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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing – November 19, 2014

12:37 p.m. EST

MR. RATHKE: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR. RATHKE: All right. As you know, I’m sure, Tony Blinken will be having his confirmation hearing today, so I’ll try to be quick and then we’ll leave the field to him for the afternoon.

Two things at the top: First of all, Secretary Kerry is in London today. He had a brief follow-up meeting with Omani Foreign Minister bin Alawi to congratulate – to continue, sorry – to continue the discussion they had yesterday about the foreign minister’s recent trip to Tehran. The Secretary also participated in a discussion with entry and midlevel Foreign Service officers at Embassy London. He continues to stay in close touch with the team in Vienna and with interagency colleagues in Washington. Tomorrow, he will depart for Paris, where he will have separate meetings with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud and French Foreign Minister Fabius on the Iran nuclear negotiations.

Acting Deputy Secretary Sherman is in Vienna for the EU/P5+1 talks, which began with a series of meetings, including U.S.-Iran bilateral discussions, P5+1 internal coordination sessions, and experts meetings. The Secretary will travel to Vienna later this week, but we haven’t determined the day yet. More will come on that later.

And the second item at the top: Yesterday, I began the briefing with a pitch for my fellow Foreign Service officers who have been waiting for Senate confirmation. Secretary Kerry called in from London to his chief of staff, David Wade, and he asked me to come out here again this afternoon and do the same. The Secretary has been in continued contact with his former colleagues on Capitol Hill about this. It’s very important to him. He needs to have his team and he also feels it’s important that these non-controversial nominees be confirmed before Thanksgiving as well. It’s the right thing to do for them, for their families, and for America’s interests.

We’re making some headway and we’re grateful for that. Again, yesterday, the Senate confirmed five more ambassadors, all career diplomats, including Marcia Bernicat to Bangladesh, Leslie Bassett to Paraguay, James Zumwalt to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, Craig Allen to Brunei, and William Roebuck to Bahrain. We appreciate the efforts of Leaders Reid and McConnell, and of course, the work of Chairman Menendez and Ranking Member Corker in getting these ambassadors to work for the American people.

But let me just highlight one of the most important positions for the State Department that is yet to be confirmed. Ambassador Arnold Chacon is our nominee for director general of the Foreign Service and director of human resources. He would be responsible for strengthening our workforce and the Foreign Service through professional development and recruitment and increasing diversity, as well as for the welfare of our people here and those staffing some of the highest-risk posts across the world. He is greatly qualified to do so, serving in the Foreign Service since 1983, over 30 years. And he’s served in Western Hemisphere posts and here in Washington. He is a real star. He also happens to be the first Hispanic ever elevated to this position, which is important particularly for a Secretary who wants a State Department that reflects all of our country. This matters for many reasons. Let’s get Ambassador Chacon confirmed.

Again, we’re making progress. There are 55 State Department nominees waiting, 30 of whom are career Foreign Service officers. The vast majority of these remaining nominees could be confirmed quickly en bloc. We will look forward to continuing to working with the Senate to get this done. The Secretary has always said there are great public servants up there in the Senate, and he knows that none of them want to see this gridlock continues at the expense of career Foreign Service professionals.

With that, Lara, over to you.

QUESTION: Thanks. I have two – one very quick question up top, and then on a different topic, I will switch.

MR. RATHKE: Please.

QUESTION: But unfortunately, I need to leave shortly, so I wanted to see first off if you had any update on the detention of American citizen Taqi Al-Maidan in Bahrain.

MR. RATHKE: Yes. Yes, I do. Last September, U.S. citizen Taqi Al-Maidan was sentenced to 10 years in prison following his conviction for unlawful assembly, intent to kill police, destruction of police vehicles, and possession of Molotov cocktails. The U.S. Embassy in Manama has been providing all appropriate consular services to Mr. Al-Maidan since it became aware of his detention on October 7th, 2012. We are in regular contact with him and his family. We continue to consult with officials of the Government of Bahrain regarding Mr. Al-Maidan’s safety and welfare, his treatment in prison, including his medical and nutritional needs, and the Bahraini court system’s judicial proceedings.

Since Mr. Al-Maidan’s arrest, we have continued to follow his case very closely. We are aware of a recent report which – to which you made reference, Lara, published by the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. We share many of its concerns related to Mr. Al-Maidan’s detention and we take its work very seriously.

