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Government News : United States : Federal Government : Department of State : Daily Press Briefings

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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 19, 2013


Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 19, 2013


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • EGYPT
    • Economic Support Fund / Security Assistance / Review of All Assistance Programs
    • Legal Review and Policy Review
    • Relationship with Egypt / National Security Interests / Regional Stability
    • Mubarak Trial / Internal Egyptian Legal Matter / Path to Sustainable Democracy
    • Secretary's Contacts / Coordination and Cooperation Among Partners
    • Inclusive Process Moving Forward
    • Arbitrary Arrests / Security Concerns
    • Condemnation of Violence / Sinai Peninsula / Christian Institutions / Muslim Brotherhood Prisoners
  • UNITED KINGDOM
    • U.K. Law Authority Operation
  • INDIA / PAKISTAN
    • Dialogue between Pakistan and India / Kashmir
  • SYRIA
    • Refugees Crossing into Iraq / Coordinated Efforts
    • Geneva 2 Planning / Political Solution / Under Secretary Sherman and Ambassador Ford to Meet with Russian Officials
  • ZIMBABWE
    • SADC Communique / Electoral Process / U.S. Sanctions Policy
  • LEBANON
    • Condemnation of Attack


TRANSCRIPT:

1:34 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Monday in August. I’m impressed you’re all here, joining me here today. I don’t have anything for you all at the top. I can bet what’s on your minds, so let’s start there.

QUESTION: Okay. Let’s start with Egypt, please.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: So to start with, this New York Times story of yesterday, which cites Administration officials as saying that the State Department has put a hold on financing for economic programs --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that directly involve the Egyptian Government. Just so we’re clear, as I understand this story, that’s talking about the approximately $250 million – some subset of the $250 million in economic assistance. Is that true? Has the State Department put a hold on financing for any of the economic assistance to Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for your question, Arshad. To be clear, we have not made a policy decision to put a blanket hold on economic support – on the Economic Support Fund, ESF assistance. Clearly, that review is ongoing, as we’ve talked about in here quite a bit. That review includes military assistance, security assistance, and it also includes economic assistance. But we have not made a decision to put a blanket hold.

QUESTION: Let’s drop the blanket, like, minus --

MS. PSAKI: Hold, a hold.

QUESTION: But on any – on any of the $250 million in economic assistance?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we’ve said from the beginning, we’re going to abide by legal obligations and we will make adjustments as needed – as needed in the future. The review is still ongoing. Let me give you just a little bit more because I think – I know there’s been a lot of confusion on this and what applies to what.

So funding that goes – broadly speaking, funding that goes to nongovernmental entities in Egypt would not be affected, regardless of whether the restrictions were triggered, and is being continued. Programs with the government designed to promote free and fair elections, health assistance, programs for the environment, democracy, rule of law, and good governance can also continue in cases even where a legal restriction might apply.

So to the extent where there are ESF programs that would benefit the government, which is obviously a section, we are reviewing each of those programs on a case-by-case basis to identify whether we have authority to continue providing those funds or should seek to modify our activities to ensure that our actions are consistent with the law.

QUESTION: Okay. So how much money does that represent?

MS. PSAKI: In terms of the programs that are specific to the government?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an exact breakdown. Some of these programs are still being determined in terms of where funding will go.

QUESTION: Ballpark?

MS. PSAKI: A large portion goes to nongovernmental entities as well as governmental entities where it would be appropriate to continue assistance, as the ones I listed.

QUESTION: More than half goes to NGOs?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to put a percentage on it, but a large majority.

QUESTION: Well, how – a large majority? So more than half?

MS. PSAKI: Say a large chunk.

QUESTION: But is it a majority or not?

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s fair to say more than half would be in the category where it wouldn’t apply to those that --

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MS. PSAKI: -- are being reviewed on a case-by-case.

QUESTION: So The New York Times is wrong, then, when it says that you have put a hold on financing for economic programs that directly involve the Egyptian Government?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: You’re identifying – correct? So that’s just flat-out wrong?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: We are reviewing programs – and I know this has been a very confusing process, as funding programs often can be. So we are reviewing places where adjustments need to be made, and we will make those as needed.

QUESTION: Okay. So excellent to have dispatched with that apparently erroneous report. Can you take the question of – and it’s a question I think is perfectly reasonable to ask, because you are yourselves trying to figure this out – exactly how much of the $250 million in economic assistance falls into the category of assistance that benefits the government, and therefore that you are reviewing for whether you can continue it or not continue it under the law?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to look into this. I know it seems like there would be an obvious answer, but it’s a question I asked in anticipation that you all may ask. There wasn’t an easy answer --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- so let me see if there’s an easy answer or information more that we can provide to all of you.

QUESTION: Okay. Then, second, if I can continue on the --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- second set of questions related to this: The restrictions that obtain here on the economic funds, totally separate – I mean, this is the question – are they totally separate from those that could apply to the $1.3 billion under section 7008?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yes?

MS. PSAKI: So there are separate pots, right – there’s economic assistance, there’s security assistance. Security assistance includes FMF military assistance, which we’re all familiar with. It also includes law enforcement, nonproliferation, and antiterrorism programs. They’re reviewed in the same manner, with the same restrictions.

QUESTION: So just so I’m clear, though, does any of the $1.3 billion in military assistance fall within this review?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: The specific review of whether you – I’m talking about non-section 7008.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In other words, totally outside of that, do you still have to go through and scrub the $1.3 billion to see if any of that might also be restricted?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as the President said on July 3rd, we’re reviewing all of our aid, so all of those buckets.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) I know that.

MS. PSAKI: Right?

QUESTION: But I’m – what I’m trying to understand is whether the review that is being conducted on the $250 million or so also applies on the $1.3 billion.

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re different programs --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- right?

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So if it were to apply, section 7008, as you know, is a restriction on the obligation and expenditure on certain funds to the Egyptian Government, and we have carefully reviewed all assistance for Egypt with that legal authority in mind. So whether it applies, we’re still undergoing that review, but obviously, the review is of all the assistance.

QUESTION: Sure. No, I’m afraid I feel like you’re not --

MS. PSAKI: I may not be understanding your question --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. I’m just --

MS. PSAKI: -- so why don’t you try it again?

QUESTION: Okay. So leaving aside the review that is --

MS. PSAKI: The legal review?

QUESTION: Leaving aside the question of whether you were to choose to determine that a military coup has occurred, and therefore whether you would then be obligated to cut off the $1.3 billion, right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are there additional regulations similar – or rules similar to the ones that are requiring you to review the $250 million in economic assistance that would apply to the $1.3 billion as well, or not?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of any, but let me check into that for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you ask? Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Yep, I’m happy to. I’m happy to.

QUESTION: Okay. And then --

MS. PSAKI: Let me – can I – oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: Please. Oh, no, no, go ahead.

MS. PSAKI: I just wanted to give – I know there’s also been some confusion about the FMF funding. So --

QUESTION: That was my next question, so go ahead. Yep.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. So of the $1.23 billion FMF financing, so Foreign Military Financing allocated for Egypt in FY2013, $650 million has been transferred to the Egypt account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. At no time are the funds transferred to full Egyptian control. That’s standard operating procedure.

After sequestration withholding, approximately $585 million remains unobligated. So that is the amount that is unobligated. That – appropriated funds are obligated and expended on a rolling basis, so this isn’t a FY2013 issue, this happens in other cases as well and has happened in past years. But it would be inaccurate to say that a policy decision has been made with respect to the remaining assistance funding.

QUESTION: So here’s my next question --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- directly pertinent to that.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You told us and you reiterated it last week, but you told us going back to when Deputy Secretary Burns briefed the Hill, and you reiterated that it was still the case last week, that you did not intend to make a determination as to whether Section 7008 applies.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we did not – we did not intend to make a determination as to whether it was a coup.

QUESTION: Yes, a military coup.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: And there are – well, go ahead.

QUESTION: Is that still your policy that you do not intend to make a determination as to whether it’s a military coup?

MS. PSAKI: That is correct.

QUESTION: Okay. So then --

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s important to note, as we said at the time, because we are abiding by our legal obligations, as we’ve talked about from the beginning, obviously, the legal review and what that means and how it applies and working with Congress on applying it has been a multiweek process here and it’s ongoing.

QUESTION: Right. So --

MS. PSAKI: There is also a policy review, right, as it relates to our broad relationship with Egypt. That’s also ongoing, because as you know, it is not about whether a determination is made as to what our aid is; we can make other decisions related to our aid. But at the time when we said that we were not going to make a determination and we made clear that that abided with our legal obligations, we also talked about how there are national security interests, there are interests related to regional stability, and we fully believe that Egypt can return through a rocky path to a sustainable democracy. And there is an implication by naming one side or the other that you’re taking sides, and that has been a policy priority for us not to do that.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MS. PSAKI: But we’re still abiding by our legal obligations.

QUESTION: So here’s what I don’t get, then.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Paragraph four of the Times story says whether to cut off the remaining $585 million in military aid available to Egypt this year was one of the questions that awaited President Obama as he returns to Washington from Martha’s Vineyard. But you’re telling me that the policy is unchanged, that you do not intend to find – you do not intend to make a determination.

MS. PSAKI: Correct. However --

QUESTION: Yes?

MS. PSAKI: -- there are still the review of what is applicable legally, also the policy review of our relationship broadly with Egypt, including all forms of aid, whether that’s FMF or ESF. That is ongoing.

QUESTION: Okay. So you could – so in other words, you’re opening up the – you’re making clear that you – that the President has the option, should he wish, of cutting off some or all of the remaining $585 million, whether he does so under Section 7008 or not; in other words, as part of the policy review he could reduce, cut, eliminate that if he wished?

MS. PSAKI: The President has a range of options, absolutely.

QUESTION: Including those, to cut some or all of that?

MS. PSAKI: Including those. And now, it’s not as simple as that, given there are – there is a process, just hypothetically speaking, which I don’t like to do but I’m trying to be very clear with this or as clear as possible. There is a wind-down process. There is no decision that’s been made, so any reports saying a decision has been made are inaccurate. That review is ongoing, as we said last week. And it’s important to note, obviously, events on the ground last week but moving forward will be taken into account as we consider our relationship. So I just wanted to be fully clear.

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: Explain to us, what does unobligated mean? You said unobligated. What does that mean, $585 million?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obligated means it would have been --

QUESTION: All the aid is obligated.

MS. PSAKI: Let me – I’m answering your question, I think, Said.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: If not, you can ask another question. Six hundred and fifty million – there’s been some confusion, I’m not necessarily saying from this room, on what it means. I made the important point, or what I think is an important point, that at no point are funds transferred to Egyptian control. They’re transferred to an Egypt account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That would be – the next step would be to transfer the remaining unobligated $585 million to that account.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: So Jen, just to be super precise --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- the President, without saying it is or it is not a coup, could put aid to Egypt on hold based on this policy review?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has always had a range of options from the beginning. The best way I can explain it is there is a legal review and there’s a policy review – legal, it’s abiding by our legal obligations. And as I mentioned – and sorry to go back through this, but I think it’s important here – there are certain programs – in ESF, there are some programs in there as an example that we’d have to – we have to – we might have to adjust, depending. But that review is ongoing. But the President can certainly make decisions regarding – related to our relationship with Egypt and funding that we provide, absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. Because this is kind of a big – now a very important moment here where you’re saying he can avoid making any decision on a coup but he could still stop the aid in one form or another. I mean, it might not be all, whatever.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to get too ahead of it, but to be as clear as we can here, there are separate questions here, right? Determinating – determinating, that’s not a word. Determining whether or not it’s a coup, you are very familiar with our position, as we’ve stated in here many, many times. But more broadly speaking, our ongoing review of our relationship, all of our programs, all of our aid, is, of course, part of our ongoing review of our own broad relationship with Egypt.

QUESTION: Jen, just to follow up on --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- what I was asking on the $1.3 billion that is actually military.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Now, most of it, as I understand it, goes back towards buying F-16s and tanks and equipment and so on, and all this. Do you have a breakdown of that? That goes back to American U.S. manufacturers; isn’t that true?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re right that only the defense – this is getting into the weeds, but since we’re there – only the Defense Finance Accounting Service may draw on the funds held in the Egypt Federal Reserve account. In coordination with the Government of Egypt, they may draw on the account for payments on contracts between defense contractors and the Department of Defense on behalf of Egypt. In terms of what percentage goes back to defense contractors, I would point you to the Department of Defense for any breakdown. I’m not sure what they have available.

QUESTION: Does that in any way gnaw at the leverage of the U.S. --

MS. PSAKI: Can you say that one more time, Said?

QUESTION: Does that minimize or actually mitigate the leverage that the U.S. could have in terms of threatening to cut off aid, because a lot of it goes back to U.S. manufacturers? Does that in any way compromise the leverage that you could have by saying we could cut off the aid?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, there are obviously a range of issues that are discussed. As you know, there’s this internal discussion on what steps should be taken next.

QUESTION: Oh, another weeds question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Sorry, Deb. We’ll go to you next.

QUESTION: Sorry, just a very --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- just a clarification. When you say “benefits the government,” what does that mean?

MS. PSAKI: Tell me again which context I said in that.

QUESTION: You said – well, remember back about 10 minutes ago you were talking about programs that might benefit the government, as opposed to some of the earlier ones like nongovernmental entities, et cetera --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that wouldn’t be stopped, but ESF that would benefit the government might be. What is that exactly?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I gave you some, kind of – the way I would view what I said is there are certain programs with the government that would not be impacted. So those that promote free and fair elections, health assistance, programs for the environment, democracy, rule of law, and good governance can all continue. So those are sort of the exceptions, for lack of a better term. In terms of specific programs, I’d have to check with our team and see if there’s an example that might be useful to all of you.

QUESTION: Okay. Two questions.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there any reaction to the court ruling that Mubarak might be freed or could be freed? And secondly, back on the funding thing --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- is there any fear that if you reduce the military aid, or even the economic aid, that the Egyptian rulers at the time now will lessen the protection of the U.S. Embassy there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me do the first one first, as chronologically makes sense, so that’s nice. As we’ve long said with respect to the Mubarak trial – and I would point you back to many comments long before my arrival here with all of you – this is an eternal – internal Egyptian legal matter that is working its way through the Egyptian legal system, and otherwise we would refer you to the Government of Egypt for any further details.

On the second question, can you repeat that one more time?

QUESTION: Is there any fear that the reduction of aid in any form, military or economic --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- would – do you all fear that the ruling generals would somehow lessen the protection of the U.S. Embassy there?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: In retaliation, so to speak. Okay, you’re not going to help us; then we’re not going to provide protection for you.

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we would hope that would not be the case. Obviously, this is a hypothetical, given we haven’t made decisions yet. But --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the decision-making process?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’re getting several steps ahead in a hypothetical on a decision we haven’t made yet, so I just don’t want to speculate on any of that at this stage from here.

QUESTION: Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Faisal has said yesterday that to those who have announced they are cutting aids or their aid to Egypt or threatening to do that, we say that Arab and Muslim nations are rich and will not hesitate to help Egypt. And he expressed his concerns over the West’s criticism of the Egyptian Government, saying you will not achieve anything through threats. Do you think he’s talking to the U.S.?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t speculate on that. Obviously, every country makes their own decision about whether they’re going to continue to provide aid, what aid they will provide, and we’ve certainly seen that. As you know, we’ve worked with a range of regional partners who have supported different sides or both sides in this – these issues going on in Egypt and will continue to do that. But we’ll make our own decisions here, based on our own national security interests, our own concerns about regional stability. And that review is ongoing.

QUESTION: What do you think about the Saudis’ position that – towards what’s going on in Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything more for you on it.

QUESTION: Are you --

MS. PSAKI: Every country is going to make their own decisions about aid and what they will or won’t provide.

QUESTION: Are you on the same page with them or two different pages?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we work closely with them, as we do with many regional partners. We share a belief that we need to return to a productive, stable path forward. And beyond that, I don’t have any more for you.

QUESTION: Yes. Can we expect a U.S. decision on cutting or not cutting the aid to Egypt in the coming weeks?

MS. PSAKI: Again, of course, the review is ongoing, but I wouldn’t want to get ahead of and box in the President on his own decision-making.

QUESTION: And just back to the Mubarak question --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- how would you take the fact that Mubarak may be freed and that President Morsy faces more charges, including criminal charges since this morning?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t conflate the two. We’ve been clear on what our position on Mr. Morsy is. That is the same. And beyond that, I would point you to the Egyptian Government on the Mubarak case.

QUESTION: Still on Egypt or --

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Sure, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Still on Egypt?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: In the determination of the coup, what part of the aid would be – would have to be cut?

MS. PSAKI: In the definition of a coup?

QUESTION: No. If a determination was made that it was a coup.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can – I’m sure I can get you the legal breakdown on the specifics of that.

QUESTION: Broadly.

QUESTION: Isn’t it the whole $1.3 billion?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on it. We’ll see if there’s a legal breakdown for it that (inaudible) --

QUESTION: Broadly speaking.

QUESTION: Just for the sake of clarity --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- historically for – in recent years, the military portion has run at $1.3 billion. The reason that you referenced $1.23 billion for this year is because of the cuts --

MS. PSAKI: Sequestration withholding.

QUESTION: -- that were obliged under sequestration?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Super. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Exactly.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You mentioned that there are two reviews are going separately, I assume, or maybe what you call it, parallel ones, legal review and political review. And as much as I got from your explanation and answering the question, the legal review is based – the answer is that if it’s a coup or not. I mean, I assume so.

MS. PSAKI: It’s not about whether it’s a coup or not.

QUESTION: The legal one.

MS. PSAKI: It’s about abiding by Section 7008.

QUESTION: Which is based --

MS. PSAKI: A restriction on the obligation and expenditure of certain funds to the Egyptian Government.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And if that’s the case for the legal review, what are the criteria of the political review? Based on what, then?

MS. PSAKI: The policy review? Well, I think it’s --

QUESTION: About what happened or what’s going on now?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. They’re all factors. Our national security interests. We have a long – decades long relationship with Egypt that we hope will continue. We fully believe that Egypt can return to a sustainable democracy, or they can continue on the path, I should say, to a sustainable democracy. We know that takes time. We know that Egypt plays an important role in regional stability. These are all factors. There are a range of factors and that’s, of course, why it’s an ongoing review and an ongoing discussion.

QUESTION: My second question is related to the contacts. Seems that in the last two days most of the things are coming through press or media --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- whether it is the Egyptian side or the American side. Since Thursday, which was the last time you appeared on this podium --

MS. PSAKI: That is true.

QUESTION: -- yes – any kind of contacts was – is going on? And in these contacts, are there other partners or not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we remain in close contact on the ground, but let me read out for you the Secretary’s contacts. He spoke with Interim Foreign Minister Fahmy twice on Friday. He made clear our concerns about the actions on the ground last week. He encouraged, as he has publicly, as we have publicly, the interim government to continue to move forward on a posture toward reconciliation. He passed on concerns he’s had, he’s heard from members of Congress of varying degrees. As I’ve said from here before, the Secretary speaks regularly with many members of Congress, and pass that along. And he made clear that we, of course, condemn all violence regardless of the side it’s coming from, but reiterated that the interim government has a preponderance of power and it plays a unique role. So he spoke with him.

He also spoke with Foreign Minister Judeh of Jordan. They talked about a range of issues, including Egypt, as well as Middle East peace and Syria. And he spoke with the Emirati Foreign Minister just yesterday and reiterated many of the same concerns and discussed, of course, our ongoing review of our relationship.

QUESTION: Yes. Regarding the Foreign Minister Fahmy --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- he had a press conference the day before yesterday, I think --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and the – one of the things he raised is the issue of this – according to his description of, which is internationalization of the Egyptian case --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- which was based – I mean, somehow related to the question of raising the issue to the UN Security Council.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any view about that? Do you have an attitude about that? I saw it was a – I know it was a closed session, and the only quote was attributed to Samantha Power, was like one line. It was not even clear what was the U.S. attitude toward this raising the issue in the Security Council. Do you have something about it?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the UN here for anything specific. Broadly speaking, we, of course, support ongoing coordination and cooperation and dialogue between our many partners. As you know, the Secretary – I mentioned some of his recent calls, but as you know, because we’ve talked about it in here, he’s also been in touch with EU High Representative Ashton in the past weeks on a regular basis and many different officials on that.

QUESTION: So another – somehow the trend which is in Egypt and according to the official announcements there, whether it’s somehow the spokesperson or the advisor of the President --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and others, it was – it is a matter of 24 or 48 hours, they are talking about dissolving the Muslim Brotherhood or even the political party of it. Do you have any comment about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve certainly seen those reports. As we’ve consistently said from the beginning, we believe any process moving forward needs to be inclusive and include all parties and all sides. That continues to be our public and private message.

QUESTION: So that means banning the Muslim Brotherhood is not a good idea?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Another subject?

QUESTION: No, just one --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s finish Egypt, and then we’ll go to you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, you mentioned a legal review and a policy review. I was wondering if there was a potential judiciary review, or where that would fit in, and if the U.S. is able to discern if Egypt’s judiciary is functioning adequately in this crisis, and also if it’s maintaining some sense of impartiality with the rulings in both the Mubarak and the Morsy cases.

MS. PSAKI: I think those are – the reviews I mentioned are the reviews that are ongoing. Of course, we’re watching closely everything happening on the ground. And we have stated in the past, and let me reiterate today, that we have concerns about arbitrary arrests. We have said that we believe there should be a process put in place taking into account security and other concerns for Mr. Morsy and other members of the Muslim Brotherhood. That remains the case today and our position has not changed. And obviously, we look at all components on the ground as we continue to discuss and review our relationship with Egypt.

QUESTION: The Egyptian prosecutor said that Morsy would need to be detained for 15 days because he was inciting violence. Do you agree with that?

MS. PSAKI: Again, it’s not for us to determine or to make determinations, but we – our position has been clear, which I just stated, and obviously, we’re looking at all components of what’s happening on the ground.

QUESTION: Jen, has anyone been in touch with Baradei since he went to Vienna?

MS. PSAKI: With – I’m sorry, with whom?

QUESTION: The former Vice President, Mohamed Baradei --

MS. PSAKI: With Baradei.

QUESTION: -- in Vienna. Has anyone been in touch with him?

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary – I think I spoke about this last week. I’m not sure when he arrived in Vienna. But the Secretary did speak with him a number of times last week.

QUESTION: So who is taking the lead on this? I know that the Secretary is the top guy here, but who’s taking, let’s say, day-to-day events, or the point person --

MS. PSAKI: From the Administration?

QUESTION: -- from the Administration on the Egypt thing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is an issue that we’re closely focused on, and it’s one that’s discussed by the entire national security team. And so I would say many different players are in touch with many different counterparts, whether they are officials from other governments who have a stake in the region, or whether it’s Egyptian officials.

QUESTION: And finally, I know that the buck stops with the President and looking back – and I know you don’t do retrospect, but in retrospect, was it a mistake to have McCain and Lindsey at the same time as Burns was there? And it seems that all reports point to a close-but-no-cigar kind of a deal, that was basically sort of confused by the presence of the Senators. Do you agree do a retrospective in this case?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re right, I’m not going to do a retrospect on that. I know we spoke about it a bit last week. I just don’t have anything further to add on it.

Do we have any more on Egypt? Is yours Egypt, Jill, or no?

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: One more on Egypt. Would suspending aid be a propaganda victory for the Muslim Brotherhood?

MS. PSAKI: Would it be a propaganda victory?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI: No. We’re reviewing it with a number of factors in mind, all of which I’ve outlined. But again, it’s a hypothetical because we’re not at that point.

QUESTION: Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Egypt, in the back?

QUESTION: Yeah. Jen, do you have any comments on the situation in Sinai --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- especially after today, 24 soldiers have been killed and attacked by an extremist militia? And a follow-up question: In case that the U.S. decided to stop the military aid to the Egyptian military, do you think – do you – don’t you have any fears that it will affect negatively on the role of the Egyptian army to fighters, especially the United States, it’s – when you consider it the main supporter for the Egyptian army? What do you think?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ll preview you for you that I’m not going to get into the second question, given it’s a hypothetical, but I can say that we, of course, strongly condemn today’s attack against Egyptian Central Security Force officers in the Sinai. We extend our condolences to the families of those who have been killed. The Sinai Peninsula remains an area of concern, and the current situation in Egypt has not improved the situation. A number of loosely-knit militant groups have formed in the Sinai. The United States, of course, continues to support Egypt’s ongoing efforts against terrorism and growing lawlessness in the Sinai, and we continue to cooperate with Egypt in these efforts.


If I may, there have been, unfortunately, a number of instances of violence, so let me just go through a couple of those as well.

