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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: August 26, 2014

1:32 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.


MS. PSAKI: All right. Just a quick update for all of you on what to expect: We’ll have a statement from Secretary Kerry shortly on the reported ceasefire. I’m happy to, of course, speak about it but wanted to make all of you aware that that is coming.

Brad, welcome back with your blue pants.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you. (Laughter.) From you, I take that as a compliment on behalf of the United States Government.

MS. PSAKI: It is, yes. (Laughter.) I clearly like blue.

QUESTION: Since you volunteered, why don’t you tell us your initial thoughts on the ceasefire?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, thank you for the question. We strongly, of course, support today’s ceasefire agreement. We call on all parties to fully and completely comply with its terms. We hope very much that this ceasefire will prove to be durable and sustainable, that it will put an end to rocket and mortar attacks, and that it will help to bring about an enduring end to the conflict in Gaza.

This has obviously been an effort that has been underway over the past couple of weeks. The Secretary has continued to work, as has many officials in the United States Government, closely with the Egyptians, the Israelis, the Palestinian Authority, and others in the region to arrive at this moment. We, of course, want to thank the Egyptians for their role in hosting these negotiations.

But I think it’s important for me to note, and then we’ll, of course, go to your questions, that we view this as an opportunity, not a certainty. Today’s agreement comes after many hours and days of negotiations and discussions. But certainly, there’s a long road ahead, and we’re aware of that and we’re going into this eyes wide open. But go ahead.

QUESTION: What do you think is different this time from 2012? A lot of the details seem to be very similar regarding easing of the blockade, not firing rockets. Why do you think that this may prove durable when it didn’t last time?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there are some differences between the situation in 2012 and the situation now. Unfortunately, we’re looking at significantly more civilian casualties that we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks. We’ve seen both the Israeli and the Palestinian people live under fear of rocket attacks, fear of additional bloodshed. Many have lost people on their streets. And certainly, the steps that the Israelis took into Gaza in response to the rocket attacks were farther than were taken in 2012. And I’m just laying this out because I think the context is different.

I think what we’re seeing here – and of course, we’ll let the parties speak for themselves on why they think this is sustainable – is a desire to see an end to the bloodshed and an end to the fear that their people are living under. Obviously, again, there are many steps that need to be taken, and we’ll let the Egyptians announce the next steps. But clearly, negotiations about the key issues that have been living over the heads of the Israeli and Palestinian people is a part of this process as well.

QUESTION: And then just – one of the things U.S. officials said throughout the conflict was it was important to get to a ceasefire, but not do anything that would limit Israel’s right to self-defense, not provide some sort of reward to Hamas for its actions. Given that this agreement doesn’t really go beyond 2012 significantly, from what any of us can see, do you feel that that aim is accomplished, that essentially a ceasefire has been reached but Hamas hasn’t really gained anything?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – one, Brad, I think there’s, again, a long road to go here, and there are key issues both sides have strong views about what their needs are for a sustainable ceasefire over the long term. And obviously, the Israelis want to be able to and deserve to be able to live in peace and security without terrorist attacks, without rockets, without tunnels, and the Palestinians also need to be able to live in peace and security. So I don’t think our view is this is a reward situation as much as an effort to bring an end to the violence, bring an end to the bloodshed, see if there’s a sustainable path forward.

QUESTION: Two things on this, if I may. One, Hamas, it is said, has had a sense of a betrayal after the 2012 agreement, feeling that aspects of that agreement, particularly in terms of opening the crossings, were not lived up to. To your understanding, what guarantees are there in this circumstance that Hamas will see an easing of the crossings?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note here, Arshad, that as part of this as calm is restored, there will be delivery of urgent humanitarian assistance. And of course, we will be supporting that effort and we’re also prepared to work with international partners on a major reconstruction initiative and appropriate measures in place that can benefit the civilian population of Gaza.

I think in this case there’s no question that there has been a mistrust from some who, given the experience of 2012 – and I’ll let them speak to what factor that had in the process that’s been ongoing over the last couple of weeks – but there’s no question that determining a path to greater economic prosperity, to greater access, and seeing if that path will stick, is in the interests of the people of Gaza. And so beyond that, I think we’re going to let the Egyptians and Israelis speak to other commitments that they’re going to make in —

QUESTION: One thing about the – sorry, I’ve got a couple more on this. One thing on the phrase “as calm is restored.” In a certain sense, that hands the future of this ceasefire agreement over entirely to anybody with a rocket or a mortar or anything that they might choose to fire from Gaza into Israel. I mean, if there are armed groups that decide they want to fire one or two things off, then Israel would be within its rights to not do anything to ease the closures, right, because calm would not have been restored? And that gets to the issue of guarantees. I mean, how does Hamas know that anybody – that their constituency, the people of Gaza, are going to actually see an improvement in their lives as a result of this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, again, I’ll let them speak to why they agreed to this open-ended ceasefire. But what we’re talking about here is a path and the potential for greater economic opportunity, greater economic prosperity. And obviously, while, as you know, we continue to believe Hamas is a terrorist organization and our goal here has been to prevent the rocket attacks coming from Hamas into Israel, we also still have a great deal of support and a relationship with the Palestinian people. So I can’t speak for what their motivations are, and I’ll let others speak to what guarantees are. We all know what the issues are, which is certainly opening up the border crossings, and that is part of the discussion as it relates to economic opportunity, certainly, for the people of Gaza.

