The U.S. government has reportedly released about U.S.$575 million of suspended funds to Egypt. The Americans ‘froze’ some of the annual military aid they give the north African country following the ouster of former president Mohamed Mursi.
Senior State Department Officials
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: All right. Hello, everyone. This is a background briefing to preview Secretary Kerry’s trip to Cairo, Egypt tomorrow. We have a couple of Senior State Department Officials with us, but I’m going to turn it over to [Senior State Department Official Two], who’s going to preview the meetings that the Secretary will be doing tomorrow, and then we’ll take some questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you very much. Can you guys hear me okay?
QUESTION: No, I can’t hear.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay, all right. Secretary Kerry has three meetings scheduled for Cairo. He’s going to see President al-Sisi, he’s going to see Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri, and he’s going to see Arab League head Nabil Elaraby. Just a couple of sort of broad points that I’m sure are sort of going to shape these meetings.
They come after the election that was recently held, the presidential elections. This is also part of a broader trip to the Middle East and to Europe that the Secretary is making. Some of the sort of themes and things that I think will come out in these meetings include things like recognition that Egypt has been going through a very difficult transition. There’s a strong desire on the part of the United States for this transition to succeed. Egypt is a strategic partner and we have a longstanding relationship with Egypt. It’s a partnership that’s based on shared interest, strategic interest.
This visit follows up on the President’s June 10 call toward President al-Sisi. The President made clear in that phone call that after congratulating President al-Sisi he made clear that he looks forward to working with the president and looks forward to continuing the longstanding partnership.
A couple things that I would point out in addition to those broad themes, which are relatively positive, key concerns still remain and these will be certainly dealt with in the course of the meetings. We have lots of concerns about a range of issues that are related to the political environment, such as the demonstrations law, the imprisonment of journalist and secular activists, the lack of space in general for dissent, the mass trials and death sentences, as well as the need for redressing the verdicts in the NGO trial that took place last year.
We realize that there have been a few positive signs recently, relatively limited in the political environment area. We don’t want to overstate it, but a few flickering signs of positive movement: the release of an Al-Jazeera journalist early this week, Abdullah Shami; beginning steps to address sexual harassment and sexual violence against women; as well as the president’s call in his first cabinet meeting for the revision of human rights law in Egypt.
In addition to the concerns about the political environment, of course, the issue of security will come up and will be dealt with. We can talk about that if you have questions about it. The main point I think that we would make on security is that we recognize that Egypt faces a serious security challenge. We stand with them and want to be supportive as they confront the threat of terrorism mounted by groups like Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. We recognize they have a serious problem in the Sinai.
We are concerned that some of the tactics that they’re using to address their security issues are polarizing, and this relates back to the political environment that they are polarizing and that they in some ways are radicalizing certain aspects of Egyptian society in ways that are not supportive of overall stability in Egypt.
The final point that is a general note that will come up in meetings, I think, is support for economic and prosperity in Egypt, and we’ll talk about the need for economic reforms that will encourage job creation, economic growth, attracting investment, foreign investment, and getting tourists back to Egypt. All these things, of course, are related to the broader political and security environment.
I think maybe I’ll stop there and see if you have questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. Why don’t we go straight to questions and we’ll just pass you the microphone and pass it back. Who’s first? Lesley.
QUESTION: Is any of this about restoring aid that was suspended? Any of that going to come up?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I’m sure that the Egyptians are going to have questions about it, and I think that the Secretary is going to make clear that we want to be as supportive as possible of Egypt’s transition. We have made efforts with Congress to free up a substantial amount of the military assistance, Foreign Military Financing, FMF money, part of the FY14 money, as well as Economic Support Funds, which is the civilian type economic assistance, about 200 million in economic assistance. So we are doing what we can to provide assistance to Egypt. Obviously, we do that in consultation with Congress and addressing the concerns that they have as we move forward trying to meet the requirements of the legislation.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Can I just add one thing? But also during the meetings the Secretary will make clear there are certain requirements the Egyptians need to meet in order for the additional certifications to be made. And as you all know, those are abiding by rule of law, taking additional steps toward democracy. It’s not just about an election; it’s the steps they take from here. So he will reiterate that. And these are congressionally mandated steps, so they’re steps they need to take moving forward, not that have happened to date.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Sorry. I’d just add that the assistance that [Senior State Department Official Two] mentioned that was released through FMF in the past month was also released pursuant to the Egyptians meeting congressionally mandated requirements, the first being that they are maintaining a strategic relationship with the United States, and the second that they are adhering to, living up to maintaining the peace agreement with Israel.
