Daily Press Briefing
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
June 9, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
DEPARTMENT/MIDDLE EAST PEACE
12:51 p.m. EDT
MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. Hello.
MR RATHKE: So I have just two things to mention at the top today.
First, Ukraine: Deputy Secretary Blinken will meet later today in Washington with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk to discuss U.S. support for Ukraine's ambitious reform agenda as well as Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine. We reiterate that the people of the United States stand firmly with the people of Ukraine in their quest for a more democratic, stable, peaceful, and prosperous and independent country. We are committed to using our good offices to urge all sides to speed implementation of the Minsk commitments, including a lasting, verifiable ceasefire and the pullback of heavy weapons under OSCE monitoring.
And the second item: The Secretary spoke yesterday with Brazilian Foreign Minister Vieira. The focus of the conversation was climate change and how economic expansion and reduced greenhouse gas emissions can go hand in hand.
The Secretary also had a policy discussion by phone this morning with some senior members of his team with regard to Russia, and he will talk later today with his Iran team to go over current issues and to keep in touch with them.
So that's what I have at the start, and turn it over to you, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, can – just on the Secretary, is there any update on his schedule? When is he going to appear in public again?
MR RATHKE: I don't have any update on his schedule of that sort. He remains in the hospital and is doing physical therapy and is in consultation with his doctors, but I don't have an announcement about dates or timelines for his – of course, I know there's interest, and as soon as we have anything we'll share that.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, it's been 10 days now. There hasn't been a photograph. He hasn't shown his face anywhere.
MR RATHKE: Well, he's --
QUESTION: He is the Secretary of State.
MR RATHKE: He is the Secretary of State, and that's why we've been giving you all regular updates about his activities. He underwent surgery, a major bone broken, and so that's – that, of course, takes some time for recovery. And we've described that from the very start.
QUESTION: Well, I understand. But I think that you'll find that there is growing interest in what exactly he's doing and why no one has seen hide nor hair of him.
MR RATHKE: Well, I think I've explained what he's been doing over the last day or so.
QUESTION: A photograph, some video.
MR RATHKE: I understand the interest, and I'm sure that before too long that will also come.
Go ahead. Other --
QUESTION: All right. The only other things that I have are follow-ups to yesterday, so I'll defer.
MR RATHKE: Okay.
QUESTION: Me too, actually. So let's --
MR RATHKE: All right. Nicolas.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on Matt's question, so the Secretary is in good shape, in good spirits?
MR RATHKE: Yeah. He remains in good spirits, is making progress, is doing physical therapy in addition to some work on the phone. So yes, things are progressing.
QUESTION: And as Matt mentioned, there is no thoughts in this building to – maybe to release a picture or video link just to show to the world that he's perfectly okay?
MR RATHKE: Well, as I said in response to Matt's question, I think that will come. I note the interest. I appreciate it. I understand the reason, so – but we'll – when we have something to release, we certainly will. We recognize there's interest.
QUESTION: And I understand that it's hard to predict, but do you think that he would be able to go to Europe at the end of this month to give a final push to the Iran talks?
MR RATHKE: Well, I'd give two responses to that. First of all, I – we've – as we've said from the start, he will have – he's going to go through his recovery process aggressively but responsibly. I don't have a further time prediction to affix to that. That's something that he and his doctors will have to keep under review. So I don't have – I don't have a timeline. But as we said earlier with respect to the June 30th end of the Iran nuclear talks, we remain committed to that. We believe it's achievable, and so that remains – that remains our focus.
QUESTION: Well, it's a little different from what Marie had said last week when she was asked specifically whether he expected to be back in the negotiating room by the June 30th deadline. She said either, "Yes, absolutely," or, "Absolutely, yes." The transcript will show which one, but there was no doubt in her mind.
MR RATHKE: I'm not trying to walk back what she said. No, I don't – I'm not --
QUESTION: So you expect him to be in the negotiating room by the end of the month?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, I don't have – his recovery is something that he and his doctors are focused on. So I don't have a timeline to affix to that, but I also see no reason to change what Marie said last week about that.
QUESTION: So you're not – you're saying that there is no complication that is causing you to change what was (inaudible)?
MR RATHKE: Correct.
MR RATHKE: Yes, Michel.
QUESTION: Why is he still in the hospital since he did the operation last week and he's in good shape and good spirit, as you said?