QUESTION: And so is that something that you’ve raised specifically with the Government of Bahrain in terms of whether or not he should continue to be detained?

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I said, we continue to consult with officials of the Government of Bahrain regarding Mr. Al-Maidan’s case, including all those aspects that I mentioned.

QUESTION: Okay. And then if I may, on the P5+1 – unless anybody else has something on Bahrain.

MR. RATHKE: Anything else on Bahrain? No. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, great. So just quickly, there seems to be increasing talk of an extension in these negotiations. That’s something that the State Department has said that there would only be a small possibility in very limited cases. Is it fair to assume that the State Department or the Obama Administration would be more flexible now with an extension of the negotiations than it has been previously?

MR. RATHKE: No. I don’t have anything new to say about that. We remain focused on November 24th and don’t have anything further to say about that.

QUESTION: Some of your allies, including the British foreign minister, with whom the Secretary met earlier this week, however, are saying things in public. He was just quoted, I think in Riga, as saying that he is not optimistic about getting a complete or a comprehensive agreement by the deadline, and therefore evoking the possibility of an extension of the prior JPOA or some version of it. Are you dismayed that your closest ally is publicly airing his doubts about getting this done in the next five days?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to express judgment on whatever the UK says for itself. Our hope remains to try to achieve an agreement by November 24th. We’re not talking about an extension.

QUESTION: Do you – when you say we’re not talking about an extension, do you mean that your negotiators are literally not discussing the possibility of an extension with their Iranian or other counterparts, that there’s no discussion of that whatsoever?

MR. RATHKE: As I said, we’re focused on November 24th. We’re not discussing an extension.

QUESTION: Including in the negotiating room?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to discuss what’s happening in the negotiating room. That’s been our position —

QUESTION: I just want to make sure – I want to make sure it’s not a – I want to make sure it’s not a deliberately ambiguous statement. In other words, I want to understand if when you say, “We’re not talking about an extension,” that that applies to the actual negotiations.

QUESTION: Or if you’re just saying you’re not talking about it from the podium or publicly.

MR. RATHKE: Well, our position on this hasn’t changed. It’s – so I’m repeating what I’ve had – what my predecessors at the podium, before they left on their travels, have said, and that is we are focused on November 24th as the deadline. We’re not having discussions about an extension. So there’s no change. There’s no difference to parse there.

QUESTION: Can I move to Iraq?

MR. RATHKE: Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: But are you hopeful that you will be able to meet the November 24 deadline?

MR. RATHKE: Well, that’s our hope. We’re focused on the November 24th deadline. If there – of course, our team is on the ground. They are in active discussions bilaterally, multilaterally. But the readouts of that will come from them. I don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: How much percentage we have reached, 90 percent or 95 percent?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to affix any kind of percentage number. We’ll know it’s done if we reach an agreement, but I’m not going to go beyond that.

QUESTION: Do you still believe it is possible to reach a comprehensive – excuse me – arrangement by the deadline?

MR. RATHKE: Yeah. That’s why our team is there. Yes.

QUESTION: Well, it could be there to – even if you no longer believe it to be possible.

MR. RATHKE: But no, that’s – no, we consider that as achievable.

QUESTION: And you just made reference to it as an agreement, whereas the senior Administration official who briefed, I think, on Monday pointedly avoided using that word. Yesterday, we had asked if you could check on why legally there’s some technicality that means that a joint plan of action or a comprehensive joint plan of action maybe should not be called an agreement. Did you get an answer on that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I did check into that after the discussion yesterday. There are a lot of words that senior U.S. officials have used to describe what we’re trying to achieve here – agreement, arrangement, deal, set of understandings, you name it. Officials are using these words colloquially, and they’re all referring to the same document. Whatever you want to call it, it’s not completed. But if we do end up getting it done, we expect that the proper name for this will be the joint comprehensive plan of action, and that’s the way we view this —

QUESTION: And why isn’t it —

MR. RATHKE: — these different nouns.

QUESTION: Why isn’t it – and I understand the colloquial use of varying terms to describe that document, if one is ultimately embraced by all sides. My question is: Why isn’t it an agreement?

MR. RATHKE: Well, it is because at the – what we have right now is the Joint Plan of Action, and the end goal of that was a comprehensive – joint comprehensive plan of action. So that’s –

QUESTION: But that’s not my question.