QUESTION: Do you have a number on that? The number (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: The number on what was released before?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Was that —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I think she’s asking the number on what was released.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The FMF money was about north of $500 million.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) that’s being held?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: What’s that?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) is that being held?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No. I thought she asked what was – what had been released.
What was your question?
QUESTION: I thought Leahy had put a hold on some of that money through Congress and said he wasn’t going to release it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Do you want to (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We requested about $650 million in FMF to be released, and the vast majority of that money has been released. There is a hold on a limited amount of that money. It’s something around – I think it’s about $70 million that’s still being held.
QUESTION: How much? 70?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: A little more than $70 million.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Seven-zero out of about 570 that was released.
QUESTION: When did it get released?
QUESTION: When did it get released?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: This was – the money was obligated about 10 days ago, I think.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: (Inaudible) go over there. James.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Before we proceed, I don’t have to tell you that it’s very difficult to hear just because you’re a soft-spoken gentleman to begin with and the acoustics are bad. So before we land or before we are able to report on the trip to Egypt, I would be grateful – I think everyone would be grateful – if just the little litany of numbers that you just went through, if we could get a fact sheet on that before you get the full transcript together just so we have that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Okay, and then proceeding to my question, sir. What messages will the Secretary and his team be conveying to Sisi with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood? Does the Administration see the Muslim Brotherhood as part of the security challenges to the state of Egypt that you were just describing? And in short, is it the view of the U.S. Government that absent some progress in the relationship between the Egyptian military and government and the Muslim Brotherhood, that al-Sisi won’t, in fact, be able to move forward, he won’t have the political space he needs to be able to move forward on the various reforms, economic and political, that you’d like to see him undertake?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: With regard to the approach of the Egyptian Government towards the Muslim Brothers, I’d make a couple of points. We do not share the view of the – sorry, we do not share the view of the Egyptian Government about links between the Muslim Brothers and terrorist groups like Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. We do not have information that would substantiate that link. We have asked the Egyptians to share that information with us if they have such information, but at present we do not have that information.
We believe that in a general sense, the Egyptian Government needs to have a very politically inclusive approach, which means that they need to include and find ways to reach out to the Muslim Brothers. We think it’s very important that President al-Sisi have a politically inclusive approach.
So I think that addresses the gist of your question. Is that —
QUESTION: In other words, (a) do you regard the Muslim Brotherhood as part of the security challenges to the Egyptian state that you were just discussing with us earlier? And (b) if he fails to secure some sort of detente or some kind of reconciliation process, does that – do you regard that it will be impossible for al-Sisi to move forward with the kind of reforms you want to see him undertake?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: With regard to the challenge that the Muslim Brother poses, I would characterize it more as a political challenge than a security challenge.
QUESTION: A what challenge?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: A political challenge. I think it’s a challenge that the Egyptian Government needs to find a way to address, to reach out. We understand that the Egyptian Government for their part believe that the Muslim Brothers have basically opted for a policy of confrontation with the government, and that if the Muslim Brothers want political reconciliation and want to be included, then they need to make clear – and we have told them that – they need to be very clear that they don’t support violence and they need to make clear that they want to be a part of the political solution going forward in Egypt. And we’ll continue to send that message to them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Clearly, Egypt is concerned with its own internal problems, which are considerable. But given that Secretary Kerry is meeting with Egyptian leaders and also the Arab League, is there a message that he’s sending with regard to the role he would like to take these leaders in a Sunni state with regard to Iraq and influence that they would like the leaders he’s meeting with to try to exert perhaps on Sunnis in Iraq and on the Iraqi political process, and what is that message?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I would say that message has two main parts and it’s very similar to the two main parts of a message that we use in discussions with Iraqi official and leaders as well. And the first is to underscore the severity of the threat posed by ISIL and certainly to Iraq, but we believe also very much to Iraq’s neighbors, to the entire region, and to the United States. And first and foremost, we are urging countries that have diplomatic dealings with Iraq and that are in the region to take that threat as seriously as we do.
