Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: October 3, 2014

12:54 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Happy Friday.

QUESTION: Happy Friday.

MS. PSAKI: Matt, earliest briefing of the week for you and others.

QUESTION: For anybody who wants to go to the Nats game, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: It’s at 3 o’clock. So unless —

QUESTION: I know. We all —

MS. PSAKI: — we do a tour around the world, I think we’ll be done.

A couple of items for all of you at the top. Today the State Department launched the website state.gov/counteringisil. This webpage has the most up-to-date public information about the coalition, including the latest stats on members and their public support for coalition efforts. Our colleagues at DOD have today also launched their website, defense.gov/counter-ISIL, which has up-to-the-minute information about the military line of this coalition effort, targeting – targeted operations against ISIL terrorists and infrastructure.

Lots of you have asked important questions about the specifics – what are its ultimate goals, how many countries and entities are part of it, what their contributions entail – as well as many of our partners around the world, and this is a place where we’ll be providing as much information about this coalition and our shared efforts not just to journalists, but of course to the general public. And these, of course, are part of our effort to be as transparent as possible about our coalition building and what role they will play – what role the coalition will play.

One other item —

QUESTION: Can I just ask you about one very brief thing about that?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there anything that’s on this website now that is – is there any new – anything that we didn’t already know on it?

MS. PSAKI: There isn’t breaking news information. We may put information and updates on there, and many of you who have been following this closely are well aware of the information on there. But we wanted to have a gathering place so people could go there on a regular basis.

QUESTION: Fair enough. I just want to make sure you’re not, like, inaugurating this with a splash of new big news or something.

MS. PSAKI: There’s not a new announcement on there.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Also, as you all know, General Allen and Ambassador McGurk are on a trip overseas right now. They met yesterday with Prime Minister Abadi and with National Security Advisor al-Fayyad in Baghdad where they conveyed the strong ongoing U.S. support for Iraq in the shared fight against ISIL.

Prime Minister Abadi has committed his government to addressing the issues that led to past failures in the security ranks and has already begun replacing commanders and reaching out to all of Iraq’s diverse communities. The United States, like Prime Minister Abadi, believes in a vision of an inclusive Iraq in which Sunni, Shia, and Kurds are all able to come together to peacefully iron out their differences and to achieve prosperity and peace for all Iraqis.

General Allen and Ambassador McGurk conveyed our great respect for the prime minister’s vision of necessary reforms and our support for his efforts to reach out to Iraq’s neighbors and work with them on the shared challenges of degrading and defeating ISIL. They also discussed the best methods for U.S. military advisors to work with and train ISF forces. They are continuing to meet with a broad range of actors from across the Iraqi political and military spheres, and we’ll have, of course, further readouts as the weekend continues which we’ll provide to all of you.

Also, on Ukraine in the last 24 hours, shelling and attacks have intensified in eastern Ukraine, most notably in the city and airport of Donetsk. Since the ceasefire was signed on September 5th, continued violence has killed well over 200 people, many of them innocent men, women, and children. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all the victims, including Red Cross worker Laurent DuPasquier. We call on all parties to take all feasible precautions to prevent the loss of innocent life, comply with international humanitarian law, and respect the facilities of humanitarian organizations.

Almost a month ago, Russia and the separatists it backs made a commitment to end the violence and seek a political solution. Instead, shells, rockets, and bullets continue to fly; innocent people continue to suffer and die. These attacks also destroy infrastructure and wreak havoc with lighting, heating, and water supplies in homes around the region. Russia must use its influence with the separatists to end these attacks immediately and stop the flow of weapons, equipment, and militants into Ukraine. Russia must also withdraw all of its military forces and equipment, including the Russian fighters it is supporting from inside Ukraine.

Secretary Kerry also spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning. They had about a ten-minute phone call. He called to express his concern about intensifying violence in eastern Ukraine that I just mentioned. He also underscored that Russia and the separatists they back must immediately implement their obligations under the September 5th ceasefire agreement and September 9th implementing agreement they signed in Minsk, including a secure Russian-Ukrainian border. They agreed to stay in close touch.

Finally, we have – I have some good friends from the great state of Kentucky in the back.

QUESTION: The commonwealth.

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Commonwealth.

MS. PSAKI: I think they can call it – they would appreciate “the great state of Kentucky.” But Nathan Smith —

QUESTION: I believe it’s a commonwealth.

MS. PSAKI: — and his son Griffin Smith, and their friend Creighton Wright. So maybe after this Griffin and Creighton will either want to be reporters or diplomats, depending on how this all goes. We’ll see.

QUESTION: Or maybe they’ll want to steer clear of both professions. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Or maybe they’ll steer clear and become professional athletes instead. (Laughter.) Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, that’s where the money is.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. It’s not here. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I was going to start with Hong Kong, but since you did that Ukraine thing, let’s start there. I’m curious about your call on all parties to take – was it feasible actions?

