Daily Press Briefing
January 7, 2015
INDEX FOR TODAY'S BRIEFING
1:20 p.m. EST
QUESTION: As much – as big as India is, I know you’re – on Middle East. The UN says that the Palestinians will become members of the International Criminal Court on April 1st. I know – and I don’t expect you to go through your entire policy about what this means and how you feel about the prospect of the Palestinians joining the court, but I’m wondering what the American position – the Administration’s position is on whether the Palestinians even qualify to be a member of – to be a signatory either of the Rome Statute or to be a member of the court, and whether or not that will play into any aid funding decisions, given the fact that there’s now legislation on the Hill that would bar the Palestinians from getting any U.S. aid, even – it’s stronger than the existing legislation, which does not bar aid – which requires – sorry, which only bars aid if the Palestinians pursue the a case against Israel or support one.
MS. PSAKI: Well, a couple – let me try to answer your questions, all of them. One is the UN spokesperson issued a statement you may have seen earlier today making clear that the steps taken in fulfilling the Secretary-General’s role as depository for the ICC Rome Statute are purely administrative. So they are therefore not a judgment on eligibility; they’re accepting the documents. Obviously, they can clarify more what his role is and how that will specifically work.
From our point of view, there are – well, you asked me – did you ask me about UN funding, or you asked me, I’m sorry, about – there were a couple questions in there. I just want to make sure I get them all.
QUESTION: Well, I want to know what the – if the Administration believes that the Palestinians have the standing to even become a member of the court. And then I was going to ask you about the legislation.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me give you a short answer and then let me take part of this, because there’s a legal answer to this that we can provide to all of you in a more extensive way after the briefing. The United States does not believe that the state of Palestine qualifies as a sovereign state and does not recognize it as such and does not believe that it is eligible to accede to the Rome Statute. There are obviously legal parts of that, so we will send that out to all of you after.
In the funding part – can you just repeat that one more time?
QUESTION: Well, Senator Paul has introduced a bill that would strip – that makes – that would bar the Administration from giving aid to the Palestinians, should they become a member of the court. That legislation is more – is tougher than the existing legislation that would – that bans aid only in the case of the Palestinians joining and then filing a case or supporting a case against Israel; in order words, it does not say that membership precludes – only membership precludes it. Does the Administration support this legislation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speak to proposed legislation. I will say that obviously there are – we’re taking a look at the law. There’s no question that we will be complying with all laws as it relates to our assistance, of course. So we’re consulting with Congress; we’re looking at the law. I don’t have any other analysis at this point in time about what the impact will be.
QUESTION: All right. And then your answer on the first question, when you say the U.S. does not believe that Palestine is a sovereign state and therefore it does not qualify for membership in the ICC, does that mean that you also do not believe it qualifies for membership in the other UN organizations to which it has signed up to? Particularly, I’m thinking of UNESCO.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as you know, there are certain triggers as it relates to funding that —
QUESTION: Well, I’m not – forget about the funding for the moment. I just wonder if – I’m just wondering if you think the – that Palestine or the Palestinians, to make it easier, are qualified to be even observer members of UN organizations. I mean, they are recognized by the General Assembly as a state. When they sit down at the UN, they have a sign in front of them that says “State of Palestine.” So, I mean, —
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know our view on their desire to not only become a state, which we certainly support, but their interest or efforts to accede to UN organizations, which we feel, of course, is counterproductive to the stated goal of achieving peace in the region. In terms of the legal implications, I’d have to look at each case and talk to our lawyers about it.
QUESTION: The U.S. has long supported Taiwanese membership in certain UN organizations – World Health Organization, ICAO, other things. Is that in any – I’m finding it hard to understand that – I mean, Taiwan, you do not regard as a sovereign state. You regard it as part of China. And I realize the situations are different, but in this case the Palestinians – you do not believe the Palestinians have the standing to become a member of any UN organization or just the ICC?