QUESTION: And just two quick things finally for me.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: One, do you – a senior Israeli official, the deputy foreign minister, last week said on the record that Israel reserved the right to conduct ground operations in Gaza to go after tunnels. Is it your understanding that the ceasefire agreement, such as it is, gives Israel that right to send ground forces into Gaza to go after tunnels whenever it wishes, just as the Israel security forces often punch into portions of the West Bank, even those that are ostensibly under the security control of the Palestinian Authority, when it wishes? Does the same apply here to Gaza, as they said publicly last week?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Arshad, in previous ceasefires agreements over the past couple of weeks, the ability of Israel to continue to work on tunnels has been a part of those agreements. I’m not aware of that changing, but you’re also aware that they have announced that their work on the tunnels was completed. So in terms of the future, I’m not going to speculate if that’s an issue in the future. Hopefully, it’s not. We’re talking about tunnels that were being dug so terrorists could get into Israel. Obviously, that is a different circumstance than one that currently exists.

QUESTION: And does the – last one. Does the Secretary see this agreement as a possible step toward the resumption of broader Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, notwithstanding their – the failure to reach – to meet the April deadline?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary believes that we have two and a half years – I think that’s still right – left in the Administration that the only sustainable path forward for the people of Israel and the Palestinian people is a two-state solution. Obviously, that would require a process. Are we resuming the process now? No, we’re not. It requires steps and decisions made by both the Israeli and the Palestinian people. But we’re certainly not closing the door to that in the future, given the importance of achieving a two-state solution to have peace in the region.


QUESTION: You began by saying that you want to see a stop to the rockets and mortars from Gaza. You also would like to see a stop to the aerial bombardment by the Israeli air force, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think bringing an end to the violence and the —

QUESTION: Just to clarify —

MS. PSAKI: — let me finish – bringing an end to the violence and the bloodshed, the civilian casualties – we have made no secret of our concern about that, and that continues. And of course, the benefit of a ceasefire is seeing an end to that.

QUESTION: Okay. And let me begin with where Arshad ended, that you want to see this as part of a broader process. Today Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that he will not return to useless negotiation. Do you agree with him that the negotiations in the past have been useless from the Palestinian point of view?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to parse his own words, and I don’t believe that’s what he said. Certainly we’d like to see discussions – which, again, we’ll let the Egyptians and others make any additional announcements about – that are productive and that do address the core issues. And I think I spoke to some of the pieces, including a commitment to working with our international partners on a major reconstruction initiative that will benefit the civilian population in Gaza that we’re certainly committed to, as well as continuing to work with Israel on their security needs and making sure that they feel protected and have what they need.

QUESTION: Now, on the ceasefire itself, the 2012 agreement – which was brokered by Egypt and, in fact, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the time – ended up in tatters, as we have seen, although Hamas really adhered for 18 months to a ceasefire, not throwing any rockets and so on. Wouldn’t it be sort of more prudent or would give it more sustainability to the ceasefire if, let’s say, the United States was a guarantor of the ceasefire somehow?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think the Secretary – one, let me say first that the Secretary has been – I think it would be hard to find anyone who’s been more engaged in this on the phone, in person, in meetings – many late-night phone calls, many while he’s also been attending and facilitating and hosting events in Australia and India and other places around the world – than the Secretary. And he has assured both sides that the United States remains committed to being engaged and involved, and I think obviously they have what they needed in order to agree to the ceasefire.

QUESTION: And finally, from me at this point – now, I asked this yesterday. So was the Secretary instrumental in any way in brokering this particular ceasefire?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I answered some of that question. But the Secretary has been engaged for weeks now, ever since he left Egypt when we had that sort of one of the earlier short-term ceasefires, engaged in nearly daily conversations with the parties in the region, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, including the Palestinians, including other leaders in the region, and sometimes multiple discussions and phone calls a day, as has our team on the ground – CG Ratney and Ambassador Dan Shapiro. You’re familiar with Frank Lowenstein’s trip and the days he spent in Egypt. So we’ve been incredibly closely engaged in this effort. We’ve been working with the Egyptians, we’ve been working with the parties involved because we feel a strong commitment to seeing an end to the violence and the bloodshed, and that will continue as we proceed on the path forward.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: As you know, the ceasefire is for four weeks, so still temporary in a way. And the negotiation on the other points that’s been mentioned now, it’s going to start in the next two days. How involved you going to be in the negotiations, and on what level? And as you know, one of the Israelis’ main demand was to disarm Hamas and take its weapons away. Do you think this is going to be a sticking point that actually eventually might break the ceasefire?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me see if I get all your questions, and I’m sure —


MS. PSAKI: — you’ll remind me if I don’t.


MS. PSAKI: Let me take the last one first. There are key issues that are important to both sides. For Israel, their security is a key issue, and certainly they have called for the disarmament of Hamas. We support that, but we know that that is not an overnight effort. And it is one that will need to be discussed with the parties as a part of negotiations.