Second, we are underscoring the need for Iraqi leaders to expedite their government formation process and to come together around a new government that is inclusive and that takes into account the rights, aspirations, and legitimate grievances of all Iraq’s communities. This is a message that we’re conveying to countries in the region not because we are asking them to intervene in any way in Iraq’s politics – there are obvious sensitivities around that – but because many of these countries maintain their own relations with Iraqi officials and leaders, and we ask that they are echoing the same message that we’re conveying that addressing Iraq’s security situation, the threat posed by ISIL, is much more likely to be successful in the context of an inclusive government that is formed in short order and can begin addressing this threat from a solid, broad foundation of support.
QUESTION: Can I follow up and just ask whether – or how you interpret Sistani’s recent comments as to the progress that might be made to create a new kind of coalition?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Look, Grand Ayatollah Sistani is obviously one of the most influential voices on matters inside Iraq. I don’t particularly want to add to the body of commentary sort of interpreting and ripping on what he said or what his representative said on Friday. But I will say that the message to a very large extent is consistent with the message that I just described: the need for Iraqi leaders to come together and form a government quickly – this was a long process in 2010 and we don’t want to see that repeated; and the need for that government to be inclusive of all Iraq’s communities, and including its sizeable minority communities. So I think if you looked closely at the message that was conveyed on Friday that you would find a lot of common ground with what we’re saying.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask whether you’re concerned that coming so soon after President Sisi’s inauguration before he has really had a time to establish and show the colors of what kind of rule he’s going to have, is actually going to send the wrong message to many people who are concerned about the political environment in Egypt going forward.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I’d make a couple of points. First, we have a longstanding relationship with Egypt. It’s a very important relationship that’s build on several different pillars. It’s at a difficult juncture right now; that’s true. And we have serious concerns about the political environment, the lack of political space; all these things are true. But because it’s a complicated relationship and we’re balancing different interest and we have a significant number of shared interest, we felt like this was the appropriate time following up on the President’s phone call to – for the Secretary to come here and to explore those shared interest both for regional security, trying to help Egypt address critical concerns like counterterrorism, border security, proliferation of weapons, security issues related to regional concerns like Libya. But also it’s an opportunity for us to raise the political environment in the context of what you described as an issue of concern and to make clear that we think that many of the tactics that they’re using are counterproductive and that they’re polarizing Egyptian society. So it’s – we’re balancing those different concerns, but we think that the timing is appropriate to do that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I guess I’ll just add that, obviously, Egypt has a new president, Egypt is an important strategic partner. It’s very much, I would say, consistent with our dealings with a range of countries that would fall into that category for us to pay a visit on the new president early in his term. And I would add that to the extent that there are complexities and complications in our relationship with Egypt, it is, I would say, always been this Administration’s view that those sorts of complexities and complications are better addressed through engagement than in any other way.
QUESTION: I just want to go back over the numbers again. So for Fiscal ’14 Egypt is getting a total of 650 million in FMF from the U.S, of which only 70 million has been held back?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: There’s 1.3 billion in —
QUESTION: I can’t (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Sorry.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We’ll get you the numbers. But basically it’s 1.3 billion total for FY ’14.
QUESTION: What’s the (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: But right now we have asked Congress for a release of an initial tranche of that money. And that tranche that we asked for was $650 million. Okay? And they – the appropriators looked at that and they ultimately released most of it.
QUESTION: But the request was long before that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. They released about $575 million, something like that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: No, (inaudible) certified until about a month (inaudible).
QUESTION: Yeah. No, right.
QUESTION: Again on those numbers, can you clarify for us what that can be used for? The amount that you’ve said was just obligated 10 days ago – there had been, I guess, recently helicopters, about 10 of them I think it was, that were released. Can you detail where we are? Because I think a lot of that hardware, after what happened last July, was actually put in storage in the U.S., and the U.S. was helping to pay for the bill essentially and not handing over the hardware. So does what just happened in the past 10 days clear the way for the delivery of anything in particular? Can you clarify that? Like what’s the money actually being used for right now?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: (Inaudible.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: She was asking what the money – what the FMF money that was being released is being used for, basically.
The money is being used to pay existing defense contracts. Most of it is used to pay for what we call sustainment of defense systems, a range of equipment and training, much of which is already in Egypt because this is a 30-year military-military relationship. So a lot of the equipment is already there. The money is primarily being used to pay for equipment that needs replenishing or being sustained, being prepped and taken care of in Egypt. It’s not being used to pay for new systems.
QUESTION: But so – but those 10 helicopters in particular —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: So there’s no deliveries that are happening right now to Egypt beyond those 10 helicopters? No new (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: There’s no new defense contracts that are being done and there’s no delivery of —
QUESTION: And the ones that were frozen from last year?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The 10 helicopters are still held.