MR RATHKE: Well, he's doing physical therapy and he's in close proximity there to his doctors. Of course, the femur is a major bone, and so I don't have more to say about it than that.
QUESTION: He can be at home --
QUESTION: Did the Secretary make a decision --
QUESTION: -- and does the physical therapy?
MR RATHKE: Look, I'm not going to comment from here on the different options. This is what he and his doctors have decided on based on --
QUESTION: You realize that you brought this on yourself. These questions are not out of – they're not completely unfounded questions to be asking. But by refusing to say anything more – I mean, it's a decent question. Why is he still admitted to a hospital? I mean, his house is not that far away from the hospital.
QUESTION: Maybe five minutes.
QUESTION: Why – I mean, and if he's on crutches, granted it is hilly there, but certainly, he might even be able to walk there on crutches. We don't know. So the secrecy is – the questions about what's going on, you're bringing on yourself by not being more forthcoming, this building is. Just pointing that out.
MR RATHKE: If that's your comment then --
QUESTION: No, it's not my comment. It's an appeal for some – a little bit more information, because what we're getting is – we're getting is nothing. And as I'm sure you're aware, there is a vast army of conspiracy theorists out there who are starting to get a little bit more attention as this continues. Anyway, please.
MR RATHKE: I understand, and I think I heard you the first time.
So moving on?
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: On Libya: Do you have any reaction to the unity plan presented by the UN special envoy to Libya to the parties there?
MR RATHKE: Well, first of all, we welcome the presentation of the – of what is the fourth and final draft of the Libyan political agreement, which was done by the UN special representative, Bernardino Leon, and that represents more than six months of intensive consultations by the UN across Libyan society and with the support of the international community. We understand that this document reflects Libyan views. It addresses the concerns of all parties based on their input, and we believe it's a balanced document that offers the best way forward, and we think the Libyan people also have made clear a desire for peace. So we think this is a – this political agreement represents a fair compromise and it's a solid basis for national reconciliation.
QUESTION: But it looks like the parliament has called his representatives in the talks to withdraw from the talks in Morocco.
MR RATHKE: Well, we've seen some reports indicating that some in the Libyan house of representatives based in Tobruk want to recall their negotiators, but despite this report it is our understanding that the Libyan delegations from both the house of representatives and the former general national congress are on their way to Berlin for additional meetings there tomorrow. Maybe just a point on that: Following on these consultations in Morocco, the Libyan delegates are now traveling to Berlin. Meetings will begin there June 10th with the five permanent members of the Security Council, as well as Italy, Germany, Spain, and the European Union.
QUESTION: And one more on Libya, too. News reports said that ISIS has used a people-smuggler caravan in Libya to kidnap 88 Eritrean Christians. Do you have any confirmation or anything on this?
MR RATHKE: We're familiar with the report. I'm not in a position to confirm details. If it were true, we certainly would condemn this act and we would condemn the brutality of terrorists who would target others because of their faith. But at this point I'm not able to confirm that.
QUESTION: Sorry if I missed it, but who will be representing the U.S. Government in Berlin?
MR RATHKE: Our ambassador, Deborah Jones, and our special envoy, Jonathan Winer, will be there.
MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.
MR RATHKE: Iraq, yes.
QUESTION: It's one year since Mosul was taken by ISIS and they still maintain the grip on that city. Do you have any comment?
MR RATHKE: Well, we've always been very clear that this is an Iraqi-led operation and that the timetable for an offensive, first of all, with respect to Mosul is one that will be set by the Iraqis. We are focused on getting Iraqi forces ready, adequately trained and equipped, and our efforts to train and advise Iraqi forces are ongoing at multiple sites across Iraq. And we're doing that in cooperation not only with the Iraqi Government, but also with our coalition partners. And so that's a central part of our response and of our broad international coalition, which is working on multiple fronts and multiple lines of effort to degrade and defeat ISIL.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR RATHKE: Yes, Mary Alice.
QUESTION: Following up on that question, yesterday President Obama made a comment that there was more training capacity than recruits. Could you perhaps tell us where – what the blockage is within the Iraqi Government to not actually supply more recruits?