I think earlier you asked me – okay, you asked me also about – at what level we’ll be engaged. We’re still determining that. Obviously, the United States is not a party to the negotiations in the sense that we are not one of the parties.


MS. PSAKI: But we certainly are committed and have a stake and have been very closely involved. I don’t have any update for you. As soon as we do, we can make that available to all of you. Obviously, this just happened over the last couple of hours.

I expect that the Secretary will continue to be very involved. Obviously, our acting envoy Frank Lowenstein will continue to be closely involved – Ambassador Shapiro, CG Ratney. In terms of from where, we’re still determining that.

I think you had a third question.

QUESTION: All right. No, but in terms of representation – so you think it’s going to stay on the same level or will you send Bill Burns, for example? Or Under Secretary of State? Or somebody to be actually in the room when they do the negotiation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, even in 2012, we weren’t in the room because we don’t talk to Hamas, and that won’t change. We don’t negotiate with Hamas.


MS. PSAKI: We’ve – Frank Lowenstein has been there as a facilitator. I don’t have a prediction yet or announcement on what level or how we’ll participate, but as soon as we have that we can make that available to all of you even if it’s later today.


QUESTION: Right. One last thing. Sorry —

QUESTION: It’s okay.

QUESTION: One last thing that President Abbas also said today, apart from welcoming the ceasefire, was actually he has a new surprise that he’s going to announce soon, and one of them is to go to declare that the negotiation cannot continue like this and there’s going to be a Palestinian state with a time limit. And he will seek the U.S. support for that. I’m just wondering if he has been talking to you on any level, whether it’s Abbas himself or somebody else, and you’re aware of what he is going to declare in the next – maybe today or the next few days.

MS. PSAKI: I think – and I hope it’s the same thing we’re talking about – but I think he’s talked a little bit about going to the international community. Is that what you’re referring to?

QUESTION: Well, he said something like this, he might go to the UN.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we have a range of conversations privately through diplomatic channels with President Abbas and with other members of the Palestinians – other Palestinians, I should say.


MS. PSAKI: We’ve made clear, as we have publicly, that we don’t think that that step is the most productive step at this point, because obviously achieving an agreement on these key issues and even a lasting peace will require the participation of the other party. There are many ways to raise issues and to address them, and we feel that could be – continue to be done through discussions and negotiations.

QUESTION: But since the negotiation failed, and he – you tried, he tried, and you reached basically no conclusion or no even framework agreement. So why not give him a different avenue that he will go to the international community or go to the UN or whatever he’s planning to do?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think he’s referring to go to the ICC or going – taking other steps along those lines. Those we don’t feel will be productive. Believe me, if there was an openness, an ability, and a willingness to make the key decisions needed to resume peace negotiations, certainly we’d support that. That’s not a point we’re at. I think you’d know that.

QUESTION: Would you agree that going to the international community is less harmful than shooting rockets into Israel?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t —

QUESTION: He’s looking for an alternative to give his people, and right now he has war and devastation for his people and nothing. So he’s looking for something else and – yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, but I think he’s made these comments over the last day or two. Obviously, the ceasefire – which provides an opportunity to discuss a lot of these issues, and President Abbas would be a prominent part of that – could be that opportunity.

QUESTION: Yeah, but we’ve been speaking about this for 30 – 50 years. So he’s looking for an alternative.

MS. PSAKI: Thirty or fifty?

QUESTION: Well, however long.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Given that what we’ve just went through is terrible for both sides, is this such a terrible thing that it wouldn’t get at least a second look from the United States, the idea of going for some sort of greater international recognition? It’s more of a legalistic path, so —

MS. PSAKI: I mean, our position on this hasn’t changed. I talked about it a little bit yesterday. I think we see this process as the appropriate process and avenue to do that.

QUESTION: Apart from the U.S. opposition to the Palestinians going to the UN or the ICC or to any international body, is there any indication that Abbas’s latest threat to go international, if we can use that as a phrase, might have been one of the reasons why the Israelis are agreeing to this latest deal? Do you have any insight on that as part of the negotiating posture?

MS. PSAKI: I think the Israelis would be the appropriate entity to speak to that. Not that I’m aware of though, Roz.

QUESTION: And then in terms of U.S. weapons transfers to the Israelis, how does this ceasefire affect the ongoing – let’s not call it a review, but a review of what weapons and material are being transferred from the U.S. to Israel? How does that affect this enhanced scrutiny process that this Administration has imposed?

MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t. And again, the process has been ongoing, as have our – the equipment we’ve been providing. So there is no change to that to announce.

QUESTION: But you had suggested a couple of weeks ago that if circumstances changed, there would be a lessening of the review – not as thorough or not as many people weighing in on whether to transfer so many (inaudible) of X to the Israelis, as opposed to what has been happening during the course of this war.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that that’s an overstatement about what has been happening during the course of the last several weeks. Obviously, we always review these type of military equipment that we’re providing. So there’s no new update or change to that.



MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Go ahead.

QUESTION: — if I could just pivot for one second —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — I’m sorry – because I have to run out.

MS. PSAKI: No, no.

QUESTION: But what can you tell us about the status of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a U.S. citizen who is being detained in Israel?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Why has his arrest been extended, apparently, to the end of September, and why has he not been indicted yet?