MR. RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: I mean, my question is the same as from yesterday, and I’m not trying to belabor this, but I would like an answer to it, because I think it’s reasonable for us to understand the legal terminology here. Why isn’t it legally an agreement? Is it that it’s not binding, for example? Is it that you haven’t actually signed anything at the end of it? I mean, I feel like there is a legal nicety here which L ought to be able to explain to you to explain to us.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m happy to check, but I’m not going to be able to guarantee you I’m going to have more to say on that topic. Happy to research that further.

QUESTION: Well, why wouldn’t you want people to understand the difference between a joint plan of action and an agreement? I mean, it seems like a very reasonable thing to want your citizens and the people who need to – who will – in Congress who are ultimately going to have to agree to any termination of sanctions to understand the difference. So, I mean, I don’t understand why that would be something you would be reluctant to air publicly.

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I say, the document itself is not completed, and that’s why our team is in Vienna working on it. I’m happy to see if there’s something more to say.

On the same topic?

QUESTION: Yeah, on the Vienna talks.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Did Deputy Sherman meet with the Iranian foreign minister in the bilateral or with his deputy?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t know have information about who was a participant on the Iranian side. There was a bilateral discussion with Iran today. We can check and see if there’s more information, but I don’t have the names of the lineup.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks

MR. RATHKE: Yes. Same topic?

QUESTION: Iraq.

MR. RATHKE: Okay, anything else on Iran? Okay, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. First of all, there was a deadly explosion today in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, killing five people. And it was probably the first most serious attack this year – and injuring more than two dozens of people. Do you have anything on that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we just released a statement, I believe, or we will be releasing it shortly. The United States strongly condemns the continued terrorist attacks in Iraq, including the suicide car bomb attacks today in Basrah and in the Iraqi Kurdistan region in front of the Erbil Provincial Council Building that took a number of innocent lives. We extend our condolences to the families of the victims and hope for a rapid recovery for those who were injured.

The Iraqi people are determined to stand against the violence and the horrific ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and have successfully reclaimed their territory from ISIL at Mosul Dam, Rabia, Zumar, and other areas, including in recent days Bayji. So as Iraqi Security Forces continue to gain strength and ISIL loses territory, it may resort to cowardly attacks and killing civilians and other desperate measures to try to maintain its reign of fear and prove its relevance.

QUESTION: I mean, that happens at a time when a delegation of Kurdish officials, a high-ranking delegation, is here in Washington. They include Kurdistan president’s chief of staff, Fuad Hussein, and they have met with State Department officials. So yesterday I talked to Fuad Hussein. He said they are here because they want heavy weapons from the United States. He said they want Apache helicopters, they want all sorts of weapons that the United States is reluctant to provide to them. That’s why they have been very slow in recapturing the towns they lost to ISIS. Why is the United States so reluctant to arm the Kurds?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we are committed to helping the Iraqi security forces, including the Kurdish security forces, achieve victory over ISIL, and I think our recent actions clearly demonstrate that commitment. We are continuing to evaluate the needs of all of Iraq’s security forces to ensure they have the necessary weapons to defeat ISIL. We also have enormous respect for the courage that the Kurds have shown and the fight that they already have taken to ISIL. Now as you know, because we’ve talked about it quite a bit in this room, in coordination with the Government of Iraq, the United States and our coalition partners have been very supportive of the Iraqi Kurdish forces. The U.S. and other coalition members are also training and advising Kurdish forces as part of the broader plan to advise Iraqi military forces.

I would also note that Kurdish forces already have significant numbers of heavy weapons, including over a hundred tanks and hundreds of other armored vehicles and artillery systems that they are currently using in the fight against ISIL. So that’s —

QUESTION: But none of those weapons have come from the U.S. (Inaudible) yesterday was saying that the United States doesn’t give us, like, the weapons we need that are essential to basically implement President Obama’s degrade and defeat strategy against ISIS. And he said, “We’re not sure why they’re so reluctant to arm us. Are they waiting for the Iraqi Government forces to go and protect Kurdistan” – something which is really not quite reasonable at the moment.

And he was also saying, like, “While they are afraid about arming some rebels in Syria because they might – afraid those weapons might fall in the wrong hands, well, we wonder whether they have the same fear about us.”