MS. PSAKI: Feasible precautions to prevent —

QUESTION: Precautions.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, so you’re stopping short of saying they should cease firing? I mean —

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we believe, Matt, that the ceasefire should be abided by. But we also want to reiterate that they should abide by international humanitarian law, allow for access for humanitarian organizations, respect facilities. So it’s just reiterating the overall point.

QUESTION: Okay. But when you say all feasible precautions, it suggests that you’re saying that something less than an all-out 100 percent ceasefire would be acceptable to you. But that’s not the case? I mean —

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly what we’d like to see, as I think the Ukrainians would like to see since they are abiding by the ceasefire, is for this to be respected. Clearly, the recent events have put a strain on the ceasefire; but at the same time, there are additional steps we can emphasize, and that’s what I was doing.

QUESTION: Okay. Ukraine – you’re saying that Ukraine is abiding by the ceasefire? It’s only the rebels who are – and the Russian-backed separatists who are not complying with it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly —

QUESTION: I was under the impression that there was —

MS. PSAKI: There are.

QUESTION: — violations on both sides.

MS. PSAKI: But I would remind you that Ukraine is a sovereign country, which the Russian separatists have been – have invaded and been on the ground in, and so it’s a little different defending yourself than taking aggressive action.

QUESTION: Okay. So the Administration’s position then is that the Ukraine – what might be called violations of the ceasefire on Ukraine are being – are only in response to violations from the other side, from the rebels? Is that —

MS. PSAKI: It remains the case, Matt, that when there’s a case of civilian casualties or when aggression results in the deaths of innocent civilians, that we of course want all sides to take precautions. So that’s important to emphasize. But certainly, we think the majority of the blame belongs on the Russian separatist side.

QUESTION: Okay. And then you mentioned the Kerry-Lavrov call, 10 minutes. The Secretary called him?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And as a result of that call, do you have any greater hope or expectation that things are going to calm down? Or —

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll see, Matt. They agreed to stay in touch. I expect they’ll either talk or be in touch in the coming days. But again, I think it was – the Secretary felt it was important to reach out given the violence we’ve seen at this point in time on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Ukraine?

QUESTION: Syria, Turkey.

MS. PSAKI: Any Ukraine? Ukraine? Okay, Syria, Turkey. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Turkish prime minister has said today that Turkey won’t allow Kobani to fall in the hands of ISIL. Do you expect any military action in Syria to protect Kobani?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give you a little bit of an update on what’s happening in Syria. And you may have seen some of the updates from my military colleagues. So they put out a release – I believe it was today – referring to additional strikes that they have put out that we were joined by the Kingdom – they have done, I should say, completed – we were joined by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE for.

In terms of what’s happening on the ground in Kobani, obviously we – ISIL is clearly, as you noted, trying to gain control of the border crossings with Turkey by taking the opposition-held towns between Aleppo and the border. We’ve seen, of course, the comments of the Turkish leaders. As you also may know, several individual opposition groups have formed de facto coalitions which include both Kurds and Sunnis in some of these towns, including near the Turkish border, to kind of unite and work together to fight this.

We are also assisting in this. We – coalition airstrikes, some in predominantly Kurdish areas that are ongoing, we feel are helping Kurdish and opposition fighters as they exert pressure on ISIL. So this week alone, we note that CENTCOM did strikes in Kobani that hit an ISIL – hit on ISIL tanks, artillery, and armor. And obviously, this is an ongoing effort.

QUESTION: But you didn’t answer my question. Do you expect any military action from Turkey to protect Kobani, especially that they got the green light yesterday from the parliament?

MS. PSAKI: I think I did exactly answer your question. I just said that groups are aligning on the ground, opposition groups, including Kurds and Sunnis, to fight this on the ground. And we are also assisting from the United States with military airstrikes. So there’s a range of steps that are being taken militarily to push back on the attacks from ISIL in the area.

QUESTION: And one of these steps is military action from Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, yesterday the parliament in Turkey voted to authorize military action. What they decide to do with that is not yet determined. That will be a part of the discussion that Secretary – I’m sorry, not Secretary Kerry, that General Allen and Ambassador McGurk will have when they’re on the ground in Turkey next week.

QUESTION: And any new discussions regarding creating a buffer zone in that area?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed since I answered that question about two days ago, so nothing new on that front.

QUESTION: What’s your position on the (inaudible) decision by the Turkish parliament to send ground troops to Turkey and – to Syria and Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: As you know, because I know you’re well versed in what’s happening in Turkey, what they authorized was a broad range of options. Obviously, there will be a discussion now about what military role they will play along with other components. So that actually is farther than things have gone on the ground.

QUESTION: But hours ago it was reported, actually, that Turkey – Turkish jets started bombing ISIL around Kobani.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of those specific reports. I’m happy to talk to our military counterparts and see if we can confirm anything more.