MS. PSAKI: Some of this I’m not going to be able to speak to because it’s in the legal system. Let me see if I have any update. If I don’t, we can get your information and make sure we get it to you after the briefing. I don’t believe – I didn’t get an update from our team on this today. Obviously, you know this is a case that we are watching closely and we are involved with closely, but we can check on the legal process and see if there’s any updates we can provide.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea, a clear understanding, of why this young man was arrested in the first place?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken to that in the past, and that there were some charges. I don’t have those in front of me now, but we can get that to you, absolutely, after the briefing.

QUESTION: And last week, you – or may have been Marie – expressed concern over the process by which he was arrested —


QUESTION: — and it was reported, et cetera.


QUESTION: Has that concern been expressed to Israel or Israeli authorities?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, and it was last week as well, is my understanding.

QUESTION: Do you know whether any special accommodations have been made for him, given that he is a minor?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any other updates to provide on this, but we can get them —


MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to take it and see if there’s any to provide to all of you after the briefing.

QUESTION: Yeah, if you could.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Because I know that you had expressed before concern that because he is a minor, about the conditions under which he was being held, it does raise greater concern.

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, and those concerns haven’t changed. Neither has our interest or our commitment to the case. I just don’t have an update at this moment, so we’ll venture to get you one.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we move to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Are we done with Gaza? Yes, absolutely. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So we have a story from Beirut saying that not only the U.S. and Syria are cooperating in the fight against ISIS, but that the U.S. is providing intelligence to Damascus – or is there something true in that?

MS. PSAKI: There is not. It’s not an accurate report. We’re not coordinating with the regime, including through a third party.


MS. PSAKI: Other Syria?


MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: If you – yeah, one more. If you plan to take action in Syria, would it be possible to take action without any kind of cooperation with the Syrian regime?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I spoke to this a little bit yesterday, but one of the considerations is certainly the safety and security of the American people, and our view of threats facing our homeland and Western interests. And if it – when it comes to the interests of the American people, the interests of the United States, we’re not going to ask for permission from the Syrian regime. However, there isn’t a decision that’s been made, and certainly that would be one that would be in the President’s hands.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is this a universal principle that you’re espousing or is it particular to Syria? I mean, can any country that says it has – sees a threat somewhere in the world to its people take action in that country? Is that all you need legally?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I wasn’t making a legal point.


MS. PSAKI: And certainly, if there – we would obviously have a legal justification for any action that would be taken. I was just making a policy point in how we view this specific case.

QUESTION: But you – this legal – when you make a legal justification, would you need more than simply saying in country X, we see a threat to our people emerging, or something like that?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand the question. I just don’t want to get ahead of our internal process and discussions on every level on this.

QUESTION: Why wouldn’t it be a breach of international law not to ask Damascus for permission to conduct something that the U.S. is arguing is necessary to protect its people? The U.S. and Syria still have diplomatic relations. Why can’t the request be made?

MS. PSAKI: Roz, I think if there’s a decision made to take action, we can certainly have this discussion. Obviously, we’d have legal justification, but I’m just not going to get into a hypothetical at this point —

QUESTION: Have the surveillance flights already started?

MS. PSAKI: One moment. Let me go to Arshad.

QUESTION: When is the Secretary due back to Washington?

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary – there’s a range of meetings that will take place over the next couple of days internally. The Secretary felt he wanted to be there in person. He has a weekly meeting whenever he’s in town with the President, and certainly, the topics you would expect will – we expect to be a part of that, though they can talk about anything, everything from the threats from ISIL to Iraq to Syria to Afghanistan. So that’s – he’s in town for a couple of days.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: That’s the 4 p.m. meeting today?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And to your knowledge, is there a principals meeting, or is that a principals meeting? Or is that just him and the President?

MS. PSAKI: That’s just a meeting with him and the President. I’m not going to announce meetings that the White House is hosting, but he’s here for a couple of meetings.

QUESTION: And is it not fair to suggest that the proximate cause for his return is the threat from ISIL?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t view this as a return that was emergency or anything along those lines. He’s —

QUESTION: I didn’t say that.

MS. PSAKI: I know. I just wanted to be clear. He’s coming back for just a couple of days. He’ll probably – he may return and spend more time with his family before resuming what will be a hectic schedule in September.

QUESTION: But ISIL isn’t the proximate cause of this meeting?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure that will be part of the discussion, but there’ll be a range of topics they’ll probably discuss.

QUESTION: And then just one other one to go back to Roz’s point, if I may.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: What’s the difference between the UAE, as has been widely reported, striking targets in Libya, and the United States striking targets in Iraq? Why is it okay for the United States to bomb targets in Iraq, as it did earlier this month, but it’s – well, actually, let me start in a more simple way. What is the U.S. view of the reports that the UAE has carried out airstrikes in Libya?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we understand that there were airstrikes undertaken in recent days by the UAE and Egypt. As the joint statement I’m sure you saw yesterday with the United States, Germany, Italy, France, and the UK stated, we believe outside interference in Libya exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic transition. Obviously, that’s part of our concern here, given the fact that Libya is in a very fragile place.

QUESTION: So why – how is that different from the United States undertaking airstrikes in Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again —

QUESTION: Why is it okay for you to do that?