We also condemn the attacks and violence that continue to occur across Egypt, including we deplore in the strongest terms the reprehensible attacks against over 40 Coptic Christian churches and other Christian institutions, including schools, social service societies, and businesses by extremists bent on sowing interreligious strife, when the vast majority of Egyptians reject such behavior. We’re also deeply troubled by the suspicious deaths of Muslim Brotherhood prisoners in a purported prison escape attempt near Cairo.

We, again, urge all those in Egypt to refrain from violence. There’s absolutely no place for such violence in Egypt. We call on all Egypt’s leaders and the international community to condemn such attacks without equivocation.

QUESTION: Why are those suspicious? Why have you judged those are suspicious?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a number of details that aren’t clear. But we’ve, of course, seen the reports and had some questions about that.

QUESTION: And have you raised it with the Egyptian authorities?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not – well, I know the Secretary’s last calls. I’m not sure beyond that. I know we’re in touch closely on the ground.

QUESTION: Can you check whether you’ve raised that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’m happy to check what the last contacts have been.

QUESTION: And if so, at what level?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Related to this last point you made, the statement --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- do you still believe or consider the pro-Morsy protestors peaceful protestors or not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve consistently condemned all violence from either side in here. As the Secretary said last week in his statement, the interim government obviously has a large portion of the power in this case, but regardless of where the violence is coming from, that’s something we would condemn, and we don’t think there’s any place for it in Egypt.

QUESTION: Other subject?

QUESTION: Sorry. Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Any more?

QUESTION: -- I was wondering if I could just quickly clarify what you were saying before.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So the legal and policy review, the – both of which are ongoing, right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And the legal review consists of essentially making a determination on whether there was a coup or not? Is that --

MS. PSAKI: No. It is – Section 7008 is a restriction on the obligation and expenditure of certain funds to the Egyptian Government. I would point you back to the President’s statement on July 3rd, where he asked all of Administration officials to undergo a review of our aid. And certainly, as we’ve said from the beginning, our – one of our primary goals here is, of course, to abide by our legal obligations while we are still looking at the broad spectrum of our national security interests, regional stability, and our own belief that Egypt can return to a sustainable democratic path.

QUESTION: Okay. But and then aside from that --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- there’s also the policy review, under which only the $585 million that remains to be obligated is subject to that review. Is that right?

MS. PSAKI: Again, our broad relationship with Egypt, including all forms of aid, is part of any review. And that’s why the President asked six weeks ago – I think – I hope I’m doing my math correctly there – for all departments to review. So I wouldn’t partition it into one component. It is a broad review. Those discussions are ongoing.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Final point.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Just I think I might have missed it, when you were talking about the $650 million --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that was transferred to the Egypt account at the Fed --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and you said that that doesn’t really go under Egyptian control. It goes --

MS. PSAKI: FMF funding doesn’t.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: There’s – and there’s often confusion about this, because it’s – it can be confusing. It goes – doesn’t go to full Egyptian control. It goes to the Egypt account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And then through the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Government of Egypt will work with that entity moving forward.

QUESTION: And just so we’re clear, because --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- if I understand it right, you have a veto. In other words, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service – the money doesn’t get dispensed unless the U.S. Government agrees.

MS. PSAKI: No withdrawals may be made from the account without the Defense Finance and Accounting Service consent.

QUESTION: Okay. And then one other thing. I’m a little perplexed about one thing.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: When you talk about the legal review --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- under 7008 --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but you’ve made your decision that you don’t plan to make a determination, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: And that has not changed?

MS. PSAKI: That has not changed.

QUESTION: And are you reviewing that decision?

MS. PSAKI: I believe we’ve made a decision. Obviously anything we can review. But there’s no plans for that.

QUESTION: But to your knowledge, you’re not actually reviewing the decision not to make a determination?

MS. PSAKI: No. And what the point I was trying to make earlier – so let me just reiterate it now – is it’s important to note that when we announced we weren’t making a determination, we talked about our broad national security interests. It’s always been about the Egyptian people determining their path forward, and not making a determination was in part because we did not want to send a signal that we were taking sides. That’s an important component of working with Egypt and working with them as they try to get on a path back to sustainable democracy.

QUESTION: Yes, please, just a --

MS. PSAKI: Is this still on Egypt?

QUESTION: Yes. Clarification.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Are these numbers that you mentioned related to the Fiscal Year 2013, right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Not 14?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. It’s FY2013.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Egypt or on a --

QUESTION: Yes, Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Egypt. Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: My name’s Ahmet from Turkey.

MS. PSAKI: Hi, Ahmet.

QUESTION: Turkish Radio and Television.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, nice to meet you.

QUESTION: Turkish Ambassador to Egypt Huseyin Avni just is recalled to Turkey and he has briefed the cabinet on developments in Egypt. And then the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan kept up pressure on Egypt and said – and calling the violence a shame for Islam and the Arab world. And he described inaction for the international community on Egypt crisis as shameful. So do you share these comments on the issue?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to every comment that comes from a foreign leader, and especially those that are close – we work closely with. I think I’ve stated clearly what our position is. The review is ongoing. Of course, we’ve condemned very clearly the violence that’s happening on the ground, and certainly when hundreds of civilians are killed, as they were last week, it’s not business as usual. You heard the Secretary say that last week, and the discussions are ongoing in the Administration, but I have nothing to announce for you today.

Let – is it Egypt?

QUESTION: No. Different subject.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s go to Jill. She’s been patiently waiting for a new topic.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Finally. Concerning Glenn Greenwald --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and his detention by the British – I’m sorry – his partner’s detention, David Miranda.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- did the U.S. actually request the British Home Office to do that, to detain him and to confiscate his electronic equipment?

MS. PSAKI: So we – of course, as you know, this is – this was U.K. law enforcement operation. We do have a close law enforcement and intelligence relationship with the U.K. and we were informed in advance, but we did not ask U.K. authorities to undertake this operation.

QUESTION: But isn’t it correct that now the U.S. actually does have access to his laptop and mobile and all of that?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything – any further information for you than I just portrayed.

QUESTION: Did you suggest it? Even if you didn’t ask, did you say: hey, this might be an idea?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more for you than I just conveyed, Arshad.

QUESTION: Does the United States support his detention?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you than I just conveyed.

QUESTION: On – in Pakistan today --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Pakistan?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Prime Minister today made a major speech since his inception, and he was underlining the importance of maintaining peace in South Asia --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and said that Pakistan and India should not waste their resources on fighting wars. Instead, they should fight poverty, illiteracy, and bring development to their people. Do you have any comments on that?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen that speech. I’m happy to take a look. As you know, our position remains the same, that we believe that Pakistan and India can work through any issues through dialogue, and we encourage that to, of course, continue.

QUESTION: Especially in the backdrop of tensions that have been simmering in the disputed Kashmir region, and he also said that Kashmir remains a vital outstanding dispute which must be resolved.

MS. PSAKI: And our policy on Kashmir has not changed. We still believe that the pace, scope, and character of India and Pakistan’s dialogue is for those two countries to determine.

QUESTION: But will you continue to encourage both capitals to return to peace talks and --

MS. PSAKI: We certainly continue to encourage further dialogue.

QUESTION: Jen, Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The UN has announced today that more than 30,000 people or Syrian refugees have fled to Iraq from Syria --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- in the last five days. Do you have any reaction, and how do you view this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we, of course, are aware of reports that as many as 30,000 Syrians have crossed from Syria into Iraq since August 15th. We understand most of the refugees are from Aleppo, Afrin, Hasaka, and Qamishli. Reports are that the crossing reception and processing of the new arrivals have gone smoothly, thanks to the coordinated efforts of the UN, the International Organization for Migration, NGO partners, and local government officials. We also appreciate the efforts of the Kurdistan Regional Government to open the border, and remain deeply grateful to Iraq and other countries in the region that are providing protection, assistance, and hospitality to the nearly two million refugees who have fled the violence inside Syria.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new for you. I think we’ve talked about this a little bit in the past. Let me check with our team and see where we are on that question.

QUESTION: One more on Syria. A Russian official has talked today about a U.S.-Russian meeting next week in The Hague to cooperate or to talk about Geneva 2.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any announcement?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I do, actually. We have long agreed with Russia that a conference in Geneva is the best vehicle for moving towards a political solution. We all agree the talks cannot become a stalling tactic, and Secretary Kerry has been very clear on this point with the Russians. As you know, Secretaries Kerry and Hagel met August 9th, so just about 10 days ago, with their Russian counterparts on a range of bilateral and global issues, including efforts to build more momentum towards Geneva. They agreed to have senior members of their teams meet to continue to make progress on Geneva planning.

So Under Secretary Sherman, Ambassador Ford – and Ambassador Ford will meet in The Hague with their Russian counterparts to discuss this effort next week.

QUESTION: So it’s not at the level of, let’s say, with Secretary Kerry and Lavrov? It’s not at --

MS. PSAKI: Well, they – as you know, they speak on a regular basis, including just 10 days ago, and they talked about building momentum towards a Geneva conference. But these conversations, working through the logistics, have happened at this level throughout the process.

QUESTION: Okay. So that has not in any way sort of taken the urgency out of the process?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not. I’ll remind you that in the meetings that have taken place with the UN and with Russian counterparts, Under Secretary Sherman and either Ambassador Ford or Acting Assistant Secretary Jones have been typically the representatives from the United States.

QUESTION: And at that level, will they discuss countries that may be or may not be invited to the Geneva conference?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly continue to discuss participation, and that will be part of the discussion next week.

QUESTION: Do you know who’s going to represent the Russians?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that information. I will check and see if we have any clarity on that point.

QUESTION: Okay. And did --

QUESTION: Do you know which date?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have the date yet, just next week. That may still be being worked out.

QUESTION: And should we read into the fact of this meeting that there may be some progress on holding Geneva 2, notwithstanding that all public indications suggest that there’s been no progress for the last several months?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So should we, from the fact that there’s going to be this meeting, conclude that there has been any progress?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you can take from it that during the Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov this was a prominent topic of conversation. They agreed and reiterated their belief that this is the appropriate mechanism. They would like to move forward with it sooner rather than later, but in terms of what that means, that’s part of the discussion that will happen next week. Of course, the Russians and the United States, as we all know, are not the only players. We’re still continuing to encourage the Syrian opposition to develop a unified delegation able to present solid ideas, and that’s part of the calculus as well.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, have the – has President Assad’s government sent any recent signal suggesting that it is open to a Geneva 2 gathering?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that for you, but certainly expect that will be a part of the discussion next week with the Russians.

QUESTION: Jen, I think last week --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- Minister Lavrov was very critical of your position that suggested that the Syrian Government does not want to go to Geneva. So what made you, at the time, say that the Syrian Government is not desirous of going to Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, if they indicate they would like to go to Geneva, that would be a positive step, and we’re in touch with the opposition and encouraging them to develop a unified delegation as well.

QUESTION: But the Syrian Government does say that. I mean, time and again, they say, “We want a political resolution to this conflict.” Isn’t that an indication they want to go?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’ve said a range of things, Said. So the question is: Where are we now, and can we move this process forward? And as you know, the Russians are in close touch with them and I’m certain will be a part of the discussion next week.

QUESTION: Jen, Jordanian Prime Minister --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- is talking about help providing by the U.S. to Jordan to protect itself to prevent any chemical weapons war --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- on Syria. Can you talk to or can you tell us about this cooperation and what help are you providing to them?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly can. As you know, we have provided a great deal of assistance to Jordan in the past. Let me see. I know I have something for you in here. Let me see if I have it. Thanks for your patience. Let me get back with you right after the briefing. I know I have something on that for you, and we’ll give it to you right after the briefing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: I’m going to have to wrap this up shortly here, but Scott.

QUESTION: On Zimbabwe.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The SADC alliance has called on Western nations to lift their sanctions against Zimbabwe. Is that an opinion shared by the United States?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we understand, of course, as you reference, that SADC, in its August 18th communique, assessed Zimbabwe’s recent elections as free and peaceful. The United States stands by our assessment that these elections, while relatively peaceful, did not represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people due to serious flaws throughout the electoral process, as highlighted by the regional and domestic monitors. So our position, of course, is not the same.

QUESTION: The SADC chair, the Malawi President Joyce Banda, says the people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough and that’s why she believes that those sanctions should be lifted. Does the United States believe that the people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough?

MS. PSAKI: Well, of course, let me first say that SADC has played a very positive role in supporting democratic reform in Zimbabwe, and its continued involvement will be important to consolidate and advance still-needed reforms. We remain committed to working with them and our concerns were around the serious flaws highlighted by SADC’s own observation team.

In terms of sanctions and our own review, our own look at that, as I believe is your question, we have made clear to the Government of Zimbabwe and the region that a change in U.S. sanctions policy will occur only in a context of credible, transparent, peaceful reforms that reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people. That is how we make our decisions and the prism we, of course, make them through. Of course, we are always concerned about the suffering of any people, certainly the people of Zimbabwe, but that’s how we make our decisions. And if those changes are made, then we’ll certainly conduct a review.

QUESTION: So it’s conceivable that you could change your sanctions policy on Zimbabwe if Mugabe were to undertake credible, transparent reforms that reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people?

MS. PSAKI: It certainly is feasible. But our targeted – our program of targeted sanctions will remain in place as long as these conditions continue to exist in Zimbabwe.

QUESTION: One other subject?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary in the building today or is he on vacation?

MS. PSAKI: He is not in the building today.

QUESTION: So does that mean he’s on vacation?

MS. PSAKI: He is.

QUESTION: Anything on the peace process? Do we know any – about the next round of talks? When is it going to be?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t --

QUESTION: The Jericho talks?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update for you. As you all know, the next step here was scheduling the meeting in Jericho. That’s still being worked through, so I don’t have any announcement for you.

QUESTION: Just --

MS. PSAKI: Just a few more. Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: -- a quick one?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Al-Qaida leader Adam Gadahn’s threats urging attacks on American diplomats, if you had any response to that? And also, Senator Graham is saying he’s allied himself with al-Qaida, therefore the U.S. should use lethal force against him. Do you have any legal – has the State Department looked at this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that these – this was – this report just came out this morning, as I understand it, so we, of course, have seen them. We’re looking into them more closely, and as we have more, I’m happy to share that with all of you.

QUESTION: On the subject of intimidation, Glenn Greenwald says now that his partner’s been detained, he’s going to unleash more aggressive reporting. Is this – is he trying to intimidate the United States?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on that. You know where we stand on the release of classified information.

QUESTION: If – now, see, I feel like we need some kind of analogy, so I thought maybe it was like a baseball question.

MS. PSAKI: I’ll think about an analogy, and maybe I’ll have one for you tomorrow.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MS. PSAKI: I think let’s just do two more here.

QUESTION: In reaction to a booby-trapped car exploding in Beirut on Thursday, I think --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the U.S. Ambassador in Beirut condemned everything, but she stopped short of calling the – calling this a terrorist attack. Are there rules to call attacks terrorist or not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we do note a group calling itself Aisha, the Mother of Believers Brigades for Foreign – let’s see – Missions has claimed responsibility for the attack. We have condemned it in the strongest terms. As you’re right, I don’t have any more for you on it. We’re obviously still looking into the details of what took place.

QUESTION: But you’re not calling it terrorist?

MS. PSAKI: I am not at this point.

QUESTION: And how do you look at the return of the car bombs phenomena to Lebanon after this bomb? Two days ago they found another car.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, we, of course, strongly condemn any violence in Lebanon, this incident and any others. We urge all parties to exercise calm and restraint and to desist from actions that could contribute to an escalating cycle of sectarian retribution and violence. We reaffirm our commitment to a stable, sovereign, and independent Lebanon and support the Lebanese Government’s efforts to restore stability and security in Beirut.

Last one.

QUESTION: I’ll make it very quick, thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Now that the CIA has formally made public its role in 1953 in the overthrow of Mossadegh, will the U.S. be offering any expression to the Iranians, anything even up to and including an apology?

MS. PSAKI: I would point – I know it’s a CIA report and I would point you to the CIA on that. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:24 p.m.)

DPB # 140

2013-08-19

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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 19, 2015


Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 19, 2015


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TRANSCRIPT:

1:40 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Hello, hello.

MS. PSAKI: Hi, guys. I’m sorry, I may have jumped the two-minute gun there. I apologize. I was just excited to come out here and chat with all of you.

Okay. I have one item at the top.

QUESTION: Sarcasm is not --

MS. PSAKI: I am, Matt. I have a limited number of opportunities left. So Deputy Secretary Blinken met with Vietnam’s Minister of Public Security Tran Dai Quang on March 18th at the Department of State. They discussed key bilateral and regional issues that reflect the strong and growing partnership between the United States and Vietnam. Okay. The 20th --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Do we know what the echo is from?

QUESTION: Seems to have gone now.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. The 20th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations in 2015 is an opportunity to advance the bilateral relationship through the comprehensive partnership that Presidents Obama and Sang launched in July of 2013.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Hi, Arshad. Sorry I came out here a little early.

QUESTION: I have a feeling we’re going to be going over a lot of ground that your colleague at the White House is in the middle of going over as well.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Let’s start with Israel.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The – at the White House they said that they had seen the transcript or seen the interview that Prime Minister Netanyahu did today.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you also seen it?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen the transcript, yes.

QUESTION: It sounded from your colleague’s comments as though whatever he said today doesn’t make you – doesn’t change your opinion about what he said three – two days ago or three days ago --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think Prime Minister Netanyahu was the prime minister three days ago as well, and he made comments that we certainly have taken account of. And we obviously have stated and I’m happy to restate what our view is on the importance of a two-state solution and what it could achieve. So in that regard, we believe he changed his position just a few days ago.

QUESTION: Well, why are you willing to ascribe a change in position to those comments which were said – and he is a politician – which were said in the heat of a very tight election campaign – why are you willing to put more weight on those comments than you are today on his comments that say, in fact, he’s not opposed to a two-state solution if the conditions are right? Isn’t that your position?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, our preference is certainly, and it has been – it is today, it was yesterday, it was three days ago – for a two-state solution negotiated between the parties. Certainly, the prime minister’s comments from a few days ago brought into question whether he was – remained committed to that.

QUESTION: Well, why do you assume that his comments that – why do you assume that he’s lying today?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not making --

QUESTION: And not – and why he would --

MS. PSAKI: We take the prime --

QUESTION: -- that he was telling the truth – well, right, but he’s still the prime minister today and once comments that are made – the most recent comment is more in line with what the Administration’s position has – is and what past administrations’ positions have been than what he said before. So why not accept today’s at face value? Why are you insisting on taking – why do you insist on taking his word from three days ago, his comments from three days ago as gospel truth, and today it doesn’t matter what he says?

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t saying that, Matt. I think he was the prime minister three days ago, so certainly we can’t forget about those comments.

QUESTION: Well, but if they’ve been superseded.

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: You don’t think that his comments from today supersede and clarify what he said before?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think there’ll be many more discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu both publicly and certainly internally throughout the coming weeks, but beyond that we certainly look to what he has said, and obviously what he said a few days ago is not consistent with what his stated position had been prior to that.

QUESTION: Well, is what he said today consistent with his stated position from prior to three days ago?

MS. PSAKI: Look, Matt, I think obviously --

QUESTION: Well, I just don’t understand why you’re – you accuse him of cherry-picking in terms of the Iran negotiations, cherry-picking facts and --

MS. PSAKI: We would see that as entirely different, but --

QUESTION: Well, but why are you cherry-picking what he – deciding that you’re going to pay no attention to what he said today and pay all the attention to what he said three days ago? I’m just curious.

MS. PSAKI: Look, I didn’t suggest --

QUESTION: I mean, basically --

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t suggest that. We’re having a discussion about public --

QUESTION: Well, that’s exactly what you and your colleague said.

MS. PSAKI: We’re having a discussion about public comments. Obviously, there will be a range of discussions that take place. Clearly, it would be up to the two parties. We’re not at that point. There isn’t a process that’s ongoing. We haven’t seen indications there’s going to be a process that’s ongoing, so we’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Well, and I just – I guess I don’t understand. I mean, the comments that he made a couple days ago were made in an interview.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Today’s comments were made in an interview. Do you think that the prime minister doesn’t tell the – doesn’t really tell the truth when he’s speaking to an Israeli but he’s somehow – or he does tell the truth when he’s speaking to an Israeli journalist, but with Andrea Mitchell he’s compelled to lie?

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t indicating that. I just don’t have any more analysis, Matt, of the prime minister’s comments.

QUESTION: Well, you were very quick to jump on the comments from the other day, and yet you seem to be not at all willing to consider what he said today to be what is operative in his mind. That’s the issue.

MS. PSAKI: Well, if he had --

QUESTION: So it sounds like --

MS. PSAKI: I think if he had consistently stated that he remained for a two – in favor of a two-state solution, we’d be having a different conversation.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds to me like you think that the damage has been done and there’s no way that the Administration is ever going to accept anything he said as being his position except for what he said three days ago. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t suggesting that, Matt.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: I think, obviously, we’ll look at what happens. Beyond that, I don’t have any more analysis today.

QUESTION: Okay. So just to – very briefly, has the Secretary had another warm and lengthy, long conversation with the prime minister?

MS. PSAKI: He has not had another conversation with the prime minister.

QUESTION: And then the last one is: The Palestinians are saying again – they’re again threatening to cut off their security cooperation with Israel. Given the fact that you’re re-evaluating your policies, is it a – do you think that the Palestinians are within their rights, their bounds to re-evaluate their relationship with – such as it is – with Israel?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we are reviewing our assistance to the Palestinian Authority to determine how it can best be used moving ahead. And obviously, we have, as we’ve talked about it in here, the constraints of Congress and how that works. It’s a little bit different than the security cooperation question.

QUESTION: No, no, no. Well, no, this is the Palestinian security cooperation with Israel.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yes, I understand.

QUESTION: Since you, the Administration, believes it’s a good idea and it’s going to go ahead with its re-evaluation of how to proceed, do you think that the Palestinians are justified in re-evaluating how they proceed with their relationship with Israel, particularly on the security cooperation issue?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re trying to evaluate how to best proceed in order to achieve a two-state solution, right? That is different from security cooperation, which obviously has benefits to both sides.

QUESTION: So you think --

MS. PSAKI: Clearly, the Palestinian Authority is going to make their own choices, but --

QUESTION: Okay, but you think that the Palestinians should continue their security cooperation with Israel?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we see there being benefits to that, certainly.

QUESTION: So you think it’s a bad idea if they go ahead and cut off --

MS. PSAKI: We’ll see what happens, Matt. I know I’ve seen comments, but I haven’t seen any confirmation or indication of what they are actually planning.

QUESTION: Have there been any conversations with the Palestinians before their meeting today in Ramallah about the security arrangements, as well as other considerations on how to move ahead in the wake of Netanyahu’s re-election?

MS. PSAKI: You mean from our team on the ground?

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I can certainly check. Not that I’m aware of, Roz, but we can check on that for you, sure.

Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: I was going to ask the same. Do you expect the Secretary to call President Abbas to urge them not to take action on their decision today to stop security cooperation with Israel?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen a confirmation that that is their definitive plan. I’ve seen reports. Obviously, what typically happens is that we have contact from our teams on the ground. I will check and see if that’s something that has happened at this point in time.

QUESTION: Is there any concern – even though they’re only talking about setting up a panel to look at whether the current security cooperation arrangement should be altered in any way, is there any sense of urgency from this building to be in touch with the PA to discuss the way forward and what constructive steps the U.S. might be prepared to offer to the Palestinians to not inflame the situation any more than it already appears to be?

MS. PSAKI: You mean – well, we’ve been consistently in touch with the Palestinians. It’s not as if we cut off contact. So, I mean, I’m not sure what you’re asking.

QUESTION: Well, just in the context of the elections having happened two days ago, it would seem reasonable that there would’ve been some sort of conversation between the U.S. Government and the PA about what has happened inside Israel and what advice --

MS. PSAKI: What has happened in relation to what?

QUESTION: The elections and how it might have an effect on the Palestinians’ efforts to establish their own state, or at least in the very short term be able to pay their workers.

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, I think these are a couple different issues. On revenues, this has been an ongoing issue, I think we can all agree. It’s a conversation we’ve had – an issue we’ve had ongoing conversations with the Palestinians about before the election. And I can certainly check – the election was two days ago, so the question is whether we have had conversations about it since then.

In terms of the other question about analysis of the impact of the Israeli elections, I don’t think that that would be the basis of our conversations with the Palestinians.

QUESTION: Why not?

MS. PSAKI: I can get back to you, Roz, if there’s more to read out for you in terms of the calls. There’s obviously a process that’s ongoing in terms of government formation. We will, of course, continue to discuss with the Palestinians concerns about the viability of the PA given revenue issues. That’s been ongoing. Any other issues that come up – that would be the focus of our discussions, because we have a relationship with them, of course, just as we have a relationship with the Israelis.

Do we have any more on this before we move on? Okay. New topic.

QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is there any way you can extrapolate or provide more detail about the review of what you’re – what are your options to show your displeasure with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments three days ago?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not about showing our displeasure. It’s about trying to find a way forward. So obviously, our preference remains, continues to be, negotiations between the parties to reach a two-state solution. As I mentioned yesterday, and you’re of course asking about, we’re currently evaluating our approach, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve made a decision about changing our position with respect to the UN or what specific steps we would take. The elections happened two days ago. These comments were three days ago. We’ll continue to discuss that. I don’t have anything to outline today.

QUESTION: But I guess the point is this – that there are comments that supersede the comments from three days ago. And I think you’ve made clear now that the Administration is going to pretty much ignore the comments from today and go with the comments that he made three days ago. Do those comments from three days ago, that there will not – that he wouldn’t – he wouldn’t – there would never be a Palestinian state while he is prime minister, did that – does that call – does that make you think twice about whether or not he was actually committed to a two-state solution before then?

MS. PSAKI: Well, prior to that, he stated he was. He worked towards a peace process. Again, we haven’t made a decision. It’s just natural that we would be looking at the different options.

QUESTION: Do you think – can you conceive of a scenario in which the United States Government would support an International Criminal Court prosecution of Israel?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Is that the kind of thing that is being evaluated?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get ahead of any process, Matt. We’ve consistently opposed that as the appropriate path, so I don’t believe that has changed, but --

QUESTION: No. As the – I think you’ve consistently opposed that.

MS. PSAKI: Opposed.

QUESTION: Oh.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. That’s what I said.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. I thought you said “proposed.”

MS. PSAKI: No. Opposed.

QUESTION: All right. And what about European threats or boycotts and such? Are you still – think that those are a bad idea?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve stated in the past concerns about those. Obviously we’ll be talking to our European partners. And I think we’re all looking at what the situation is and what it means moving forward. There are a number of countries – not just the United States, but certainly many in Europe – who’d like to see a two-state solution.

QUESTION: How about this: Can you say that the United States will continue, under this President and this Administration, to block UN – any action at the United Nations that it believes are one-sided and unfair to Israel?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, one, we have vetoed several Israel-related resolutions over the years that we believed were unbalanced. But we’ve also supported or abstained the majority of related UN Security Council resolutions that ever came up to a vote. We’ve supported some; we’ve abstained from some; we’ve opposed some. So I don’t know that there’s actually a sweeping what we’ve always done point here.

QUESTION: Not so long ago, this President’s national security advisor and the UN ambassador spoke to AIPAC. Both of them denounced the United Nations actions or attempts at the United Nations to single out what they said – unfairly single out Israel and said that the U.S. has always done that and always would. And I’m just wondering if that is still the case. Will the United States block at any UN or other international forum something – sorry. Will the United States block any action at those fora that it believes are unfair or biased against Israel?

MS. PSAKI: Are unfair or biased? I think we’ve consistently said that. That hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Okay. So that’s not part of the evaluation?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, we’re looking at how to achieve a two-state solution. We have, in the past, supported UN Security Council resolutions related to the Middle East. I’m not going to prejudge what we’ll do. We’ll look at the content of it and evaluate what it means and what we’ll do moving forward.

QUESTION: So the Administration may be in a position to support or abstain on something that it believes is unfair or biased against Israel? Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: That’s a way of defining it, Matt. I’m not going to define it that way. We’ll look at the content of it. I’m not – I don’t have any more predications to make for you.

QUESTION: It’s the UN ambassador – I understand you’re not – don’t want to predict. I’m just asking: Is it possible – would the Administration --

MS. PSAKI: That is biased or unfair, no.

QUESTION: Okay. You will --

MS. PSAKI: But obviously there are a range of options in the UN Security Council. I’m not going to prejudge it further.

QUESTION: But surely you’re not going to – but you’re not going to vote in favor of or sit by and abstain from something that you think is unfair or biased against your big ally, top ally, in the Middle East, right?

MS. PSAKI: You’re – I think what we’re going to look at is what the content of a resolution would be. I’m not going to prejudge what that will be, and we haven’t made a decision.

QUESTION: In other words, your previous definition of “biased or unfair” might change?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to add to preview on this topic.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Any – new topic? Let’s go to the back.

QUESTION: Yes. I wanted to ask about Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams this week. He described the State Department’s handling of a meeting that was scheduled to take place between him and Deputy Secretary Blinken as bizarre and he described it as not helpful, the actions of the State Department. He also said that the U.S. policy towards Northern Ireland was one of inclusivity and dialogue, and he said that the behavior of the State Department this week ran at odds to that. Just wondering what your response is to that. And do you consider Mr. Adams own comments to be bizarre in light of the State Department’s relations on Northern Ireland?

MS. PSAKI: Well, given the ongoing efforts to reach a durable accord on welfare reform to get implementation of the Stormont House Agreement back on track, we postponed all of Deputy Secretary Blinken’s meetings with Northern Ireland officials until such agreement is reached. It included all officials coming. This included meetings with Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams as well as with Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, who determined that the best course of action would be to postpone their travel to Washington and continue negotiations in Belfast.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Julieta Noyes met with Gerry Adams on March 17th. They discussed implementation of the agreement and welfare reform. They also discussed immigration and legacy issues. She also met separately with Social Democratic and Labor Party leader Alasdair McDonnell and Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt.

So we did have a senior official meet with a range of officials, but it was the decision made by the Department that, given the negotiations are ongoing and that needed to be the focus, that the meetings should be postponed at the deputy secretary level.

QUESTION: Do you think, in light of the fact that he had a meeting with the State Department, that it was unusual for him to come out and say that the handling by the State Department was not helpful?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any comment on his comments.

QUESTION: Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Yemen? Sure.

QUESTION: Does the building have an assessment of the situation in Yemen? It seems that the current president or former president, or whatever Mr. Hadi’s status is at this moment, is being attacked now in what was thought to be a safe haven of Aden?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t have new information. We’ve obviously seen the reports about fighting at the airport and an attack at the presidential palace. We’re actively monitoring the situation. We’re concerned about actions that could increase tensions in Yemen and lead to further destabilization. We call on all parties to de-escalate the situation.

The situation on the ground is currently very fluid, so we, of course, as I mentioned, are following the reports of the clashes between forces loyal to President Hadi and forces loyal to former President Saleh. And we, again, would call on both parties to refrain from violence. I don’t have new information. It’s something we’re watching very closely, and obviously the situation has just sort of moved forward over the last 24 hours.

QUESTION: Given that there are no U.S. officials currently in Yemen, how are these contacts being made? How is this building assured that the messages are getting through to the right people?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Ambassador Tueller recently met with President Hadi in Aden. We have not been in contact with him today, but I would note media reports that he is safe, following the attack on the presidential palace, and obviously we’ve been in regular contact in recent weeks.

Yemen before we continue? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Ukraine?

QUESTION: Ukraine and Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Again, I’m here to collect an answer to my question from last week when I was asking about the Russian foreign minister accusing the U.S. of violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Do you have that answer?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. The deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on the territories of our NATO allies is consistent with the NPT. These weapons remain under U.S. control at all times and are never transferred. Additionally, NPT Articles I and II do not prohibit these types of nuclear basing or planning arrangements, which have been in place before the NPT entered into force in 1970, so more than 40 years ago. The issue was fully addressed when the treaty was negotiated, so the arrangements made clear to delegations and were made public. They were not challenged, and certainly, as I mentioned, recent steps have abided by those agreements.

QUESTION: So basically, the key issue that the Russians raised of training allied pilots to use the weapons, that issue had been addressed?

MS. PSAKI: Had been addressed in the NPT more than 40 years ago.

QUESTION: Okay. Now to go back – to go to Ukraine, the Russian foreign minister today suggested that the U.S. is not playing a very constructive role in the Ukrainian conflict, which is probably not surprising to you. But what was surprising was that the head of the European Parliament, Mr. Schulz, suggested the same thing. He actually suggested that maybe it will be easier to resolve the conflict if it was a strictly European matter. Do you agree with that?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to look at the comments of the European parliament’s president. I hope you don’t mind that I am not going to take your word --

QUESTION: No, of course.

MS. PSAKI: -- exactly for the description of them, but why don’t I do that, and I’m sure we can get you a comment on that.

QUESTION: He was very critical of the Russian approach, but he also suggested that the American --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. We can take a look at those and get you a comment.

QUESTION: The Russian minister, when he was discussing this, said that it was time maybe for another meeting of the Normandy Four, as they call it. Would that be helpful, do you think?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think with all of these questions – and again, I’m more than happy to take a look at the comments, but I think our belief is that the focus should be on the implementation of the ceasefire that’s been agreed to. There are clear parameters for that, starting with Minsk in September, and obviously – excuse me – continuing with the agreement from just a few weeks ago. There are steps that Ukraine and the – Russia and the Russian-backed separatists can take to implement that, and that – the focus now should be on action. And they have all of the tools and information needed to do that.

QUESTION: I --

QUESTION: Are you seeing progress?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been a couple – I think in recent days the Ukrainian parliament passed new laws that continue fulfillment of its commitments under the Minsk agreements, especially with regard to further delineation of the September special status law. We have seen – in terms of on the ground, let me see if I have an update today, Roz. No, I think the last time I talked to our team about this, which I think was yesterday afternoon, the ceasefire continues to hold in many parts of the line of contact, although there are continuing attacks, as there have been, in some areas of Luhansk and Donetsk. And they’re – we are still encouraged by reports of some heavy weapons withdrawal by both Ukraine and the Russia-backed separatists. But the process is ongoing. And the point I was trying to make is that obviously, the implementation of these components is what the focus should be on.

QUESTION: Jen, the Eastern Europeans now say that the exact passing of those laws that you just mentioned is backtracking from the Minsk commitments, because --

MS. PSAKI: Which Eastern Europeans are saying that?

QUESTION: The Donetsk and Luhansk people.

MS. PSAKI: They’re Eastern Europeans? Which – the separatist leaders are saying that?

QUESTION: Eastern Ukrainians, I’m sorry.

MS. PSAKI: So the separatist leaders are saying that, just to be clear?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think it’s – was pretty clearly written out in the Minsk agreements what were the requirements of Ukraine. The determination, as I understand it, at this point is about where the law will be applied. We have not analyzed the law in depth, but clearly I think the Ukrainians feel it should be applied to the September lines.

QUESTION: Why haven’t you? I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Why haven’t we analyzed it in depth? It was just passed yesterday.

QUESTION: I mean, the Kyiv government is a side in conflict. You are an outside observer and a helper to resolve the conflict. So one side of the conflict says that new laws help; the other side of the conflict says the new laws actually break the previous agreement. And you say, “We haven’t even looked at what they passed.”

MS. PSAKI: That’s not actually what I said.

QUESTION: Uh-huh.

MS. PSAKI: I think your – and you first phrased it as Eastern Europeans, which is not the same as --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, it’s Eastern Ukrainians.

MS. PSAKI: -- the separatist leaders who have illegally overtaken parts of Ukraine. So there’s a slight difference between the two.

QUESTION: They are still Eastern Ukrainians.

QUESTION: They are Eastern Europeans, though.

MS. PSAKI: Fair enough. (Laughter.) But I think that’s a little bit of a --

QUESTION: They fit that category.

MS. PSAKI: -- not an accurate description of who they are. There was a component of the September Minsk agreement that asked – required the Ukrainians to put these laws into place. They’ve put the laws into place. Now the question is how they will be implemented. So, again, they’ve fulfilled their commitment to put the law into place, and there’ll be a discussion about how they’ll be implemented.

QUESTION: And one last thing today. The prime minister again said that they will use all means necessary to regain control over the territories. You have been asked this --

MS. PSAKI: Which prime minister said this?

QUESTION: Prime Minister Yatsenyuk in Kyiv. You have been asked this question – do you see – do you exclude military means of resolving the conflict?

MS. PSAKI: Of U.S. military means, or what are you referring to exactly?

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Ukrainian Government is again suggesting that they will use military means. Now that the ceasefire seems to be holding, they’re using at least threats again of military --

MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, I think one thing is that it’s actually the separatists who have continued to be aggressive in parts of Luhansk and Donetsk and haven’t abided by the ceasefire. I will look at Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s comments. We continue to believe that the Ukrainians, as a sovereign country and a sovereign government, have the ability to defend their own country, of which those parts of the country remain a part of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Have you been told or notified by the Japanese of an arrest in the threats against the Embassy and Ambassador Kennedy?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, I have a little bit on this, Matt. As I said yesterday but it’s worth repeating, we take any threats to U.S. diplomats and U.S. diplomatic facilities very seriously. We are working and have been working for several weeks with the Japanese Government on these reports--, these threats. The Japanese police arrested a 52-year-old individual from Okinawa for making threatening phone calls against the Embassy, threatening calls against the Embassy, not just related to the ambassador. Obviously, the Government of Japan is the lead in this process and they’ll be investigating, so certainly, they would be running point.

QUESTION: Do you – does the – do you consider this to be case closed, essentially, that there isn’t a concern anymore about the particular threats that were made last month?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think the Japanese Government – they just arrested this individual today. We’ll be in close touch with them. Obviously, that’s a positive step. But we’ll see what comes out of their investigation.

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up on this?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: It kind of pains me to ask this question --

MS. PSAKI: That’s okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- but are you now re-evaluating security for all U.S. ambassadors, including those in – at posts that historically have not been considered high threat or even threatening at all? It pains me because I think they ought to be able to walk around and talk to people and experience the societies that they live in, but particularly after the incident in South Korea, are you – is this a matter of kind of broad reconsideration now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one thing I would – I know this wasn’t your exact question, but I think it’s relevant, and then I’ll get to your question. This – these – we’ve been working with the Japanese Government on these threats since prior to Ambassador Lippert’s attack, the attack on Ambassador Lippert. There’s no relationship between the two. It’s only natural and it was the case that after Ambassador Lippert’s – the attack on Ambassador Lipperts – on Ambassador Lippert – excuse me – that every post in the country took a look at their own security arrangements.

QUESTION: In the world.

MS. PSAKI: In the world. My apologies. In the world – looked at their own security arrangements. That’s something we do certainly on a regular basis, but it’s only natural they did that post Ambassador Lippert’s --

QUESTION: But is the State Department itself rethinking everything, or is it all being left to the individual embassies or posts?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we work with embassies and posts, but certainly, they have the lead on the security and we certainly work with them as needed.

Any more on this before we continue?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: One follow-up to that issue.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: And do you know why the threating ambassador – U.S. ambassador in Japan? What purpose of threatening this --

MS. PSAKI: What were the purpose of the threats?

QUESTION: Yes, yes.

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Japanese Government on that particular question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Jen, may I step back to Russia for a different subject?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Have you decided on how you want to be represented in May on the VEcelebration?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that. I know that’s an issue of interest to you.

QUESTION: Right. The Russian defense ministry today said yesterday that they even invited Americans to participate in their parade. Do you see any likelihood of that happening?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any prediction of our participation or any information on it at this point in time.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Also Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: They, this week, have been beefing up their war games, sending bombers to the Crimea area and missiles to the region that borders NATO allies Poland and Lithuania. How do you interpret that move?

MS. PSAKI: Well, while we recognize the need for routine military training activity, any such activity must be consistent with international law and conducted with due regard for the rights of other nations and the safety of other aircraft and vessels. So any Russian military exercises or weapons deployments in Crimea, which is part of Ukraine, would further undermine securing a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to a crisis that Russia started with its forcible seizure and ongoing occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

We reiterate that Crimea remains a sovereign Ukrainian territory. We don’t recognize, as all of you know, Russia’s purported annexation. We’ve seen the various reports citing the possibility of weapons deployments. We don’t have confirmation independently of this; we’ve just seen reports of these different components you’re referencing.

QUESTION: Most of that answer, with the exception of the tail end on Crimea, I think is what you said just the other day when you were asked the same question.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I addressed Crimea specifically at the time, but --

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s what I said: with the exception of the Crimea stuff at the end. So you don’t think that the Russians should put additional or any troops into Crimea because it is still part of Ukraine. Is that – that’s the bottom line?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we all remember from a year ago – and I know you asked this question a couple of days ago, Matt – yes, there were bases there but there was an issue with what the Russian military, disguised as little green men, did at the time, which was not traditional activities of people in a sovereign country. So I think there’s certainly a history here that warrants concern. We’re watching it closely. We don’t have confirmation independently of what exactly is happening on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. Disguised as little green men?

MS. PSAKI: Well, in terms of --

QUESTION: I don’t know if that --

MS. PSAKI: They were not portraying themselves as being who they were.

QUESTION: Were they walking on their knees or something?

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, but I just want to – your comment just now about that – what are you going to do, if anything, to express your displeasure with the movement of additional troops and equipment into Crimea – anything?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the last I checked with our team, we didn’t have independent confirmation. There were just reports.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: So we’ll see when we learn more.

QUESTION: I asked you two days ago about the meetings that some of your allies had with Mr. Putin in Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: As I told you, the State Department criticized the president of Cyprus and the Indian prime minister for meeting with Mr. Putin. At the same time, you didn’t say anything on the meetings that the prime minister of Italy, the president of Turkey had with Mr. Putin. Why you didn’t criticize these two allies and you criticized Cyprus and India?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we actually have addressed some other visits and we’ve said the same – I looked back. We’ve said almost the exact same thing each time, which is that this is not a time for business as usual. There are some places where we’re asked questions about visits and some where we’re not, but our position has been entirely consistent.

QUESTION: So it’s the same position for Italy and Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: It’s been the same position, yes.

QUESTION: Can I ask you something about --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- about Greece again?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Today, right now, there are crucial talks in Brussels in the highest level regarding the Greek issue. At the same time, there is this fear of a potentially disastrous Greek exit from the euro. How are you planning to intervene so the worst-case scenario can be avoided for Greece?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: I know the President called on Mrs. Merkel yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Obviously, there are ongoing discussions with our European partners and we remain in close contact with them about this. Not aware of a U.S. plan to intervene. We – obviously, these are discussions happening among European partners.

QUESTION: Jen, to – a follow-up to Michael’s question. Are you actually trying to discourage other countries from taking part in the V-Day celebrations in Moscow?

MS. PSAKI: No.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Nigeria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Are there any plans to send any U.S. observers to the elections a week from Saturday?

MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question, Roz. I didn’t have a chance to talk to our team about it. Let me ask them about what our plans are in that regard.

QUESTION: In light of the fact that the Vice President spoke to both the candidate Buhari as well as to President Jonathan on Wednesday, are there any other conversations about making certain that the electoral commission, for example, is able to carry out its work without interference from either side or those who might be inclined to support --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, why don’t I take that in the same category.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. PSAKI: As you know, we’ve been closely engaged in this issue, as is evidenced by the Secretary’s visit to Nigeria several weeks ago. And obviously, our assistant secretary has been very engaged, so I can see if there’s more of an update on this particular issue.

QUESTION: How would you rate your influence with the Nigerians, given the fact – you just mentioned that the Secretary went there and told them in no uncertain terms that they shouldn’t delay the election at all. And then as soon as he left, they promptly delayed the election. Do you think the Vice President might have more oomph in dealing --

MS. PSAKI: Matt, we’re going to continue to press for elections that represent all the people and that can be carried forward, and that’s something that obviously is a value of the United States.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the attack – yesterday’s attack in Tunisia?

MS. PSAKI: In Tunisia? I know there have been some public comments made. So I reiterated yesterday what the statement – or the Secretary’s statement, I should say – we’re aware of reports that ISIL has claimed responsibility for the attack. We’re working to independently verify these claims. Certainly, we would refer you to the Tunisian Government for more details on the investigation into yesterday’s attack. I believe they have also announced the arrest of nine people as part of its – of their investigation. So certainly, many of the updates are coming from the Tunisian Government.

QUESTION: Are you sending any personnel to the ground?

MS. PSAKI: We – our Embassy in Tunis has been in touch with the Tunisian ministry of foreign affairs and offered assistance in general and with the investigation. However, we have not received any request for assistance at this point in time.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Yes.

QUESTION: Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I know that this has been addressed in some capacity, but could you say anything about reports today that there is a draft circulating of an agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the reports are inaccurate. There’s no draft document being circulated. The fundamental framework issues are still under comprehensive discussion, and obviously, that’s what the Secretary is focused on now during his meetings.

QUESTION: Can I get – well, let me ask – there was one report to that effect. There was also – there were also other reports having to do with sanctions. And in fact, the one report that refers – that I think that he was talking about or that you were just talking about also contains details about sanctions, potential sanctions relief that could come under this. What is – what was wrong – what was inaccurate about that report other than you say that there’s no draft circulating?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to the details that are still being negotiated. There’s obviously not a final deal and all of these issues are still being discussed.

QUESTION: Okay. And when you say “circulating,” what does that mean to you?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure. What does it mean to you?

QUESTION: What does it mean to the --

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I just want to know what you mean by – I mean, you’re not suggesting that they don’t have anything to put down on paper, that they’re doing everything from memory for the last year and a half? Everything is just --

MS. PSAKI: Of course there are many pieces of paper.

QUESTION: Ah, okay.

MS. PSAKI: There’s a difference between that and a draft agreement, yeah.

QUESTION: So there is no – so you’re saying there is no draft or there is no draft that is circulating?

MS. PSAKI: There is no draft being circulated, Matt. I don’t have any more to add.

QUESTION: Can you stop the sentence after “there is no draft”?

MS. PSAKI: There are --

QUESTION: You can’t.

MS. PSAKI: -- many pieces of paper. I don’t have any other update for you.

QUESTION: Is there a draft?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other update for you.

QUESTION: Okay. So what does it mean – what do you mean when you say “circulating”? Is that, like, in a standard United Nations --

MS. PSAKI: A draft being negotiated --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- between the parties?

QUESTION: That’s --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s what I mean.

QUESTION: So there is nothing on paper that’s being negotiated right now. Then I don’t understand what they’ve been doing --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on what either side may have on paper, nor would I discuss them if I did. What I’m talking about is a – the story that referenced that a draft document is being circulated among the parties.

QUESTION: Okay. Well --

QUESTION: So no draft document is being circulated among the parties?

MS. PSAKI: That is my understanding.

QUESTION: Well, and --

QUESTION: And just one other thing on this.

MS. PSAKI: But to be clear, there are many pieces of paper because we’ve been negotiating this for two years.

QUESTION: But one other thing on this. When you say that it is your understanding that there is no draft document that is being circulated among the parties, I want to be clear that that refers even to partial elements of an agreement. There’s --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to go into any more details than I’ve gone into on this.

Anything else?

QUESTION: So the only thing you can say is there is no draft document circulating. You can’t say there is no draft document?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to go into any more details about the Iran negotiations.

Do we have any more topics before we wrap up? Go ahead.

QUESTION: I do. On this statement that Secretary Kerry put out on the allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, some of the language from that – “The international community cannot turn a blind eye,” and, “The Assad regime must be held accountable” – what are some of the, I guess, consequences that the U.S. and its partners are considering with regard to this allegation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know because unfortunately we’ve had discussions about these issues in the past, the OPCW would be the governing body that would oversee and look into allegations, and then it would be a discussion with the international community. I don’t have any predictions for you on what it would mean beyond that.

QUESTION: Jen, in light of these reports and now the Secretary’s statement, in hindsight, was it a mistake when the chemical weapons deal was being done with the Russians not to have taken account of the chlorine stockpiles which you must have known were there even though they are not covered necessarily under the OPCW? Wouldn’t it have been --

MS. PSAKI: You mean --

QUESTION: The chlorine.

MS. PSAKI: Chlorine. Well, chlorine is not a --

QUESTION: I understand that. But knowing the Assad regime as you do, and its willingness to use whatever it has at its disposal, in hindsight might it not have been better to, in the context of that agreement that was worked out on their other chemical weapons, to have somehow taken account of the possible military use of chlorine?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to look back at the deal in that regard. We removed 100 percent of declared chemical weapons as a result.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Is the Assad regime still a brutal regime that has killed tens of thousands of its people using a range of means? Yes. But we never said that would be the end of our effort, and it hasn’t been.

QUESTION: Okay. So how exactly do you plan to address the – or is it all through the OPCW?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it would be through the OPCW, which would be the natural process.

QUESTION: But if chlorine is not – right. But so chlorine is not covered by the OPCW if it’s just an industrial chemical, so how are they going to deal with it?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t predict for you how they will. We’ll obviously have discussions with our partners, and I don’t have any predictions for what it will mean and what the consequences would be if the allegations are confirmed.

QUESTION: A Security Council resolution?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have – I don’t have any predictions for you on what --

QUESTION: No, I’m not saying how they are going to deal with it.

MS. PSAKI: I understand. I don’t have any predictions for you at this point in time.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MS. PSAKI: These are allegations. We take them seriously. Beyond that, I’m not going to get ahead of any process.

QUESTION: What I’m trying to say that there is a Security Council resolution that calls for consequences for the use of the chlorine.

MS. PSAKI: Would there be a Security Council resolution?

QUESTION: There was a resolution.

