Daily Archives: June 10, 2015

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing – June 10, 2015

1:34 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. So apologies for the delay, but with the announcement today about Iraq and the on-the-record call which they hosted, we pushed the briefing back. In the interest of efficiency and point noting that I’ve got a hard stop at 2 o’clock, I think I will refer questions about Iraq and the announcement back to that on-the-record call. And I don’t have anything further to say at the top, so, Matt, why don’t you lead off.

QUESTION: Well, first I just wanted to say thank you for you guys putting out that photo of Secretary Kerry yesterday, and I’m just wondering if you have any updates on that. And then —

MR RATHKE: On the photo itself or —


MR RATHKE: I mean, updates today: He continues – he’s – he remains in the hospital. He continues to make progress. He’s engaged with members of his team. He’s been speaking to them on the phone. He’s also engaged in his physical therapy, but I don’t have any further specific updates today.

QUESTION: Shall we expect more pictures? Action shots, perhaps —

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to —

QUESTION: — over the —

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to suggest a schedule, but —

QUESTION: — coming days?

MR RATHKE: But there will be from time to time.

QUESTION: All right. I don’t have any more on that, but if anyone – quickly, I just wanted to ask you – there are people in this building confirming that an American was killed in Syria fighting with the Kurds. Do you have anything on that?

MR RATHKE: I can confirm that U.S. citizen Keith Broomfield was killed in Syria. We are providing all possible consular assistance. Out of respect for the privacy of Mr. Bloomfield’s family, I don’t have any additional details to provide at this point.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea what the circumstances were of his death?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have additional details to provide on that.

QUESTION: And what exactly is it that you’re doing in terms of consular activity related to him and his family?

MR RATHKE: Well, the normal consular assistance that we would provide in the instance of a death of an American citizen abroad.

QUESTION: Which would be?

MR RATHKE: Well, our first responsibility, of course, is for identification; and then, depending on the circumstances, then there can be additional steps after death, including issuing a report of death abroad and so forth.

QUESTION: Okay. So how are you – do you have people there? How are you able to confirm?

MR RATHKE: Well, I can get – try to get more detail on precisely how that was done, but what I’m told is that we’ve been able to confirm his death in this case.


QUESTION: May I be blunt?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Okay.

QUESTION: Can I be blunt?

MR RATHKE: Excuse me?

QUESTION: May I be blunt?

MR RATHKE: You usually are, Ros. Go ahead. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes. How will his body be repatriated?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any details about that to share.

QUESTION: Are you able to say that his remains are still in Syria?

MR RATHKE: Again, I don’t have further details to offer at this time.

QUESTION: And you’re not able to say when he was killed, where he was killed, anything of that nature?

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t – I don’t have those details.

New topic?


MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Turkish press reports a couple of days ago that Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield had recently informed Congress that the U.S. is considering establishing periodic strategic dialogue with Turkey. Is that true?

MR RATHKE: I’m sorry. What are you – what communication are you referring to?

QUESTION: I guess they send a kind of letter to 88 congressmen. They penned a letter to State Department about freedom of press issues and pressed State Department to set up a kind of strategic dialogue with Turkey. And in turn of this letter, State Department’s Legislative Affairs Assistant Secretary of State Julia Frifield informed Congress that the U.S. is considering establishing periodic strategic dialogue with Turkey. Is that true?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have that – I don’t have the communication in front of me so I’m not in a position to confirm a letter that I haven’t seen. Of course, we’ve had – we have had letters from members of Congress with respect to Turkey, and I’ve spoken from this podium, as have my colleagues, about our point of view on a variety of issues. But I don’t have anything further to add.

QUESTION: But you responded to that letter, yeah?

MR RATHKE: Well, we respond to all letters that we get from members of Congress when they raise issues.

QUESTION: Can I ask a second question about Turkey, different topic?

MR RATHKE: What’s that?

QUESTION: Did State Department advise House Committee on Foreign Affairs not to pass House Resolution 279 which criticized Turkey over a number of issues ahead of the parliamentary elections on last Sunday?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any details of our contacts with Congress on that resolution to read out.

Go ahead, Mary Alice.

QUESTION: On Lebanon, a couple of things going on. There were some live fire demonstrations —

MR RATHKE: I got it right today, Matt. Thanks for checking, though.

QUESTION: Yeah. I was just checking to make sure.

QUESTION: That was very nice. Okay.

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. In eastern Lebanon, live fire demonstrations using U.S. military equipment paid for also by Saudi Arabia. And also separately, not necessarily related, but the State Department approved the sale of six A-29 Super Tucano aircraft to Lebanon. Do these have anything – I understand neither of these are necessarily new, but is the pacing connected at all to what’s happening in Iraq and Syria and pushing back Islamic State, and the broader strategic approach?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we are committed to our partnership with Lebanon and we’re also committed to making sure that the Lebanese Armed Forces have the capacity to defend Lebanon’s territory and its borders – they have that sole responsibility – and that also that they respond to the Lebanese people and to the Lebanese state. So we’ve got a long-term commitment to Lebanon. As you mentioned, our delivery of the TOW missiles is a part of that. Also part of that is the determination on the possible foreign military sale of the A-29 aircraft.