MR RATHKE: Well, it is – as the President said yesterday, one of the things that we have to improve is the speed with which we're training Iraqi forces, and I think the President also spoke to that. We're reviewing a range of plans for how that could be done. And I would highlight, though, that there is – we have already – we have trained 9,000 Iraqi troops. There are about 3,100 Iraqi troops currently in training across Iraq through our train, advise, and assist program. It is also true, though, that we have greater capacity to train troops than there are troops currently in the pipeline. And that's why we're working with the Government of Iraq to improve that aspect of the program. This is something that Prime Minister Abadi and his council of ministers recognize as well. When they put forward a plan on May 19th, one of the things that acknowledges is they need to expand recruitment into the Iraqi army as one of the key points of that plan.
QUESTION: But do you know what the obstacle is? Why are they having so much trouble getting recruits? Where is the obstacle? Is it within the government structure itself, or is it that people just don't want to join?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, if you look at the response across Iraq, there is a lot of interest in joining. If we switch from the Iraqi army to the Popular Mobilization Forces, there are Sunni volunteers currently being trained by the Iraqis. About 1,000 Sunni fighters were inducted into the Popular Mobilization Forces at the end of May – May 27th – and they joined thousands of other Sunni volunteers who have already joined this program and are fighting side by side with Iraqi Security Forces. For more details about the particular difficulties in recruitment, I'd refer you back, I think, to Iraqi authorities.
QUESTION: But, Jeff, the Pentagon's spokesperson, Colonel Steve Warren, just told reporters an hour ago that of the 9,000 or so that have already been trained, a portion of them are Kurdish Peshmerga. So that actually knocks down the number of non-Kurdish Iraqi forces who have actually been trained, which doesn't exactly put a good light on the efforts to build up the capacity and to try to confront ISIL fighters. And again, to echo Mary Alice's point, are Iraqis really not willing to take up arms against ISIL, or is this just bureaucratic bottlenecks that are keeping people from actually getting into the training and then getting outfitted and getting deployed?
MR RATHKE: Well, to go back to your first point, though, yes, some of those forces which we have trained are Kurdish forces, and that's been part of the plan all along because, as we've seen, there are also – I mean, the Kurdish forces are also fighting back against ISIL in northern Iraq in the Kurdish region. So that is necessarily a part of our training and assisting mission with Iraq. So I don't see any reason to discount those from the overall numbers that we've trained. We're helping Iraqis push back against ISIL in all of those places of Iraq where they have tried to expand – not only in Anbar, although Anbar, of course, is a key region.
QUESTION: But it does beg the question that in a country of some 25-odd million people that the most that have been trained is still under 10,000 in total to date.
MR RATHKE: Well, those – that's through the U.S. train, advise, and assist program. So those are the ones we have trained. We have a footprint of about 3,000 trainers on the ground, and that – again, we're looking at ways to increase the throughput and the recruitment, because we have some additional capacity and we want to make use of it.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Can I just say something here to correct the record --
MR RATHKE: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and to do it because she's too polite to herself. But the person to whom you're referring as Mary Alice is named – her name is Sharon.
MR RATHKE: Oh my goodness. Well then, I apologize most heartfeltly. Sorry about that.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you convinced that the 9,000 that you have trained through the American train, advise, and assist program have the will to fight?
MR RATHKE: That's certainly been our experience, and I think we've spoken to this since the fall of Ramadi. The President also has spoken about it. And our experience has been that for those forces who have gone through our train, advise, and assist program and are properly equipped and are part of an Iraqi command and control structure, that they have fought well. That's – I think there's been a lot of discussion of the situation in Ramadi and how that differed. I don't have anything to add to those discussions, but I think that's certainly been our view of things and I think that's shared by others in the U.S. Government.
MR RATHKE: Yes, Michel.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Rebel – Syrian rebel fighters captured today a major base from the Syrian army in Daraa. It's in the south of the country. Do you have anything on this?
MR RATHKE: Well, I – we've certainly seen that report. I'm not in a position to confirm it. I also don't see a reason to doubt it, but I'm not in a position to confirm it here from the podium. And I don't want to – this reflects, of course, the fact that there are Syrians who are fighting against the regime and there will always be back-and-forth on the battlefield, so I don't want to try to analyze its significance. But yes, we're aware of that.
QUESTION: I have three more on Syria if --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- I can. Were there any talks at the G7's summit about the future of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?
MR RATHKE: I'd refer you to my White House colleagues for a more detailed readout of the discussions related to the Middle East at the G7.