QUESTION: Can you repeat that? Can you repeat what you just said about (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The 10 helicopters have not been delivered yet.
QUESTION: What were they?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: What’s that?
QUESTION: What were they?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Apaches.
QUESTION: Okay. And?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And?
QUESTION: They were Apaches.
QUESTION: Great, thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: (Inaudible) separate from the FMF.
QUESTION: At the beginning you mentioned the judicial issues, the jailing of several journalists. And I know one has been released, but there are numerous others held, including from Al Jazeera, and also the mass death sentences. Can you talk a little bit more about what the Secretary’s message is to Sisi specifically about the judicial issues? And do you believe that he actually has the power to change any of those sentences or judicial proceedings in a way that would be, to the United States view, more – be fair?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The message that the Secretary will convey in these meetings about those issues is as follows. With regard to the mass trials and death sentences, he has made clear in the past in his meetings with Egyptian officials and he will do so in the future, including on this trip, that basically those trials are, in essence, an outrageous sort of flouting of the ordinary norms of due process. I mean, it’s difficult to see how people could receive – individuals could receive due process especially in cases that involve the death penalty where several hundred people or more are on trial in a single trial that lasted two hours or less. We understand that these verdicts are going through the judicial process and that there have been appeals and those appeals are continuing and that the numbers are dropping every – at every stage. But it remains true that those trials are a serious issue of due process concern for us and for others in the international community.
With regard to the journalist, we remain very concerned about the journalists that are detained simply for doing their jobs. We have made it clear to the Egyptians in the past publicly and privately and will continue to do so on this trip that we would like to see these journalists released. And I would just say that we’ve also made the case in the past and the Secretary, I think, will make this point, is that these cases have done significant damage to Egypt’s image internationally and that it’s in Egypt’s interest to redress these cases.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: (Inaudible) Lara (inaudible).
QUESTION: Sorry, thanks. So maybe I didn’t hear it, but could you answer or repeat the part of Anne’s question about whether or not you think the Government of Egypt has any power to change the legal system? What the Egyptians tell us is that the mullahs have set this system and they can’t do anything about it, or the mufti – yeah, I mean, but basically that they are powerless to stop this.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: The mufti. I mean clerics, basically.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: In Egypt?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. Are we talking about Egypt?
QUESTION: Yes. So they basically say that they have no power to change the legal system and so they’re trying to – that’s why they’re trying to do it on appeal, but that basically the first trial or the first kind of round of the legal system is out of their hands.
QUESTION: That it’s independent of them.
QUESTION: Also on the 1.3, so if I’m doing some fuzzy math here basically to figure out how much money is still – has still not been given yet, I just basically subtract 575 from 1.3, right? Okay, good. And then also I’m correct that this is – Kerry is the highest ranking U.S. official to go to Egypt since al-Sisi was inaugurated, correct?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks. So if you could answer that legal question, that’d be great.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: On the judicial system, I mean, I think I would need to be candid and say I’m not an expert on Egypt’s judicial system. What we have observed and what we have learned talking to people who are experts is that there’s – there are – there is a certain level of independence that is built into the system. There is a tradition of judges being able to make decisions with a certain degree of autonomy. There are also countervailing indications of the government being able to find ways to influence that system through the people that they appoint to the judiciary and through other more – I would call them subtle means of sending signals.
And I would say in a broader sense that the political environment that the Egyptian Government has created over the past year is in many ways the most critical element that is shaping how the judiciary is dealing with these cases. The judiciary in many ways is clearly responding to a political environment that the government has created. So it’s a complicated reality, and I’ve tried to sort of point to some to some ways in which there is influence, some ways in which there is some independence. But the critical issue is the political environment and the judiciary is responding to that.
QUESTION: This is for [Senior State Department Official Three] and it is – it’s regarding Iraq.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official Three.]
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official Three]. Sorry. As of when senior Administration officials briefed on Thursday, they said that U.S. troops already in Iraq had legal protection and they were confident that the new troops to be deployed would have the same protection. If you saw Admiral Kirby yesterday, he had trouble confirming that. I wonder if that’s still an open question. Has that issue been resolved for new troops to be sent in? And if not, is that something that Secretary Kerry has to resolve on this trip?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: In terms of any personnel on the ground right now, I would just refer you to what’s already been said, which is that troops on the ground —
QUESTION: I’m talking about new troops.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Right – would have the protections they need or would not have been deployed. In terms of new people who are sent in to the theater, I think what we’ve been saying and I what I think is – remains the case is that we believe that they will expeditiously and before they are deployed have the legal protections they need because – and the reason we believe that is because the Iraqi Government is directly asking and calling on us to provide support.