So these are part of our long-term engagement with Lebanon and our support for the Lebanese Government and for the Lebanese Armed Forces. Naturally, they are – they face pressures, including in their region, and so we constantly remain in dialogue with Lebanon in order to make sure that we’re responsive to their requirements, and we take that commitment very seriously.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Syria, UN’s de Mistura is extending the consultations regarding Syria in Geneva – that are happening in Geneva – till mid-July, I think. What do you make out of this? Is it because he thinks there is a light at the end of the tunnel, or is because it’s really difficult and they need more time?

MR RATHKE: Well, I would let Mr. de Mistura speak for himself about the reasons for his extending the period of consultation.

QUESTION: How do you view the talks in Geneva?

MR RATHKE: We certainly are – we support the special envoy, de Mistura, in his efforts to carry out these consultations. Again, these are consultations, not direct talks, so he’s been doing these in series, and I think his office has been putting out updates on them. And we are fully supportive of his efforts. We believe that a political solution is the only possible solution to the situation in Syria, and so we stand by him and we offer any support we can.

QUESTION: This building hasn’t been briefed on these consultations yet?

MR RATHKE: Well, he’s been carrying out consultations with the parties. We’ve also been in consultation with him. Our special envoy was in Geneva and also held consultations. So we’ve been a participant in this, but it’s focused primarily on the parties inside Syria.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the reports – or a report based on a cyber security – a Russian cyber security firm, a report from them talking about the hacking of hotel computer systems in – where the Iran talks have been held.

MR RATHKE: Well, we’re aware of that report. These are claims by a private company about another government, so we’re not going to weigh in on that report.

QUESTION: Are you confident that the U.S. delegation to the – or to various iterations of the various rounds of the Iran talks, that their communications and confidential, private discussions have not been compromised?

MR RATHKE: Well, without getting into the details of that specific report, more generally, I can say that we take steps, certainly, to ensure that confidential, that classified negotiating details stay behind closed doors in these negotiations.

QUESTION: And are you confident that there was no compromise, there was no breach?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I’ll stick with that. We take steps to ensure that that information remains behind closed doors.

QUESTION: Right. Well, you can take steps to ensure that don’t work, right? So I’m just wondering, other than you saying you take steps to ensure that they – that they – these details remain behind closed doors, you can’t say if the steps actually work. You’re not confident that your stuff —

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not commenting on the specific – on the specifics of that report, which is why —

QUESTION: Well, let’s take it out of the context of the report.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you confident that the negotiating tactics, strategies, details of the U.S. delegation, at least, haven’t been compromised?

MR RATHKE: Again, we pay careful attention to these measures. We take a variety of steps. I’m just not going to comment further than that.

QUESTION: Do you have any concern that they have been compromised?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we – of course, we are always mindful of the need to keep – to take steps to keep our discussions confidential.

QUESTION: But you can’t say that you’re confident that your discussions were kept confidential, and there hasn’t – they haven’t been compromised. You can’t say that.

MR RATHKE: I just don’t have anything more to say about this topic.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: The report – I can have one more on this.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The story in The Wall Street Journal noted that U.S. officials had been aware of some sort of compromise back in 2014. Can you confirm that detail, and if so, how was that discovery handled? Were there conversations?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have further details to add to what I’ve said in response to Matt’s question. Go ahead, David.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you had any reaction to the South Korean president postponing her trip to the United States?

MR RATHKE: Yes. Well, as President Obama looks forward to welcoming President Park to the White House at a mutually convenient time. And of course, that will be an opportunity to discuss the U.S.-Korea alliance, the critical role it plays in regional stability and security, as – and I would say also that the Secretary recently has been in Seoul, as you’re aware, and he had wide-ranging talks there which were focused on our alliance, on regional issues including the DPRK, as well as the Republic of Korea’s growing role around the world on important issues. So we certainly look forward to the visit when it’s rescheduled.

All right. Thanks.

QUESTION: Wait a minute.

MR RATHKE: Oh, go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Did you get an answer the question I asked yesterday about these ITAR – revisions to the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations?

MR RATHKE: I did. I’m happy to go through that, if that would be helpful. You asked yesterday, Matt, about a June 3rd publication in the Federal Register by the State Department of proposed changes for public comment to several regulatory definitions under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. These proposed changes in definition are part of our broader effort to streamline and modernize a Cold War-era regulatory system to better safeguard against illicit attempts to procure sensitive U.S. defense technologies.

These proposed definition changes – which, as I pointed out, are out for public comment – they seek to account for technologies that were not envisioned when the regulations were initially developed. Otherwise these definitions are intended to be a clarification of existing law and regulations, technical data, and detailed schematics that are required for the manufacture or production of defense articles already require U.S. Government authorization before they can be disseminated by U.S. manufacturers.