MS. PSAKI: Well, but again, I think he’s asking about consequences, not just statements. So I don’t have any prediction for you on what it would mean.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Jen, can we --

MS. PSAKI: I think we have to wrap it up. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:22 p.m.)

 

2015-03-19


Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 18, 2015


Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 18, 2015


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TRANSCRIPT:

1:26 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.

QUESTION:  Hi.

QUESTION:  Hello.

MS. PSAKI:  All right.  Good afternoon.  I have a couple of items for all of you at the top.  We welcome Serbian First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic and Minister of Defense Bratislav Gasic’s visit to NATO headquarters today to finalize Serbia’s Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO.  This represents an important step in the growing cooperation between NATO and the Republic of Serbia.  Serbia has been a valued member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program since 2006, and the finalization of the Individual Partnership Action Plan agreement will allow Serbia to enhance its cooperation with NATO on issues of common interest and mutual benefit. 

The United States – on Georgia.  The United States does not recognize the legitimacy of the so-called treaty signed today between the Russian Federation and Georgia’s occupied region of South Ossetia.  Neither this agreement nor the one signed with Abkhazia in November 2014 constitutes a valid international agreement.  The occupied regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are integral parts of Georgia, and we continue to support Georgia’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.  We are especially concerned that the signing of this so-called treaty occurred on the same day the Geneva international discussions on the conflict in Georgia – the same day of the international discussions on the conflict in Georgia – excuse me – which seek to achieve concrete progress on security and humanitarian issues.  We call on Russia to fulfill all of its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement.

On the OAS, the United States congratulates former Foreign Minister Luis Almagro of Uruguay on his election today to serve as secretary general of the Organization of American States.  Deputy Secretary of State Blinken was at the OAS to vote and congratulated Mr. Almagro.  We look forward to working together with the new secretary general to reform and strengthen the OAS and preserve its leadership role in advancing our regional commitment to democracy, human right, development, and security cooperation in accordance with the principles enshrined in the OAS Charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter

I also wanted to make sure all of you had seen, finally, the statement we put out from the Secretary on the attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunisia as well today, so that should be in all of your inboxes.

With that, go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION:  Sure.  There’s a lot to get to today, and I want to get back to Georgia, but let’s start – why don’t – can you, just for the record, read the statement from Secretary Kerry?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  “The United States condemns” – and this was in his words – “in the strongest possible terms today’s deadly terrorist attack at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis, where gunmen killed 19 people and wounded more than 20 others.”  I will just note those numbers were based on the prime minister’s numbers he gave at his press conference.  “We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the victims’ families and loved ones.  We commend Tunisian authorities’ rapid response to today’s wanton violence and their efforts to resolve the hostage situation and restore calm.  The United States stands with the Tunisian people at this difficult time and continues to support the Tunisian Government’s efforts to advance a secure, pperous, and democratic Tunisia.”

QUESTION:  Okay.  So before getting into broader questions about what this might mean for U.S.-Tunisia relations, can you – are there any implications security-wise for the embassy or American Government personnel in Tunisia as a result of this attack?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, you may have seen that we also put out an emergency message from our Embassy to inform them – to alert U.S. citizens to an ongoing security situation around the Bardo Museum in downtown Tunis.  The Embassy remains open and is located 10 miles from the museum.  All – excuse me – employees have been accounted for, informed of the situation, and urged to avoid the museum and surrounding vicinity.

QUESTION:  And to the best of your knowledge, none of the victims of this attack in the museum, or connected to the museum attack, were American citizens.  Correct?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.  We’re not aware of any U.S. citizens being among those killed or injured in today’s attack.  I would also note that the prime minister said during a press conference earlier today that German, Italian, Spanish, and Polish tourists were among those killed.

QUESTION:  Okay.  More broadly, Tunisia has been considered for some time a success story, one of the few to arise from the Arab Spring.  It was the birthplace of the whole – of the Arab Spring.  And I’m just wondering if this attack gives you pause in holding up Tunisia as a success story.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, this horrific attack, Matt, happened just this morning.  There haven’t been any claims of responsibility at this point.  Obviously, while we mourn those who are lost, I don’t think we’re at the point of drawing conclusions about what it means.  Certainly, we also would commend, as I did – or the Secretary did in his statement, the rapid response of the authorities in this case as well.  Certainly, we’ll be continuing to engage with authorities there and our counterparts there to discuss what this means moving forward.

QUESTION:  It has been pointed out, though, that Tunisia is the source of quite a few recruits to ISIS or ISIL.  And I’m just wondering if this – if you don’t suspect or see any link between that fact and this attack.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we just don’t want to draw any conclusions at this point.  Tunisian authorities and the government have the lead.  Certainly, we’ll be in touch with them and hear more about what their findings are.

QUESTION:  Jen, from a security point of view, is the United States treating this as an isolated incident or as part of a pattern that is likely to grow?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, Said, this just happened this morning.

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. PSAKI:  There have been no claims of responsibility, so we’re not going to draw any conclusions at this point in time.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But up to this point, was, let’s say, Tunisia or Tunis – Tunisia was considered as a high-risk area for U.S. diplomats or medium?  I don’t know what.  Medium-security risk?  How do you – how do you do it now?  How do you treat it now?

MS. PSAKI:  I think, again, Said, we put out information out publicly.  We make that available. We haven’t changed or re-categorized or anything along those lines in response to the attacks.  We obviously do provide emergency messages or put out emergency messages whenever incidents like this occur.

Any more on this before we continue? 

QUESTION:  Second thing --

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  -- having to do with security is this news coming out of Tokyo about alleged threats against Ambassador Kennedy.  Can you say any more than what you said in your earlier comments, written comments?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more to convey.  I’m happy to repeat those or reiterate those.

QUESTION:  Sure.

MS. PSAKI:  We take any threats to U.S. diplomats seriously.  We take every step possible to protect our personnel.  We are working with the Japanese Government to ensure that necessary security measures are in place, which is something we would do and continue to do around the world.  We’re not going to comment on the specific details of any threats or steps we take to address them.

QUESTION:  Can you not at least say – confirm what the Japanese reports are that whatever threat this was or whatever it was happened last month and is not something that is recent, like within the last day or two, and more specifically after the attack on Ambassador Lippert in Seoul?

MS. PSAKI:  I certainly understand your question.  I would have to check with our team and see what we can confirm from this end.  Obviously, we often defer to host governments, but we also are very careful about what information we provide in order to protect our diplomats.  But I can check on that and get back to you after the briefing.

QUESTION:  Jen, given – excuse me.  Given that the First Lady arrived today in Tokyo and these reports emerged today, although I believe they were – the threats were made previously, last month as Matt said.  Has it changed in any way the security posture surrounding the First Lady?

MS. PSAKI:  I would point you to the White House and I think it’s unlikely they’d discuss the First Lady’s security posture. 

QUESTION:  In the embassy, though.

QUESTION:  The embassy.

MS. PSAKI:  The embassy?  No, there has not been changes to our embassy security posture.

QUESTION:  Has there been any change in the security posture at the embassy post the attack in Seoul on Ambassador Lippert, any sort of review of these low-threat posts?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Justin, we evaluate day by day, week by week, separate from the awful attack against Ambassador Lippert.  We don’t discuss that publicly because that would defeat the purpose of doing a security review or making any changes as would be necessary.  If there are changes that are necessary, we will work with host governments to put them in place.

QUESTION:  Can you put this maybe in perspective to us?  I mean, from what we take from the reports, it was basically a caller who made threats.  Does this happen a lot at U.S. embassies?  I mean, is this just one we happen to be hearing about, in other words, where you get these types of threats?  Is this an unusual threat in any way?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to confirm what the threats are or are not, just as a matter of policy.  I certainly understand why you’re asking the question.  Obviously, we deal with threats around the world every day.  That’s something that we are prepared to do and our diplomats serving overseas are prepared to do, but I’m not going to analyze it more further. 

QUESTION:  Okay.

QUESTION:  So you’d you say that, for example, similar phone calls aren’t being received in Ouagadougou or Abuja?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, Roz, it’s clear that there are parts of the world that pose a higher threat where diplomats are living and working.  And certainly, they’re aware of that when they go take those positions, and that’s something we talk about frequently here.

QUESTION:  Does she have security when she leaves the embassy?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more details I can share about the ambassador’s security.

QUESTION:  Not even to say that she has security?  I mean, because one of the criticisms about Lippert was that he had one unarmed guard, local guard.  So you couldn’t characterize that she even has security?

MS. PSAKI:  I can certainly check if there’s more we’d like to discuss about the ambassador’s security.

QUESTION:  It is correct, though, that neither Seoul nor Tokyo is considered particularly high risk?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.  Yes, that’s right.  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Can I just check since we’re talking about threats, I understand there was some news just happening as we were coming in that the embassy in Djibouti has been closed.  Or --

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have --

QUESTION:  -- or shuttered or some – I’m not exactly sure – services suspended?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything on that at this moment.  Jo, I’m sure we can get you something immediately following.

QUESTION:  It’s tomorrow and they say that it’s – they’re going to close to the public to review their security posture.  So the question that I think that we would like answered is:  Was there a specific threat at the embassy or is this just a – I mean, embassies do this relatively often --

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  -- just routinely close down.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  But they also sometimes do this when there is a threat.

MS. PSAKI:  Understood.  I will check and I’m happy to take that question.

QUESTION:  And then following up on that, we also had the – we’ve had for the last few days the Embassy in Saudi Arabia has been closed. 

MS. PSAKI:  In Saudi Arabia?  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Has there been any change in that position?  Is it reopening?  Can you tell us anything?

MS. PSAKI:  They put out a new security message – I believe it was two days ago, on the 16th – making clear that it will continue to be closed.  They will put out a new one when they reopen.  I don’t have any prediction for you in terms of when that will be.

QUESTION:  Change topics?

QUESTION:  Yeah, let’s go to the Israeli election.  So --

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.  I bet that’s what you want to ask about, Said.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  The Secretary’s phone call to Prime Minister Netanyahu, can you elucidate us?  Is that the right – I don’t know if that’s the right word.  Can you --

MS. PSAKI:  Justin is shaking his head over here.

QUESTION:  It’s not --

QUESTION:  Fact check, I don’t know.

QUESTION:  No, I don’t – I think that’s wrong.  (Laughter.) 

QUESTION:  Google that.

QUESTION:  Can you give us a readout of what I’m sure was a very warm and lengthy congratulatory phone call with the Secretary?

MS. PSAKI:  It was a brief phone call.

QUESTION:  Oh, okay.

MS. PSAKI:  Secretary Kerry called the prime minister this morning to congratulate him.  Given there is an ongoing government formation process, they did not discuss substantive issues.  So the purpose of the call was to congratulate him on the election.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So you contradicted me when I said it was lengthy.  I also said it was warm.  Would you care to dispute that?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to characterize the tone of the call, Matt.  I was not on the call with them.

QUESTION:  Okay.  I understand.  But still, I mean, did he just say – I mean, did he just call to say, “Hey, congratulations”?

MS. PSAKI:  That would be a pretty accurate summary.

QUESTION:  “And please believe me when I say that I’m congratulating you”?

MS. PSAKI:  (Laughter.)  I think he called to congratulate him.  That was the purpose of the call.

QUESTION:  Can you give us any indication of what the prime minister’s response was?

MS. PSAKI:  I am sure you can ask that question of the Israeli Government.

QUESTION:  Well, I – right, I’m sure we will.  But I mean, was this a – was this call welcomed by the prime minister, or is it one of those things that he was like, “Oh, God, I’ve got to take this call from Secretary Kerry”?

MS. PSAKI:  I think most congratulatory calls are welcomed, but I could be wrong, though --

QUESTION:  But, Jen, in the past you have described various other calls to other people who have been elected as warm.  I mean, “We warmly congratulate.”  Why would the --

MS. PSAKI:  I wouldn’t --

QUESTION:  -- adjective be missing this time around?

MS. PSAKI:  I wouldn’t read into it, Jo.  It’s just a simple congratulatory call.  Those are typically meant and happen after elections.  It was not more extensive than that.

QUESTION:  Is there any reason why --

QUESTION:  Beyond congratulations, Jen, now that Mr. Netanyahu won, presumably on – by a decisive mandate, on the premise of not ever allowing a Palestinian state, what – one, what is your plan on this track and on the peace process?  And second, when the Palestinians go before the United Nations, as they will, will you cast a veto or will you not cast a veto?

MS. PSAKI:  Well --

QUESTION:  Seeking recognition from the international community.

MS. PSAKI:  -- we are not going to get ahead of any decisions about what the United States would do with regard to potential action at the United – UN Security Council.  I will reiterate that it has long been the position of the United States under Republican and Democratic presidents, and it has been the position of successive Israeli governments, that only a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and independent Palestine can bring lasting peace and stability to both peoples.  A two-state solution is the only way for the next Israeli Government to secure Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.  We believe that it’s in the best interests of the United States, Israel, and the region. 

The prime minister, as we all know, in his comments earlier this week indicated that he is no longer committed to pursuing this approach.  Based on the prime minister’s comments, the United States is in a position going forward where we will be evaluating our approach with regard to how best to achieve a two-state solution.  Obviously, I’m not going to prejudge at this point what that means.

QUESTION:  I understand.  But will you be a part of, let’s say, an international effort in this case to realize a Palestinian state?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I’m not going to prejudge what that means, Said.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Let me --

QUESTION:  Can I --

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  -- just follow up very quickly on a couple more issues --

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  -- on this thing.  Now, the Palestinians are really considering dissolving the PA simply because it is bankrupt and it’s unable to pay any salaries or anything or even to perform its function.  So in this case, what do you advise the Palestinians to do?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we remain very concerned about the continued viability of the Palestinian Authority if they do not receive funds soon, either in terms of the resumption of monthly Israeli transfers of Palestinian tax revenues or additional donor assistance.  The election just happened yesterday, as all of you know, so obviously we have not yet had the chance to discuss these issues with them.

Roz.

QUESTION:  That was going to be my question.  The lead Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told anyone who would listen yesterday that it’s basically – the Palestinians basically have no choice now except to try to pursue recognition for an independent country outside of this framework, this negotiating framework.  Have there been any discussions in the last 24 hours with President Abbas, with Mr. Erekat --

MS. PSAKI:  No.

QUESTION:  -- with anyone else?  Are there plans to have discussions about how to proceed, given that any such conversations realistically can’t be held with anyone in the Israeli Government until a new government has actually been seated?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to make predictions.  Obviously, Roz, we have regular discussions with representatives of the Palestinian Authority just like we have regular discussions with the Israelis.  I’m also not going to prejudge what we would or wouldn’t do depending on what actions are taken.  So it just – the elections just happened yesterday.  I’m sure we’ll continue to discuss where we go from here.

QUESTION:  Is there an opportunity to reestablish some level of trust among the Palestinians that the U.S. is concerned about their aspirations to have an independent homeland?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think we’ve consistently stated that that is our position and that is our view, so there really should be no confusion about that.

QUESTION:  But is it not correct to say that given the prime minister’s stance that he unveiled in the last few days before the vote, that would seem to make it much more difficult now for your two-state solution to come into being?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think that’s why I just stated that given the prime minister’s comments, we’re in a position going forward where we will be evaluating our approach with regard to how best to achieve a two-state solution.  Now our position remains that we continue to believe that the preferred path to resolve this conflict is for the parties to reach an agreement on final status issues directly.  But certainly, while that’s been our position, obviously the prime minister’s position has changed.

QUESTION:  So how are you going to do that without Israel on board?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m not going to prejudge what we’ll do.  The election was yesterday.  Those comments were made two days ago.  So I’m sure we’ll continue to discuss.

QUESTION:  When you say you’re going to reevaluate the approach to how best to bring about a two-state solution, implicit in that, I think, but I just want to make sure, is that you are still going to push for a two-state solution.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION:  How exactly are you going to do that if one of the parties to the two-state solution is pushing back?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Matt, we’ll remain in touch with key stakeholders to find a way forward.  We’re not quite there yet.

QUESTION:  Well, no kidding you’re not there yet.  You’re further away from it now than you have been probably ever before, because now you have a prime minister who’s been reelected or is about, looks like he’s about to form a government, who says that a two-state solution is not what is in the best interest of Israel.  So how --

MS. PSAKI:  I understand that.  That’s why I said we’re going to be evaluating.

QUESTION:  But I mean, trying over and over and over again the same approach which doesn’t work and is not going to lead to your – it was often said during the last iteration of peace talks that the U.S. can’t want a solution more than the two parties do.  And now --

MS. PSAKI:  That remains true.

QUESTION:  Well, right, but it doesn’t look like – one of the parties now says it’s absolutely opposed to that.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, we’re aware.  That’s why I addressed those comments.

QUESTION:  But I don’t understand.  What’s the point of reevaluating it then if you’re – if there’s no way you’re going to achieve it?  Or are you hoping that the prime minister maybe changes his mind, that this was just some kind of campaign rhetoric that he used to drum up support?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m just not going to outline the options, Matt, but obviously, we’re aware of the comments.  Certainly, the fact that he’s changed his position is – has an impact and we’re certainly aware of that.

QUESTION:  All right.  And then more broadly, we’re now in a situation where the Government of the United States and the Government of Israel are diametrically opposed on two extremely significant security – national, international security issues: the Iran negotiations and the Middle East peace process, such as is, was, or will be.  Are you concerned at all that this is – that we find ourselves in a situation where the President and the prime minister of Israel are at such loggerheads on two of the most – two issues that the U.S. has traditionally regarded as being extremely important?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Matt, I think no matter what government is formed – that’s obviously the process that they’re in now – we will continue our close military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel.  This close security cooperation is essential to the security of the Israeli people and it certainly is in the interests of the United States.  We’ve been long familiar with the views of the prime minister on Iran.  We don’t think that his win has impacted the Iran negotiations or will.  Certainly, his recent comments on opposition to the Palestinians having a state have caused us to evaluate our approach moving forward.  But beyond that, there are issues we work together on that we will continue to.

QUESTION:  So the security relationship will stay the same regardless of this?  That’s what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Did you answer – in response to the question earlier if the United States would continue to – given these two huge disagreements now, will the United States continue to be Israel’s protector at the UN and other fora?  You may have answered that, or in response to the earlier question.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, what I said was we’re not going to prejudge what steps – any decision about what the United States may do at the UN.  Obviously, Said has asked in the past about the ICC.  We’ve said previously, we’ve made clear our opposition to Palestinian efforts to join the ICC – to join the statute of the ICC.  This does nothing to further the aspiration of the Palestinian people.  We still believe, obviously, that a negotiation between the two parties is the preferred outcome.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  But we’ll continue to discuss these issues moving forward.

QUESTION:  All right.  Well, that’s on the ICC.  What about on a Security Council resolution that would call for a two-state solution?

MS. PSAKI:  As I said, we’re currently evaluating our approach.  We’re not going to prejudge what we would do if there was a UN action.

QUESTION:  So you’re leaving open the possibility that the United States – this Administration – would not use its veto to protect Israel from a Security Council resolution that the Israeli Government thinks is harmful to its country?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the prime minister’s recent statements call into question his commitment to a two-state solution.  I think we all agree on that point.  But that doesn’t mean that we’ve made a decision about changing our position with respect to the UN.  I have nothing to outline for you on that today.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So --

QUESTION:  Can we talk about some of the language that was used during the campaign two days ago, three days ago?

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  And Netanyahu complained about the number of Arab Israeli citizens who were going to vote?

MS. PSAKI:  I spoke to this yesterday.

QUESTION:  Yes, well, I wanted to follow up on this.  Your colleague told reporters while traveling with the President – and I’m quoting Josh Earnest – “The U.S. and this Administration are deeply concerned about rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab Israeli citizens.  It undermines the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the U.S. and Israel together.”  He went on to say that he did not know whether Secretary Kerry, in his brief phone call, had conveyed the U.S.’s concern about this kind of language.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that sounds similar to what I said yesterday, and perhaps he wasn’t – they weren’t asked about it at the White House yesterday, and I can reiterate that from here.

QUESTION:  No, this is on today’s trip.

MS. PSAKI:  Secretary – I know, but --

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. PSAKI:  -- I addressed this issue --

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. PSAKI:  -- the same issue yesterday, is what I’m referring to.

QUESTION:  Right, but do you – but --

MS. PSAKI:  And let me finish.

QUESTION:  Sure.

MS. PSAKI:  And what Josh said is consistent with what I said yesterday.  So that’s the point I’m making.  Second, as I said, the Secretary’s call was to express congratulations.  It was not a call where they discussed substance.

QUESTION:  But is there a plan to actually discuss this kind of language?  It has angered many people, both Arab and Jewish, inside Israel as well as alarmed people in the region.  Does the U.S. intend to raise this point with Prime Minister Netanyahu about whether this is actually helpful to leading his country?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Roz, I’m sure there will be additional calls and I’m sure we’ll do readouts of them at the appropriate time.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Jen, just a quick follow-up.  Having listened to what Mr. Netanyahu said about the two-state solution, do you still consider him a partner for peace in this operation?

MS. PSAKI:  I think I’ve addressed this question, Said.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Let me just ask you one last question on this issue.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Do you still consider the West Bank to be militarily occupied territory?

MS. PSAKI:  I think we’ve addressed this in the past too, Said.

QUESTION:  Do you – I’d like to hear it again.  Do you still --

MS. PSAKI:  I think we’ve addressed it.  Do we have a new topic?

QUESTION:  South Asia?

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.  Why don’t you go ahead in the striped shirt there.

QUESTION:  Okay.  On Crimea, yesterday, you issued a statement, but can you --

MS. PSAKI:  On Crimea?

QUESTION:  On Crimea, one-year anniversary since --

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  -- Russia’s annexation.  Can you repeat the message and then what’s the U.S. position on this annexation of Crimea?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we continue to believe that Crimea remains a part of Ukraine.  Ukraine is a sovereign country, and we believe the respect for the territorial integrity of Ukraine and all of its people is central to the discussions that are ongoing now.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  On South Asia?

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  A number of questions, starting with Sri Lanka.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Indian prime minister was in Sri Lanka, and as far as rebuilding Sri Lanka is concerned, he committed hundreds of thousands of homes to be built and also millions of dollars from the Indian community and the Indian Government.  What is the U.S. position as far as, under the new government in Sri Lanka, rebuilding ethnic communities, and of course, in the whole Sri Lanka?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have details on this in front of me.  Obviously, we’re supportive of efforts to rebuild communities.  We can see if there’s more to convey.

QUESTION:  And one on Pakistan.  As far as --

MS. PSAKI:  I think we have to move on.  Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION:  At the ALBA summit in Venezuela, Latin American leaders, including Raul Castro, voiced their support for Venezuela’s rejection of the new U.S. sanctions.  First of all, what is State’s reaction?  And then secondly, what is your reaction, especially considering this comes at a time when we are in the midst of trying to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the focus of the discussions with Cuba during the ongoing efforts to re-establish diplomatic relations and to discuss the reopening of the embassies are on those exact issues.  We understand several regional leaders met yesterday in Caracas to discuss the U.S. sanctions and the executive order released March 9th.  We have outlined the reasons for this action, and that is something we convey publicly and privately, that it was an appropriate exercise of U.S. sovereignty with respect to our visas and our financial system.  The sanctions are directed at individuals who committed human rights abuses and undermined democratic government, not at the Venezuelan people or the Venezuelan economy, and that’s certainly what we will continue to convey.

QUESTION:  But does this kind of public support muddy the waters in terms of Cuba’s statements, considering it’s coming at a time when you’re trying to re-establish ties?

MS. PSAKI:  Does it muddy the waters in what capacity?

QUESTION:  In terms of U.S. negotiations with Cuba, in that Cuba is also voicing support for Venezuela and taking a stance against the U.S. sanctions.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the focus of our discussions with the Cuban Government are on reopening our embassy.  They’re on re-establishing diplomatic relations.  That’s what the discussions were focused on when Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson was there for talks two days ago, and that’s what we expect them to continue to be focused on.  It doesn’t mean we agree on every issue.

QUESTION:  Is there an update on the situation with the number of U.S. diplomats in Venezuela?

MS. PSAKI:  There’s not an update.  I know there was a deadline, so to speak, earlier this week.  But there are ongoing discussions, so there isn’t a public update at this point in time.

QUESTION:  I just wanted to know if you were able to get a fuller readout of the talks in Havana that ended --

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more details to add.

QUESTION:  -- and whether or not the issue of Venezuela was raised during them.

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more to add.

Any more on Cuba before we continue?  Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION:  One on Afghanistan.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  What will the focus of the talks when the Secretary hosts Afghan president and CEO next week?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I expect we will be doing a preview call, probably on Friday, so I will point you to that.  Obviously, it’s an opportunity to have discussions about a range of issues, including our strategic, our security, our diplomatic, and our economic relationship, but we’ll be previewing more substantially on Friday.