QUESTION: Stay on Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Robert Ford had a New York Times editorial today in which he criticized the Administration’s policy for not really doing an adequate job of communicating to what extent the U.S. would support moderate opposition groups in Syria. And he specifically said that attempts to target the Khorasan Group made it seem like the U.S. was fighting groups that are targeting the Assad regime, which the opposition sees as its greatest target. So I guess what will you be doing going forward to address this – well, first how do you respond to that criticism? And also how do you – what will you be doing going forward to ameliorate that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first, of course, say that Ambassador Ford had an incredible career in public service, and he was one of the people who was – and certainly invaluable to me personally when I started here and for the months that we overlapped. And he is incredibly well-respected not just here but in many parts of the world. He’s a private citizen now, as all of you know. The fact is we are coordinating very closely strategically and politically with the Syrian opposition. General Allen and Ambassador McGurk will be meeting with the opposition in Turkey during their current trip, so later next week. And senior officials meet with them – I believe frequently. Daniel Rubinstein is going to head back on the road.

The fact is the Khorasan Group posed a threat to the United States, and we also have a responsibility to defend our own interests, and that’s why we included them in the airstrikes we took. I think that’s completely justifiable, certainly to the American public. I’m trying to think and make sure I answer all your questions. What else?

QUESTION: Well, I guess the question is not whether it was justified to the American public, but whether it was coordinated and justified to the Syrian opposition. It seems like there is still this widespread perception that you guys don’t really have their back completely when it comes to targeting the Assad regime.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think first of all, we’ve just passed a train and equip program that was – is going to provide –and we’ve also already provided a range of and a broad scale and scope of assistance to the opposition. We’ve been clear that this train and equip program is not just about fighting ISIL. It’s also about – they may use it and they certainly expect – will use it to fight the Assad regime. But our immediate threat right now is ISIL. That’s why we’re taking them on. They have also been fighting ISIL at the same time they have been fighting – let me just finish this, and then we’ll get to you. They’ve been fighting ISIL at the same time that they have been fighting the Assad regime. Weakening ISIL will help strengthen the moderate opposition. That’s our view. The fact is we are in close touch about a range of issues. We don’t necessarily need to coordinate with the Syrian opposition to hit the targets that we’re going to hit. While that’s the case militarily, we’re still in close touch with them about their needs and what our efforts are.

QUESTION: So that was quite a testament that you gave to Ambassador Ford’s long service. I presume you’ll say the same about Gates, Panetta, Crocker, and now Chris Hill, who is the latest to join this ever-growing – seemingly ever-growing parade of former officials who are taking the Administration to task for really screwing up in Iraq. And I’m just wondering if you’ve read this excerpt of Chris Hill’s book and what you think of it.

MS. PSAKI: I have read some of the excerpts. I think they’ve been published in the media. Is there a specific part that you’re asking about?

QUESTION: Well, they – he is, as I mentioned, just the latest in a growing string of former officials, and I’m just – I mean, how is it possible that all of them are wrong?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, we should talk about the specifics of what happened at the time. I will certainly say that any individual who has spent decades in the Foreign Service and served in high-threat posts, including war zones around the world, deserves, of course, all of our respect, and I think there’s no question about that. I will say, as it relates to Iraq and what happened at the time, a lot of these same officials were part of the strategy and supported the strategy at the time, which included the fact that we were not going to allow our troops to stay on the ground without the protections they needed. The political situation on the ground was that the Iraqis did not want to have a big troop presence on the ground. There was political challenges to getting it through, but it was clear they did not want that. So that was what we were dealing with at the time. And that’s the – go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t – I understand that’s what you were dealing with at the time, and I don’t think any of these four people disagree with that. I don’t think anyone – any of them wanted to keep troops in there, and I don’t think anyone on the Hill who’s been particularly critical would have wanted to keep – or did want to keep troops there without the protections.

The criticism is that again, now from Chris Hill, is that Iraq became kind of a backburner issue for the Administration in the President’s first term —

MS. PSAKI: Well, I —

QUESTION: — and that the reason that you didn’t get the protection that you needed, that everyone agrees was needed for keeping troops there, is because you weren’t engaged, you weren’t involved. And it was – and so that’s the criticism. The – and I’m just wondering how it is that you’re right and all of their criticism is wrong.

MS. PSAKI: Well look, Matt, I’m not going to get into an argument with individuals who have proud, long public service records. But —

QUESTION: So then you agree with them?

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. The fact is the Vice President of the United States, who is higher ranking than the Secretary of State, had the Iraq portfolio and ran point on Iraq, and went to Iraq —

QUESTION: So it’s his fault.

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. Went to Iraq – I don’t know the number the times, I’d certainly defer to my colleagues at the White House – and was closely engaged with this issue. There were a range of officials who were working on this within the government – including Secretary Panetta, including Vice President Biden, including Secretary Clinton – who agreed that we could have a residual force there if we could have protections from troops. But we know we couldn’t force the Iraqi Government, a sovereign country, to agree to that.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: They didn’t.

QUESTION: But the criticism is that you didn’t use the leverage that you could have had, or that you did have, to get there. And from what you’re just saying, I mean, so this is – this was the Vice President’s portfolio, so that everything that’s gone wrong —

MS. PSAKI: Well, that —

QUESTION: — in Iraq since is his fault?