MS. PSAKI: — I think on the specifics beyond what I stated, I’d certainly refer you to the UAE and Egypt, but Iraq has invited the United States in to help address the threat from ISIL. We have undertaken a range of strikes, as you know, and we have a broad, comprehensive strategy. But I would say that is one significant difference.

QUESTION: But at the – I get that. But to go to Brad’s question, if you assert that the United States will act anywhere it deems there to be – or to go to Syria in particular, you said we’re not going to be stopped by the Syrian Government if we think that there is a threat emanating from there against the United States. If the UAE thinks there is a threat emanating against itself from Libya, why can it not, under the same justification, bomb Libya?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, we haven’t decided to take action, so I’m not going to entertain a hypothetical on that front. In terms of the justification for the UAE, our concern here is about the fragile state of Libya’s political process. We believe there isn’t a military solution. The political process is what the focus needs to be on, and hence the concern that we have.

QUESTION: And what —

QUESTION: Are we on Syria or are we talking about —

MS. PSAKI: Well, we kind of went back and forth to both.

QUESTION: Can we focus this —

MS. PSAKI: But why don’t you let Arshad continue?

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MS. PSAKI: And then we’ll finish Syria, if that works. Okay?

QUESTION: Why are you so concerned all of a sudden now about a threat to the United States potentially emanating from ISIS in Syria when the march of ISIS through Syria and then through Iraq has been underway for quite a long time now? The reports of dozens of Western – people with Western nationality fighting among them have been out for months. I mean, what’s different? Is there some kind of new or proximate threat that causes you to be concerned about this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I think anybody who looks at the situation in Iraq and Syria – the threat from ISIL – would say that they have gained strength over the last six months, that things have certainly changed in that regard. Obviously, we monitor and have long monitored very closely whether or not ISIL will seek to develop plots aimed at the West, beyond the geographic area where they have been operating in Iraq and Syria. And we’re actively, of course, consulting on that and working on that.

But it’s important to note that they, of course, have threatened to attack the homeland. We take those threats very seriously, and I think what you’re seeing here is a response to our growing concern about the counterterrorism threats. This is not new this past week. Neither is our response to it. I would point you back to the President’s speech at West Point where he talked about a $5 billion counterterrorism fund and our efforts to increase assistance to the Iraqis over the past six months. But certainly, we’ve seen an increase over the past months.

QUESTION: But why not act much earlier than now, then? I mean, why – if the threat’s been there for months, you’ve seen it for months —

MS. PSAKI: I think I said an increase over the past several months, and we have taken steps over the past several months in order to address it in different varieties. But our sole strategy here is not the potential for airstrikes. I think you saw General Dempsey speak to that. Obviously, there are a range of options that the President can consider and will consider.

QUESTION: Did it occur to no one three and a half years ago, two and a half years ago, eighteen months ago, twelve months ago, six months ago, that allowing Syria to become an increasingly ungoverned space with armed militants who could potentially strike at the United States or its allies or interests was a potential danger?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I think the reason that we’ve been as engaged as we have been in boosting the moderate opposition, in working with parties in the region on coordinating through the London 11 process and other international bodies through the UN to take on and address concerns we have about what’s happening in the region is because we’ve been watching this closely. But I think I addressed this in part by stating that ISIL and their threat has increased, and they’ve – their strength has increased. And so hence our response has increased.

QUESTION: Can I jump in there?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said you’ve been watching it very closely. But the latest thing that a lot of senior officials have been saying is that you’re now increasing surveillance flights over Syria, which is confusing to me because we’ve been hearing about how you’ve been watching it so closely for so many years. We heard about the all the flights that were seeing chemical weapons deployment and possible use. We’ve heard about flights that saw chemical weapons attacks or intelligence that saw chemical weapons attacks. We heard about other atrocities, troop formations, possible massacres. So what are these new surveillance flights, and what – where did this intelligence gap, when did that develop?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I’m of course not going to get into intelligence gathering from the podium. But what I will say is that obviously, the Department of Defense always looks at a variety of options to stay ready and prepared. We don’t always detail the manner in which we accomplish that – the means, the pace, the timing. And we, of course, take steps to learn more about the intelligence picture on the ground as a standard part of any process before a decision is made. So that’s, I think, to be expected. But obviously, there are a range of capabilities we’ve had over the course of time. Those aren’t new. And obviously, when it’s appropriate, we’ve spoken to those and information that we’ve acquired.

QUESTION: But after three and a half years of civil war, shouldn’t we have a clear picture of what’s going on given all the attention we’ve purportedly given to the conflict?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Brad, again, without being able to go into details about what we do or don’t do and at what time and pace, clearly, we make sure our information is up to date. And as we learn more about the picture on the ground, we also like to do that before any decision is made.

QUESTION: Jen, on that point. Now, as we speak – or today, during the day, there were really intense bombardment by the Syrian air force to ISIS positions. And it is alleged that the Iraqis gave the Syrians intelligence that was provided by you. Is that true? Could there be some sort of an intelligence cooperation there?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any information on that, Said.

QUESTION: Because they’re saying that the strikes are far more devastating than, let’s say, efforts in the back, in the past.

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t see – do you see —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just go one at a time.