Exactly what form those legal protections will take I think is something that we are working out. Whether that’s going to be part of the Secretary’s business I don’t know for sure, but I would say that he is more likely to be focused on the two top level topics that I mentioned in the beginning: one, focusing on the security questions and how to address the ISIL threat inside Iraq; and two, the political environment inside Iraq. This issue, I know, is being actively worked by our embassy and by others, but I don’t know that’s it’s necessarily going to be a focus of the Secretary’s trip.
QUESTION: But just to be clear, it has not been resolved yet?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It’s in the process of being resolved.
QUESTION: In the process of being resolved.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I think that’s right.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) how do they have these legal – how do they have these legal protections? Because no one has explained. Everyone just says they’ll have what they need. No one, including [Senior State Department Official One], has said what they’re going to get and what is the legal rationale that provides it. Can you explain it?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I mean, again, I can’t go into detail of how each and every person on the ground has – is protected the way —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) coming in?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Right.
QUESTION: No one has explained it. (Inaudible.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Michael, I don’t think there is an exact answer to that question because it’s being worked through as we speak. As you know as well as anyone, there are a range of ways in which to do this, but I don’t know that the exact modality in this case has been settled on yet.
QUESTION: President Obama in some of his public remarks over the last week identified it as one of the diplomatic missions of the Administration to work with our allies in the Gulf, particularly the oil-producing states, to create what he called a backstop for any potential disruptions of supply that might arise out of the Iraq situation. And I just wonder if you could give us some update as to whether any progress has been made in that front and where specifically that progress might have been made.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I don’t have an update on progress. What I can tell you is that in Secretary Kerry’s conversations with leaders from whom that sort of discussion would be relevant – so oil-producing countries primarily – this, I would expect, will be a topic of discussion. But I don’t have a real-time update on where that all stands.
QUESTION: Are you liking what you’re hearing?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I would say that I don’t want to get ahead of the conversations he’s going to be having later on this week, and we’ll be in a better position to talk about that after the conversations have taken place.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official Three], (inaudible) is there going to be a discussion about – I just want to be clear. Is there going to be a discussion about global (inaudible) global supplies, or just supplies from Iraq?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Those supplies are —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I think there will generally be a discussion among energy-producing countries about the possible impact of the Iraq situation on (inaudible) energy markets. But again, I don’t want to get ahead of a conversation that takes place four days from now, and a lot could happen between now and then.
QUESTION: Thanks. When the Secretary was in Cairo last year, I believe it was November of late October, early November, he said some of the same things that you are mentioning now, that the political process needs to be inclusive, that the Muslim Brotherhood is a political challenge not a security challenge, that there needs to be due process in the trials, that you shouldn’t polarize society, et cetera. The Egyptians don’t seem to be listening. Why do you think you might have more luck this time? I understand there’s a new president, but why do you think – what is going to make a difference this time? Why would they listen this time?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think these types of conversations that the Secretary has with foreign leaders, it’s an iterative process, it’s an ongoing dialogue. And the situation in Egypt today is quite different than it was in November in some critical ways. I think Egyptians have had a chance over the last eight months to look at what has transpired in Egypt. I think some are reevaluating the approaches that have been used. And I think this process of reevaluating creates a new – sorry, creates a new environment or helps to contribute to it.
I think the security environment has evolved in ways that will allow for a good conversation to take place. And I think ongoing economic hardship has also probably had an impact on Egyptians as they evaluate the policies that are being implemented and the results of those policies. It’s true what you say that Egyptians have had certain attitudes. President Sisi remains quite popular and that’s also a constant. That’s been a bit more of a constant factor. But if you look at all the factors since November, I think there’s significant amount of change that would make a conversation worthwhile. And the critical ones on the political side, of course, are the constitutional referendum that was passed in January, the presidential election, and ongoing progress on the roadmap.
QUESTION: Here you go.
QUESTION: Thanks. So [Senior State Department Official Two], quickly, more math. That 1.3 minus the 575, is that also minus the 200 million in economic assistance?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The 200 million in economic assistance is (inaudible).