MR. RATHKE: Well, the President has pledged to expand our efforts to support the Iraqi forces, including the Iraqi Kurdish forces. We are continuing to coordinate with the international community to provide the Iraqi Government and the Kurdish forces what is needed, and our policy in that respect hasn’t changed. As I say, we have provided a large amount of support, weapons, materiel to Kurdish forces. We’ve detailed that in previous briefings here, and that remains our position.

Anything else on Iraq?

QUESTION: Yeah. I’ve got two quick follow-ups – I’m sorry – and then I have to run.

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead, Lara, and then we’ll go to Ilhan.

QUESTION: Yeah, just two quick follow-ups on Iraq. Further to my colleague’s point, there was some discussion some months ago in this room about whether the United States would provide military aid directly to the Kurdish Peshmerga or whether it’d go through Baghdad and it would be the Government of Iraq in Baghdad that would allocate those resources. Do you know what stream is currently underway now, if it’s a direct aid to Erbil or if it is routed through Baghdad?

MR. RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: Because that has a lot of weight on when those weapons are delivered and how often.

MR. RATHKE: Well, our policy remains that all arms transfers have to be coordinated through the sovereign central government of Iraq. As far as the exact pathway, I’d refer you to colleagues at the Defense Department, but the central point for us – that is, the sovereign central government of Iraq – these have to be coordinated through them.

QUESTION: Right, so – and the point being that it could be that the central government is holding up some of the delivery of this aid to the regional authorities.

MR. RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of, but again, that’s – if you’re asking about the logistical route followed, then —

QUESTION: No, no, no. It’s the political route, basically, that’s important here.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. So my other question is: You mentioned the Basrah attack up top —

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: — in conjunction with the Islamic State. Basrah is really far down south. Are you meaning to make those attacks – or attribute those attacks to the Islamic State? That would be a weird place —

MR. RATHKE: No, I didn’t mean to give that impression.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: I think, with respect to the – I was speaking to the fact that there were two attacks today which we were condemning. I’m not speaking about attribution in particular in the case of Basrah. I think that has just happened recently. We’re trying to gather more information, but we don’t have anything conclusive to state about the source of that at this point that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: It would be pretty newsworthy if the Islamic State was down in Basrah, so —

MR. RATHKE: Well, naturally.

QUESTION: Yeah. Okay, thanks.

MR. RATHKE: So – okay. Ilhan.

QUESTION: On Iraq. Today, Turkish President Erdogan stated that no-fly zone and buffer zone need to be established in Iraq as well, since 40 percent of Iraq is invaded by ISIL, I believe. Do you have any kind of planning for no-fly zone and buffer zone in Iraq?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have anything new to announce. We are in constant discussion with our Turkish allies. Let me highlight, first of all, that the Special Presidential Envoy to Counter ISIL, General John Allen, had productive and positive discussions with senior Turkish officials today in Ankara about our shared efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. General Allen also expressed our appreciation for Turkey’s contribution to the efforts thus far, including generous humanitarian support for over 1.3 million Syrian refugees, maintaining corridors for humanitarian support to the Syrian opposition, agreeing to host the train and equip program for the moderate Syrian opposition, as well as taking measures to restrict the flow of foreign fighters and oil smuggling. So we look forward to further conversations with Turkey about what more we and our partners can do to degrade and defeat ISIL. I would also highlight that Vice President Biden will be in Turkey on Friday and Saturday.

The White House put out an announcement about that, I believe, yesterday. And so he will be meeting with President Erdogan as well as the prime minister. So we anticipate that those meetings, of course, will also focus on our cooperation.

With regard to the question you asked about no-fly zone, this is —

QUESTION: In Iraq.

MR. RATHKE: Excuse me?

QUESTION: In Iraq. No-fly zone in Iraq.

QUESTION: In Iraq, not Syria.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Well, that’s something I don’t have – I’m not aware of that statement, so I don’t have anything new to say on that. Our views on a no-fly zone in Syria have been clear, I think, for the past months – not part of our current plans, but it’s something we realize that others, including Turkey, have felt strongly about, and so we’ve continued conversations about that.

Yes.