QUESTION: Let me just follow very quickly.

MS. PSAKI: Let’s go one at a time. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: So – follow up very quickly. So you don’t see any kind of cooperation whatsoever, none, with the Syrian regime? That whatever you do against (inaudible) in Syria – against ISIS in Syria is – you will do alone?

MS. PSAKI: I just stated we’re not coordinating with the regime or through a third party.

QUESTION: One more question, Syria.

QUESTION: Can I just return —

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish – can we finish Syria?

QUESTION: This is Syria.

QUESTION: Syria, yeah. One more —

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead. In the back.

QUESTION: It’s just a return to the question of foreign fighters. Given the increased focus on foreign fighters and the potential threat, can you tell us how you would assess how Turkey is monitoring the border? Is it actively trying to stop foreign fighters from going across? Is it doing enough?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Turkey is an important ally of ours and we work closely with them. I’m not going to be assessing anyone’s capabilities from the podium, but the issue of foreign fighters and the concern of individuals with Western passports or passports that would enable them to travel into countries where they can do harm is certainly at the top of our agenda and the top of the agenda of many countries. That’s one of the reasons the President is going to be chairing a meeting at UNGA about this particular issue.

So of course, there are a range of issues we discuss with Turkey and partners around the world, but I’m not in a position and don’t expect I’ll be to assess capabilities or their processes.

QUESTION: Are they sharing intelligence with you, say, about Americans that would be going across or others that are going across?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to be in a position to discuss intelligence gathering or what we share with other countries.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, can you confirm the death of American Douglas McAuthur McCain, who was fighting this weekend – died this weekend fighting, allegedly, for ISIS in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: We are certainly aware of these reports. Given this information just came out publicly, I’m not in a position to confirm the details or identity in the reports from the podium. We are in contact with the family and are providing all possible consular assistance. As you know, there’s typically a process that needs to be gone through before any confirmation can be made, and certainly out of respect for the family we’re not going to be adding any more comment at this time.


QUESTION: Are you able to say whether a female aid worker is being held by ISIS inside Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Roz, I don’t – we’ve confirmed the past that there are a small number of Americans being held. Obviously, we follow those cases and work on those closely. I’m not going to confirm any details about other detained Americans for their safety and privacy, and certainly I would ask all of you to take that into account as well.

QUESTION: Let me – Jen —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Brad, let me just go back to the question about surveillance flights. I’m hearing two different messages there: either that you don’t want to talk about them at all or that the Administration has not actually started them. But other organizations, including Brad’s, are reporting that the surveillance flights specifically to look for IS fighters have begun over Syria. Yes or no?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, we, of course, recognize the threat posed by ISIL throughout the region. We’re working with our allies and partners to better understand that threat in a variety of ways. I understand, I’ve seen the reports. But obviously, we don’t speak to a range of processes or a range of capabilities we have from the podium for clear reasons, and so I’m not going to change that now.

QUESTION: But it’s on the front page of The Guardian. It’s on the front page of The New York Times. There was a rather extensive analysis of why the U.S. would be doing this in The Wall Street Journal. Why not just come out and say to the American people there is this incipient threat to the homeland and this is what we’re doing to try to protect you from attack?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I’d first refute most of what you just said. And obviously, I’ve stated from here, as has my colleague Marie many times, the steps we’re taking to address the threat of ISIL, including airstrikes we’ve already taken in Iraq. Obviously, the Department of Defense looks at a variety of ways to stay ready and prepared. We don’t always detail the manner we do that publicly, and I’m not going to change that today.


MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just have a question. I have to go, actually. One last question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: So when the President authorize aerial strike in Iraq, he cited two reasons: number one, to protect American personnel, embassies and consulate; and the other one was to protect the Yezidis because of a potential genocide.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Now, if you’re going to Syria, while I believe the second reason is not going to apply because you’re already 190,000 dead and you’re not moving on that. But what American interest specifically that you have in Syria apart from one American journalist that’s held by ISIS? What interest do you have there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think one of the interests and the factors we’re certainly looking at is the safety and security of the American people, of our homeland.

QUESTION: No, but in Syria in particular now, what’s the —

MS. PSAKI: I understand. The threat of ISIL that is coming from Syria, we’re certainly aware of the presence of ISIL across the region. That’s why, of course, we’re talking about it. And as we – we need to evaluate which of these groups and how ISIL and other groups pose a threat to the United States and what we can do to address it. So we know they’ve gained capacity – I’ve talked about that a little bit today – over the last several months in Syria. That’s given them a safe haven – many of them – as they – and they’ve advanced across Iraq, as you know. And we’re looking at that. The President is looking at that, and that’s why there are a range of options.


MS. PSAKI: But that’s not the soul of our strategy. It’s – again, there are multiple components. One is certainly continuing to work with and strengthen the moderate opposition. We have continued to provide them assistance. You saw the President talk just a few weeks ago about his plans to and desire to arm and equip them. We’re waiting for Congress to approve that, and we’re also working with countries in the region to address this growing threat. And we do think that unity in Iraq and other countries will be a powerful force in addressing it as well.

QUESTION: Jen, those two loops we opened —


QUESTION: And I won’t even get into Libya. We’ll get into that after.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: On the female aid worker and the other detainees, without confirming anything about them, do you know anything about their condition, their status – are they safe, are they in good health, et cetera?