QUESTION: We understood that Special Envoy to Syria Rubinstein will be the future ambassador to Tunisia. Who will replace him? Do you have any names?
MR RATHKE: Well, he – you've seen – many of you, probably – the White House announcement yesterday of his nomination as ambassador to Syria. Of course, he will --
MR RATHKE: Sorry, Tunisia. He will have – have to have a hearing and a vote in the Senate, so he will remain on the job as special envoy until that time. So he will be replaced, but we don't have a personnel announcement to make right now. But he will remain on the job until he's ready to go to Tunisia, assuming confirmation.
QUESTION: Do you know what position Ambassador Jake Walles, currently in Tunisia, will be having?
MR RATHKE: No, I don't have any announcement to make on personnel.
QUESTION: And one more: Syrian opposition factions are gathering in Egypt to form a new coalition as an alternative to the SOC. How do you view this meeting and the role that Egypt is playing in this regard?
MR RATHKE: I'm not familiar with that report, so I'm not in a position to comment specifically on that. We certainly – the Syrian opposition forces have met in a variety of places, in a variety of different formats, so I don't – but I don't have further comment to add on that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the SOC the legitimate representative for the Syrian --
MR RATHKE: Yeah, our policy on that hasn't changed.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: The U.S. embassy in Jakarta held its annual July 4 celebration a month early this year, and the U.S. ambassador there, Robert Blake, was quoted in the Jakarta Post as saying it was done out of respect for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. First of all, can you explain the decision?
MR RATHKE: Well, I think – let's look at, first of all, what the official celebrations of the Fourth of July overseas at our missions, at our embassies and consulates, are – the purpose of those celebrations. These are not events for the American citizen population that's resident there. It's not like a picnic you have with your family and friends when you're back here in the U.S. These are official events that are – the purpose of which is to represent the United States to the host nation and to the host government. So of course, to do that most effectively, we want to do – we want to hold these events when the guests are best able to attend and when we can most effectively achieve the purpose of the event, which is to represent the United States to the host nation. And so there are some times when – these are sometimes held at different times of the year. They're not always held exactly on July 4th. This depends in some places on the climate, where you may not want to have a large outdoor gathering in July. In other cases, when you take into account the observation of Ramadan in many predominantly Muslim countries, when people are fasting and may not be able to attend an event such as this, that we adjust in order to most effectively carry out our role, which is to represent the United States to all of the countries where we're assigned.
QUESTION: Given that that's the case, then this must have been done previously, or was this the first time?
MR RATHKE: This has happened from time to time in other places. So it's a decision that's made by the post about how best to do our job, which, again, is to represent the United States and our values to the host nation.
QUESTION: So it's not unusual at all to do something like this?
MR RATHKE: It's happened before. I don't want to – I don't know how often, but it's something certainly that has been done.
QUESTION: Was it in response to anything in particular? Was there any kind of concern or anything? Was there a specific request made to have this moved, or was it something --
MR RATHKE: I don't have that level of detail. Again, this is a decision that's made by our embassies in order to most effectively carry out their mission.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. make similar requests of foreign embassies that – foreign countries that have embassies here for the same kind of --
MR RATHKE: That would be at their – at the discretion of an embassy that's here when they choose to host – to hold their – I assume they would have similar considerations. They would want to have as many people as possible come, and they would make their decisions about scheduling accordingly. But I don't have details to share about foreign governments' deliberations.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. ever made such a request as far as you know to actually have a national day moved for an embassy in the U.S.?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, these – as I said before, these decisions are made by our embassies overseas, based on their assessment of the best way to do their jobs. So I don't have anything further to say than that.
Nicole, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hold on. Are you aware of it being done anywhere else this year?
MR RATHKE: I'm not aware, no. We have not done a survey.
QUESTION: Did the Indonesians ask for this? The premise of --
MR RATHKE: Again, I think --
QUESTION: The premise of the question seemed to be that the Indonesians had asked.
MR RATHKE: Well, and I think I've said that this is a decision that's made – this is made by --
QUESTION: That's great.
MR RATHKE: -- our embassy, not --
QUESTION: Did the Indonesians ask?
MR RATHKE: I don't – I'm not aware of a request by them.
QUESTION: Will there be a – I've lived overseas in a number of places, and --
MR RATHKE: Sure.
QUESTION: -- I've been invited as an American citizen to embassy Fourth of July parties. Is there going to be one in Jakarta?