MS. PSAKI: No. I was saying, actually making the point – and it’s well known – that the Vice President had this portfolio —

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: — that we elevated it to the Vice President. That was who was running point on Iraq. It just – those criticisms just don’t bear out the facts from the ground. We could not force the Iraqi Government to agree to have a troop presence and – when they did not want to have a troop presence there. And obviously, they didn’t want to give us the protections we needed to have a troop presence there.

QUESTION: But that – I – fair enough. But the criticism is that you didn’t do enough to get the Iraqis to agree to the protection. And it sounds as if that the reason why is everyone’s fault – it’s Gates’s fault, Biden’s fault, Panetta’s fault, maybe not Crocker’s fault, Chris Hill’s fault too.

MS. PSAKI: Certainly not. I actually didn’t say that at all. It is – the Iraqis did not want to have a troop presence. They were not going to allow us to have a troop presence. They were not willing to take the necessary steps to have the – ensure the troops had the protections they needed.

QUESTION: All right. Well, when the next former senior official writes his book, I guess we can have the same conversation again.

MS. PSAKI: I look forward to it.

QUESTION: And Secretary Panetta is blaming the Administration on the situation in Syria too, not only Iraq.

MS. PSAKI: Do you have something specific you want to ask about?

QUESTION: Nothing specific. I didn’t see the book, but that’s what I read as a headline —

MS. PSAKI: Well —

QUESTION: — that he’s blaming the —

MS. PSAKI: Do you have a specific question about our Syria policy?

QUESTION: Yeah. He’s blaming the Administration that the – that the Administration made the situation worse in Syria. What do you think about that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s exactly what it is, so you maybe should go back and take a look at what was in the book.

QUESTION: I think what Panetta said that in 2012, like, Bill Gates, former secretary, that the U.S. Administration did not make a decision to arm the rebels, and that was a huge missed opportunity.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s been a lot of discussion about this particular issue. I don’t think it’s to the benefit of anyone to look back, so we’re not going to focus on doing that. I think there were some who supported it, some who didn’t. Ultimately, the decision was not to at the time. The opposition was in an entirely different place than it is today. We are going to be training and equipping them now, so we’re focused on moving forward.

The fact is the Assad regime allowed ISIL to grow and prosper in Syria. They did not effectively fight back on them, and that also contributed to the growth of ISIL in Syria.

QUESTION: Jen, you mentioned the opposition is in an incredibly different position than it was – well, today it’s a mess. And it wasn’t so much of a mess – they had a unified command, they had a – they were – they had more territory —

MS. PSAKI: Two and a half years ago, Matt?

QUESTION: Two years.

QUESTION: Well, two years. Yes. I mean, there was a cohesive fighting group, allegedly, according to what we were hearing at the time, and now it’s kind of these little pockets, these little cells that you’re hoping can somehow morph or gel together.

MS. PSAKI: Well, some of them have several thousand fighters. We’re just working with a range of different groups on the ground, all moderate opposition groups.

QUESTION: But you don’t think that it would’ve been better to have given them more support, military – on the military side, when they were more cohesive as opposed to now? Is that —

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s disputable whether they were more cohesive. They obviously have elected leadership since then. They’ve expanded their membership.

QUESTION: But that’s on the political side.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I don’t know, maybe these are questions better directed to the Pentagon, but it seems to me that if you’re going to ramp up military support to a rebel army or a group that you hope will become an army, it’s better to do it when they’re together and united and strong, rather than when they’re fragmented and relatively weak, as compared to where – what they were two years ago.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think that most people would characterize that as being their status, two years ago. So —

QUESTION: Jen, on the opposition, news reports said that there is a meeting being held in Saudi Arabia between the U.S., Saudis, and the FSA military leaders. Do you have any information about this meeting?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I’m happy to check on it. It’s not on General Allen’s agenda. I’ll check and see if Daniel Rubinstein or someone from his team are participating in that. Sure.

QUESTION: Can I just ask —

MS. PSAKI: Do you know when it – do you know when the meeting is?

QUESTION: Today, I think.

MS. PSAKI: Today. Okay.

QUESTION: Just one more question about Turkey. I know it’s too early to say, but don’t you think that Turkish participation in the conflict in Syria, because it’s a NATO member, would drag the United States deeper into the conflict? What if Turkey comes under attack from Assad, because Assad’s government warned Turkey today that it shouldn’t intrude?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’ve previewed this, but I’m certainly not going to entertain a hypothetical. Obviously, Turkey’s engagement in this and the fact that they have felt the impact of this more than almost any country is certainly an important factor, and I think one of the reasons clearly they have indicated that they want to play a prominent role here.

QUESTION: And one more question on – there is an American citizen fighting with the Kurdish – Syrian-Kurdish rebels against ISIS. His name is Jordan Matson, I think, and there was a video of him on social media websites, as well. So I want to know what your position is on Americans volunteering to fight against ISIS?