MS. PSAKI: There are no more details I can provide on any other detained American citizens.

QUESTION: Jen, just —

QUESTION: Okay. And then regarding —

MS. PSAKI: One more, and then we’ll go to you, Lucas.

QUESTION: The foreign fighters. This was a major concern at the time of al-Qaida in Iraq’s expansion, 2004, 5, 6. It was cited a lot by American and Western officials as a grave threat to the United States and to Europe and other Western interests. Was there any study ever done that actually assessed the damage these American, European and other multi-passport holders ever did to the West or the United States?

MS. PSAKI: Damage in what capacity? Damage in terms of —

QUESTION: Any terrorist attacks, terrorist plots, any – they’re cited a lot as posing a threat. What did they actually do after al-Qaida in Iraq effectively dissipated several years ago?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check, Brad, with our team if there’s more analysis publicly that we can provide.


MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re watching these individuals for a reason – because we’re concerned about the threat they pose.


MS. PSAKI: But I take your point.

QUESTION: No, but given that it’s cited as a possible reason to launch a military attack in a hostile country, and it’s a very similar argument to one that was made several years ago.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. But I would point you to – anecdotally, but I think it’s still relevant – recent events, including, of course, what we’ve seen with the tragic events with James Foley, what we have seen even with individuals from other Western European countries and actions they’ve taken, so —

QUESTION: In Syria and Iraq, not in the West.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there was an event in Belgium, I think you remember, several months ago. So again, that’s just anecdotal, but I think we’ve seen some incidents that have caused concern. And you’re right, it’s not a new concern. There have been steps since then that we have taken to better coordinate with our Western allies to do more to address it, to better track, to work through the interagency, but I can see if there’s more we can provide.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Lucas, go ahead.

QUESTION: One more on Syria.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Are you Syria or —

QUESTION: Yes, Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Syria, Syria, Syria. Go ahead.


QUESTION: Jen, there appears to be a little confusion in the briefing room today. Can you outline what is exactly the United States strategy with dealing with ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know why there’s confusion. Do you have a specific question?

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry has called for ISIS’s destruction. Yesterday the chairman of the Joint Chiefs said that ISIS poses a regional threat. Can you outline – is the goal of the United States Government to destroy ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly that is a long-term goal, Lucas. But obviously, there are several steps that need to be taken to take on the threat from ISIS – one that we have seen grow in Syria and Iraq and other countries in the region. So there are multiple parts of our strategy. I actually don’t think what you’re – what you’ve heard is inconsistent. I think, obviously, there isn’t a decision that’s been made. There are several factors that need to be weighed. The President will look at options. There’ll be a discussion through the interagency to discuss options and the pros and cons of that.

But even beyond that, it’s not just a military solution. There’s a political component of this. That’s why we’re working with countries in the region to build not just capacity, but build support within – with countries, build a coalition of countries who are engaged actively in taking on the threat of ISIL. But also the piece that we’re very concerned about now is the piece Brad just mentioned, which is the threat of foreign fighters who have Western passports. And that’s a piece that we’re tracking closely as well, because we think it could pose a threat to us.

QUESTION: And would the United States Government entertain the notion of a future potential prisoner swap to gain the – to get – spring the American aid worker being held by ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your effort, Lucas, but I’m not going to speak to American citizens who may or may not be detained, and certainly not going to entertain what may or may not considered.

QUESTION: Because the government has done prisoner swaps in the past to free American hostages.

MS. PSAKI: I’m familiar with our history, Lucas. But again, I think it’s important to note for everybody, and it’s a serious note here, is that for the safety and security of any individual who is being held – including any reporters, your colleagues – we don’t talk about the details for that reason. And so that’s why we don’t provide additional information.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: As the United States is considering to expand its attacks on ISIS, one determined force in Syria that is really determined to fight ISIS is the Kurdish rebels, just like in Iraq. Are you – like what – first of all, what degree of relationship do you have with the Kurdish rebels in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know that I have any new update to provide for all of you in terms of who we’re working with. You’re familiar with our efforts to work with the moderate opposition. Obviously, we’re considering a range of actions and steps to be taken, but I don’t think I have anything else further to outline for you.

QUESTION: But as you know, the rebels in Syria are some sort of offshoot of the PKK. And the PKK rebels have been fighting alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq against ISIS. And they – some of them came from Syria. So can’t you say, even though you might not want it, you are like a strange bedfellow with the PKK against ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say that. I think – (laughter) – I wouldn’t say that. I do like that term “strange bedfellow,” though. It’s always good to use it. But our position on the PKK and their status as a foreign terrorist organization hasn’t changed. I spoke about this a little bit yesterday. It certainly hasn’t changed since yesterday. We don’t think that having a common enemy makes you a friend, so that would be the case here as well.