MR RATHKE: Again, that's a decision – there's a decision – there's – first of all, there's an official representational event which embassies hold. And then it's at the discretion of the ambassador or chief of mission whether they want to do something for the embassy community, the American community. That is not paid for by official representation expenses. That's usually organized more informally. I don't know exactly what the plans are for Embassy Jakarta in that regard.
QUESTION: So we shouldn't plan to go Jakarta and enjoy (inaudible) --
MR RATHKE: I'm sure they will welcome you whenever you come, Matt. (Laughter.) You can rest assured.
QUESTION: Oh, just a bit of housekeeping. I was wondering if you could give us a readout on the talks in Vienna. Any update?
MR RATHKE: Well, I don't have any update to offer. Under Secretary Sherman is back in Washington right now. She was in talks last week; also participated in --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) going on?
MR RATHKE: I believe so, but I would have to check on that.
MR RATHKE: I don't have – as you know, we don't typically have a substantive update, but I'm happy to check and see --
MR RATHKE: -- if the expert-level talks are ongoing.
QUESTION: And another little bit of housekeeping --
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- Under Secretary Gottemoeller is in Vienna, I think, for Open Skies Treaty review --
MR RATHKE: Okay.
QUESTION: -- according to your schedule.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: I was wondering if I could get a readout of that or if you would take the question.
MR RATHKE: I'm happy to look into – yeah – her schedule and see if we can share more about her program and the talks there.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR RATHKE: Go ahead, please.
QUESTION: Thank you, Jeff. On Bangladesh. Last week, Indian prime minister visited Bangladesh. The reason I am asking that it was significant and international media, including The Washington Post, reported on his visit. And after the President Obama visit to India – I have raised this question to the director of President Obama, Phil Reiner – he said that the President Obama and Indian prime minister discussed on the regional peace and stability and strengthening the democracy, including Bangladesh. So do you think, after this visit, Bangladesh is on right track to peace and stability and strengthening democracy?
MR RATHKE: Well, I don't really have a comment on the prime minister's visit to Bangladesh. Of course, we support good relations between the two countries, but I don't have further – any further comment to offer on that visit.
Yes, go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: I'd like to return to something we talked about yesterday. Does the U.S. – do U.S. officials have any plans to meet with – or let me ask it more simply: Will U.S. officials meet with the Muslim Brotherhood figures who are coming to town for a private conference?
MR RATHKE: So yes, we did talk about this yesterday. And with respect to this delegation, the State Department is not planning a meeting with the visiting delegation.
QUESTION: Why not?
MR RATHKE: Well, we – as I said yesterday, we engage with representatives from across the political spectrum, and this is a group we've also met with in the recent past, but don't have any further reason. We simply aren't meeting with them this time. No change in policy. We remain in contact. We will remain in contact with groups across the political spectrum in Egypt.
QUESTION: Did the Egyptian Government convey to the U.S. Government its displeasure at the possibility of U.S. officials meeting with Brotherhood figures again, following the meeting in January?
MR RATHKE: You mean since January?
MR RATHKE: I don't have any details of discussions with the Egyptian Government to read out on that score.
QUESTION: Was the – do you have any greater information now about whether Ambassador Beecroft was called in to convey that message?
MR RATHKE: Again, I don't have anything further to add to yesterday's discussion on that.
QUESTION: So you just don't have anything more to say to the Brotherhood right now, and that's why you're not going to meet them, and you don't think they have anything worth saying to you?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, we've met with this group in the past. Don't – we haven't changed our policy. We will continue to meet with groups across the political spectrum. No – but we don't have any plans to meet with this group at this particular time.
QUESTION: How do you address what might be the view of some that you've caved to the Egyptian Government on this by choosing not to meet with Brotherhood figures?
MR RATHKE: Well, there was never any meeting planned, so we haven't changed a decision. Again, we simply reached the decision that we would not meet at this time, but we haven't reversed a decision. There was – this is a group we've met with in the past and our policy remains the same.
QUESTION: I'm a little confused.
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Did they ask for a meeting? Was – I mean, it sounds as though you're saying that there was never any meeting planned, so did they ask for one and you said no, or did you offer one and then decide that – you said a decision was made. So did you offer one and then decide that maybe no, this is a bad idea?
