days. Can you confirm these reports?
MS. PSAKI: I can confirm that we have reached an agreement in principle with Turkey on training and equipping the Syrian opposition groups. As we have announced before, Turkey has agreed to be one of the regional hosts for the train and equip program for moderate Syrian opposition forces. We expect to conclude and sign the agreement with Turkey soon. In terms of the reported details, I expect the Department of Defense will have more specifics on those.
QUESTION: Are you able to say, Jen, whether this means that the vetting process for the Syrian rebels has been completed in order to start this training?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would – as the Department of Defense has mentioned, they certainly expect that to start in March, which is very soon, as you know. But I wouldn’t look at them as being a requirement for the other. We’ve long been in a discussion with Turkey about being a – playing a role in the train and equip program, as some other countries are doing. But when you follow up with the Department of Defense, I would ask them that question as well.
QUESTION: What about the longstanding concerns by Turkey that by focusing the training simply on trying to defeat ISIL fighters inside Syria that this is not dealing with what Turkey considers the bigger problem, which is the continued rule of Bashar al-Assad? Is the U.S. still engaging with Prime Minister Davutoglu and President Erdogan on that question?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, and we believe, as you know, and we’ve long believed, that there’s no place for Assad in a future Syria. But we continue to believe that the best way to resolve the challenges there is through a political solution. We also fully expect, as we’ve said in the past, that the moderate – members of the moderate opposition who are being trained by the train and equip program, who will be trained by the train and equip program. Obviously, it’s focused on ISIL, but we certainly expect them to use their training and their equipment also to continue the fight against the regime.
QUESTION: Given that the Turkish Government is prepared to have U.S. forces on their soil working with the Turkish military in the training, what does this say about the role of Turkey in the fight against ISIL? Does the U.S. feel that Turkey is finally picking up its share of the load in the fight against ISIL?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, we’ve long believed that Turkey is and has been an important partner in the anti-ISIL coalition. They have been a partner not just in – as it relates to military components, like the train and equip program, but also in the other components of the coalition, whether it’s delegitimizing ISIL or going after foreign fighters, going after their financing. So they’ve long been an important partner, and certainly this is a component we’ve been in a discussion with the Government of Turkey about for some time now.
QUESTION: Is there – and this is my final question – is there any sort of compensation or assistance that the U.S. is providing to Turkey in exchange for finally agreeing to help with the training program of the rebels?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of that being part of a discussion. As you know, we provide assistance on refugees and a range of needs that Turkey has. But I would certainly point you to the Department of Defense for more specifics of – about this program and the agreement that, as I said, we expect to sign soon.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks so much.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, Roz.
OPERATOR: Thank you. The next question is from Lisa Janssen with Fox News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hey there. Actually, Jen, it’s Ed Henry. I work with Lisa. How are you?
MS. PSAKI: Oh. I was like, this doesn’t sound like a Lisa.
QUESTION: I know. How are you?
MS. PSAKI: Good. How are you?
QUESTION: Good. A couple quick questions.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: One, have you seen this BBC report suggesting – they’re quoting a local police chief saying that ISIS has now burned to death 45 people in western Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: I have seen the report. The last I talked to our team, Ed, we did not have confirmation of that independently from here.
QUESTION: Got it. Second, the Pope has said that the 21 – that you’ve been talking about the 21 Christians who were killed in Libya, the 21 Christian Egyptians – died as martyrs because of their faith. Does the Administration agree with that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think certainly – I’m not going to put new labels or certainly argue with comments of the Pope, Ed, but I would say that we have spoken in the past about our concerns about the targeting of religious groups. And we’ve seen, unfortunately, this happen in Iraq and other places. ISIL has gone after not just individuals for religious affiliation, but for being a woman, for being – for even people with disabilities. And so we’ve seen the barbarity of their tactics. But beyond that, obviously, this is simply a horrific attack of terrorism and one that we came out this weekend and joined many countries in the world in condemning.