QUESTION: Is this —

MS. PSAKI: I think I addressed this yesterday.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we move to the Israeli-Palestinian —

QUESTION: I have a couple more.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, we’ll do a couple more and then we’ll go – okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Kobani, going back to the – there are reports keep coming from Kobani that there are clearly ISIL forces around the Kobani and where their position can be easily seen, but still the coalition forces’ attack on ISIS forces are just not enough to push them away. Do you have a response to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as my colleagues over at the Pentagon have said, this is not a one-day effort. This is an ongoing effort and one where strikes will continue, and obviously there’s a range of steps that are taken before a strike is made. We’re still working with our coalition partners. Certainly, this is an area that we’re focused on, as is evidenced by the fact that we’ve announced strikes we’ve done in this particular part of Syria.

QUESTION: Maybe there’s – one of the reasons I think people keep criticizing, that because the ISIL forces are so close to the center of the city that you argue that this is not one-day campaign, but this can – it might be too late once you decide to go full force against ISIL, anyway.

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t characterize it – and I would point most of your specific military questions to my colleagues at the Pentagon, but I wouldn’t characterize it as a, “We’re deciding to go full-force.” We are going full-force. It’s an ongoing effort and one that – where strikes will be continuing, but they’re more appropriate to answer specific military targeting questions.

QUESTION: And you argued that coalition forces’ strike on ISIL – to weaken ISIL, but many reports coming out from on the ground that al-Nusrah Front, al-Qaida-affiliated group, been fighting with ISIL for almost a year, but recently, since the coalition forces tried – started, these al-Qaida, al-Nusrah mini-forces are now joining ISIL against the alliance or this coalition group. So you actually – this argument is helping ISIL to unite the other forces that were fighting before.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any confirmation of the uniting aspect. It’s hard to see how when half a dozen or more countries are doing airstrikes on them that we’ve helped them, so I wouldn’t characterize it that way. Do you have one more? And then we’ll go on to the next —

QUESTION: Yes. This parliamentary motion passed in Turkey yesterday. In the motion it doesn’t even talk about ISIS; it talks about the threat as Assad’s regime and other terrorist organizations, which is known as the PKK, PYD – according to Turkey – and the ISIS. Is this something that you are satisfied with? It doesn’t even talk about ISIS, but Assad regime.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, President Erdogan has spoken about their desire to play a more active role in the coalition that is taking on the threat of ISIL. This parliamentary – this act in parliament, I should say, yesterday, which we certainly welcomed, provided broad authorization for a range of options. So we’ll discuss with them, as will our coalition partners, what options will be used, but there’s no question in our minds that they are committed to this effort to take on ISIL.

QUESTION: Jen, just – excuse me, on this (inaudible) —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: President Erdogan talked to – on assisting in toppling President Assad or —

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry – President Erdogan?

QUESTION: Yes. Talked about assisting in toppling President Assad in Syria. Do you support this effort?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not – as you know because we’ve stated it many times, our focus is on a political solution to bringing about change in Syria and the leadership there. Certainly, part of our effort and our focus now is strengthening the military and political credibility of the opposition in order for them to have an engagement through a political process to do that. But certainly, the opposition and all of the assistance we’ve been providing them and other coalition partners are providing to them – they will continue to take on this threat and take on Assad.

QUESTION: Does this mean that you’re against the Turkish effort to topple President Assad?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look more at the comments. I think I’ve stated our position.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: To get back to the – in your answer to my question earlier, you said that you don’t need to coordinate with the opposition militarily. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you won’t. But given that you’re embarking on this deeper strategic relationship with them through the training program and whatnot, do you not see any value to coordinating more with them for the sake of giving them more legitimacy and addressing this perception gap that Robert Ford was talking about?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m talking about on the technical level.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. PSAKI: And obviously, what I’m referring to is what we need militarily in order to strike targets. Beyond that, we are coordinating very closely with them about a range of aspects of this coalition effort, about our efforts in Syria – that’s ongoing and through a range of high-level officials, both here and across the government.

QUESTION: But it doesn’t bother you that they don’t seem to feel the same way?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s more work we have to do to make sure they understand that we support their effort;that we’re working with them. I think we remain one of their biggest donors across the board, so hopefully we’ll just be able to continue to convince them of our commitment.

Do you want to go to – do we have any more on Syria, or —

QUESTION: I have one more.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You talk about it, this coordinating with the FSA forces, but the one group that you talk about yesterday, Harakat Hazzm, which U.S. talks about it a lot. And their spokesman came out yesterday in interview, and they said they were not informed at all about strikes. Why would you not let them know where —

MS. PSAKI: Well, what I was referring to is our effort to engage with them and work with them on meeting what their needs are. Obviously, we’ve provided a range of assistance to the opposition, including that group. That will continue. We were talking about the train and equip program. We’ll continue to coordinate with them moving forward. I’m not going to get into other specificity about when we informed whom about the strikes.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: You were asked yesterday that Assad regime is still bombing – continues its bombing campaign on civilian areas, and you refrained commenting on that. Do you have any more on that? According to human rights groups, actually Assad regime bombs even more recently as you do your own campaign and they do their own campaign now.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, I think one of the pieces to look at here is that while we are taking every step possible to avoid civilian casualties and we look into reports with – very seriously, the Assad regime continues to indiscriminately use barrel bombs and bombard their own people. There are reports of women and children waiting in line for bread and they’re striking areas where they are standing around. So this is – there’s a distinct difference between our approach to taking on ISIL and their military efforts.