MR RATHKE: I don't have that level of detail about whether they requested a meeting. Arshad asked the question yesterday about whether we would be meeting with them, so that's what I was responding to.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but his question was based on the summoning of the ambassador to the foreign ministry to hear Egyptian unhappiness with the prospect of a potential meeting. So was there any reason for the Egyptian Government to be concerned?
MR RATHKE: Well, I don't have that level of detail. I – again, as I said, we --
QUESTION: Okay. So in other words, you not only --
MR RATHKE: There was never a meeting scheduled, so that's all I've got to offer on this.
QUESTION: Can you explain one more time why it is that you don't see it to be fitting to meet with members of the Muslim Brotherhood or figures, because not all of them I think are actually technically members of what is now, as you know, a banned group in Egypt. Why not meet with them? If it is your policy to meet with all – to deal with the entirety of the political spectrum in Egypt, why not meet with them? You don't meet with them in Cairo, right? So why not meet with them here? What is the benefit of not meeting with them?
MR RATHKE: Well, I didn't say there was – that there was a benefit of not meeting. What I said was the Department – we remain in contact with a wide variety of political views and organizations and groups, and that will continue to be the case. We also have to make decisions about when to meet – there's – there are a lot of people out there to meet with, so it's really just a question of – it comes down to that, and at this time we've decided not to hold a meeting. But of course, we remain interested in our – in developments in Egypt and we will remain in contact with a variety of political and other organizations.
QUESTION: Just not the Brotherhood.
MR RATHKE: No, I didn't say that. I didn't say that we've – again, we've met with this group in the past and we will remain in contact with organizations across the political spectrum.
QUESTION: Would you expect to meet them in the future at some point? Or you can't even say that?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, as I said, we haven't changed our policy on this. So in this particular case, decision – we've made a decision not to go forward with the meeting. But it doesn't – it's not a policy change.
QUESTION: And just last one. You said not to go forward with a meeting. To go back to Matt's question, was there ever any discussion of the possibility of meeting with them?
MR RATHKE: How do you mean? What sort of discussion do you mean?
QUESTION: Well, I mean internally, did you talk this over and decide, "No, we're not going to do this," or, "Yes, we are going to do this"? I mean, you actually – was there ever – or did you actually consider a meeting for this week and then you've just decided, "No, we won't do that"?
MR RATHKE: Well, we've – we decided not to hold the meeting. And I don't have more to say beyond that.
QUESTION: Switch topic? Rohingya Muslims, Burma/Myanmar.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) before --
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: I – I don't know. This is getting murkier and murkier. Was there a consideration of having a meeting with these people or not?
MR RATHKE: Well, yes. The question was raised yesterday.
MR RATHKE: Yes. And I (inaudible) offer --
QUESTION: You considered it yesterday and then decided --
MR RATHKE: No, that – the question was asked yesterday.
QUESTION: I know. I know. Maybe you don't have this level of specificity. Was – but was – the question is this: Were you considering – was the building at some point considering meeting with this delegation that includes Muslim Brotherhood people --
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- while they were in the United States, and a decision taken not to meet with them? Or was it never a --
MR RATHKE: That's correct, yes.
QUESTION: It was being considered, and it was decided, "No, we won't have a meeting."
MR RATHKE: So --
QUESTION: Or was it never a consideration at all and the Egyptians are concerned about nothing?
MR RATHKE: So we decided not to meet with this group.
QUESTION: Okay. So do you know, was it their request to have a meeting? Or was it --
MR RATHKE: That goes back to, I think, what you asked.
QUESTION: You don't know.
MR RATHKE: I don't have that level of specificity.
MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.
MR RATHKE: China? Yes.
QUESTION: You said four not meeting with him. I mean, if you want to keep daylight --
MR RATHKE: I – Ros, I don't have anything to add to what I already to Arshad on this.
QUESTION: Chinese military's leaders are visiting U.S. (Inaudible) has a report that the vice chairman of the central military commission, Fan Changlong, is currently visiting the U.S. And the several reports say that he visit a joint base in U.S. and later on Thursday he will meet with a State Department's official. Do you have any further information to read out? For this --
MR RATHKE: I don't. If this is something that's – that you're talking about a schedule for later – something scheduled later in the week, I don't have any confirmation of that to offer. If it's something that happens later in the week, we may have more to say about it then. But I don't have that confirmation in front of me.