Now in contrast, general descriptions, public discussions, and imagery of defense articles, including firearms, have never been the subject of – to these regulations and they would remain unaffected under these proposed revisions. As I said at the start, they were published in the Federal Register for public comment. That’s a period that runs through August 3rd of this year. So I’d refer people to the text of the Federal Register notice for details about providing —

QUESTION: Okay. So these rules would not apply to private citizens, only to manufacturers – and only to highly sensitive technical details? Is that —

MR RATHKE: They apply to the technical data and detailed schematics for the production of defense articles.

QUESTION: So they don’t apply to private citizens.

MR RATHKE: Well, they apply to anything that relates to those areas of subject matter, whether discussed by —

QUESTION: Okay. Well, the concern that had been raised by the Second Amendment groups is somehow this is going to restrict or stop or ban discussions about gun – about firearms —

MR RATHKE: Well, I go back to the – also the point that general descriptions – that is general, not technical and detailed ones – general descriptions or public discussions and imagery of defense articles would – have never been subject to these regulations and wouldn’t —

QUESTION: So the concern that has been expressed is misplaced, yes?

MR RATHKE: Yes, that would be our view.

Okay, anything further? Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)

Latest from OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine based on information received as of 19:30 (Kyiv time), 9 June 2015

Latest from OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine based on information received as of 19:30 (Kyiv time), 9 June 2015 | OSCE

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Ice men of Taiz are last ones standing

TAIZ, 10 June 2015 (IRIN) – Nawar al-Kaboudi is one of the few civilians who dares to hang about for long on the streets of Taiz nowadays. Standing under the scorching midday sun, the 42-year-old sells ice to people so hot and desperate they often end up drinking it.

In late March, pro-Iranian Houthi rebels seized large parts of Taiz, Yemen’s third city, which lies 250 kilometres south of the capital Sana’a, en route to the strategically located southern port of Aden.

Forces loyal to deposed president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi put up fierce resistance and months of street battles began. Saudi Arabian-led airstrikes began pounding Houthi positions mid-April while ongoing battles rage on the ground between the rebels and pro-Hadi forces.

As the fighting spread throughout the city, tens of thousands of residents fled to the nearby countryside, some of the more than one million Yemenis displaced across the country.

Taiz has witnessed some of the most intense fighting in Yemen’s three-month conflict and still sees regular clashes and civilian fatalities. It had a pre-war population of more than 600,000, but no one knows how many remain.

Where is everyone?

Gaining rare access, IRIN found a ghost town. Schools and the city’s university remained shut. Those who did venture from their homes only did so to stock up on essential goods.

The streets were largely deserted. Deserted that is, except for men like Kaboudi.

Before the war, he ran a successful shop – making nearly $20 a day, a decent salary in Yemen. But that shop is located in al-Masbah, an area of Taiz that is now a major battle zone.

Kaboudi only makes half his old wage selling ice, but, as he points out, “this is better than nothing.”

“I have no experience selling ice, but I have a wife and four daughters [so I have to] eke out an existence. I couldn’t get any work, so finally I decided to sell ice, as people have become in critical need of it in the hot weather,” he told IRIN.

Lack of basic services

Keeping cool in Taiz in sweltering conditions is a challenge. The temperature has risen to 37 degrees in recent days and much of the city has no electricity.

There is also a chronic shortage of fuel – caused in large part by a Saudi-Arabian-led naval blockade. This, in turn, has led to desperate water shortages as the diesel-fuelled pumps lie idle.

Cases of dengue, diarrhoea and other water-related diseases have spiked, while across the country, malnutrition cases have increased by 150 percent as prices of wheat and other staples have doubled.

Every morning, Kaboudi leaves his house with his ice container and walks to al-Tahrir street in the centre of Taiz. There, he stands in a queue waiting for men with trucks selling large slabs of ice.

Using a knife, he breaks the ice down into smaller chunks, which he can sell on to customers on the street for a small profit. Kaboudi charges YR100 ($0.5) for one piece or YR300 ($1.5) for a small bag.

“[Some of] this ice is used to keep the fish fresh, but the demand for cold water and ice in the city is forcing people to use it as drinking water,” Kaboudi admitted.

This is far from ideal from a health and hygiene perspective as the ice is passed between dirty hands as it is sold without a container.

The conflict does not afford residents the luxury of worrying too much about hygiene.

“Even if this water isn’t very clean… they will drink it as long as they don’t think it will harm them,” Naif Noradeen, a social worker based in Taiz, told IRIN.

War economy

City resident Ashraf al-Zuraiqi, said he buys the ice every day, but tries not to drink it as others do.

“I put clean water inside a bottle in a small container and I put the ice pieces around it,” he told IRIN. “This way I can get cold and clean water, but I do not drink the melted ice and I do not allow my children to drink it.”

Several of the ice-sellers IRIN spoke to had other jobs before the crisis. Local journalist Fareed al-Homaid explained that a “war economy” had taken hold of the city.

“The civil war in Taiz killed dozens of occupations, but it also created new occupations, such as selling ice, selling solar energy plates and charging phones,” Homaid told IRIN.

He gave the example of an accountant friend of his who had been forced to shut down his business but had bought a generator and was now charging people’s mobile phones for a half-dollar fee.

The generator cost $205, but his friend makes about $14 a day running the service out to dozens of users, meaning he’s probably bringing in a tidy profit by now.