QUESTION: Wait. Actually, I have a quick question for [Senior State Department Official Three] too.
[Senior State Department Official Three], in Iraq as these things, the talks occur, not just with the Iraqis but also with Gulf partners, what more can Gulf partners do to kind of beat back some of the ISIL insurgency or the threat? Like what are you guys looking for the Gulfies to do – and Jordan?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Do you want me to go first?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: (Inaudible.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Okay, I’ll go first. So I just want to adjust slightly the sort of premise of your question because it’s not just consultations with Gulf partners, although we will be consulting with Gulf partners. It’s also conversations that we’ll be having with European partners in and around the NATO meetings in Brussels, with other regional partners that aren’t in the Gulf like the Jordanians and others. So just to be clear, this is not like what can the Gulf do to help Iraq.
But in terms of what some of these other countries can do to be constructive, I would say a lot of the funding and support that has over a long period of time fueled extremism inside Iraq has flowed into Iraq from its neighbors. And that does not mean that it’s the result of an official government policy in many if not most cases, but it does mean that some of these governments can do more to stop some of that facilitation. And that, by the way, goes not just for Iraq but also for Syria and is a frequent topic of conversation on those issues with these countries.
I would also say that for ISIL specifically, that’s not the sole source of their income. There is – our understanding is that they have an extension – extensive extortion network inside Syria and Iraq – kidnaping for ransom, illicit trade based on things that they seize and then sell. So this is in addition to being a highly capable and sophisticated terrorist organization is also essentially a criminal syndicate that is able to sustain some of its operations in that way. But all of these are going to be topics that we are going to take up with our partners to focus them on what we consider to be, as we’ve said, a very severe threat.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’m just going to say we’re going to wrap this up soon.
QUESTION: What about the 200 million?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Go ahead. He’s going to answer your 200 million question, then we’re going to wrap it up and we’ll do it again tomorrow. And we will get you guys a breakdown of the money before we land in Egypt if that is helpful.
QUESTION: Embargoed till we land —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The 200 million is a part of the ballpark 1.3 million.
QUESTION: That’s already gone?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: What’s that?
QUESTION: That’s already gone. So that’s gone and then 575 million is gone?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The 200 million is still being – I guess you’d call it in the pipeline. It’s not being implemented because of the difficulties on the ground, but it’s not being held up by Congress.
QUESTION: Okay. So (inaudible) the money that is being held up, I subtract 200 from 575 (inaudible) 775 from 1.3, right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yes.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Ballpark numbers, yes. But you’re mixing the – it’s easier with the – talking about held money to just talk about the FMF, the military money, because the other assistance, the ESF, the economic assistance, is not being held up.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: You have one too. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: I have one follow-up. It’s a factual question that’s been bothering me, if you can answer it or take it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Okay. This regards the criminal syndicate that is ISIL or ISIS. It’s been widely reported it’s become part of what I would call urban legend that they looted a bank in Mosul or banks in Mosul to more than $400 million. Now, the way I do the math, with – if it’s dollars and not dinars, which the governor of Nineveh province has said it is, and denominations do not exceed 100, it would be nearly impossible to carry $400 million on the backs of this insurgent group. Also, if you do the math, just to be a wonk about this, the total number of cash deposits in U.S. banks last week were 50 billion. To think that on the order of 400 million was in one bank in Mosul is pretty – but it’s been now repeated in every newspaper. The Guardian took it up. It’s in The New York Times (inaudible). And I was told by officials in another building that it’s just totally in tens of millions, but I don’t know if you want to put something on the record there.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I can’t speak to why you guys keep reporting it, but – no, I’m just kidding. In terms of – I’ve seen the reports. I’ve seen what Governor Nujeifi has said, who, whatever you think of the viability of that number, I mean, he’s in a position to know something. But what I think we’ve talked about this fairly extensively internally as well. I mean, it does seem to be an inordinately large amount of money to be held in essentially one or maybe a couple of banks even in one city in a country the size of Iraq. So I can’t tell you unequivocally that it’s true or not true, but I think we’ve discussed – we’ve raised some of the same questions that you have about the figure.
Look, that said though, they’re undoubtedly very, very well-funded. And whether it’s $400 million or tens of millions of dollars, that’s a lot of money for an insurgent organization that has on the order of thousands of members and is enough to allow them or to enable them to do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. So I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter, but to some extent, in terms of the outcome, we’re focused more on capabilities than on finding facts like that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: All right. Thanks, everyone.