QUESTION: Then what – is there any that specific issue or topic are you preparing for during meeting with him, such as this --
MR RATHKE: Again, I don't have confirmation in front of me of the meeting you're referring to, so I simply don't have anything to share.
QUESTION: Is that a meeting for – between the China and U.S. military exchange or --
MR RATHKE: Military exchange?
QUESTION: Like the – yeah.
MR RATHKE: Well, if it's a question of military exchange, I'd refer you back to my colleagues at the Pentagon. If there's something coming up here later in this week, I simply don't have that information in front of me. We'll have more to say, I imagine, when we get to that point in the week.
QUESTION: On Yemen, on the upcoming --
MR RATHKE: Having corrected myself.
QUESTION: On the upcoming talks that – the UN-led talks on Yemen, will the U.S. be present at that meeting, and what kind of role do you expect them to play?
MR RATHKE: Well, the talks are happening on June 14th, and we certainly welcome the announcement that these UN-facilitated consultations will begin in Geneva then – next week, that is. And we reiterate the call from the UN Security Council for Yemenis to attend these talks in good faith and without any preconditions. This is all focused on a rapid resumption of the Yemeni political transition process, which is in line with the existing initiatives. Now, the United Nations is facilitating the talks, so for questions about who has been invited and the format of the talks, I would defer to the UN on that. The United States, for our part, remains committed to supporting the UN in its efforts, along with our partners in the international community.
QUESTION: Can you not say if the UN will have someone at the table?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, these are – it's the – the UN is facilitating the talks, so we would defer to them for the arrangements for the talks themselves. Again, these are focused on Yemeni parties and political entities to discuss the situation in Yemen. So it's – that's where the focus of these talks will be.
QUESTION: I want to go back to the passport case in the Supreme Court, and these are --
MR RATHKE: Okay.
QUESTION: -- kind of logistical, technical questions that I have. But – you may not have the answer to them, but if you don't – if someone could find out the answers and just --
MR RATHKE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: One, is it correct that this situation in terms of Americans wanting – who were born in Jerusalem wanting to have "Jerusalem, Israel" listed as their birthplace – is this a unique situation? Does this exist anywhere else, where only a city is listed without a country in a passport?
MR RATHKE: Well, I don't know the answer to that off the top of my head. I'm happy to check.
QUESTION: As far as you know, though, if you were an American citizen applying for a passport and you were born in Tel Aviv, it will say "Tel Aviv, Israel," right?
MR RATHKE: That's my understanding.
QUESTION: There's no issue. What about if you're born in Ramallah? Does it say, "Palestine"?
MR RATHKE: I'm sure it's happened. I don't – but I don't know – I don't --
QUESTION: Does it say "Palestinian Authority"? So that – these are questions --
MR RATHKE: No, I understand the question. I simply don't have the answer to that.
QUESTION: And to take it further, I can't – I'm not sure that there's any other – the situation of Jerusalem is unique, but there are other – at least one other divided city that I'm aware of, and I'm wondering if you take – and that's – that would be Nicosia in Cyprus. So that if you're born in North Nicosia, and American, does it say that you were born in Cyprus, even though they identify as being with part of a country that only Turkey recognizes, with Turkish --
MR RATHKE: Right. I understand the question.
QUESTION: So I – those are my questions on that.
MR RATHKE: Well, you predicted accurately that I don't have that information in front of me, but I'm happy to look into that, and we will come back to you.
QUESTION: And then this is not related at all, but it's – but it has to do with Israel and the Palestinian territories, and that is I'm sure you're aware that the European Union is preparing regulations that would require products made in the settlements to be identified as such, and I'm wondering if the United States has any – the Administration has any position on whether or not this is a good thing, a bad thing, or if you're neutral – indifferent on --
MR RATHKE: Well, it's my understanding this is something that is still under discussion, so I would refer you to the EU and the European Commission for any of the details. So – and since it remains an internal matter for the European Union, I'm not going to speculate about that while it remains under discussion internally.
QUESTION: I'm not quite sure I understand that. So you don't have any position on whether goods, products – goods and products made, produced in settlements in the West Bank should be labeled or should not be labeled as coming from there?
MR RATHKE: Again, this is a measure that is under consideration within the European Union. They haven't finished it. They are discussing it. I don't have a comment to offer on their internal deliberation.