QUESTION:  And will there be any participation from Pakistan’s side in these talks?  Is there any level of participation from them?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t believe so, no.

QUESTION:  I wondered if you could just answer the question about why it was decided to hold the talks in Camp David.  Was there a particular reason?  I mean, it’s unusual.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, it’s certainly --

QUESTION:  It’s beautiful in the Catoctin Mountains in spring.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Yes, I’m sure it is beautiful.

MS. PSAKI:  And a beautiful drive.  It’s --

QUESTION:  A not-so-beautiful drive.

MS. PSAKI:  It is an opportunity, I think, and it’s been used, as you know, historically many times in the past to have dialogues about a range of important issues.  So it just certainly signifies how important we think this relationship is and how vital we think these talks will be.

QUESTION:  So do we expect some historic results out of these meetings (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  I wouldn’t put it in those terms.  I think, obviously, Abdullah and Ghani – sorry – coming to the United States and the United States hosting a couple days of meetings next week is significant and is just an indication of how important we see the relationship is and how committed we are to the future of Afghanistan.

QUESTION:  I have one more question on --

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  Would you expect, just on Afghanistan --

MS. PSAKI:  To host it at Camp David?

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI:  I’m fascinated by the focus on this, but I think it’s just – it’s been used, as you all know, many times historically for a range of discussions about a range of topics.  And certainly, we supported the idea and were part of the discussion in terms of where to host the meetings.  The Secretary will be hosting the meetings on Monday at Camp David on behalf of the President.  Obviously, there’ll be additional meetings, and as I mentioned, we’ll be previewing those later this week.

QUESTION:  And do you expect the troop levels to be sort of a main topic of discussion?

MS. PSAKI:  I think there’ll be a number of topics discussed, including the strategic relationship, including the economic relationship.  Obviously, as I mentioned, again, we’ll be previewing this later this week.

QUESTION:  What is the State Department’s view on the drawdown of troops?  Because the President is reviewing right now the pace, the pace of the drawdown of troops.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as many of you know, President Obama and President Ghani have had regular discussions on the security transition and peace and reconciliation processes in Afghanistan, and obviously, we’re planning for President Ghani’s upcoming visit to Washington next week.  President Ghani has requested some flexibility in the troop drawdown timeline and base closure sequencing over the next two years, and we’re actively considering this request.  General Campbell – and this is all known – but has developed recommendations to enhance the training, advising, and assisting of the Afghan National Security Forces, the maintenance of appropriate counterterrorism capabilities, and ways to manage the – ways to manage in a way that prioritizes force protection for our troops.  These discussions remain ongoing.  No decisions have been made.  Next week is an opportunity to continue to have discussions.

QUESTION:  But the Secretary is open to the idea of being flexible on troop levels in Afghanistan?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, I think these are proposals that have been put out there by General Campbell.  This is a decision the President of the United States would make.  I’m not going to further preview or lay out any discussions happening among the national security team. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  One more.  One more.  Have the Afghans raised any concern about their potentially being at risk of being infiltrated by ISIL recruiters?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think the Afghans themselves have spoken to this, so I would point you to their comments.  We believe that the nascent presence of ISIL in Afghanistan represents a rebranding of a few marginalized Taliban, but we’re still taking this potential threat with its dangerous rhetoric seriously.  We’re working closely with the Afghan Government to evaluate the dynamic nature of this fledgling network.  And the potential emergence of ISIL represents an additional opportunity to bring the Afghans and the Pakistanis together to confront this common threat.

QUESTION:  You just used the word “fledgling.”  You mean in Afghanistan?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  It certainly isn’t fledgling in Iraq and Syria.

MS. PSAKI:  I mean in Afghanistan, yes.

Yes, Justin.

QUESTION:  On Syria --

MS. PSAKI:  On Afghanistan?  Well, let’s --

QUESTION:  Yeah, just quickly.

MS. PSAKI:  I think we have to keep going here.

Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION:  Sorry --

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  I didn’t hear, but that’s my fault --

MS. PSAKI:  It’s okay, go ahead.

QUESTION:  -- did you – your response to Lalit’s question about whether there’d be any Pakistani involvement in the talks next week?

MS. PSAKI:  Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  So members of the Syrian military are claiming they shot down a U.S. drone over Latakia.  Is there any official clarification from the Syrian Government about that?  Are they really claiming they shot this down?   The Pentagon hasn’t been able to confirm that it was, in fact, shot down.  Do you have anything on that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I can confirm, as I’m sure you may have from the Pentagon, and certainly they’d be the lead on this, that yesterday U.S. military controllers lost contact with an unarmed remotely-piloted aircraft operating over northwest Syria.  The Department of Defense is looking into the incident, will provide more details when available.  Obviously, I don’t have more in terms of the Syrian Government’s comments or public comments or what they may mean.

QUESTION:  Right.  Because people see it as a little odd, because Syria – the Syrian military has taken sort of a passive approach to U.S. air presence in the region.  So it would come as a surprise to you, would it not, if they had in fact shot this out of the sky?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we don’t have any confirmation at this point.  As you know, the Department of Defense would be the ones who would issue that.  Of course, we’ll continue to look into the incident and the circumstances surrounding it, and we, of course, reiterate our warning to the Assad regime not to interfere with U.S. aerial assets over Syria. 

More on Syria?

QUESTION:  Iraq.

MS. PSAKI:  Iraq?  Sure.

QUESTION:  Well, just --

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION:  Then you’re issuing a warning not to do that, so if it’s --

MS. PSAKI:  We would reiterate.  It’s something we’ve done many times. 

QUESTION:  You – okay.  So if they did in fact shoot it down, what does – what comes with that warning?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Justin, there’s no confirmation of that, so I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole with you. 

QUESTION:  We’ll check back.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.  We’ll keep talking about it.

QUESTION:  Maybe first on Syria and then on Iraq. 

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  On Syria, I think last week, State Department’s officials met with one of the Syrian Kurdish representative, cantons’ representative to Europe, Sinem Muhammed.  Do you have anything?  What was the result of the – those meetings?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t.  I can certainly check with our team and see if we have any readout of it.

QUESTION:  But you have met with her on discussing the humanitarian --

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more details on it.

QUESTION:  Okay.  On Iraq, it’s been for five days the U.S. presidential envoy General Allen and Brett McGurk were in Iraq talking about the stabilization efforts.  And General Allen is – he was talking about that there will be a working group will be formed by Germany and United Arab Emirates to working on this stabilization effort.  What is this stabilization (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me get you a little bit of – let me go through a little bit of a readout of their meetings in Germany and Turkey, so let’s start there.   Today Special Presidential Envoy General John Allen and Deputy Special Presidential Envoy Ambassador Brett McGurk were in – participated in the inaugural meeting of the Coalition Stabilization Working Group.  Today’s discussion centered on ways the coalition can support Iraq-led efforts to prioritize, plan, and sequence recovery and stabilization efforts that will follow clearing operations as Iraqi communities are liberated from ISIL, including the urgent need for police and security forces, humanitarian assistance, and restoration of essential services like medical care, water, and electricity.  So there’s the focus of what their first meeting was on, to answer your question.

General Allen and Ambassador McGurk also had a bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Steinmeier to broadly review coalition efforts.  Last night, they also had constructive talks with the under secretary in Turkey in Ankara on our shared efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL.  General Allen welcomes Turkey’s support in training vetted Syrian opposition, noted recent Turkish actions to increase border security and restrict the flow of foreign fighters, and thanked Turkey for its geneity in hosting Syrian and Iraqi refugees displaced by violence.

General Allen also reiterated that the United States position on Assad has not changed.  The United States believes that he has lost all legitimacy to govern, that conditions in Syria under his rule have led to the rise of ISIL and other terrorist groups, and that we continue to seek and negotiate a political outcome to the Syrian conflict.  They also discussed a number of ways in which the United States and Turkey can enhance our cooperation.

QUESTION:  This stabilization effort, is it an Iraqi-led operation, or it’s international or it’s U.S.?  What is this?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think this was the first meeting.  I can certainly see if there are more details to share with you.

QUESTION:  And there is – he mentioned – (inaudible) quoted at General Allen’s speech:  “Stabilization operations can be expensive and require dedicated resources.  We applaud the inclusion in the budget of $2 billion for the recovery funding and support for the displaced Iraqi.”  This is $2 billion U.S. money or Iraqi money?

MS. PSAKI:  I can certainly check on more details of this.  Do you have any more questions?

QUESTION:  No, that’s it.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  I want to return briefly to the whole email and attendant – former Secretary Clinton’s email and attendant issues.  One, are you aware or do you know if the Department has responded to this letter from the National Archives?

MS. PSAKI:  I believe we just received it, so I’m not aware of a response yet.  I’m sure that we will be responding.

QUESTION:  Can you answer the question – well, it’s not really a question, but the – apparently, the – one of the sentences in it is that NARA, the National Record – Archives, is concerned that federal records may have been alienated from the Department of State’s official recordkeeping systems.  Is that concern warranted?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not sure what that’s a reference to.  I’d like to talk to our team and see if there’s more we can say in the response to the letter.  I’m sure we’ll be responding to the letter formally.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And then just – I’m just wondering if you were – if you’re able today to go back to – even back beyond two previous secretaries on the separation statement matter.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ve looked into, as I mentioned, recent secretaries.  I’m not sure we’re going to be delving that much farther.  But I can give you a little bit more information on the context here.  Secretary --

QUESTION:  This would – sorry, this would be why it was not required or mandatory for secretaries of state to --

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, correct.  Secretaries of State often do not sign this form, as it is a step to revoking their own security clearance.  There’s a long tradition of secretaries of state making themselves available to future secretaries and presidents, and secretaries are typically allowed to maintain their security clearance and access to their own records for use in writing their memoirs and the like.  Hence, this is not a form that many would have signed.

QUESTION:  Well, how long does that last for?  Like, does former Secretary Kissinger still have his security clearance from 1970 --

MS. PSAKI:  You’d have to check with former Secretary Kissinger, though the Secretary of State currently does enjoy speaking with him about a range of issues.

QUESTION:  Right.  No, I know.  It’s not a joke question.  I’m --

MS. PSAKI:  I understand your question.  I can’t speak to whether or not every past secretary still maintains, but it is something that there’s a long tradition of, and certainly we think it’s valuable to the American people.

QUESTION:  And does that apply to other officials other than the Secretary of State, other senior officials like deputies?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m just referring to the secretaries of state.  I don’t have more information beyond that.

QUESTION:  Well, you’re – okay, let’s take you as an example.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  You’re about to leave the State Department.  You expect to sign a separation paper, but you will not have your security clearance revoked or surrendered because you’ll presumably still have it when you – at your next job.

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not leaving the federal government, so I’m not sure I’m the best example.

QUESTION:  Okay, so – all right, so – okay.  Let’s – you’re right, you’re not the best example.  (Laughter.)  So let’s come up with employee X --

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  -- who is in a position that is similar grade-wise, seniority-wise, rank-wise to you.  Does that person have the option not to sign one of these things so that he or she may go off and write his memoir, however much it might be – there might be interest in such a memoir?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, with all due respect to employee X, I think this is specific to a certain category of individuals.  I don’t have any more characterization of it than what I’ve offered.  Obviously, secretaries of state is an obvious category.

QUESTION:  So employee X is pretty much screwed if he or she wants to write a book based on his or her official correspondence, having access to it, if they have signed the separation paper and had security clearance --

MS. PSAKI:  I can’t speak to employee X.  I’m sure we deal with these things case by case.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Can we go back to the NARA letter?  You said – I just wanted to clarify.  You said that you’d just received it.  It looks like it was dated March 3rd.  Do you mean in the press office you’ve just received it, or the State Department has just received it?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more details on it.  I can check on see.  We respond to these letters; I’m sure we will do that in this case.  I don’t have more details or more comment on the letter.

QUESTION:  Gotcha.  Well, it does ask that the State Department submit a report to NARA by April 30th.  So can you say whether that report is in the works, or --

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that April 30th is over a month from now.  I don’t have any more details on what the report will be, what we will do.  I can see if there’s more we can offer.

QUESTION:  I think it’s actually a couple weeks from now, but --

QUESTION:  April 30th?

MS. PSAKI:  April --

QUESTION:  I’m sorry, April 3rd, I think.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  I don’t have more details on the letter.

QUESTION:  Okay.

QUESTION:  Do you know if it was delivered in a hard copy, or was it emailed?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more details on that either.

QUESTION:  Because if it was emailed, then it might have gone – who knows where it might’ve --

MS. PSAKI:  Depends on when it was emailed, Matt.

QUESTION:  Can I ask about another letter that --

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  -- that was sent yesterday to Secretary Kerry by a group of nonprofit organizations concerned with government transparency and accountability?  They also expressed concern about Secretary Clinton’s email use and ask that the State Department undertake – first of all ask Secretary Clinton and her folks to turn over the emails in the electronic format that they were, I guess, generated in, and then also ask that the State Department personally or through a third party review all the emails to determine which ones were business-related.  Do you have any response to that?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ve addressed these questions extensively from here.  I’m sure we will respond to the letter, but I don’t have any more comment on the letter, nor have I seen that letter.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And then I just have one more on this.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  The Center for Effective Government this week rated the State Department as the lowest-scoring federal agency in providing access to information.  Their report said that 17 percent of FOIA requests that were submitted to the State Department in 2013 were processed.  Do you have any reaction on that?  Is the State Department doing enough to respond to FOIA requests generally?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I can give you a couple of things on this.  And I think this was from last week, if I recall, so we can see if there’s more of a substantive response we can offer.  One, often the State Department becomes the agency of first resort as it relates to any FOIA requests on national security issues.  There’s a great deal of interagency consultations that need to happen because there are many stakeholders that often are impacted by these type of requests.  That takes some time.  As you know, our process is typically “first in, first out.”  As you also know, we’ve had a number of requests we’ve had to address, including from members – from Congressional committees which we’ve been incredibly responsive to.  So that’s what I have to offer at this point in time, and we can see if there are more details we can offer.

QUESTION:  You might describe it as being incredibly responsive, but there are others, I think, who would disagree with that.  Whether they’re right or wrong, I’m – it’s not for me to judge, but I mean, really, “incredibly responsive?”  Is that what you --

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think dozens of hearings, more than 40,000 pages of documents --

QUESTION:  You’re speaking of Benghazi here?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Oh.  So the list of organizations and groups filing FOIA requests for Secretary Clinton’s emails keeps getting longer and longer and longer.  I mean, today, I think it’s Friends of the Earth has filed one, seeking any emails about Keystone.  So everyone’s got their issue that they’re FOIA-ing things for.  Is this going to put an unbearable burden on the people who do this kind of thing?  Because there’s just going to be more and more and more of them.  Are you planning to hire anybody new or add staff, pull them off other things to go through these requests and go through the emails to make sure that you are responsive and you get off the list of deadbeat agencies when it comes to responding to --

MS. PSAKI:  I can check, Matt, and see if there’s any plan for that.  Not that I’m aware of at this point in time.

QUESTION:  Okay.

QUESTION:  Can we ask a quick question on Iran?  Do you have any readouts from today’s session?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have and I don’t expect that we will be giving day-by-day readouts, Roz.  As we have described earlier, the bilateral meetings have been difficult by constructive.  On the technical side, the discussions have been professional and fruitful in terms of identifying the technical issues – clarifying them, sharpening them, and looking at the options on the table for a potential agreement.  I don’t have anything else further to read out at this point in time.

QUESTION:  There’s one report quoting the Iranian foreign minister as saying it probably won’t get done this week, assuming that something is going to get done.  Would the U.S. concur with his assessment?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as I had mentioned yesterday, we are pushing forward as much as we can now to see what we can get done this week.  There are still a couple of days left.  As we’ve also said, the deadline is the end of the month.  That’s what we’re working toward.

QUESTION:  Can I just ask following up on Roz’s question?

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  The Iranian foreign minister actually said that it was unlikely because otherwise you’d have all the other foreign ministers flying into town into Lausanne.  Is that your understanding that if there is a deal you will have a meeting with all the other P5+1 foreign ministers in town, wherever it might be?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I don’t want to make a prediction of that.  We’re not at this point.  But certainly, it’s – it would be a discussion with the entire P5+1.  They’ve been a part of this process throughout.  So obviously, we’re not at that point yet.

QUESTION:  So the fact that there isn’t a discussion planned, as far as we know, for the next couple of days would indicate --

MS. PSAKI:  Well, they’re there for the next couple of days, so I don’t want to go out on a limb on what it indicates or doesn’t indicate.

QUESTION:  But there has been no call for a P5+1 foreign ministers meeting?

MS. PSAKI:  Not that has been announced, obviously.  Yes.

Mm-hmm.  Iran?

QUESTION:  No, human rights violations. 

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  There’s a report just came out today from the Human Rights Watch talking about the militia attacks destroyed villages.  It’s their reports about after liberation came destruction.  And I know that you’ve answered that question about that and the human rights abuse by the militias in Diyala and other areas, and U.S. sent delegations in the past to Baghdad and Erbil to check on that.  Have you got any result on those investigations that Prime Minister Abadi said he will conduct investigation on that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, one, we understand that the prime minister’s office has responded to the Human Rights Watch report, noting that the legal measures were taken against individuals who committed human rights abuses in Amirli such as the destruction and looting of civilian property as well as those accused of kidnapping civilians.  So there has been action taken in that regard.  Obviously, there are newer reports we’ve spoken to recently that they are certainly looking into.

We can’t confirm the allegations in the Human Rights Watch report regarding potential abuses, but we agree that the long-term solution to the instability Iraq faces right now requires the political leadership to make the kinds of decision that’s – decisions that will unite the country and not promote sectarianism.

QUESTION:  One more question on Kurdistan.  I asked you about the arrest of several journalists in the city of Dohuk by the Kurdish authority.  One was released, another one is still being held by security forces.  Do you have any update?

MS. PSAKI:  I think we’ve talked about this a couple of weeks ago.  I don’t have any update, but --

QUESTION:  I think you said you will get back to me, and I have not got any response.

MS. PSAKI:  We’re happy – we usually do, I think.  And you still ask the same questions even when we give you answers, so --

QUESTION:  But no --

MS. PSAKI:  -- I’m happy to follow up on this and we’ll get you an answer --

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  -- and we’ll see if you ask the question again. 

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yes, madam, thank you.  I had a quick question as far as the ethnic communities – number of communities in Pakistan are under attack, including Sindhis, Kashmir – Pakistan (inaudible) Kashmiri communities and also Hindus and Christians, of course.  What the U.S. is doing as far as these communities are concerned and for the first time in Geneva at the Human Rights Commission, Pakistan at world community, Kashmiris held demonstrations and they’re asking U.S. help and UN help.

MS. PSAKI:  I’m sure we can have you connect with one of our experts on this issue.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you, madam.

QUESTION:  Just a quick question.  Do you have any comment on the shooting death of Dr. Afridi’s lawyer in Pakistan yesterday?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ve certainly seen those reports.  I don’t have a comment in front of me.  Obviously, we can get something around to all of you.  It’s certainly something I think we would like to speak to.

QUESTION:  Sorry, I’ve just thought of something as well.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  I know we’re wrapping up, but there was some fairly critical statements made in the Philippine parliament this week about U.S. involvement in an operation which saw several troops, I believe, killed.  I just wondered – I don’t believe – and excuse me if you’ve addressed this already --

MS. PSAKI:  No, it’s okay.

QUESTION:  But I don’t believe there’s been a U.S. reaction to those comments. 

MS. PSAKI:  I think we have provided it to some who have asked.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  But I – we haven’t done it broadly.  You’re absolutely correct, so let me take an opportunity to do that now.  One moment.

The United States has worked closely with the Philippines over the past 12 years on counterterrorism issues.  The purpose is to advise, assist, train, coordinate, and coordinate information and surveillance, and conduct joint exercises.  At the request of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, personnel serving in the Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines responded to assist in the evacuation of casualties after the firefight.  The operation was planned and executed by Philippine authorities.  Any United States assistance or involvement was provided in accordance with the Philippine Government.

We, of course, offer our heartfelt condolences to the families – family members of those who died trying to bring peace and stability to Mindanao.  This operation was planned and executed, as I mentioned, by the Philippine authorities, so we’d refer you to them for more specifics.

QUESTION:  So you reject the accusations made in the Philippines saying that the United States bears its share of responsibility for what happened?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’re working in coordination with the Philippine authorities.

QUESTION:  Was there – there wasn’t any State Department involvement in this, was there?

MS. PSAKI:  It was, again, the Joint Special Operations Task Force, so --

QUESTION:  Right, but there’s also – but there are some parts of the Department that do have programs in the Philippines related to INL and that kind of thing, and I just – that was – there was no involvement from --

MS. PSAKI:  Not that I’m aware of, Matt.  We can certainly check.

QUESTION:  And when you said that any U.S. support was in accordance with the Philippine Government, in other words it was part – I’m not sure what that means.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, specifically, as I mentioned, we responded to assist in the evacuation of casualties after the firefight.  That was the role.

QUESTION:  After they asked?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, mm-hmm.  After the request of the armed forces of the Philippines.

QUESTION:  Right, right.

QUESTION:  So you weren’t involved in the initial coordination – in the coordination of the initial operation, which I think was what their contention was?

MS. PSAKI:  It was Philippines-led.  That’s all the information I have at this point in time.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION:  One other on Southeast Asia. 

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  This week, the Malaysian defense minister proposed an international peacekeeping force for the South China Sea as a way to reduce tensions.  Is this something that in principle the U.S. would be supportive of as a way to reduce tensions in that region?

MS. PSAKI:  I did see those comments.  We welcome collaborative efforts to bolster maritime security in the Asia Pacific, including efforts by ASEAN and between individual ASEAN member states.  We’re not aware of any plans or of real proposals by ASEAN countries to develop a combined maritime force at this point in time.  Obviously, those were comments but I don’t think we’ve seen more details.

QUESTION:  We --

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Oh, no, she can go ahead.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Do you have anything on the Secretary Kerry and Defense Secretary Carter visit to South Korea next month?  (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any trips or travel to announce at this point in time.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  I just want to go back to your statement at the top on Georgia.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay, sure.

QUESTION:  You say, as you say with Crimea, that the United States does not recognize this so-called --

MS. PSAKI:  The legitimacy of the so-called treaty.

QUESTION:  The legitimacy of it, right.  What is going to be your response to this, then?

MS. PSAKI:  In what capacity, Matt?

QUESTION:  Well, when the Russians annexed Crimea, you imposed sanctions on them.  So can we expect more punitive measures for what they’re doing in Georgia?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything to predict at this point in time.

QUESTION:  Well, I – the reason that I ask is because while you and your allies keep demanding or insisting that the annexation of Crimea is illegal and against international law and you’ll never recognize it, it’s not going back to Ukraine anytime soon it looks like.  And so here is a situation that predates, well predates the situation in Ukraine with Georgia.  I’m just wondering if the – how it is that you can say – continue to say that you don’t recognize this when in fact it is de facto what has happened and you don’t – and you seem unable or unwilling to do – to take steps to have your – what you believe is the right thing done.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Matt, I don’t have any additional steps to predict.  I think it’s still important to note that the United States and many other countries don’t recognize the legitimacy of the so-called treaty.

All right.  Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)

2015-03-18


Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 17, 2015


Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 17, 2015


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TRANSCRIPT:

1:25 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. No one wants to sit in the front row with Matt?

QUESTION: No.

MS. PSAKI: Oh.

QUESTION: Very (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: It is.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Good to know.

QUESTION: Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

MS. PSAKI: Let it be noted.

QUESTION: Nice green.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone. Oh, you have a little clover, Samir? Great. Some green in the back. All right. Matt, I don’t have anything at the top, so go ahead.

QUESTION: All right. Well, let’s hope for the luck of the Irish here. Can you put to --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s hope.

QUESTION: -- rest the questions that you have not been able to answer to this point about former Secretary Clinton and whether she signed this separation form or not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have reviewed Secretary Clinton’s official personnel file and administrative files and do not have any record of her signing the OF-109. In addition, after looking into their official personnel files, we did not locate any record of either of her immediate predecessors signing this form. It’s not clear that this form is used as part of a standard part of checkout across the federal government or even at the State Department. So we’re certainly looking into that.

QUESTION: So when you say that you do not have any record of her signing it --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- does that mean that there is no such document with her signature on it in the file?

MS. PSAKI: That we have found access to, yes.

QUESTION: So in other words, she’s – you’re not sure that she did, or you’re still not sure whether she did or didn’t, or you’re – does this mean --

MS. PSAKI: I think we’re fairly certain she did not.

QUESTION: Okay, so she did not.

MS. PSAKI: We don’t have record of it.

QUESTION: So when you say – it is my understanding that all employees – and I think you even alluded to this when it first came up, that all employees were required to sign this document on completion of their government service. Is that not the case?