QUESTION: Great. Last one: Marie Harf, your colleague, last night I think it was, was on MSNBC saying that we can’t win this war by killing them – when she was talking about ISIS – we cannot kill our way out of this war; we need a longer-term, medium-long-term get after the root causes. She talked about finding jobs for people in these countries where they see no hope. What was she trying to say there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Ed, she – Marie, my colleague, was saying what we’ve said many times, which is this is not only a military solution. A military solution will not bring an end to ISIL. That’s why there are several components of our coalition. Yes, the military component is important, and we’ve done thousands of strikes in Iraq and Syria. That’s continuing to pick up, as you know, and you’ve covered quite a bit. But we also need to delegitimize ISIL. If the ideology is out there and growing, we – ISIL will continue to grow and thrive. We need to cut off their financing, we need to prevent foreign fighters from moving.
And I – she was also talking about, in her interview, not just ISIL but the CVE summit – and the CVE summit that we’ll be hosting – and I know is happening at the White House over where you are right now – is broad; it’s not just about ISIL – that certainly is a part of it, but it’s about countering violent extremism and how to take on this threat over the long term. And obviously there are several components of that as – and the evidence of that is also all of the different breakout groups that are happening throughout the summit. But again, I think this is something we’ve talked about quite a bit, and the need to make sure we’re working with countries to address some of the root causes that have led to the ability to recruit.
QUESTION: Thank you, Jen. Appreciate your time.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Ed.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Philip Ling with CTV Canadian. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi there.
QUESTION: From very cold Ottawa. And I know you guys had a lot of snow in Washington, too, so —
MS. PSAKI: We can compare.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you so much for taking this, taking my call.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So the Kurdish Regional Government told us that images showing Kurdish offensive beheading captured ISIS militants are authentic. The instance took place in Kirkuk on January 30th, and the government have launched its own investigation on Kurdish forces beheading ISIS militants. Does the U.S. have any response to that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of that. Certainly, we’ll took a look at your report. Obviously, there’s a barbarity that ISIL has shown in their tactics around the world, and certainly we expect that our coalition forces or people who are supporting the anti-ISIL effort will not abide by those same tactics. But I don’t have any confirmation of that specific report.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. But on the – on that point with the anti-ISIS, anti-ISIL coalition, if this is true, that they are allegedly committing the same atrocities that are mirroring ISIS’s own tactics, does this point U.S. and Western allies in an uncomfortable position with the ISIS war continuing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we don’t have confirmation of it, so I’m not going to speculate on that. I think we do – obviously, we have a certain kind of standard of abiding by certain international protocols. We know that we’ve seen ISIL not just behead individuals, including American citizens, but go after groups targeting them for their gender, for their religious affiliations, for a range of tactics. And so the barbarity of that group certainly stands head and shoulders above what we’ve seen in some time.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Are you going to be helping the Kurdish Regional Government with their investigation or trying to confirm this yourself? Are you going to be working with that government?
MS. PSAKI: Typically these types of investigations are led by local authorities. I’m happy to check and see – I don’t – I wouldn’t anticipate a U.S. role.
QUESTION: Okay. And what measures are or can the U.S. and other allies be doing to prevent such killings? Human Rights Watch on Sunday issued its own report saying that Shia militias are – have conducted kidnappings, torching of homes, mass execution of Sunni residents. So what measures can or are the U.S. doing to prevent such atrocities?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as it relates to Shia militias, we’re certainly deeply concerned by reports of human rights abuses by some of these volunteer militia forces. Before the human rights report, I mean, these – there were reports on the ground, and something that – it’s something that the Government of Iraq is investigating to determine the facts behind these claims. Officials in Washington and Baghdad have raised our concerns with senior officials from the Government of Iraq before regarding these abusive tactics. Such tactics promote fear and division to the detriment of Iraqi security and undermine the hard work by the prime minister to unify the Iraqi people. The prime minister has also stressed – Prime Minister Abadi has also repeatedly stressed that any abuses be investigated and that perpetrators be held accountable. Obviously, part of the objective and what part of his focus in his first year here – or it’s less than that, but we’re in the first year – has been on uniting forces under the Iraqi Security Forces and going – making sure that unregulated militias are kind of pulled back in. And so that’s something that there’s an ongoing effort. It obviously takes some time, but they’re investigating this and it’s something that we raise regularly.