QUESTION: So if we are talking about Syria, yesterday there was a conference call by the White House, and one of the officials stated that Turkey is already an active member of the anti-ISIL coalition. And today the President Erdogan again put forward a no-fly zone and buffer zone with regards to Syria. And he said that until these conditions are met, Turkey’s position regarding the coalition will not change. So I’m just trying to – many people are just trying to understand that – whether Turkey is part of the coalition, or as Ankara leadership seems to be saying, that Turkey will be part of the coalition if these conditions are met. Is there any way you can some – shed some lights onto this?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I would let the Turkish Government speak for themselves about how they want to describe their efforts. I will simply state, as I mentioned at the start of my response to your question, that General Allen was just in Ankara, that we have had ongoing discussions with Turkey, and we have expressed on many occasions our appreciation for Turkey’s contribution to the efforts thus far, which have been in the humanitarian realm, also in stopping the flow of foreign fighters, in dealing with financing and so forth. So these are areas where Turkey is playing an important role – also in its readiness to host train and equip efforts. So these are all topics where we continue to work with Turkey and will continue to work with them.

QUESTION: Train and equip program. Do we have any kind of a calendar when this program will start?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think this was raised yesterday as well, and we spoke to this in a little bit of detail. Now, the – of course, this is a DOD-implemented program, so if you were looking for a lot of detail about it, I would refer you there. But our partners in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have offered a strong support to host and quickly stand up the program. The program is a long-term investment and one that takes some time on the front end for infrastructure, planning, logistics, and so forth, so I would refer you to the Department of Defense for more specific information.

QUESTION: Do you have any update —

MR. RATHKE: One more, and then we’re going to have to move on.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any update on Kobani? Some of the reports saying that the local forces are gaining some grounds against the ISIL.

MR. RATHKE: Right. We’re aware of those reports. We continue to target our air power around Kobani because ISIL is concentrating its fighters and materiel in that area, so we’re focused on degrading ISIL in that sanctuary. But as far as battlefield analysis, I don’t have anything new to share on particular movements.

Anything else on Iraq?

QUESTION: Yeah, one more. The Kurdish delegation – are they meeting with anyone from this building, something you can tell us about what they’re doing?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, just a second. They are. The Kurdish delegation is in town, of course, from the Kurdish Regional Government. And on Monday, the delegation had meetings here at the State Department with our Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard, and also the acting Assistant Secretary of our Near Eastern Affairs Bureau Jerry Feierstein. And today they are expected to meet with the Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Puneet Talwar.

Samir.

QUESTION: I was going to ask about the visit of the Vice President to Turkey. Does it have anything to do with the negotiations with Iran, the expected deal, the timing?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I would refer you to the White House for the particular details of his program and goals and outcomes on that.

QUESTION: The timing of the visit, because the briefing in the White House yesterday, they didn’t mention Iran as an issue on the agenda.

MR. RATHKE: Right. Well, again, you’d have to ask the White House about that. They put out a lengthy release yesterday, and – but I don’t have anything to add on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Israeli-Palestinian issues?

MR. RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: I presume you saw the announcement by a municipal authority that it had approved the construction of an additional 78 housing units in settlements that the Israeli Government regards as having been annexed to Jerusalem, part of greater Jerusalem. Does the U.S. Government have any view on this settlement announcement, or this housing construction announcement? And do you think that it is in consonance with your call yesterday for all sides to do what they could to reduce, rather than raise, tensions?

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, let me start with one sentence of context, which will be clear to, I think, most, but at any rate: The President and the Secretary strongly condemned yesterday’s attack on worshippers at the synagogue in Jerusalem – we talked about that in some detail yesterday – which killed five innocent people and injured several more.

With regard to the plan for construction activity in East Jerusalem, we would reiterate our clear and consistent opposition to construction activity in East Jerusalem. During this sensitive time in Jerusalem, we would see such activity as inconsistent with the goal of lowering tensions and seeking a path towards peace. That’s – and our concerns are well known to Israel’s leaders, and we continue to make those concerns known.

QUESTION: To ask what is typically Matt’s question: Are there any consequences —

MR. RATHKE: His spirit is in the room? Is that what you’re saying, Arshad?

QUESTION: His – are there any consequences to the Israeli Government for acting directly in contravention of your publicly stated position and in a manner that you regard as inconsistent with your goal of reducing tensions? Do they – are there any consequences for the Israeli Government, or not particularly?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we remain in close contact with the Israeli leadership. And we mentioned yesterday the Secretary, in particular, was in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we continue to call on President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu, leaders on all sides to reduce tensions. I’m not going to get to more – get further down the road.