MS. PSAKI: Required is not the accurate term. It’s – we’re looking into how standard this is across the federal government and certainly at the State Department. But there’s no – we’re not aware of any penalty for not signing it.

QUESTION: Well, at the State Department, though, is it – it is common practice, though, is it not, for employees, at least employees below the rank of Secretary of State to sign such a thing – to sign such a document when they leave? Is it not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just don’t want to characterize how common practice it is. Certainly, I understand there’s been a focus on this form. We’ve answered the question on whether or not Secretary Clinton signed the form, and we’ll see if there’s more statistics we can provide about how common it is.

QUESTION: It’s your understanding, though, that not completing this form is not a violation of any rule or regulation?

MS. PSAKI: It’s not a violation of any rule, no.

QUESTION: And when you said that you have found no record of her two immediate – was it her two immediate predecessors?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: So that would be Secretary Rice and Secretary Powell?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: And you’re certain that none of them signed it? How --

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is the – these are the records we have at the State Department. Clearly, you can pose this question to any of the former secretaries as well.

QUESTION: Right, but you’re saying that from your review of these three secretaries’ files, it was not unusual, at least from this review, for the Secretary of State not to have completed one of these forms?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: All right. And can you explain, though, what you mean by saying that you’re looking into how – into whether or not signing or completing such a form before one leaves – inside the State Department – I’m not interested in other agencies, but just inside the State Department, was it – is it your understanding that some people did and some people didn’t, but no one was required to or just the secretaries?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are differences between regulations and certainly recommendations, and I’m just getting at there’s a difference between also secretaries of state or former secretaries and staff at lower levels. I just don’t want to speak to how common practice it is, and that’s something if we can give more information on, we certainly will.

QUESTION: Okay. You just used the word “recommended.” Is that the operative language here, that it is recommended but not required?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the form exists, certainly, Matt. I can speak to whether this former secretary, whether we have record of her signing it. Beyond that --

QUESTION: No, I understand.

MS. PSAKI: -- I don’t have more statistics on whether – what percentage of State Department employees sign on departure from the building.

QUESTION: Okay. Right, but yes, the form exists, and it exists for a reason. It doesn’t exist simply because someone thought, hey, let’s have a form that someone has to sign. It exists for a reason and probably a pretty good reason, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are probably hundreds of forms in the federal government that exist --

QUESTION: Thousands I would suggest.

MS. PSAKI: Thousands, tens of thousands of forms that exist. So I don’t know that I would overemphasize the existence of a form, but --

QUESTION: All right. Okay. So does this mean now that you have gotten Freedom of Information Act requests – I believe you got them this morning from the RNC and from various other people, asking for these forms signed not just by former Secretary Clinton but also some of her top aides. Have you satisfied yourself, has the building satisfied itself that it cannot respond to these FOIA requests because --

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t --

QUESTION: -- these documents don’t exist?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t talked to our lawyers about that specific question nor have I looked at their specific requests.

QUESTION: All right. And do you know if the FOIA, at least from the RNC, includes Secretary Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, or deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin and Deputy Assistant Secretary Philippe Reines --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have additional details on other individuals who may or may not have signed the form.

QUESTION: All right. So is this – as far as you’re concerned, is this now case closed?

MS. PSAKI: I hope so. There’s quite a bit going on in the world, so --

QUESTION: Yes, all right.

MS. PSAKI: -- we can also discuss that.

QUESTION: Change of topic?

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh, wait, I just wanted --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on – it’s not on this specifically, but you – the announcement came out just before the briefing about the end of the internet outage and emails.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So what can you tell us about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the notice that I think all of you should have received noted that we’ve concluded this morning the scheduled worldwide network security upgrade activities, and email to and from non-State.gov addresses has been fully restored as well as GO and other services we use here. The system is operating on a normal schedule. Any delays in delivery and receipt of email you may experience are temporary as the system resumes normal operations.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can we change topics?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you a little bit about the Israeli elections --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- as the day, of course, draws --

MS. PSAKI: Keep your expectations low, Said, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. I’ll try to – well, you know – okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. I’m sorry. Go ahead. What are your questions?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) my expectations are always high, right?

MS. PSAKI: Good, all right.

QUESTION: And so – okay. So as the polls are about to close – maybe it will be a couple of hours and so on – and statements were made, very emphatic statements about the not allowing a Palestinian state to emerge and so on. But we’ve seen no repudiation from the other parties either. So – and there’s another deadline that is ongoing now. Today is the 17th. On the first of this – I mean next month, the ICC is supposed to review its first case against settlements and so on. Would you ask or did you ask the Palestinians to sort of back away or not pursue any of that effort?

MS. PSAKI: I have no updates for you on this topic. Let me say, since you gave me the opportunity, we congratulate the citizens of Israel on today’s election. The reported large turnout is another reminder of the vibrancies – vibrancy of Israel’s democracy and why the United States will remain firm in our commitment to our deep and abiding partnership with Israel. Voting is still ongoing and no official results have been released yet. We look forward to working with the next Israeli Government, including on our shared agreement for peace and security in the Middle East. I don’t have any other predictions for you.

QUESTION: Do you find it – I mean, since you talked about the vibrant democracy and so on, do you find it a bit frustrating or annoying that the prime minister of Israel said – complained that Arab citizens were casting their votes in droves?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Does that offend you in any way?

MS. PSAKI: -- we have seen reports about his statements. What we’ve always admired about Israel is its vibrancy as a democracy, which includes the right of all citizens to vote, whether they’re Arab or Jewish citizens. And we’re always concerned, broadly speaking, about any statements that may be aimed at marginalizing certain communities.

QUESTION: And lastly, I know you said yesterday that this is really a lot of maybe campaign rhetoric in referring to what Prime Minister Netanyahu said about he will never agree to a Palestinian state. You still believe that? You still – that this is no more than just campaign rhetoric?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think I said “no more than,” Said. I think that was just a reference. I think I also repeated yesterday that our position in support of a two-state solution is very clear. Only a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and independent Palestine can bring lasting peace and stability to both people. Of course, we will continue to pursue this goal with the new Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Any more on this before we continue?

QUESTION: Well, can you – I’m sorry, I got distracted with something. Did you ask – were you asked about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: You were?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Russia? Sure.

QUESTION: I was just wondering --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: You expressed some concern whenever there seems to be an attempt to malign a group of people or people --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s what I said, but I would point you to what I said in the transcript. But go ahead.

QUESTION: But given that, was anything expressed to the Israeli Government about this kind of language being used?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to read out for you, Roz, today.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Russia’s going to sign the new treaty on union relations and integration in South Ossetia tomorrow. I was wondering if could you make State Department’s position on that, please? Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, and I think we’ll have a statement that goes out as well shortly, so I can reiterate some of those points – or not reiterate; I can preview some of those points, I guess I should say. The United States position on South Ossetia and Abkhazia remains clear. These regions are integral parts of Georgia. We continue to support Georgia’s independence, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity. The United States does not recognize the legitimacy of any so-called treaty between the de facto leaders of Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and the Russian Federation. Neither this agreement nor the one signed between Russia and the de facto leaders in Abkhazia in November 2014 constitutes a valid international agreement.

Russia should fulfill all of its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, withdraw its forces to pre-conflict positions, reverse its recognition of the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, and provide free access for continued humanitarian assistance to these regions. We continue to support the Geneva international discussions as a means to achieving concrete progress on security and humanitarian issues that continue to impact the communities on the ground in Georgia. And again, we’ll have a statement out soon, or probably this afternoon.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Elliot. Mm-hmm. Iraq?

QUESTION: Can we stay with Russia just for a second?

MS. PSAKI: With Russia? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but the Russians are conducting this major military exercises in the Arctic, but also they’re doing war games – Kaliningrad, they’re going to send some missiles there, and sending advanced and nuclear-capable bombers to Crimea. Do you have any reaction to any or all of this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, while we recognize the need for routine military training activity, any such activity must be consistent with international law and conducted with due regard for the rights of other nations and the safety of other aircraft and vessels. Obviously, there have been many reports. We don’t have confirmation of many of the details here. We can see if there’s more we would like to say about the range of reports out there.

QUESTION: At this moment, do you have any reason to be concerned about these exercises not being in accordance with international norms?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think at this moment we’re watching closely, and certainly, there’s a history here that we also look to, and certainly, there’s context of what’s happening on the ground that’s also relevant. At this moment, I don’t have any specific expression of concern, but it’s something we’ll watch closely.

QUESTION: When you say there’s a history here, what are you referring to?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I more should say the context of what’s happening on the ground in Ukraine is more --

QUESTION: Right now.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, is more of the accurate way of describing it.

QUESTION: This might be a better question for the Pentagon, but when there are large-scale military exercises, does the U.S. notify other major countries, “We’re doing operation so-and-so, it’s our annual singular exercise” --

MS. PSAKI: I think typically, Roz. But you’re right, I would ask the Pentagon that question as it relates to this specific case.

Russia, before we continue? Russia?

QUESTION: I have Russia (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Russia? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. I wanted to know your policy on the relations between Russia and your allies. Why I say that, because on March 7, Marie criticized the president of Cyprus, who went to Russia and signed some agreement. But you never criticize the prime minister of Italy, who went to Russia and signed agreements. You never criticized the president of Turkey, who signed billions of dollars of agreements. So my question is: Why you criticize the president of Cyprus and not the leaders of Italy and Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d have to look back at our statements. I’m not going to make a sweeping analysis here, other than to convey that we’ve been clear that it’s not time for business as usual. We certainly understand that there are relationships between many countries in the world, including Russia, and the United States continues to work with Russia on a range of issues, including the ongoing nuclear negotiations. But the devil’s in the details, and the specifics of what deals or what the specifics are being discussed, so I can look back and see what we specifically commented on at the time.

QUESTION: Please.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Russia before we continue? Okay.

QUESTION: On South Korea.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Elliot, I think, had his hand up on Iraq, and then we’ll go to South Korea. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Just a few on the situation in Tikrit.

MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: There are some reports that some Iraqi officials have suggested that the U.S. take a more active role in that battle. I was wondering if you have any response to that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we remain a stalwart ally to the Government of Iraq in the fight against ISIL and toward assisting Iraq with its long-term stability. The efforts in Tikrit are led – Iraqi-led, as you know. And even as this battle unfolds, the coalition is supporting significant Iraqi operations in Anbar and Kirkuk. The U.S. and coalition partners have assisted Iraqi ground forces in over 20 counter-ISIL operations across Iraq, all of them successful. We have conducted over 1,550 airstrikes in support of Iraqi ground forces. Almost – with cooperation from coalition partners, we’ve continued our train and assist efforts. Almost 6,000 Iraqi Security Forces have already graduated. Point being, there are a number of efforts underway. Obviously, any question about military assistance should be directed to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: So is that – at the moment, you’re not considering getting more involved in the battle in Tikrit, which is what my question --

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Pentagon. And typically we don’t make predictions of that advance.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that the Iranians are becoming too immersed, too embroiled in the battle around Tikrit and that would give them more, perhaps, involvement for the whole of Iraq and in running its future?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think you may be referencing – I think there were some stories today. We haven’t – we have seen, certainly, those stories. I don’t have anything to confirm about the specifics of it at this point in time, but we’ve said previously that we know that Iran has provided some supplies, arms, ammunition, and aircraft for Iraq’s armed forces. Our – we continue to emphasize that it’s important that actions don’t raise tensions, don’t raise sectarian tensions. Obviously, we’ve been concerned about some reported actions of unregulated militia, as we’ve talked about in the past.

But while sectarian tensions remain a deep concern with this specific effort in Tikrit, in recent days we’ve seen many Iraqi political and religious figures, including Sunni leaders, express support for the Tikrit operation as well as the role of popular mobilization forces, the role they’ve played. The defense minister, who’s also Sunni, as well as KRG Prime Minister Barzani, have welcomed the role of these volunteers organized under the government’s authority, and have called on all communities in Iraq to support their efforts. Our emphasis is on the role of all of the different factions in Iraq working together. We’d be concerned about efforts to divide that. And we’re certainly very focused on what happens after Tikrit as well.

QUESTION: So on this very point, you see as part of a larger – the larger calculus, the Iranian effort on this part is positive. Correct?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say that. I think I’ll leave it as what I said, Said.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Isn’t it – I mean --

QUESTION: I mean, they are on the same side; they’re fighting the same enemies.

MS. PSAKI: We’re not coordinating with them, as we’ve said many times before. I think I emphasized what our focus is on.

QUESTION: But just allow me for a second, because they both – you and the Iranians both sort of support the Iraqi Government, you support the Iraqi effort and so on. You both fight ISIS and so on. So you are on the same side.

MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t mean we approach things in the same way. It doesn’t mean we don’t have concerns about any effort or a history of inflaming sectarian tensions.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, in addition to the sectarian tensions issue, which is valid, isn’t there also the concern that the – with the U.S. staying on the sidelines in this important battle, that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re hardly staying on the sidelines, Elliot.

QUESTION: Well, in this battle right now, as of now, you are.

MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that as well, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, well, in any case, isn’t there also the question that going forward, in order for the U.S. to continue to take a really active and – active role, that you would need to show a little bit more of an effort?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Elliot, I would just refute the notion of your question. I just gave you several statistics on our involvement and our engagement. And I think it’s hard to see countries that are more engaged or more involved in every component of the political process, the process of training and equipping, the process of uniting the factions in Iraq than the United States.

QUESTION: I thought you were talking about Iran.

MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that notion.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the issue of THAAD system replacement – deployment in South Korea. This morning, South Korean defense ministry announced that if the United States is formal request for THAAD system deployment to South Korea, then South Korea willing to make a decision. Will the United States deployment of THAAD in South Korea?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that Assistant Secretary Russel is there now. We have not formally consulted with South Korea on THAAD deployment, and no decisions have been made on a potential deployment to the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: Yeah, but THAAD is the defensive system against the North Korean missile threat. Why the Chinese is opposed to THAAD placement in South Korea?

MS. PSAKI: Why are the Chinese opposed?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: I would ask the Chinese Government that question.

QUESTION: But what is your United States position --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Chinese Government.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Jen, France and Italy and Germany just announced they are going to follow UK to join AIIB. What’s your reaction on that?

MS. PSAKI: I know we spoke about this a little bit last week, I believe it was.

QUESTION: Yeah, to respond to UK --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. No, I understand. Our position remains – on AIIB remains clear and consistent. We believe there is a pressing need to enhance infrastructure investment around the world. We believe any new multilateral institution should incorporate the high standards that the international community has collectively built at the World Bank and the Regional Development Bank.

As was true with the United Kingdom, the decision of any country to join is certainly a decision made by a sovereign country, but it will be important for prospective members of the AIIB to push for the adoption of those same high standards, including strong board oversight and safeguards. And the international community certainly has a stake in seeing that AIIB complements and works effectively alongside existing architecture – excuse me – that’s already in place that does have those high standards.

QUESTION: But are you disappointed to see your major allies, they’re not standing with you, and ignored the concerns you shared?

MS. PSAKI: I would not at all put it in those terms. These are decisions made by sovereign countries. Our view continues to be that any member needs to hold this organization to the highest standards.

QUESTION: Well, in the future, though, United – consider or reconsider your decision to join the AIIB?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a reconsideration.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: About the AIIB issue, Chinese communist party’s propaganda paper, People’s Daily, made an editorial that’s saying there’s a rift between G7 countries. Do you agree with that?

MS. PSAKI: Between which countries?

QUESTION: G7 countries. G7 countries.

MS. PSAKI: Based on what?

QUESTION: The difference towards AIIB stance.

MS. PSAKI: I would not – no, I would not characterize it in those terms. We certainly discuss issues, of course, through diplomatic channels, through bilateral channels. What I’ve just expressed publicly is certainly what we’ve expressed privately to our partners.

QUESTION: Does the addition of these – of the UK, Germany, France into the AIIB allay some of your concerns that you’ve stated previously? Does it give you any hope that the structure might be a little bit more transparent, given --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll see. I think it provides an opportunity for any of these countries to make the case that there should be high standards held by AIIB.

QUESTION: Jen, over the past few days, we see reports that seems to conflict with the public remarks from this podium. We heard reports saying that the U.S. un-named officials during a private conversation is opposing or signaling concerns on the major allies to join AIIB. My question is: Is there a coherent position from this government on this China initiative infrastructure --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we clearly haven’t made the decision to join. We believe that while there’s a need to enhance infrastructure around the world, that multilateral institutions should have the highest standards that the international community has built. This is a point we’ve expressed publicly and privately. I don’t think it’s inconsistent in any way.

QUESTION: I guess --

QUESTION: Well, do you think the participation of your allies – Britain, France, Germany, and Italy – will help that goal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think Elliot just asked that question. We’ll see. I mean, I think we’ve obviously --

QUESTION: You don’t trust them?

MS. PSAKI: No, I was saying that it provides an opportunity for any member countries to bring and hold AIIB to the highest standards, and so what – they just announced they were joining, I think, today.

QUESTION: I guess it’s hard to confirm a private conversation with un-named officials in private. But then --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve just expressed what our views are. We have expressed those views privately. I think that’s consistent with the comments that you’re referring to as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Other question: Do you have anything regarding the trilateral ministerial meeting between China, Japan, and Korea, which will be scheduled later this week? Do you think it’s a positive development?

MS. PSAKI: We certainly do. As you know, we’ve long been supportive of dialogue between these countries and strong relationships in the region. I believe this is the first time this type of a meeting has happened, and you may know --

QUESTION: Three years.

MS. PSAKI: Three years, right? And so that is certainly a positive sign.

QUESTION: Jen, sorry, just going back to the AIIB (inaudible). So China said that it wants South Korea to be a member and asked the South Koreans to announce its decision to join within the month. Do you have any comments about that?

MS. PSAKI: I think that’s a decision for South Korea to make.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the other thing is, do you think that there will be other countries, more countries that would follow Italy, Germany, France, and the UK?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll see. I can’t make a prediction of that.

QUESTION: Okay. Are you not concerned about that?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve expressed what our view is, and we’ve expressed the same view I’ve stated publicly to any country that’s considering joining.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Cuba?

QUESTION: Jen, can we stay in Asia, one more?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: This might be still in planning stage, but it won’t hurt to ask.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Have you received any request from the Chinese counterpart to schedule a meeting with Wang Qishan, who is a former vice premier, who is now a big hand weighing the – in China’s anti-graft efforts? And who – he might be a familiar figure in this building because of the S&ED talk that he (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: A meeting to come to the United States or --

QUESTION: Right, with the --

MS. PSAKI: Is there a planned visit?

QUESTION: Well, the – it was reported that he planned to visit United States, and I wonder, have you received any --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of a visit. I would obviously refer you to the Chinese Government on that specifically. I can certainly check if there’s a confirmed meeting, if there’s a plan for a confirmed visit, if there’s a plan for a meeting. But I think to your point, we’re a little bit – we’re not quite there yet.

QUESTION: Well, it’s reported that his visit may be something to do with China’s fox hunt operation efforts to seek extradition of Chinese officials who escaped to the United States, who are also charged of corruption.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any details on a planned visit. I don’t think it’s been confirmed. As you know, we don’t speak to extradition requests, even if that is a part of a discussion.

QUESTION: Well, let me put my question this way: Have you received any request from the Chinese counterparts to extradite any Chinese officials or --

MS. PSAKI: We don’t speak to extradition requests as a matter of policy.

QUESTION: Jen, Assistant Secretary Russel visit to South Korea meeting with his counterpart in South Korea, do you have anything (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: With Assistant Secretary Russel’s meetings?

QUESTION: Yes, mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let’s see. Assistant Secretary Russel was in South Korea on the 15th and 16th of March, so over the last two days, to meet with Ambassador Lippert and the U.S. Embassy community and to consult with the South Korean Government. He met with senior Blue House and ministry of foreign affairs officials on March 16th. He reaffirmed the enduring strength of the U.S. alliance with the Republic of Korea and discussed a broad spectrum of alliance issues. He also expressed our gratitude for the outpouring of support from the Korean people in the aftermath of the attack on Ambassador Lippert.

QUESTION: He – also a discussion about the THAAD system issues with South Korean (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: He discussed a wide range of issues. We have not – as I stated before, we have not formally consulted with South Korea on THAAD deployment. I don’t have anything else to read out about his visit.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment on – about South Koreans being asked from the United States to refuse AIIB, but accept THAAD and be – from China being asked – accept AIIB but refuse THAAD, and they are torn apart between United States and China?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just said that it’s a decision of any sovereign country, including South Korea, to make on AIIB. We have obviously expressed the same views I expressed publicly through private channels, but I don’t have any further comment beyond that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) THAAD system issue is a diplomatic issue or a defense issue? What is --

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry, is which issue?

QUESTION: THAAD system.

MS. PSAKI: It’s really a defense issue, and certainly you’re welcome to ask my colleagues over at the Defense Department. I’m not sure they’ll have much more to add, but – to Asia or --

QUESTION: Change topic?

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) regarding the --

MS. PSAKI: We’ll go to you, Pam, next.

QUESTION: Okay. Regarding the nuclear talks in Switzerland, the Iranians say that 90 percent of the technical issues have been resolved. Would you characterize the negotiations the same way?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to put a statistic or a percentage on it from here. We’ve made an effort from the beginning to keep the private ongoing discussions private. Certainly, there are technical issues that will continue to be discussed. There are also difficult political decisions that will need to be made by the Iranians. Our focus now is on ongoing meetings this week. As you all know, the Secretary continued his meetings with the Iranian foreign minister today, Under Secretary Sherman, and the U.S. negotiating team, including Energy Secretary Moniz. They’re continuing their discussions with their Iranian counterparts as well.

The discussions thus far have been solid, substantive, and difficult, but constructive. We expect that will remain the case as we continue to try to close the gaps. We’re continuing, of course, to work towards the end of March to see if we can get to a political framework, but I don’t think we’ll put percentages on between now and then.

QUESTION: Would you say you’re pleased with the progress?

MS. PSAKI: I think, again, there are difficult issues that are being discussed. They’ve been substantive conversations. We’re just not going to give a day-to-day analysis of where things stand.

QUESTION: When you say “constructive” --

QUESTION: Your colleague at the White House said that there was a 50-50 chance. Are you not --

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve been saying that for some time now.

QUESTION: Well, but somebody else – so you are willing to put a percentage on it?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new percentages to add from here.

QUESTION: When you say “constructive,” does that – are you acknowledging that there was progress made in the last 24 hours? Because the message that came out --

MS. PSAKI: I said “constructive” yesterday as well, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. You said “constructive” yesterday as well.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, I did.

QUESTION: Now the reports from there were saying that they’re difficult, no progress was made. So are you disputing that?

MS. PSAKI: They’re difficult, of course. We’re not going to give day-to-day analysis. There are several more days where the Secretary’s going to be on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. So are we expected to see something, let’s say, by the 24th and by --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as you know, the Secretary has commitments with the Afghans in D.C. early next week. We’re pushing forward as much as we can now to see what we can get done this week. The deadline is the end of the month and that’s what we’re working toward, so we’ll see where we are at the end of this week.

QUESTION: Do you feel that if you don’t really achieve, like, a major breakthrough in the next few days, that the momentum will have been slowed down?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think you know if there’s been a breakthrough or not because we haven’t spoken to that.

QUESTION: Well, I’m saying if you don’t achieve a breakthrough.

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to address that, Said.

QUESTION: Senator Corker said he could bring his bill to a vote by the – as early as the 25th. If we get to the point where it is the 25th and there is not a framework deal, would you – are you – would you still be opposed to – would you still advise him not to – to hold off? I mean, this was part of a compromise. He said he would wait until your deadline, which there’s some debate about what the deadline is, the 24th or the 31st, but, I mean --

MS. PSAKI: It has long been the 31st.

QUESTION: Right. I understand that. But I mean, it was the – whatever you were going to say. I mean, do you – if there is no deal, are you still going to be pushing for a framework? Are you still going to be pushing for a delay in a vote on --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: You are.

MS. PSAKI: And I think that the letter from the White House chief of staff from the weekend addressed that as well.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: Just to follow-up on Iran nuclear also --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- related to Matt’s question --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- and the Republican indication that congressional Republicans may push forward with this plan to have some kind of a vote next week that would give them a role in approving an eventual Iran nuclear agreement. This comes after Iran, in the negotiations between Kerry and Zarif, raised some concerns about the Republican letter. Would this type of effort further complicate negotiations at a very sensitive time?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re talking about two separate issues. I realize it’s all related, because we’re all talking about the nuclear negotiations. As I spoke about a bit yesterday, the letter did come up. It came up more extensively during the meeting with the political directors, and certainly it’s a distraction and certainly a time-suck, so – and it has been – it was on the first day of negotiations. Obviously there are a lot of technical issues, a lot of political issues to be discussed, and we have a limited amount of time. So that, alone, is – makes it more difficult.