MS. PSAKI: I said as it relates to the Rome Statute. I’m happy to take the question and see if there’s something more specific we can offer from a legal standpoint.
QUESTION: Jen, can I follow up on that? On Monday when we were talking about this, you said that you were going to try and find out some more information about whether Secretary Kerry had a waiver on any of these. Now obviously the Paul – Rand Paul legislation would be different, and that’s not completely completed yet. But under the cromnibus that was passed at the end of December, there were two sections. One was about the UN agencies and one was about the ICC. And specifically on going to the ICC, have you managed to clarify whether Secretary Kerry has a waiver on any move to freeze aid or not?
MS. PSAKI: Our lawyers are still looking at what the implications are. I think it’s unlikely we’ll have analysis on it right now. It’s something we’re looking closely at and we’re consulting with Congress on, but I can follow up with them and see if there’s anything new to update on on that front.
QUESTION: And just so – because it’s complicated, to clarify, at the moment you have said that there are implications for U.S. aid.
MS. PSAKI: There could be implications.
QUESTION: There could be. Sorry, there could be implications for U.S. aid under the legislation that’s already existing, under the law that already exists.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But separately, as the U.S. Administration, are you reviewing the aid that’s currently going to the Palestinians and are you informing them of any moves to freeze part of that if they – if this – if they continue with this ICC bid?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s obviously different implications if things are continued, so I’m not going to speculate on that. Right now what our focus is on is working with Congress in determining what the implications will be and working through the legal process of determining what the impact would be. Beyond that, that’s how we’re looking at this. We do, obviously, see benefits of the assistance that we’ve been providing to the Palestinians. There’s no question about that. But certainly, we’re going to abide by the law as well.
QUESTION: So any freezing of any aid would most likely come from Congress, not from the U.S. Administration separately as a —
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s something we’re in close contact with Congress about. And you all are familiar, I think, with the history here of times where aid has been frozen for a variety of reasons. But we’ll continue that discussion and – with them, and I’m sure we’ll keep talking about it in here as things develop.
QUESTION: Sorry, I just have one more on —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — on the idea that Palestine is ineligible or not eligible to join the ICC. Is there anything you can do to prevent them from joining?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that and see. Obviously, it’s the UN and member countries that look at it, of which we’re one. But I don’t have anything more on the process for you.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, there’s no way – I mean, you have no – you’re not a member of the ICC.
MS. PSAKI: Correct, we’re not.
QUESTION: So I don’t understand what – I mean, what’s the practical effect of you thinking that the Palestinians aren’t eligible to join?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that people are interested in the view of the United States on this issue.
QUESTION: They are. I asked about it. But I mean —
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: — is there a practical effect to that?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check and see in terms of the impact of it. And obviously, there’s a whole process that I’d point anyone to the UN on in determining whether or not they’d be eligible or they’d be accepted.
QUESTION: But apparently – well, they think they are eligible.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think again, I’d point you to the spokesperson’s statement where they made clear that this was administrative and doesn’t determine what the outcome is.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on Israeli reports that Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas, may have been kicked out of Qatar?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen the reports, Roz. I obviously don’t have any confirmation of details. I would just reiterate that our position on Hamas has not changed. Hamas is a designated foreign terrorist organization that continues to engage in terrorist activity and demonstrated its intentions during the summer’s conflict with Israel. We continue to raise our concerns about their relationship with a range of countries, but that hasn’t changed. I don’t have anything new in terms of Meshaal’s whereabouts or the status of that.
QUESTION: Have there been any conversations between this building and the Qatari Government about Meshaal’s status in their country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as I mentioned, we’ve raised in the past our concerns about Hamas. We have not made a secret about that, and that hasn’t changed either.
QUESTION: Let me rephrase. Since these reports have come out, has the U.S. Government talked to Qatar about his status?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the reports are suggesting – which I don’t have any confirmation of – that he’s no longer or won’t be in Qatar. I don’t have any confirmation of that. We’ve had conversations in the past. I don’t have anything to read out for you in terms of recent conversations.