QUESTION: Just very quickly over what Lucas just said. Yesterday the German joint chiefs of staff said that it was a regional threat. Now on the other hand from the Hill, other places in this town, they’re saying it’s a plane ticket away from threatening the United States of America. So is it a threat to the U.S. or is it a regional threat? And how would that impact policy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think I spoke about this a little bit yesterday more extensively, so I’d certainly point you to that, because I know we have a range of topics we want to discuss today. But our view is what I outlined, that while we don’t feel – and I know some have said that they see a 9/11-style attack – I think that’s come from the Hill – we’ve not seen them focus on that kind of planning. I think that may have been part of what Chairman Dempsey was referring to, but I would refer you to DOD. But that doesn’t change the fact that we’re not going to be very mindful that they could quickly aim to pivot attacks against Western targets outside of the region. That’s something we’re monitoring closely, we’ll continue to, and we remain very cognizant of.

QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, are you giving any thought to how Iran and Russia might react to, let’s say – if you’re taking unilateral action – bombing in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: I think our focus remains on the protection of the U.S. national interests, and that will remain our key objective.

QUESTION: Quick follow-up on that?

QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?

MS. PSAKI: One more on Iran? Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Earlier today, Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani said in a press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif that Iran has stepped in to provide weapons to the Kurds. Does the United States support Iran’s effort to arm the Kurds?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of that. I’d certainly, I guess, point you to the Iranians. I think we’ve expressed concerns in the past about the reports of Iranian flow of arms into Iraq previously. That would apply here as well, but again, I don’t have any confirmation.

QUESTION: But do you welcome Iran’s – excuse me.

QUESTION: Can I follow up with that?


QUESTION: If you can arm the Kurds, why can’t the Iranians arm the Kurds?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, as I’m sure you’re familiar with, because you’re a historian of Iranian P5+1 issues, all arms transfers from Iran would violate UN Security Council resolutions. Arms sales from Iran to Iraq would also violate U.S. sanctions, and certainly outside intervention in this manner would be something we’d have concerns about.


QUESTION: But doesn’t all Iranian uranium enrichment violate UN Security Council sanctions as well? I mean, we made a – you’ve made —

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously there’s an ongoing process to address the nuclear program, but there are a range of sanctions and a range of restrictions in place.

QUESTION: But not —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) does the United States – are you guys okay with allowing Iran to arm the Kurds or be involved in Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Lucas, our position on this hasn’t changed. I mean, we’ve been concerned in the past, and we’ve expressed that about that type of outside intervention. We, again, have concerns given the Security Council resolutions and what would be violated. But I don’t have any confirmation of this, so I’m not going to speak to it further.

QUESTION: Can we come back to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You said that one of the U.S.’s goals is to ultimately destroy or – whatever word you want to use – combat the threat of ISIS. But they’ve also proven themselves to be one of the more effective forces against the Assad regime. Are you concerned that any U.S. action against ISIS would inadvertently strengthen the Assad regime’s hand?

MS. PSAKI: No. We’re looking at this – obviously, there’s a complicated situation on the ground in Syria. I don’t have to tell you that. The threat of ISIL is one that is beyond borders, and that’s why we’re considering a range of options that are not limited by borders. And it’s a threat that we have concerned about for all the reasons that I’ve outlined today. That doesn’t mean that our view has changed of the brutality of the Assad regime and the brutality of the actions that he has taken against his own people. But given the growing threat of ISIL, it is a threat that we need to take on and work with countries in the region to do that.

QUESTION: Would you say the range of options is still limited by the option of boots on the ground not being on the table in Syria, even as regards ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: That hasn’t changed.


QUESTION: One more on Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: Okay, and then we got to move on. But go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you see Iran as a helpful partner in the stability of a future Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: We know that Iran and Iraq obviously have a long history of a relationship, but again, there are concerns that we have about the type of assistance or the type of engagement, and that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Can I go on to Qatar?

QUESTION: I have a quick one on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on Peter Theo Curtis? Is he still in Tel Aviv?

MS. PSAKI: I know there have been some reports out there. I don’t have any update, but let me venture to get you something that can be confirmed after the briefing.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that? In light of the release of Peter Theo Curtis, is Qatar proving to be a helpful ally?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we work with Qatar, and have, on a range of issues. I think as I spoke about a bit yesterday as a part of our effort to do everything possible to bring American citizens who have been detained home safely, the Secretary and others in the Administration have been in touch with two dozen countries. As you know, we’ve worked with Qatar on a range of other issues, whether it’s Syria or whether it’s the events in Gaza. And so that hasn’t changed. This is not the only issue that we’ve worked with Qatar on.

QUESTION: Well, there are reports of Qatar arming Islamist groups in Syria and Libya that potentially undermine U.S. policies and interests. How does the State Department reconcile with that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there have long been reports – and I believe there have been sanctions put in place in certain cases – about individuals who have been supporting or financially supporting extremists. We don’t have information on government doing that in Syria, so that hasn’t changed. It’s an issue that we’ve raised in terms of supporting the moderate opposition and providing all support through the moderate opposition. That’s one that’s been on the table for many, many months now as a part of discussions with countries in the region.

Okay. Should we move on to a new topic?

QUESTION: Well, still on (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The – yesterday, a U.S. district court judge in Texas vacated the order to seize the oil that was in dispute between the KRG and Iraq. Do you have any reaction to that decision?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have of course seen the reports. Broadly, I would refer you to the parties involved. As you know, this is a commercial transaction. The United States Government is not involved. I would say from our view the situation over the past several weeks clearly d