However, we continue to believe that these negotiations are not about a letter that was ill-informed or ill-advised. They’re about the issues at hand. And that’s what the focus of the negotiations have been on today and yesterday, aside from, of course, it was discussed for a short portion, as I mentioned yesterday.

As it relates to legislation – and again, I would point you to the lengthy letter that the White House chief of staff sent this weekend to Senator Corker – I think the question here is: What is the goal here? We are at crunch time. There’s no question – the Secretary and the President have put out there that they are willing to walk away if this is not a good deal. But obviously we’re – we have – we’re at a time where the negotiations are pivotal, and we’ve conveyed clearly that putting new sanctions legislation in place could be detrimental to the process.

QUESTION: But you will also walk away if there’s no good deal, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I said the Secretary and the President.

QUESTION: Have said that they will. You weren’t referring to Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I will as well. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, no, no. I mean, there has been concern expressed that if this sanctions legislation goes ahead, that the Iranians might walk.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll let the Iranians speak for themselves.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: And they have spoken to that. You’re right.

QUESTION: Can I ask an Iran-related question?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Have you seen or are you aware of this letter that the American former Marine Amir Hekmati has written, seeking to renounce his Iranian citizenship?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. We --

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: We absolutely – and I’ll get to your question, but I just want to speak to the whole issue. We absolutely hold Iran responsible for the treatment of U.S. citizens in custody there and reports of Amir Hekmati’s abuse and mistreatment are deeply worrying. We expect Iran to respect its obligations to treat prisoners humanely, and we hold the Iranian authorities responsible for the welfare of Amir Hekmati and other U.S. citizens detained in Iran. We have raised his case repeatedly with Iranian officials and will continue to do so.

We’ve seen reports that you referenced, of course, that Amir wants to renounce his Iranian citizenship. This is obviously a personal decision for him to make. Our position continues to be that the Government of Iran should release him immediately.

QUESTION: Right. When you say that you expect Iran to treat all Americans being held there, your Human Rights Reports are highly critical of the treatment that Iran provides to all prisoners, or many prisoners, not just American citizens.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. You’re right.

QUESTION: How is that you can expect them to treat them humanely?

MS. PSAKI: Should I say instead we hope and this is a case that we continue to --

QUESTION: Or demand.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, absolutely. And that certainly is a case we continue to make in our discussions.

QUESTION: On Syria.

QUESTION: Just on the – just back on Iran for --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- one quick one. You said that – I think you said yesterday also, regarding the issue of the letter, that it took a very small amount of time, relative to the – what? – five hours --

MS. PSAKI: Five hours of the negotiations with the Secretary, yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: There were also meetings --

QUESTION: Five hours?

MS. PSAKI: They met for five hours. No, no. But there were also meetings with the political directors the day before. It was a larger chunk of those meetings. And certainly taking up time is not only a time-suck, it’s distracting.

QUESTION: Okay. Just wanted to clarify that.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Despite your explanation yesterday as to the Secretary’s statement --

MS. PSAKI: You’re still not convinced, Said?

QUESTION: No, I’m convinced.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m saying that your allies are not convinced. I’m convinced. But today, the Foreign Minister of Turkey Davutoglu – basically he lambasted whatever statements were made by the Secretary, saying that negotiating with Assad is like negotiating with Hitler. First of all, do you agree that negotiating with Assad is like negotiating with Hitler?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to put new terms on it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I think I addressed this pretty extensively yesterday, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. So – but you are fine with what the Secretary said? I mean, he has not backtracked in any way? I --

MS. PSAKI: Correct. And again, any discussion we have with any of our partners we will make clear what I said publicly yesterday.

QUESTION: So your policy remains that a negotiated settlement will have to bring all the combatants in --

MS. PSAKI: By mutual consent, yes. Representatives from the regime and representatives from the opposition.

QUESTION: Okay. But would any sort of negotiations in the near future – should they include Iran also? Like the last time Geneva I and Geneva II did not include Iran, was that a mistake in hindsight?

MS. PSAKI: There’s no negotiation – or no process happening right now. There’s no process being planned right now, Said, so that’s purely a hypothetical.

QUESTION: Yeah, but there’s an implicit message when you say there’s no military solution. We’re talking about the political solution that should be done in a negotiated kind of forum, which would include --

MS. PSAKI: We agree. If there is a process that is reignited, I’m sure we can have a discussion about that issue.

QUESTION: Do you know, Jen, if the Secretary has reached out to either the French foreign minister or the Turkish foreign minister about this or --

MS. PSAKI: He did speak with Foreign Minister Fabius I think, and I think the French have spoken to that.

QUESTION: -- or have they – or if they have reached out to him to ask for the same kind of clarification that you gave publicly yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: He did speak with Foreign Minister Fabius on Monday. I think he – they discussed this issue and he certainly conveyed what our position is and has long been.

QUESTION: Did he tell him to calm down?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any quotes from the conversation, Matt, but I think he reiterated what our longstanding position has been.

QUESTION: Can I jump back to Korea just for one second?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify something.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I don’t mean to harp on this --

MS. PSAKI: No, no.

QUESTION: -- but you said that there were no formal consultations yet with Korea on the THAAD missile appointment, and you also said that Assistant Secretary Russel consulted on a wide range of issues. Is it possible that he – that the issue did come up in some form in those meetings?

MS. PSAKI: I can certainly check if there’s more to read out from his meetings.

QUESTION: I guess I’m just wondering what formal – if formal consultation means that it --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- has to happen at the DOD, at --

MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if there’s more we can read out from that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

QUESTION: Were you guys --

QUESTION: Jennifer?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mrs. Nuland meets in Athens for meetings with high officials of the new leftist government.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what is the reason of these meetings? And also, the economic situation in Greece is worse than ever, as you know, and there are a lot of reports that Greece is in – there is a real possibility for default. I wanted to know if you worry about it and if Mrs. Nuland is going to discuss the economy with Greek officials.

MS. PSAKI: Well, she certainly will. She had productive meetings today in Athens with Greek foreign – the Greek foreign minister, with the defense minister – and with the defense minister to discuss our bilateral relationship, regional developments, including the situation in Ukraine and efforts to combat ISIL, Greece’s economic and financial situation, and defense and security issues. Later today she also plans to meet with the prime minister and I believe she’ll be addressing the press later as well.

QUESTION: But do you worry about the situation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we discuss the economic and financial situation in Greece as part of our bilateral agenda, and she will certainly address her meetings at the end of today.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the Palestinian issue for a second?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Today the Palestinians announced an emergency budget. They are obviously cash-strapped, and the formation of the Israeli Government will be long in coming, so to speak. Are you having – independent of the political situation, are you having any kind of discussion to have these funds released in any way, the funds that are being withheld --

MS. PSAKI: The revenues?

QUESTION: -- the revenues that are being withheld by the --

MS. PSAKI: We’ve spoken about this in the past, Said. I don’t have any new updates, though.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: It’s hard to believe it’s taken this long in this briefing to get to it, but Cuba talks?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: They’re over now?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: For this round at least.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you speak to any progress that has been made, any indication of when the process of at least opening embassies will be done?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think for everybody’s understanding, this was one of what will likely be many discussions. They could be at the assistant secretary level; they also could be at the level – or through our Interests Section on the ground as well. So there will be additional discussions. Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson, as you all know, was there yesterday, has – is – remains there today for internal meetings. But the discussion yesterday was positive and constructive and was held in an atmosphere of mutual respect that focused on reestablishing diplomatic relations and reopening embassies. They certainly can – made progress in their discussions, but I’m not going to read out those specifically. We believe there will be many more discussions.

QUESTION: So there had been hope, though, that this could be done by next month, by the middle of next month. If you’re saying there’s going to be many more discussions --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we set a timeline or a deadline as well, although I know many externally have.

QUESTION: Well, but the President himself has said --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, there’s been a common knowledge.

QUESTION: But the President himself has said that he would be open to having the embassies reopened by the Summit of the Americas.

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we’re open to it too, but you obviously have to make progress on these specific issues and get agreement on what needs to be done. Obviously, we’ll continue to work on that.

QUESTION: Are you able to say whether the issue of Venezuela affected the discussions between Ms. Vidal and Assistant Secretary Jacobson?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I have heard, Roz. I’m happy to ask that specific question, though.

QUESTION: On the right of Americans to travel to Cuba, do they have to wait until the diplomatic relations are all in place, embassies exchanged and so on?

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of ways Americans can travel. It’s – we put out extensive details on that. We can certainly get that to you if that’s useful. Are you planning a trip, Said?

QUESTION: I sure am.

MS. PSAKI: You should. (Laughter.)

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Hi. I just have a clarification question on the separation document.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Is there – I guess I’m just confused about the process of the Secretary leaving the State Department. Would she have ever – would that document have ever been presented to her and she didn’t – I guess I’m just a little confused about whether she ever would have seen the document to --

MS. PSAKI: I would suggest you ask that question to Secretary Clinton and her staff. I think it’s important context that we also don’t have record of the prior two predecessors of signing this document.

QUESTION: Is there someone – is there a State Department employee that’s in charge of making sure that high-level officials sign that before they leave?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, as you know, or you may not know, there are rotations of staff, including the Secretary’s staff, Foreign Service staff who rotate every couple of years. So I really can’t speak to what document may or may not have been presented more than two years ago.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Any --

QUESTION: Do you know – you said – you’re speaking of her predecessors, her immediate predecessors Powell and Rice.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Did someone check Albright’s, or did you only look to the two --

MS. PSAKI: Those are the two I have information on at this point in time – or I don’t have confirmation of, I should say.

QUESTION: But you don’t know. I mean, I don’t know when this form came into --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- being, but it would make sense, wouldn’t it, to check the Secretary’s records going back to at least the time when this form --

MS. PSAKI: If there is more, we can keep going back to the – if you’d like.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Thanks, Jen. Any update on Keystone XL national interest determination? Could you just remind me of the projected timeline for the review?

MS. PSAKI: There isn’t a projected timeline I can outline for you, as I think – but as a reminder of the process, the last step was that we received input from eight agencies. That will obviously be taken into account. But I don’t have any prediction for you on the timeline of the final national interest determination.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)

 
 

2015-03-17


Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 16, 2015


Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 16, 2015


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TRANSCRIPT:

1:17 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Happy Monday.

MS. PSAKI: Happy Monday – almost St. Patrick’s Day Eve, as the Irish Americans might say.

I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. Today, the United States honors the memory of the more than 5,000 innocent men, women, and children killed and another 10,000 who were severely wounded in a chemical weapons attack by Saddam Hussein’s regime 27 years ago in the city of Halabja in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. This is a day of mourning for all Iraqis, and especially in the Iraqi Kurdistan region as we uphold the memory of the victims of this vicious crime. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of all those who suffered in such a horrific way. That brutal attack in Halabja served as – serves as a stark reminder of why we must all persist in our collective efforts to prevent such atrocities in the future.

On Malaysia, we are deeply concerned by – with the detention of opposition member of parliament Nurul Izzah and have expressed those concerns to the Malaysian Government. The Malaysian Government’s recent investigations and charges of sedition against critics raise serious concerns about freedom of expression, rule of law, and the independence of the judicial system in Malaysia. To further restrict freedom of expression will only lead to further erosion of important pillars of Malaysia’s democratic system. We encourage Malaysia to take steps to apply the rule of law fairly, transparently, and apolitically in order to promote confidence in Malaysia’s democracy, judiciary, and economy.

On Cyclone Pam, we offer condolences to the people of Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, and Kiribati as they cope with the devastating impact of Cyclone Pam. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and loved ones. In the wake of Cyclone Pam, the United States Government immediately issued disaster declarations from Embassies Port Moresby and Suva, and we are working with the NGO – with our NGO partners and other nations on the most effective ways to deliver our relief assistance. An OFDA disaster relief team will assess conditions in the areas and work with partners on the ground. The first team members arrived Monday – today, Monday, March 16th.

Finally, on Pakistan, we strongly condemn Sunday’s attack on innocent people at two churches in Lahore, and we extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the victims. The United States stands in solidarity with the people and Government of Pakistan in confronting this type of extremist violence. We support the right of every person to practice religion without fear of intimidation, death, coercion, or any form of reprisal. This is a basic human right both in Pakistan and throughout the world.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: All right. Before we get back to any or all of those issues, I just want to clear up some housekeeping stuff --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- from last week. Hopefully, you have gotten answers.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, okay.

QUESTION: One is, on Friday, the Department took down its – most of the unclassified system, resulting in email disruptions and more. I’m just wondering, is that – is the – have the upgrades or whatever it was that was being done – are they finished, and is the system back up yet? Or if it’s not, when do you expect it will be back?

MS. PSAKI: It is ongoing. As we indicated in a note that we sent out to all of you, the Department has been implementing improvements to the security of our main unclassified network during a planned outage of some internet-linked systems. We hope to have our email up and running by the end of tonight.

QUESTION: By the end of tonight?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, by tonight.

QUESTION: By midnight?

MS. PSAKI: By tonight. I don’t have an exact time. Sometime this evening.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so tomorrow, you would expect that everything will be back to normal?

MS. PSAKI: We do, and we will send you all a note when it’s up and running again.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: And just one other thing on that, you said --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- you expect to have the email back tonight.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Does that also apply to internet access?

MS. PSAKI: It will take some time for each of the pieces to be implemented, so the email is the first step, as I understand it. It may take a little bit longer for other components.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the other thing is last week, I think a couple times, you were asked about whether the Department has a record of former Secretary Clinton signing the separation form.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update on this, Matt. We’re still working on it. I understand.

QUESTION: I mean, the human resources department presumably has a file on every employee. It can’t be that difficult to --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think former secretaries are --

QUESTION: They don’t have files?

MS. PSAKI: -- standard employees. Certainly --

QUESTION: They might not be, but I mean, how hard can it be to find whether she did or not?

MS. PSAKI: I understand why you’re asking. We’re looking to get an answer. I don’t have an answer today.

QUESTION: Well, do you know if someone – has anyone in – where do these forms, once they are signed, go?

MS. PSAKI: Where in the building do they go?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, is there – if I ask for the form of someone else who left – say, Secretary Powell – where would it be?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure how many forms we’d be willing to give you access to. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I mean, you might know that – you would know, presumably, if someone had signed one or not.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, we certainly keep records. I don’t have an update on this particular question today.

QUESTION: Do they go into the same --

MS. PSAKI: I have a couple of other updates I can give you if you’d like, or we can keep --

QUESTION: Well, yes, I would, but I mean, do they --

MS. PSAKI: -- going back and forth on this particular question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, no, I just – they don’t go into the ether like --

MS. PSAKI: No, we keep records of --

QUESTION: -- so many other emails seem to have.

MS. PSAKI: We keep records, yes.

QUESTION: So if someone had signed one of these forms, it would be on file someplace?

MS. PSAKI: We do keep records, yes. It would be on file.

QUESTION: Okay. Then I can’t understand why it’s – anyway, whatever. Can you please endeavor to get an answer?

MS. PSAKI: I will certainly endeavor.

QUESTION: And then – sure, go ahead with your updates.

MS. PSAKI: Well, some of you had asked about the process. So the technical process of document review will be conducted by personnel in the A Bureau, overseen by the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Information Services Margaret Grafeld within the A Bureau. As is standard, and as we’ve talked about a bit in here, there will be many times when experts, including within the regional bureaus and the Office of the Legal Adviser, among others, would need to be consulted, so – for redaction purposes. And we’re trying to do this in the most efficient way possible. We expect, as I’ve said before, we will find exemptions from public release if documents do not meet FOIA standards for release. I’ve outlined some of those before. And separately, there – if there are any totally personal non-work-related emails, we would not be releasing those either.

QUESTION: But presumably there aren’t any of those in there if – because they’ve already been looked at, right?

MS. PSAKI: I think we assume there may be some. We’ll see if there are. If there aren’t, then that won’t be an issue. But that’s another component that would be pulled back that wouldn’t be in FOIA-standard redactions.

QUESTION: Has the review actually begun?

MS. PSAKI: It’s ongoing, yes.

QUESTION: So it’s – when did it begin exactly?

MS. PSAKI: I think I said last week at some point it was underway.

QUESTION: It began last week --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or it began when she – when they were turned over?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Yes. It began shortly after.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, and somebody asked last week – I can’t remember who it was – about the differences between what’s sent to the Hill and what’s made public. Under an agreement previously made with the select committee, which protects sensitive information, Secretary Clinton’s emails were produced with only limited State Department redactions. For the public production, there would be separate standards for FOIA, which we’ve talked about, which as we’ve said is the standard we’ll be using. And obviously, that would – could require and likely would require additional redactions for personal information and all of the reasons I’ve outlined, which include national security, personal privacy, trade secrets, among others. Therefore, a privacy concern may be an issue as it relates to public release, which – where it wouldn’t be as much of an issue as it relates to providing documents to Congress.

Okay. More on this topic?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have – and forgive me if you’ve disclosed this and --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- I just don’t know it, but what is the date on which Secretary Clinton turned over all the emails?

MS. PSAKI: Secretary --

QUESTION: Former Secretary Clinton turned over the selected emails?

MS. PSAKI: I can check on that, Arshad. I believe it was sometime in December. I don’t have the exact date in front of me.

QUESTION: And then just to go back to Matt’s question, did the review begin immediately after they were turned over?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: -- or did the review only begin after she tweeted out that she wanted them to be released?

MS. PSAKI: Well, remember there were documents that were given to Congress. So certainly the review of those that would be applicable was done, and those were submitted to Congress several weeks ago and long before she said – did that email. But the review of the other documents wouldn’t have started until there was a plan to publicly release those, because otherwise they wouldn’t --

QUESTION: And when was that? Was that subsequent to her tweet?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: But that review that you just talked about was only stuff related to Benghazi and Libya, right?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, responsive to Congress, exactly.

QUESTION: Right. So the review on what to release publicly can only have been ongoing for a week or so now?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Yes. Yes. That’s right.

QUESTION: And is it still your estimate that it’ll be a matter of a couple of months --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, several months.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the unclassified email system? Is this an – this outage?

MS. PSAKI: As it relates to this weekend?

QUESTION: As – yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Was this about upgrading security systems, or sort of repairing damage, or removing some sort of malware, or fixing problems? Or was this just all sort of preventative measures you were taking over the weekend?

MS. PSAKI: It was about further enhancing our security capabilities. So we obviously did – took steps in November. These were further steps to do – to follow up on that. It’s not – as we’ve talked about a bit in here, we deal with thousands of potential threats every day. This isn’t about a new intrusion into our system.

QUESTION: Right. But – so – but more specifically, was it about – I mean, the way you phrase it doesn’t answer that question.

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to go into more detail, because obviously, we’re trying to protect our computer systems. And so we’re just – it’s not to our benefit to go too in the technical weeds.

Do we have more on emails or computer systems before we go to another topic?

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: I know you said you were going to endeavor, but can you give us some sort of reasonable timeframe as to how long it’s going to take to find whether or not she signed this one piece of paper?

MS. PSAKI: We will do it as quickly as we can.

Go ahead --

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: -- Said. Sure, Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, obviously there was confusion yesterday with regard to the Secretary’s statement and then he came out and tweeted and so on. And it is no more clear today; it’s – so could you --

MS. PSAKI: I have to say we’re all a bit perplexed by the confusion. But let me --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Let me restate and we can certainly have a dialogue about this. As Secretary Kerry and many members of the Administration have said many times, the only way to bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people is through a genuine political solution consistent with Geneva principles. By necessity, as we have long said, there always has been a need for representatives of the Assad regime to be a part of that process. It would not be and would never be, and it wasn’t what Secretary Kerry was intending to imply, that that would be Assad himself. As you know, we have been guided by what the opposition has been saying, or what their principles are, which is who they would sit at the table with and vice versa. But certainly the opposition, they could sit at a table with themselves or with their partners, and that wouldn’t result in a political process or the conclusion of a political process that would bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people. So it’s always been the intention for there to be representatives from both sides, including representatives from the regime.

QUESTION: So do you think that the opposition perhaps is being a bit foolish by saying there is no way, no how we can negotiate with the regime and Assad to bring about a – the peaceful solution that you want?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure what you’re referencing or if there were --

QUESTION: Almost all the statements by all the different opposition groups basically were critical of the Secretary’s statement, and basically saying there’s no way that they would negotiate with Assad. Do you see any other way --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just stated that’s not what we’re indicating. Obviously, there would need to be representatives of the regime. That’s always been the case. But I think it’s also important to remember, for everyone, unfortunately there’s no process that’s ongoing right now, so we’re purely talking about how it would work potentially if there were to be a process in place.

QUESTION: And in retrospect, do you think it was precipitous, perhaps, to say that Assad’s days were numbered – at the time, three and a half years ago?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to believe, as the Secretary stated even – perhaps even more recently, but I recall even as recently as his comments in Munich, that there’s no future for Assad in Syria. That remains the case. So certainly, we’re taking every step we can to bring an end to his rule there.

QUESTION: And my final question on this: Are there any kind of, perhaps not direct talks, but through a third party, either with the Russian or the United Nations, ongoing between the United States and Assad at the present time?

MS. PSAKI: Not in that capacity. Obviously, there are other – there are partners we talk to, like Russia, who have talks with the Syrians, and certainly when we discuss ways to move back towards a political process, we certainly expect that they would engage with the Syrians. But there’s no process underway, there’s no process that’s about to start, so it’s purely a hypothetical at this point, unfortunately.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, can I go back on that --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- thought that when we were in Geneva last – at the beginning of the month when Secretary Kerry met with Foreign Minister Lavrov, he said in the press conference afterwards that they were looking at ways of a new path to peace and he talked about a possible hybrid of the Geneva peace process. What – I mean, is there anything – is – are there the kind of threads being pulled together to try and get the sides back to the negotiating table in any place, even if it’s not Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: If that was possible, Jo, that would be great. But what the Secretary was referring to is obviously there were meetings in Geneva – which I guess were not in Geneva, they were in Montreux about a year and a half ago, if I remember the dates specifically, or a little less than a year and a half – and there were a large number, over 60 countries and representatives of different governing organizations there. Would it require every single representative there in order to have a discussion? No, it probably wouldn’t. But we’re not at a point where there’s an active plan to put together any sort of meeting of that in that regard.

QUESTION: Is there any hope or idea that perhaps these talks that are being held in Russia, which would be the second round of such talks, could possibly unblock or unlock some kind of process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think they’ve had one round, obviously. And I’m not – I don’t have all the details in front of me in terms of who was invited to this or not. Obviously, any effort consistent with the Geneva process to bring both sides back to the table, we’d be open to hearing more about that. But I’m not going to predict that there will be an outcome that will move the ball forward. I don’t think we have enough information to suggest that.

QUESTION: Would you be amenable to going to Russia for these talks in April that the Russians --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think --

QUESTION: Her personally?

QUESTION: Not you personally. (Laughter.) Jen won’t be in her job anymore in April.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, yes. I am not currently planning a trip to Russia.

QUESTION: There will be many --

QUESTION: But no, I mean someone from this building.

MS. PSAKI: I understand what you’re asking.

QUESTION: Obviously, I don’t think it would be the Secretary himself, but someone from (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: We were not invited to the last round. I’m not aware of us being invited to this round. Obviously, there are many discussions, not just with the Russians but with our Gulf partners, Europeans, many countries that have a shared concern about what’s happening in Syria, but I’m not aware of plans to participate or an invitation that’s been issued.

QUESTION: Jen, do you still subscribe to the notion that Said raised that Assad’s days are numbered, and if you do, what number would you like to give that? Perhaps a sideways eight?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give a number, Matt, but certainly our objective here is to bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people, and obviously we’re discussing a range of ways to get there.

QUESTION: And then just the other thing is you said that we’re all a bit perplexed by the confusion about what the Secretary said. I mean, I find it unusual that there was – there are so many people who are insisting that whatever the – what the Secretary said was – meant that there was some change in policy, that he is announcing a change in policy. But yet, he did say what he said.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Was he – can you say that he was imprecise and that he perhaps should have answered the question, “Will you negotiate with him,” in a little better – in a little more precise fashion to say that he means the regime?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I will say that he was using Assad as a shorthand, obviously, representative of the regime. Certainly, I think that’s why people ask questions, but we’ve ventured to make clear that there isn’t a change in policy, and unfortunately there also isn’t a process that’s ongoing.

QUESTION: Hey, Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- when did you adopt the policy position that you would not negotiate directly with Assad, though you would negotiate with members of his government?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not about us negotiating. I think the opposition has been clear for years now that they would not. We’ve obviously been open to and willing to and supportive of playing a facilitating role. These negotiations would be between the opposition and representatives of the regime, but we’re not going to speak on their behalf. That’s just what they’ve said in the past.

QUESTION: But I mean, I’m trying to understand – you’re saying that there’s no change in policy here --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and I understanding your saying that, and you’re saying that he – the Secretary did not mean to suggest that he himself would negotiate with Assad --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- although he’s obviously met Assad and had with dinner with Assad.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, years ago before all of this happened. It’s a little bit different, but --

QUESTION: Yeah – no, no, but it shows that you can actually talk to people, even if you don’t like their government.