QUESTION: So the Administration's view is that it won't take a position on this until after it's too late? I mean, isn't it precisely during the time that something is under consideration that you would want to weigh in to have your voice heard if you had a position?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, this is their matter that they're discussing internally. I don't have --
QUESTION: My understanding that the United States opposed boycotts or what it thought to be – or actions that it thought to amount to boycotts of Israel. Is this – do you not regard this as something along those lines?
MR RATHKE: Well, we've said many times that boycotts of Israel are unhelpful, and we oppose them. We've said that on many occasions --
MR RATHKE: -- and I'm happy to repeat that. Your question is a more speculative one because they haven't concluded their discussions of what steps they may take. And so I'm not going to speculate about a decision they haven't reached yet.
QUESTION: You don't think – so the Administration takes no position yet on whether labeling of products that are made in the settlements amounts to something bad as it relates to boycotts, which you oppose?
MR RATHKE: Right. I don't have anything more to say on – yeah, on that.
QUESTION: In terms of country of label – origin, country of origin labeling, you're familiar with the dispute with Canada and Mexico over this?
MR RATHKE: Go on.
QUESTION: The United States is – you lost a WTO decision on country of label origin for some – for beef and some other – and other meats. And I'm just wondering if, in fact, the United States is so keen on the idea that some products should be labeled according to where they originated, if that would weigh into a position on this EU settlement labeling. So --
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. I – right, I understand the question. I just don't have anything more to offer on that one.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about the --
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- Rohingya and Bangladeshi Muslims in Myanmar?
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: What's – do you have any update? Like, we've been talking (inaudible).
MR RATHKE: Well, the – we're aware of reports of about 150 migrants who may be repatriated to Bangladesh within the coming days. This was a result of cooperation between the governments of Burma and Bangladesh to address the situation of these particular migrants. We urge, encourage Burma and Bangladesh to continue to facilitate the unrestricted humanitarian access and to work with international organizations like the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, and to process these migrants in line with their international commitments. And we also understand that the governments of Burma and Bangladesh are working with appropriate international organizations to verify the identities of the migrants who are – who have disembarked. And so that's the current update that I have to offer.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on this.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: The U.S. has urged to the Myanmar authority to accept Rohingya Muslim as a minority citizen. So what's the response of this urge?
MR RATHKE: The – which – whose response?
QUESTION: U.S.-Myanmar respond. U.S. and President Obama has urged to the Myanmar authority the Rohingya Muslims treated as minority citizen. So --
MR RATHKE: Well, our view on this hasn't changed. I'd refer you back to the Burma/Myanmar authorities for their point of view. But our point of view in this remains consistent.
Go ahead, please.
QUESTION: Just on Okinawa. There have been reports that Governor Onaga is scheduling a meeting with Ambassador Kennedy. Do you have any details, or --
MR RATHKE: I don't have any details to share. Of course, he was just here. We met with him here in Washington, but beyond the readout we put out of that meeting, I don't have anything further than that.
QUESTION: One more --
QUESTION: But can you confirm that Ambassador Kennedy will be traveling to Okinawa at the end of this month?
MR RATHKE: I don't have her schedule details here to confirm.
Go ahead, Ros. Last one.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the lawsuit brought by two Yemeni families alleging that their two relatives were unlawfully killed during a U.S. drone strike back in 2012?
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, as with any ongoing litigation, we refrain from commenting on matters while they're under litigation. I would refer you back to the Department of Justice for anything on that.
QUESTION: I --
MR RATHKE: Oh, go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: -- have one more.
MR RATHKE: Yep.
QUESTION: And that is: The – on June 3rd, there was a notice published in the Federal Register about the changes or potential changes to ITAR, the International Trafficking Arms Regulations, that have – some of which have raised the concern of the NRA and other Second Amendment groups who say that this – these regulations, if enacted, could either ban certain discussions of firearms and ammunition specifications online without prior federal approval. Is the State Department proposing regulations or changes to the ITAR regulations that would restrict the right of free speech on issues like this?
MR RATHKE: I'm not familiar with this regulation – regulatory change or the question you've asked, Matt. So of course we take our constitutional and legal responsibilities seriously.
QUESTION: All right.
MR RATHKE: I don't have details about this particular case in front of me.
QUESTION: Could you ask someone to look into it?
MR RATHKE: Sure. I'm happy to do that.
QUESTION: Because it has become an issue in those circles.
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR RATHKE: All right. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:37 p.m.)
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