QUESTION: Do you regard being in contact with the Israeli Government as punitive for them?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think our position on this is well known. It hasn’t changed, and we continue to make that position known.

QUESTION: Have you reiterated it to them today? And if so, at what level?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to get into the level of diplomatic discussions, but we continue to make our concerns about this issue known.

QUESTION: Okay, but does that mean that you’ve made your concerns known about the latest announcement of these 78 units, or not?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to give a tick-tock of every single diplomatic conversation we have with the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: I don’t want that.

MR. RATHKE: If we haven’t, we will. I just can’t say with certainty that a meeting happened today; the announcement was made today. But certainly our view is known and we will continue to make it known.

Yes, Scott. Sorry, anything else on this topic?

QUESTION: Same.

MR. RATHKE: Same topic? Please.

QUESTION: Yes. You talked at length about house demolitions yesterday, so at the risk of making you repeat yourself – there was a demolition today. Netanyahu promised further demolitions. He also said, with a “heavy hand, we will restore security to Jerusalem.” Do you see those actions and those words as escalatory, or at this point, what we should expect?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to put a label on it, but as I’ve said in response to Arshad’s question, we’ve made it clear that all sides have to work together to lower tensions. And we believe that punitive home demolitions are counterproductive in an already tense situation. This is a practice I would remind that the Israeli Government itself discontinued in the past, recognizing its effects. I – so I would say, once again, that we believe this is a time for leadership and for all sides to take steps to calm tensions.

QUESTION: Have they conveyed to you at all why they are resurrecting that practice then?

MR. RATHKE: I think that they can speak for themselves about that.

Yes, Scott.

QUESTION: At a government (inaudible) hearing in the state Duma today, Foreign Minister Lavrov discussed President Obama calling Russia a principal threat to the world. He said, quote, “The first time I took note of the listing of the threats that President Obama took the liberty of doing was when I spoke at the UN General Assembly. Sometime later, talking to John Kerry not so long ago, I asked him what it was supposed to mean. He said, ‘Forget about it,’” end quote. Foreign Minister Lavrov went on to say that Secretary Kerry suggested that the Russians forget about it, principally because the Secretary was interested in discussing the P5+1 nuclear deal and North Korea. Is that the opinion of the State Department?

MR. RATHKE: Well, that is an incorrect characterization. And we’ve seen, naturally, the reports of Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments. It’s unfortunate that these reports indicate the foreign minister has incorrectly characterized the private diplomatic discussions between himself and Secretary Kerry. As we’ve said repeatedly, we will continue to work with Russia on areas where we agree while standing firmly against Russia’s violations of international principles and the sovereignty of other nations. But that characterization is incorrect.

QUESTION: So Secretary Kerry believes that Russia is a principal threat to the world?

MR. RATHKE: Well, of course the Secretary supports the President’s statements regarding Russia, and he didn’t indicate otherwise in his conversation.

Anything else on this topic?

QUESTION: No, different.

MR. RATHKE: No. Go ahead please.

QUESTION: On North Korea, on the human rights issue of North Korea. Yesterday, you said that United States have cosponsored North Korean human rights UN resolutions.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: What is the United States final destination of North Korean human right issues?

MR. RATHKE: I’m sorry. What is our final —

QUESTION: Final destinations of human rights, North Korean human right issue?

MR. RATHKE: Well, you will have noticed that the United Nations General Assembly – yesterday, Third Committee passed a resolution on the situation of human rights in the DPRK. We think this resolution sends a clear message from the international community that the DPRK’s egregious violations of human rights are not going unnoticed by the international community and that those most responsible must be held accountable. So we’ve cosponsored this resolution in the Third Committee every year since 2003 and we did so again this year. So we continue to work with the international community to sustain attention, international attention, on the deplorable human rights situation in North Korea and to seek to find ways to advance accountability for the serious violations that have been and that continue to be committed. So —

QUESTION: Will the United States bring North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to International Criminal Court?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have anything to say on that. We are in the process of discussing with Security Council colleagues possible next steps in the council. But again, this is a vote in the Third Committee of the General Assembly. Presumably, it then goes to the full General Assembly. But I don’t have anything further to announce with respect to action beyond that. So we’ll let the UN General Assembly do its work at this stage.