QUESTION: Well, thank you, Jen. Really appreciate your help.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Next in queue is Nike Ching with Voice of America. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi there.
QUESTION: Yes. Hi (inaudible) Jen. Thanks so much for doing this.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I’m hoping – we are hoping the Chinese New Year of Goat will bring the – a new chapter to combating the violent extremism.
First question —
MS. PSAKI: We all hope.
QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.) First question for you is: Deputy Secretary Blinken just traveled to Japan, China, and Korea. Could you please give us an update on his discussion with those countries on anti-terrorism?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you mentioned, he was there last week and he’s back now in the United States. I have not had an opportunity to discuss with him more about his trip. Obviously, he was there to discuss a range of regional issues, whether it’s our security and economic cooperation or our ongoing commitment to Asia and the future – and the relationship between the United States and Asia. It certainly speaks to how important we think that relationship is, given this was his first international trip as deputy secretary of state. And our Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was also just in Asia. But we’ve put out, I think, a couple of readouts about his trip while he was on the ground. I don’t have anything new to offer other than what we put out last week.
QUESTION: I did try to read those statements. I don’t recall much information about anti-terrorism. Could there be a readout on that?
MS. PSAKI: I am certainly happy to see if there’s any additional information we’re going to read out from his trip.
QUESTION: Right, now a follow-up. Do you know, on CVE tomorrow and Thursday, is there any delegations from China or from Asia Pacific region?
MS. PSAKI: I know that one of your journalist colleagues asked also about a list of attendees, so we will certainly follow up on that and see when we can make that available.
QUESTION: Now, on foreign fighters from Asia Pacific area, do you have a breakdown on those Asia Pacific foreign fighters, ethnicities and countries of origin?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a breakdown. I would point you to any individual country. Obviously, we have our own breakdowns of U.S., but I would expect any individual country would have their own breakdowns.
QUESTION: And what – so final question on CVE: So specifically, what is your goal to bring countries from Asia Pacific, including China, to contribute to combat the violent extremism? Are they all on the same page with the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the goal of the entire summit is to explore ways to counter violent extremism by identifying and addressing the conditions that can lead individuals to commit violent actions, as well as look for ways to prevent and intervene where appropriate. This is a three-day summit. The first two days are domestically focused. The day at the State Department on Thursday is internationally focused. So there’ll be a range of issues discussed while we’re there, but that’s the overall focus of the summit.
QUESTION: Should we expect a joint communique after the Thursday ministerial —
MS. PSAKI: Don’t have anything to predict for you. I expect that this – their hope is that this is a catalyst for where we go from here and then the path forward.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. We do have a follow-up in queue from Laura Koran.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
OPERATOR: Please go ahead.
QUESTION: I just have one quick one. There were reports this morning that ISIS militants have kidnapped about 120 Iraqi youths from near the city of Tikrit. I was just wondering if you had anything on that, any concerns that that raises or if you’ve been able to confirm those reports?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of that, Laura, but we’re happy to look into that and take that and talk to our Iraq team about that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, let’s just do a couple more here. Go ahead.
OPERATOR: Thank you. The next question is from Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Jen, but my question has been addressed, it’s on the summit.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, great. We’ll get around a list of attendees as well.
QUESTION: Yes, thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Sure thing.
OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time, there’s no additional questions in queue. Please continue.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Well, thank you, everybody, for joining us for this snow day phone briefing, and we’ll look forward to seeing you all in the briefing room tomorrow.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:05 p.m.)
DPB # 29