QUESTION: So this kind of leads many people – or on the ground that you almost okay with Assad regime continuing its own bombing campaign. This is the perception we keep getting from the ground.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re certainly not okay with the fact that they continue to strike their own people in areas where their own people are. Beyond that, we’re not coordinating militarily with them, and we have no plans to.

QUESTION: And finally, President Erdogan – you are saying that you are helping refugees and Syrians and all that. And President Erdogan just yesterday or the day before, he slammed international community for not helping enough for the recent refugee waves which is over 100,000, maybe 150,000. Do you have any new task or help you are providing, going to provide for these latest waves?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we believe that Turkey certainly – and any country in the region that is taking in refugees should be – should have the necessary assistance, all the assistance that can be provided. We have provided over $2.9 billion in humanitarian assistance inside Syria and throughout the region. That’s – we’re the largest humanitarian donor in the world, including $209 million to Turkey to help blunt the impact. But there are more countries that can do more that have pledged to do and haven’t delivered, and obviously, that’s something that we need to see more of in the coming weeks and months.

QUESTION: Sorry, could you just say those numbers again? Did you say 2.9 million and then Turkey’s —

MS. PSAKI: Billion.

QUESTION: Oh, billion?

MS. PSAKI: Billion. Mm-hmm, yes. Otherwise, the math didn’t work out.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: The foreign minister of Germany said recently that they are going to host a donors conference for the Syrian refugees. Are you aware of this?

MS. PSAKI: That is something that the foreign minister brought up with Secretary Kerry when they met – I believe it may have been around NATO. I’m not – I think it may be later this month. I’m not sure of the exact details, but we’re aware of their plans.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: On this issue or —

QUESTION: Related.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Is there anything new on the Yezidi women taken hostage, captive, whatever you want? There have been some reports over the last couple of days of some of those women sending messages through relatives and elsewhere saying, “Please go ahead, bomb the area where we are because it will help at least some of us to escape.” What is the latest from you guys on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update in front of me. I’m happy to check with our team. Are you asking whether we’ve received messages from them or whether —

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, is this something that’s under discussion now of – with the Sinjar model in mind, of concentrating your efforts around that policy goal of helping them?

MS. PSAKI: It has been in some capacity, but let me check on the specific issue and see if that’s part of what the Department of Defense is specifically thinking about in terms of next targets.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So can we move to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Who would have thought that would be a relief? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: I love every topic equally, Matt. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So the prime minister of Sweden has said that his country would recognize the state of Palestine. I think this is the first European country to do so. So from the U.S. point of view, it’s a good thing? I guess it’s not but – and did your – did Sweden tell you in advance that they were going to do so? And do you have, broadly, conversation with European countries about early possible unilateral recognitions of state of Palestine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say, since you gave me the opportunity, that we look forward to working with the new Swedish Government announced earlier today. Sweden is a close partner to the United States on a range of issues, including humanitarian and development aid to Africa, Afghanistan, and of course, on countering ISIL.

We believe international recognition of a Palestinian state is premature. We certainly support Palestinian statehood, but it can only come through a negotiated outcome, a resolution of final status issues, and mutual recognition by both parties. And certainly, the Secretary’s record of the last year and a half speaks to how committed he is to that process, but it needs to be the parties who are, of course, willing and able to move forward.

In terms of whether we knew in advance, I’d have to check on that specific question.

QUESTION: Why is it premature?

MS. PSAKI: Because we believe that the process is one that has to be worked out through the parties to agree on the terms of how they’ll live in the future of two states living side by side.

QUESTION: But this process didn’t work for 20 years, I think.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t know that there’s an option of just declaring it that’s going to work either.

QUESTION: You mentioned the two sides have to be willing and able. Yesterday, you – or two days ago, you questioned or said that a new project in East Jerusalem or new moves in East Jerusalem by the Israelis called into question the willingness of the Israeli Government to – does that remain the case?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: And does it – is it also the case that you’re not convinced the Palestinians are willing and able to —

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think we’ve seen evidence that they’re willing and able either at this point in time.

QUESTION: Okay. So it’s still both sides who are the problem here?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: You can’t want it more than they do?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: But you do want it more than they do, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think —

QUESTION: Isn’t that pretty clear?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think not just the United States but many countries would like to see a peaceful – peace in the Middle East.