QUESTION: So you said the court – not has been (inaudible), so that means will be taken to the court, like International Criminal Court.

MR. RATHKE: I’m sorry. What —

QUESTION: So you said yesterday court not – not been (inaudible). That doesn’t mean anything.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to speak to issues related to the International Criminal Court. That’s – what I’m saying is that the General Assembly – the Third Committee of the General Assembly has voted on this resolution. My understanding is then the full General Assembly would address it. So what would go – what would happen after that is something that we’ll wait to see once the General Assembly has completed its work.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Michael.

QUESTION: Jeff, I have a question on Cyprus. Your ambassador to Nicosia, Mr. John Koenig, addressed last Friday the provocations by Turkey. He gave an interview to the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation, and he said, and I quote, okay, Barbaros – as we know, Barbaros is the ship that the Turks sent to the Cyprus exclusive economic zone – “Barbaros is in violation of the UN’s Law of the Sea international conventions.” This is what your ambassador to Nicosia said. Do you share this statement? Do you agree with this statement?

MR. RATHKE: I haven’t seen the statement you’re talking about, so I’m not going to —

QUESTION: Can you take the question and speak with him and ask —

MR. RATHKE: Well, look, we’ve talked about this at some length in this room. The United States recognizes the Republic of Cyprus’s right to develop its resources in its exclusive economic zone. The United States continues to support strongly the negotiation process conducted under UN Good Offices to reunify the island into a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. And we continue to believe that the island’s oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall statement – settlement, excuse me. I don’t have anything further to say.

QUESTION: Okay. But just please take this question because —

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not —

QUESTION: — he’s saying something else this time. He’s —

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I’ve – what I’ve stated here is our view on this. I don’t have anything further to add at this point.

Yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I take it back to North Korea for a second?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I believe that they responded to the resolution yesterday by saying that they’re threatening more nuclear tests. Do you have any response to that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, we take very seriously the human rights situation in North Korea. That is not the only issue related to North Korea and its activity, unfortunately. Naturally, denuclearization is the top priority with respect to North Korea. So I’m not familiar with that statement, but it would certainly be unfortunate to threaten with that kind of activity in response to the legitimate focus on North Korea’s human rights situation by the international community.

Anything else on North Korea?

QUESTION: So when you —

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: One more?

MR. RATHKE: One more.

QUESTION: When you resume the Six-Party Talks, your link is with North Korean human right issues. Is the same category or different, separated talk?

MR. RATHKE: Well, our view on the Six-Party Talks remains the same. We – North Korea knows what it has to do in order to – for the talks to be reinitiated. We’re not interested in talks for talks’ sake only. North Korea has to take steps, and those are clear.

Arshad, you wanted to ask about Burkina Faso.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. I’m sure you will have seen that the military officer has now been named prime minister. Is that a good move?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I don’t want to put a label on that. I think I would stand by what we said yesterday about the transition in Burkina Faso. We congratulate the people of Burkina Faso and their leaders on signing the transition charter. We also congratulated Michel Kafando on his selection as interim president. We urge the men and women of Burkina Faso’s armed forces to return to their primary mission, which is safeguarding the territorial integrity of Burkina Faso and the security of its citizens. And the central mission of the transitional government, we firmly hope, will be to ensure the effective preparation for national elections in November of 2015.

QUESTION: So it doesn’t give you any pause that the army colonel who had declared himself head of state following the departure of Compaore is going to be the prime minister? Does that not strike you as perhaps not leading in the direction of democracy —

MR. RATHKE: Well —

QUESTION: — nor necessarily leading in the direction of the armed forces returning to their primary goal of protecting the territorial integrity of the country?

MR. RATHKE: Well, this is something we keep a close eye on. Of course, we’re watching this carefully, and there’s been not only attention from the United States, but the international community on the transition there. So this is something we continue to keep under scrutiny. I simply don’t have a further statement on it today. But naturally, this is something we are focused on and will remain focused on.

Scott.

QUESTION: The U.S. ambassador to Yeravan discussed the downing of the Armenian helicopter by Azeri forces in a meeting with the Armenian defense minister. The Armenian defense ministry, in a readout of that meeting, said they spoke of the need to recover the bodies of the helicopter crew. Do you have a readout of that meeting?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have a readout of that meeting.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: What is – what’s the nature of your question?