MS. PSAKI: I think there’s a great deal of evidence of that going on even currently.

QUESTION: So – but the question to my mind is, then, when did the United States adopt the position that any negotiations toward a political solution could not include Assad himself?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve long been – and this has consistently been our view – respectful of the view of the opposition and the fact that they have conveyed that that is not something, as recently as the last 24 to 48 hours, that they would be open to. Now, we’re not going to prejudge what they would do in the future, and if there is a process and it gets to the end, I’m sure we’ll talk about it at that point.

QUESTION: So if they were willing to negotiate with Assad himself, you’d be okay with that? It’s their call?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not currently what they’re saying. It’s purely a hypothetical. There’s not a process that’s going on, so I’m just not going to speak to that.

QUESTION: But what I’m trying to figure out, though, is that – you say that your policy position is based on their policy position, which is that they won’t deal with him. And what I’m trying to – I think it’s reasonable to ask, well gee, if that’s true your position is based on their position, then if their position changes, I think it’s not unreasonable to ask if yours would change too.

MS. PSAKI: We’ll talk about that if their position changes.

QUESTION: So Jen, can I also just challenge that? Why wouldn’t you act as some kind of go-between? I mean, in the past, as you say, right now – well, right now and in the past. Right now, Secretary Kerry is in Lausanne talking to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, with whom a --

MS. PSAKI: He’s not negotiating about an Iranian civil war.

QUESTION: No. I appreciate that, but he is negotiating about something which is in the interests of the international community.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The end of a civil war in Syria --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- would be in the interests of the international community.

MS. PSAKI: And we’ve been clear – and, again, there’s no process that’s ongoing. We have been very clear. We want to play a supportive role, a helpful role, and that was indicative of the fact that we helped organize the conference a year and a half ago. What I’m just conveying is that obviously it would need to be representatives of both the opposition and the regime at the table. The discussions between them is the most important component.

QUESTION: Jen, I’m trying to understand the wisdom behind casting some sort of an element of finality, saying that he cannot be a part of Syria’s future and so on, when in fact – I mean, I saw the envoy to Syria, and he said we think that Assad was serious, he wants an end to the violence. He represents a large segment of the population – the minorities, Christians, and so on. Whether like him or not like him, he is part of Syria. So in that sense, why cast the finality that we will not negotiate with him under any conditions?

MS. PSAKI: Because somebody who’s killed tens of thousands of his own people doesn’t have legitimacy to have a role in the future of the country.

QUESTION: I understand, but it’s not someone – you negotiate with people that you don’t like because you want to reach an accommodation.

MS. PSAKI: That’s true, and certainly, we don’t like the actions of the regime. But I just also said a few minutes ago that clearly you can’t have negotiations with yourself. So obviously, that would be part of the negotiations. That’s different than the question of whether Assad should have a place in the future of Syrian leadership.

QUESTION: Can we move on to other non-effective peace processes?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: I just have one more on Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: It is.

QUESTION: One more on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: He’s been saving that one all day, I’m sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: There’s – they’ve announced that there’s going to be another donors conference.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Syria in Kuwait on March the 31st at the foreign minister level. Of course, March the 31st is a much-anticipated date for other reasons.

MS. PSAKI: It is. I’ve heard, yes.

QUESTION: So I wondered whether you had any --

QUESTION: Jen’s last day.

QUESTION: Yeah, it is Jen’s last day, that’s right.

MS. PSAKI: Before that, but --

QUESTION: So I wondered if you had any indications about – of what level the representation would be from the United States. And also, given the fact that for the last two conferences they’ve had, the UN has said that many of the pledges haven’t simply been met, what’s your reaction as to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, on the second piece, 80 percent of the pledges for Kuwait II were met. While that’s encouraging, we urge all donors to follow through on their commitments as soon as possible. The needs both in Syria and throughout the region are staggering, and there’s no time to lose. And clearly, pledging is one thing, to your point. Delivering on that pledge is what actually can make a difference.

In terms of – and for our part – and you may know this, but just for everybody – we only announce funding that has been committed, so there’s never any question about whether we’ll follow through. It’s already money that’s been committed.

QUESTION: Wait. You just announced some money on – last week that – for the opposition that still needs approval by Congress.

MS. PSAKI: But we have committed to it through any process getting up to that point. I think it’s going to move through Congress, Matt.

QUESTION: Well yeah, but if Congress hasn’t said yes yet, how can you say that it’s been approved?

MS. PSAKI: Okay --

QUESTION: I mean, there are times when – that – when you announce money that still needs congressional approval, right?

MS. PSAKI: There are times, that’s true.

QUESTION: Right. So, like, as you have said with the Palestinians, you’re not going to ask for more money for them right now because you know it won’t go through Congress.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So I think that saying --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, fair enough. We anticipate the ask will go through Congress. But fair enough; I hear your point.

In terms of being represented, we will be represented there. I don’t have anything to announce today, but I expect in the coming days we’ll have more to convey on that point. It obviously wouldn’t be Secretary Kerry, but --

QUESTION: So, other non-existent peace processes for 200, and I’m not talking about Northern Ireland yet.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But I am talking about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments today that if he is reelected, there will not – he will not allow there to become a Palestinian state. Does the – what does the Administration make of this comment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Matt, the elections will happen tomorrow. There are many things said leading up to elections. Given the sensitivity of that and the fact that we’re not going to under any circumstance weigh in, I’m just not going to have a specific comment on this. Obviously, our view continues to be that the only way to have peace and stability in the region is for there to be a two-state solution.

QUESTION: So you’re prepared to just think that this is a campaign promise that doesn’t really mean much?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll see when the elections are completed.

QUESTION: I do understand that you don’t want to be seen as injecting yourself into the election. I have another question about that, too.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But it seems, though, that this has been one of the President’s top foreign policy priorities – not just this president; previous presidents as well. And if you have a candidate who is running on what appears to be a platform that – opposed to this, opposed to this goal and the goal of a nuclear deal with Iran, it seems to me that you would not be particularly sanguine at the prospect of this candidate winning. Is that not correct?

MS. PSAKI: As would be true in many countries, we will work with whomever is the winner of the election, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. And then on – and just on the election, the idea of election interference, over the weekend, there was a report that there’s – or there’s – some committee on the Hill is going to look into allegations that the State Department – the Administration, but in particular the State Department was – through funding this one OneVoice NGO was interfering in the election process. I know that you have denied that that’s the case and said that the funding happened all before the election was even announced, but I’m just wondering: If there is such an investigation, are you prepared to say that the State Department will cooperate fully with --

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s historically what we’ve done, of course. I mean, in this case, we’ve only seen the reports. We don’t have any more details. I’ve asked this morning. I don’t think we’ve had any official notification of this inquiry or this investigation.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. So to the best of your knowledge, you haven’t been notified that there is going to be one?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Yes.

QUESTION: And when you say “historically” that is the case, what – historically what, that you have --

MS. PSAKI: I mean we would participate in --

QUESTION: -- cooperated?

MS. PSAKI: -- efforts underway by Congress.

QUESTION: There’s a certain select committee that I think would disagree with --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we would disagree that we haven’t cooperated, and so would 40,000 pages and dozens of hearings’ worth of evidence suggest.

QUESTION: Jen, campaign rhetoric notwithstanding or Mr. Netanyahu’s statement notwithstanding, your position is still that you support the two-state solution --

MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn’t changed, and I think I just reiterated it in response --

QUESTION: Right. (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: -- to Matt’s question.

QUESTION: But in all fairness, I mean, the other party has not really come out forward to say that we support a Palestinian state and so on, so that has been absent – I mean, in all fairness to Mr. Netanyahu.

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to weigh in on this issue a day before the Israeli elections.

QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts at all about the possibility that Tony Blair will be replaced by – or not the possibility, the apparent fact that he’s going to be replaced as the --

MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s been a valued partner in the effort to bring peace to the Middle East. We’ll continue to value his support. Secretary Kerry met with him just this past weekend in Egypt. We’re all grateful for his service and efforts on his behalf of the Quartet for the past eight years. This is a natural time to reflect on the way forward for the Middle East peace process and the role of the Quartet going forward. So we value his role and we’ll see what happens from here.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you’re not sure that the Quartet plays a --

MS. PSAKI: No, I think we valued his role and the role the Quartet has played, but --

QUESTION: Right. But you said you’re going to evaluate the Quartet’s role?

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s a natural time to reflect on it, but I don’t have any predictions of what that will mean in the future.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean you could just end it?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I was intending to indicate that, Matt.

QUESTION: The band might break up?

MS. PSAKI: I was not intending to indicate the band will break up.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Well --

MS. PSAKI: The Quartet.

QUESTION: The EU’s policy – Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini has actually said that she would like to see a more expanded role for the Quartet, expanded to include Arab nations, for instance. Is that something that you would support?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re at a point where we’re going to weigh in on what role it could play, if the role will change. Certainly this is new news, and I’m sure we’ll have that discussion with many of our partners.

QUESTION: And in the meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh over the weekend, did former Prime Minister Blair actually inform the Secretary that he was stepping down? Was that the purpose of the meeting?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check. I haven’t had an opportunity to ask that question, and I can check if it was raised in the meeting.

QUESTION: Okay. And there’s some – in the reports of his – of Mr. Blair stepping down, there’s some suggestion that it was because of – there was unease in Washington about his apparently or reported poor relations with the Palestinian Authority. Is that --

MS. PSAKI: That’s incorrect. There’s been no effort to push him out of his current role as Quartet representative. He’s been in it for eight years, including the last two-plus that the Secretary has been in office, and the Secretary meets with him and talks with him on a regular basis.

QUESTION: Maybe that’s why, he’s been there too long. I mean, can we do like bookkeeping and see what are the pluses and minuses of the Quartet? What have they done?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we’ll look forward to reading your report if you do analysis of that, Said.

QUESTION: I have.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: One question about – I don’t know if you all have seen this, although it was out this morning. This is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comment about his 1997 decision to approve construction at the Har Homa settlement. And although it was at a campaign rally --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and I acknowledge this is part of their domestic political process, on the other hand, it is also a statement of his motivations for an action that he took in a prior government --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- so I think it’s not unreasonable to ask you for a comment. He said, quote, “It was a way of stopping Bethlehem from moving toward Jerusalem.” He said of the Har Homa construction, “This neighborhood exactly, because it stops the continuation of the Palestinians,” close quote. I mean, the gist of what he said according to multiple reports is that it was a deliberate strategic act on his part to approve that so as to essentially prevent a Palestinian state from moving toward Jerusalem. What is the U.S. Government’s position on that?

MS. PSAKI: I had not seen it, Arshad, perhaps because we’ve had email issues and there’s a swirl of things happening in the world. I’m happy to talk to our team and see if that’s something we can weigh in on this afternoon.

QUESTION: Can I ask one last question on this?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, you can, Said. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. I appreciate it.

MS. PSAKI: Is this the last one of the entire briefing?

QUESTION: No, no, not – (laughter) --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. Just checking. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On this topic.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: If a new government emerges, if a new party takes office in Israel, do you expect the Palestinians to back away from, let’s say, the ICC or their efforts at the United Nations?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to make a prediction of that. I’m sure once the results are concluded and we hear more from all sides, we’ll continue to have a discussion about what it means.

QUESTION: Do you expect that there will be a push for them to backtrack, to give them a chance, so to speak, (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure that will be a topic we’ll discuss next week or in the coming days.

New topic?

QUESTION: Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Syria. Sure.

QUESTION: Turkish foreign minister criticized Secretary Kerry’s remarks on negotiation with Assad regime.

MS. PSAKI: I just spoke to them. I don’t know – were you here for that or --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But the Turkish – about the Turkish foreign minister’s comments (inaudible) on that. He asked, quote, “What are you going to negotiate with Assad and what do you negotiate with a regime that killed more than 200,000 people and has used --

MS. PSAKI: I think I answered this. I’d refer you to what I said in my statement that made clear what he meant and what he didn’t mean, and I would just point you to that.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Or any more on Syria before we continue?

QUESTION: I’ve got one on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION: New accusations from the Kurds that ISIS used chlorine gas against Peshmerga fighters. Do you have any reaction, verification, comment – any of it?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we continue to take all allegations of chemical weapons use by ISIL and other actors, including these recent allegations regarding the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon, very seriously. We’re, of course, aware of the reports, but we have no credible information at this time that ISIL is connected to chlorine attacks in Syria. The use of chlorine as a chemical weapon is an abhorrent act. These recent allegations certainly underscore the importance of our work to eliminate chemical weapons in the volatile region, including our recent efforts at the OPCW. But again, we don’t have additional confirmation at this point in time.

QUESTION: I believe – I’m just trying to check my facts here – this most recent was an accusation that took place in Iraq. I’m not sure about that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any details on any confirmation of that, either.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we look into all allegations, but don’t have --

QUESTION: You said --

MS. PSAKI: -- and we take them seriously.

QUESTION: -- no credible information of chlorine attacks in Syria. That would apply to Iraq as well?

MS. PSAKI: That’s my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Syria before we continue? Okay. Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Shifting to the – President Putin.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: During his ten-day disappearance, how confident was the Administration if it actually had to get ahold of the President Putin they could have gotten ahold of him?

MS. PSAKI: I think the Kremlin spoke to this report shortly after there were reports. I just don’t have anything more to add.

Any more on Russia?

QUESTION: Oh, actually I do.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Just – I’m wondering if there’s been any communication between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov over the course of the last couple days.

MS. PSAKI: In the last couple days, Matt? Not in the last couple of days, no.

QUESTION: I have one on Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Today actually marks one year since Crimeans held a referendum to join the Russian Federation. I wanted to know if the State Department has taken this occasion to reaffirm its belief that the annexation of Crimea was illegal for Russia and if you have communicated any messages to them on this --

MS. PSAKI: Well, that remains our position. And just since you gave me the opportunity, last year the people of Ukraine chose a future based on the values of democracy, free trade, and rule of law. In response, Russia used its military to forcibly seize and occupy Crimea, sovereign Ukrainian territory, and then staged an illegal, so-called referendum in a feeble attempt to justify its actions. Over the last year, Russia has instituted repression on a mass scale in Crimea, driving out NGOs and leading non-Russian minorities, including the Crimean Tatars, to flee or go into hiding. This last year, Russia also continued to engage in destabilizing activities in southeastern Ukraine that have left more than 5,800 people dead and displaced at least 1 million more. So certainly our position has not changed in this regard.

I’m not sure if all of you – or maybe this is the next question – also saw the documentary that came out this weekend. And it was lengthy, so I’m not sure who watched the entire piece of it. Elliot is nodding. Perhaps you did, with popcorn. Said did. (Laughter.) And if you look at that, related to your question, a year ago President Putin told the world that Russian military forces were not intervening in Crimea. He now acknowledges to the world that Russian forces did, in fact, intervene. And those are his own words. So it certainly brings into question the credibility of claims being made today that the Russian military is not intervening in eastern Ukraine. Obviously, we’ve spoken to that countless times from here, as has NATO, as have another – a number of countries around the world.

QUESTION: And now that you bring up the documentary, I have one related to that as well.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In that same documentary, Putin also stated that during the – his incursion into Crimea, he had the – his nuclear forces on high alert. Just wanted to ask if you have any comment on that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think not only that – did he acknowledge to the world that Russian forces did in fact intervene, but that they were prepared to take even more aggressive action. Obviously, they didn’t do that, so I don’t have any particular comment beyond that. But again, I think what we’re focused on is where we are now and the question of what’s happening in eastern Ukraine and whether there’s credibility to the claims.

QUESTION: Prior to the vote, the referendum --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- and then the subsequent annexation, do you believe that Russia – the Russian military was occupying Crimea?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think in the – in his President Putin’s own words, they were planning – they were making plans, if I recall the specifics from the documentary, as late as – as early as late February.

QUESTION: Right. But one of the points that the Russians have made in the past is that there of course were Russian troops in Crimea at Russian bases, that they were legally there with the permission of the Ukrainian Government. So I’m just wondering if you believe that prior to the vote and prior to the annexation, if those Russian troops that were there under an agreement with the Kyiv Government – if they were occupying.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’d have to look back of our – on our information at the time, Matt. Obviously, we spoke pretty early on to concerns about Russians in – the engagement of Russian troops and Russian military in eastern Ukraine.

QUESTION: Right, but I mean, unless those forces seized and – forcibly seized and occupied – I mean, it just seems to me that if you’re saying they forcibly seized and occupied, it would have to be – they would have to have done something more than just be there, which is – I mean, they were there legally prior to the annexation.

MS. PSAKI: Well, but I think the question is where did the equipment, where did the training, where did the materials, where did that all come from.

QUESTION: Oh, you’re talking about in eastern Ukraine now, not Crimea.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. No, I – but I’m also talking about back then.

On Ukraine?

QUESTION: Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Is yours on Ukraine, or – okay. Go ahead. Let me just do a couple more here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m curious if the Secretary had any specific conversations about Egypt’s LGBT rights record this past weekend while in Sharm el-Sheikh, especially considering the recent arrests of the men in the Cairo bathhouse on debauchery charges, and then the transgendered people who were arrested. Did he have any specific conversations with people al-Sisi and any other members of his government?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – he held a press conference this weekend, as you know. And obviously, he raises human rights – it’s all – at every opportunity. And as you know, we still have not certified the additional assistance. I can certainly check on the specificity of the recent reports that you mentioned and whether those were raised in the meeting.

QUESTION: One on Cuba.

MS. PSAKI: Cuba? Sure.

QUESTION: I have been asked to ask why there is so little access to the participants in the current round of normalization talks in contrast to prior rounds, when there had been camera sprays and news conferences afterwards. Why is that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think Assistant Secretary Jacobson took also a smaller team there. I think their focus is on rolling up their sleeves and having tough discussions and getting the work done, and thought they’d do that at a bit of a lower-key level.

QUESTION: They can’t do that and still talk to the press?

MS. PSAKI: I think – at some point I’m sure they will, but again, I think their focus right now is on the work of discussing these difficult issues – more that than on camera sprays.

QUESTION: Well, doesn’t – but I mean, just the work of the Secretary in trying to get a nuclear deal with Iran, and you had --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: My recollection is that there are generally camera sprays --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and there’re generally background briefings.

MS. PSAKI: There are, and there’ll be more rounds of – and we did a background briefing just this weekend – or on Friday, I should say.

QUESTION: Yeah --

QUESTION: Do you have any update from --

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead – well, I got one last one on this --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- which is: Does the decision not to have access to the media, at least so far, have anything to do with the contretemps with Venezuela? Does it have anything to do with other policy issues?

MS. PSAKI: No, it does not.

QUESTION: No?

MS. PSAKI: Completely unrelated.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any update from the talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they have been meeting this morning. As you know, technical communications is difficult with Cuba – I mean, with officials in Cuba given the email issues not just here but on the ground. I know that’s confusing.

QUESTION: Really?

MS. PSAKI: There’re email issues everywhere.

QUESTION: Are the Cubans using their own private email accounts and not – (laughter) --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t – I mean with our team on the ground. They’ve been meeting today. We expect the discussions to proceed at least through today, but I don’t have any updates from the ground at this point in time.

QUESTION: Do you think they’ll go into tomorrow? Is there --

MS. PSAKI: We’ll see. We’ll see. They’ll go through at least today.

QUESTION: And I had one just kind of logistical question --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on the removing the state – if – the review on removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Whenever that decision is made, it comes – it’s a recommendation from the State Department that goes to the President, correct?

MS. PSAKI: That’s my understanding of the process.

QUESTION: And then the President has to inform Congress.

MS. PSAKI: Congress is informed. I can check if it’s us or if it’s the White House that informs Congress.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: It may be us. We can certainly get you the answer to that.

QUESTION: Okay. Does Congress then have the right to vote on that or not, or is it a pure and simple communication and the decision’s already (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I believe it’s a communication, but we have all of this, so let me get you the process so you have an understanding of that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Pam.

QUESTION: Yesterday in DRC, a U.S. official – USAID’s Kevin Sturr – was among about 40 people who were arrested at a pro-democracy demonstration. He was later released, but has State received any information, first of all on why he was initially arrested?

MS. PSAKI: We have not. Let me see if I have anything in addition to what you stated. The diplomat, as I think you know, but just so everybody knows, is the USAID Democracy Rights and Governance Director Kevin Sturr. He was detained by Congolese authorities on Sunday, March 15th. He was released unharmed. Several hours later, following an inquiry by the Embassy in Kinshasa, we have not been officially informed as to why he was detained. He was attending a press conference about a civil society event that brought Congolese youth together with several youth activists from the continent to exchange ideas about the importance of civil engagement in the political process. That was where he was when he was detained. And our ambassador in Kinshasa has raised this at the highest levels with the DRC Government, and we’ve, of course, contacted the embassy in Washington as well.

I can only do about two more here, but --

QUESTION: Can we stay in Africa?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: There was the Sierra Leone situation yesterday or over the weekend, where the vice president has apparently gone into hiding and has apparently asked for political asylum in the United States. I understand he’s not hiding in the Embassy, as there were some erroneous --

MS. PSAKI: There were some reports of that, yes.

QUESTION: -- there were some erroneous reports of that. But could you let us know if he has actually applied for political asylum? Is that something you can tell us?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have more details, not something I could tell you even if I did. But I can confirm, as you said, that he is not at the U.S. Embassy, as some had reported initially, I think, on the ground. But beyond that, I don’t have additional details.

QUESTION: So you can’t tell us if there’s a political asylum request for anybody?

MS. PSAKI: In general, that’s correct, yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do two more. Felicia?

QUESTION: Back to Cuba. Do you have any readouts or details on meetings Roberta is having outside of the talks, like with dissidents, civil society groups?

MS. PSAKI: Not yet, but we can see if there’s more. Hopefully, we’ll have an update from our team on the ground.

Justin.

QUESTION: It’s been reported that the Iranians have twice now raised the issue of the Republican letter Sunday, and today again. Any indication or can you tell us at all how that came up? Was it a negative thing that – has it undermined the process at all? Can you confirm that the Iranians brought it up twice?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. It was raised at the political directors level and then again during meetings with the Secretary today. I think it’s important to just note that the Secretary had five hours of solid, substantive, difficult but constructive conversations today. This was a small part of that. It was simply raised, as we have said before. It certainly is a distraction, but negotiations in our view, and I think most people’s view, are not about a letter that was ill-informed and ill-advised. And we certainly anticipate that the focus of the discussions will remain on the issues at hand.

QUESTION: So was he able to deflect these issues as distraction or was it problematic?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I think given the fact that this was raised but it was a small portion of the discussion in really of five hours, the vast, vast majority was about the substantive issues.

QUESTION: What was your --

QUESTION: And speaking of --

QUESTION: Sorry.

QUESTION: Oh, no. I was going to say on substantive issues, does the Secretary bring his own bike with him when he goes to – overseas, or does he rent all that gear --

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) I don’t have that level of detail, Justin.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Would you like to bike with him the next time?

QUESTION: Well, maybe, yeah. (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: How good of a biker are you?

QUESTION: I could probably hang with him.

MS. PSAKI: We’ll try you out and see.

QUESTION: I actually have a substantive question about two brief things.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: One, on Bahrain, did you get an answer to my question about Nabeel Rajab, the appealed hearing?

MS. PSAKI: I did. We’ve seen reports that the court date will be – has been moved to April 15th. We certainly would expect to attend, as we’ve said in the past.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. And then I previewed this, Northern Ireland. So Sinn Fein – Gerry Adams specifically – seems to be upset because he is not going to have a meeting at the State Department. Can you explain – on his current visit to the U.S. Can you explain why that is?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we understand that the first and deputy first ministers have determined that the best course of action is to postpone their travel to Washington and continue their work to reach a durable agreement on the ground. We support this decision and we’ll continue to provide our support for their efforts as well.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I didn’t miss the Gerry Adams/Sinn Fein part of your answer?

MS. PSAKI: A meeting at the State Department? I’m sorry, I thought you were talking about the group meeting. I – was there a planned meeting here?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check into that, Matt. Do you know who he was planning to meet with?

QUESTION: I don’t know who he was planning to meet with, but he’s not – he says that he way that the State Department has handled this is bizarre. Anyway, it would be interesting to know if you have decided, and due to the fact that the other people aren’t coming, if it was decided that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the question --

QUESTION: -- it would not be appropriate to meet with him.

MS. PSAKI: Was it all a part of the same set of meetings, would be my assumption, but --

QUESTION: Well, whether it was or not --

MS. PSAKI: I will check on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, I’m sorry.

Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You said that the Secretary had five hours of solid, substantive, difficult – what was your fourth adjective?

MS. PSAKI: What was my fourth – constructive.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:04 p.m.)

2015-03-16