QUESTION: Right, but the problem is that the people who want to see peace in the Middle East apparently – you would agree, right – want it more than both the Israelis and the Palestinians do?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know if I’d characterize it that way, but sure, that’s probably accurate.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: Changing topic.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: On U.S. visa requirements, there are questions that are starting to emerge on whether Thomas Duncan, the Liberian man who is in the U.S. with Ebola, should have been granted a visa to come to the United States or should have been perhaps flagged as high risk, because he’s unemployed, because he’s single and coming from Liberia, a county that has a high overstay rate. Did he slip through the cracks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think some of the most important points that have been made to address your question were made earlier this week by the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Frieden. He explained that the individual diagnosed with the Ebola virus disease in Dallas did not exhibit any symptoms of Ebola until after four days after he arrived in the United States. A person with Ebola is not infectious until they exhibit visible symptoms of the disease, but this man left Liberia on a commercial flight on September 19th. He had no symptoms. Therefore, he was not infectious at the time, nor when he landed in Dallas on September 20th.

Now, in terms of visas, they’re adjudicated, of course, on a case-by-case basis. Obviously we don’t speak to individual cases, but broadly speaking. And certainly the safety and security of the United States is our top priority. There are, of course, a range of questions that are asked, and certainly that protocol was followed in this case.

QUESTION: Are there any efforts under consideration to perhaps strengthen requirements – entry requirements for people coming from the West Africa countries that are affected most?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of steps that we’re taking, and I think it’s not just about visas. It’s about educating people and ensuring that they have the information that they need in order to provide medical assistance, to educate the public on how they should handle things, and contrary actually, it actually would be counterproductive, in our view, to put that type of limitation on, because people – one, the WHO and CDC have not recommended that we cut off travel from these countries, because it remains essential that the world community engage in order to help the affected countries address and contain this ongoing health crisis.

So some nationals of all three Ebola-affected countries are now or will soon be traveling to the United States soon for training on how to treat Ebola patients, an essential measure, and of course, we have foreign nationals going there as well. There are a range of requirements, but in our view, addressing this Ebola situation is going to require education, it’s going to require the provision of materials, it’s going to require mitigating second-order impacts. So we’re focusing on many different areas.

Ebola?

QUESTION: Well, just on the broader visa question, I mean, this guy in Texas now presumably would have had his visa long before he contracted – regardless of whether he was symptomatic or not when he actually did travel, he would have gotten – and given the time it takes to get a visa, he would have gotten it presumably even before he contracted the disease, even though he didn’t know he had the disease. So the questions is: You’re saying that it would be counterproductive to put in additional requirements for visa applicants from these countries because why?

MS. PSAKI: We need to enable individuals to travel to the United States to be trained, to receive medical equipment.

QUESTION: Isn’t that what the Pentagon is sending all these people over there to do, to train them there?

MS. PSAKI: We’re doing both. We’re doing —

QUESTION: I mean, I suppose the argument could be made that why bring people who are at risk of having the disease here when they could be trained there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, medical professionals. Also I think there are certain questions that are asked and requirements that happen under any process for adjudicating a visa. This individual also did not feel sick. I know you —

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: — until about four days after arriving in the United States.

QUESTION: Right. But right now there isn’t any kind of a medical provision to the visa application procedure, is there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are certain questions —

QUESTION: Other than —

MS. PSAKI: — that are asked about contact and things along those lines, certainly.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they’re just – I mean, you don’t have to bring, like, a doctor’s note or something like that?

MS. PSAKI: No, they’re verbal questions.

QUESTION: Right. No, no. Right, but are they – there isn’t, like, a blood test or anything like that that one has to do. That’s not in the – not now and it is not in the cards?

MS. PSAKI: No.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: More on Ebola, or should we move on?

QUESTION: Ebola.

MS. PSAKI: Ebola? Ebola.

QUESTION: Please.

QUESTION: I asked a few weeks ago, and then Matt brought it up yesterday in the briefing about did the State Department buy $160,000 hazmat suits to – for Ebola. Did you respond?

MS. PSAKI: We did. We can get you the specifics on it —

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: — after the briefing. I don’t have them in front of me.

QUESTION: You don’t have anything? Okay.

MS. PSAKI: But we did, and we were providing them, I think, to countries in – impacted, but –

QUESTION: Was it correct that it was actually – I mean, it was State, but it was USAID, right?

MS. PSAKI: Right, which is, of course, under State.

QUESTION: And I was under the impression from the – what I heard yesterday that AID had spoken to this. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: They may have, but we can get you more information on it. Sure. No problem.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Still on Ebola.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So do you know how many American citizens have now contracted Ebola in West Africa and have returned to the United States? And what is the latest on this American doctor who was admitted on Sunday at the NIH in Bethesda?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. The State Department has facilitated the medical evacuation of five U.S. citizens with confirmed cases of Ebola to the United States and one citizen with a high-risk exposure. I don’t have any other details on individuals in country.

QUESTION: Do you know if that five includes this cameraman?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: On Burma.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does the State Department or the U.S. Government have any response to the draft Rakhine State Action Plan?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Sorry, Burma is in the front of the book.

QUESTION: It wouldn’t be if you called it Myanmar.

MS. PSAKI: Fair point.