QUESTION: Well – okay, that was the nature of my first question. The OSCE monitors along that border have been unable to visit the crash site of the Armenian helicopter that was shot down. Is that something that the United States is working to encourage?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we understand that there are – there may have been a refusal of access to an OSCE representative; would refer you to the OSCE for further details on that.

We – our position on the helicopter shoot-down remains, though. We think that it’s a reminder of the need for all sides to redouble efforts on a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. I don’t have anything beyond that.

Yes, Goyal.

QUESTION: Two questions, sir. One on India: As far as U.S.-India relations are concerned, many high-level visits are taking place from the U.S. to India. Could you talk about those visits now?

MR. RATHKE: Well, on November 17th, Under Secretary Rick Stengel participated in the U.S.-India Higher Education Dialogue, an annual bilateral event that identifies areas for exchange and strategies for partnership in the field of education. This provided a platform for collaboration among academics, the private sector, and government.

On November 18th, Under Secretary Stengel and Assistant Secretary Charles Rivkin participated in the India-U.S. Technology Summit. This is India’s 20th annual technology summit and the first time that the United States has participated as a partner country. The summit convened representatives of several hundred Indian and U.S. companies as well as senior leaders from industry, government, and academia to build partnerships and encourage bilateral trade and investment.

And today and tomorrow – that is, November 19th and 20th – Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller is in India to co-chair the U.S.-India Strategic Security Dialogue with Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh. The under secretary will also meet with other Indian counterparts on matters of international security. So clearly, there is a lot happening in our bilateral relationship.

QUESTION: And second, as far as Afghanistan is concerned, foreign workers especially – the Indian workers there are being targeted, and somebody somehow wants them to be out of Afghanistan. Because India has invested billions of dollars in rebuilding Afghanistan. Now, under the new government in Afghanistan, how can you show that those workers – not only India’s, but foreign workers – will be protected?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have any particular information about the situation that you described. Naturally, that would seem to be a bilateral issue for the Afghan and Indian leadership to address in the first instance.

QUESTION: The reason I’m asking – I’m sorry. Two days ago, the bombings in Afghanistan, and several foreign workers were injured or killed and targeted as well.

MR. RATHKE: Well, of course, we continue to support Afghan security forces in their mandate to provide security for the Afghan population, and they have been fighting their own battles against the insurgency. They’ve been holding gains previously made by ISAF, so we continue to work with and support the Afghan security forces.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, go ahead, and we’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Follow-up of the question we asked on Monday on TAPI about Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India gas pipeline – do you have anything on that?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything new to say. I’m happy to get back to you afterwards.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday there were reports that Islamic State is now in complete control of the town of Derna in Libya. So this is only a little over 300 kilometers from Italy. Will General Allen be discussing Islamic State in the Mediterranean coast when he travels to Italy?

MR. RATHKE: Well, let me mention a couple of things with regard to Libya. First, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Bernardino Leon, announced this morning that a ceasefire had been negotiated in Benghazi. We welcome this announcement and the reports that the parties are adhering to the ceasefire. We call on all Libyans to support the ceasefire, to allow the Red Crescent to evacuate civilians from affected areas, and to allow affected civilians the opportunity to address their immediate humanitarian needs. Libya’s problems are political in nature and require a political solution, so we fully support the efforts of the UN special representative and urge all parties to cooperate with him.

Now with regard to Derna, we are closely monitoring the situation and are concerned by the destabilizing threat that militias and terrorist groups pose to the Libyan people and government. We have seen reports that some violent extremist factions have pledged allegiance to ISIL and sought to associate themselves with it. We continue to watch for signs that these statements amount to something more than purely rhetorical support.

All right. Anything else? Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: About – I know yesterday you were talking about promoting dialogue between the protestors in Hong Kong and the Government of China, but it seems like the news from the last week hasn’t been very positive in terms of dialogue, and I was wondering how confident you are that dialogue will bring a viable solution to the situation.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we are aware of reports that a small group of protestors attempted to break into the Hong Kong legislative council. We note that legislators of all political stripes and protest leaders condemn these actions. We continue to call for protestors to express their views peacefully and for Hong Kong’s authorities to exercise restraint.

Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:23 p.m.)

DPB #197

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