QUESTION: It’d be in the middle of the book.

MS. PSAKI: We exist in the world we live in, Matt.

The Burmese Government has shared a draft copy of its Rakhine Action Plan with our embassy and other members of the diplomatic community for review and comment. We welcome the union government’s efforts to develop a comprehensive plan that seeks to address the complex challenges. The embassy and other members of the international community submitted collective feedback, namely to ensure the plan is designed and implemented in a transparent, consultative, and voluntary manner and in accordance with international standard – standards.

We jointly expressed some concern over some components of the draft plan, such as the provision stating that those who do not receive citizenship will be held in temporary camps. We encourage the Burmese Government to incorporate the input and feedback of the international community into the revision and implementation of the Action Plan, and we welcome further opportunities to provide input to the government’s refinement of the draft.

QUESTION: Can we stay in Asia?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Do you have another question on this or some – another Asia?

QUESTION: No, not on this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hong Kong.

MS. PSAKI: Hong Kong.

QUESTION: So you may have seen that it looks like the talks have broken down, the talks that the chief executive had promised have broken down because what the protestors say are organized pro-China mobs attacking them in the streets. I’m wondering if you share that assessment that that’s who is doing this, or if it’s just regular Hong Kongers who are fed up with the disruption and that’s what’s causing it – what’s causing this.

MS. PSAKI: Who the protestors are? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: No, the people – well, I mean, there’s been clashes not involving the police between people.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m wondering if you have concerns that China is perhaps pulling strings, getting – encouraging some kind of pushback against the protestors with – by sending in or having pro-China types attack them.

MS. PSAKI: Not that I have had expressed to me internally by anyone. But I’m happy to check with them and see if that’s an area of concern.

QUESTION: Okay. And I presume your view of the situation overall has not changed since we talked about it yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: No, it has not changed.

QUESTION: Is there anything where you – did you have any response, reaction to the chief executive’s decisions to have talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly have been encouraging dialogue. We think that’s the most productive path forward, and so we’re hopeful that they will be able to resume.

Do we have any more? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Still on China.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: After your announcement yesterday about the partial lifting of arms sale to Vietnam, I would like to know if the Chinese had a private conversation with you to express their concerns.

And you always said that the U.S. doesn’t take position in the South China Sea conflict, but in selling weapons to Vietnam for security matters, for maritime security matters, I mean, don’t you think that it would be seen from the Chinese point of view as taking sides?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I am not aware of contact we’ve had about this particular issue. We can see if there’s more to be read out. This is an issue – Vietnam is an important partner of ours. They – this allows us to – applies to maritime-security-related articles only, so it won’t allow any lethal defense article transfers that could be used for internal security purposes.

This is an issue that we’ve been in discussions with the Vietnamese about for some time. As you know, there have been – there’s been a ban in place for some time that certainly has been – over the course of time, there’s been various pieces lifted. In 2006, then-Secretary Rice amended the ban on all defense article sales to Vietnam to permit the sale, lease, export, or other transfer of nonlethal defense articles.

So this is about our relationship with Vietnam. Our position on the South China Sea certainly hasn’t changed. But this is an issue where Secretary Kerry announced our desire to help build up Vietnam’s maritime capacity building when he was in Vietnam last December, and we’re following up on that commitment.

Matt, did you have – any last —

QUESTION: Yeah, I got two really brief and kind of off-the-wall ones. Well, one was —

MS. PSAKI: All right. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, they’re not really off the wall. They are serious in some respects.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Yesterday I asked you if you were aware of this conference that’s going on in Tehran about – basically saying that the U.S. and Israel were behind 9/11 and all sorts of other conspiracy theory-type stuff. I’m just wondering, given the fact that this appears to have the support and is being promoted by the Iranian Government, if you have any particular concern about it, especially during the middle of the nuclear negotiations.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are aware of the conference. We don’t believe, broadly speaking, it’s worth commenting on. But clearly, you’re familiar with our positions on a range of issues that have been raised by the discussion.

QUESTION: Well, presumably you would disagree with the hypotheses being evinced by participants and panelists at this —

MS. PSAKI: Yes, I think that’s a fair assumption.

QUESTION: Yes. Okay. All right. And then the second one is – and I don’t know if – I got this in late. I don’t know, and I – because I had just seen it. But apparently in Bosnia – there’s an election coming up in Bosnia. And there are some Bosnians who are concerned – Bosniaks, I should say. No, no. That means (inaudible) – there are some in Bosnia who have concerns that a group of Russian Cossacks, 150 of them, who are the – who the – are allegedly there for a cultural show are in fact pro-Kremlin thugs who have come into the country to stir up unrest. Do you have any reason to believe that that might be actually the case?

MS. PSAKI: I have not discussed this issue with anyone, Matt, but I will check with them. I have no reason to believe right now because I’m not aware of it, but we’ll check with our Russia, European experts.

QUESTION: The Cossack experts.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, exactly. We have those in the State Department, as you know.

QUESTION: I know.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:44 p.m.)

DPB # 167