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Updated: 5 hours 56 min ago

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - April 23, 2014

Wed, 04/23/2014 - 18:47

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 23, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • 2014 QDDR / 2010 QDDR
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Reconciliation Announcement / Palestinians / Hamas / Next Steps / Longstanding Principles / Israel / U.S. Views / Talking to Both Parties / Egypt
  • TURKEY/ARMENIA
    • Statement on 1915 Atrocities / Acknowledgment
    • Boarding Denial / INA / HHS
  • UKRAINE/RUSSIA
    • Support of NATO Allies / U.S Boosting Support / Military Exercises in Poland / Non-Lethal Assistance
    • Illegal Arms and Building Seizures in Eastern Ukraine / Restraint
    • Russian Troops on Border
    • Russian Sanctions / U.S. Contracts
    • U.S. Citizen Journalist Kidnapped / Call for Immediate Release
    • Energy Concerns
  • SYRIA
    • U.S. Officials in Contact over Allegations of Chlorine Gas Attack
    • Chemical Weapons Convention / UNSC / Chapter 7
    • Classifications / OPCW
    • Syrian Elections / Assad Regime
    • al-Qaida in Syria / Designations / Extremism Growth Concern
  • CUBA
    • Alan Gross Detainment / U.S. Concern / Call for Release
    • Review of USAID Program
  • EGYPT
    • U.S. Assistance / Certifications / Appropriations Act / Apache Helicopters
  • DEPARTMENT
    • William James Vahey Suicide / American Schools / FBI Investigation
  • NORTH KOREA
    • Reports of Possible Activity at North Korean Test Site
    • Regime Propaganda
  • DEPARTMENT
    • QDDR / ENR / Creation of Bureaus


TRANSCRIPT:

2:11 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: It’s too bad Matt’s not here yet because he asked the question, but I announced yesterday that the Secretary had actually announced the – that we were launching our 2014 QDDR, and I wanted to just highlight, as an example of how effective this process was during the first term, what some of the examples of how we’re implementing it are. And if this works well, which it has, the recommendations and the process results in a – changes or updates that make things more efficient, more focused, and better, and that’s what we saw from the first round. So bear with me while I just highlight a few of these.

After the 2010 QDDR, economic statecraft, which as you know is a big part of what Secretary Clinton did when she was traveling overseas, became a – there – a stronger emphasis was placed on trade promotion, investment, and leveling the economic playing field. That’s something the Secretary has continued to support. As he often says, economic policy – foreign – economic policy is foreign policy, and that’s one of the roles that we can play here at the State Department and our diplomats play around the world.

We also – as a result of the 2010 QDDR, we also now have a fuller integration of women and girls into our policy framework – planning and budgeting, program monitoring and evaluation, and management and training. That continues to be a big priority for the State Department, promoting women and girls around the world.

The QDDR also – the 2010 QDDR also reorganized and created bureaus to address the needs of the 21st century – of 21st century diplomacy that we’re seeing in effect today. So that includes a reorganization of the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. As you all know, and we talk about frequently in here, the ENR Bureau and the work they’re doing on energy issues, which is newer to the State Department – relatively so – is vital in places like Ukraine. We’re seeing that today.

It also established the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, and established, as I already touched on, three new bureaus, including the Bureau for Counterterrorism, which of course, is one that we work quite a bit with.

So I just wanted to highlight that as a follow-up. And of course, we’re just beginning our process. We’ll be providing regular updates as warranted. With that, I know there’s a lot in the news today, so go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: There is. And I actually was going to – I wish we had gotten a two-minute warning, which we didn’t.

MS. PSAKI: I apologize for that. The only thing I did at the top was better answer the question you asked yesterday.

QUESTION: Yes, and I would like to go back to that.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But I think there’s some more urgent things to discuss first.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: As urgent as that is and compelling as that is, can we start – and I will get back to it later in the briefing --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- but can we start with the Mideast, please?

MS. PSAKI: We can.

QUESTION: I understand that the Secretary has called or there was a call between the Secretary and Prime Minister Netanyahu, in which they discussed the Palestinian reconciliation matter. I’m wondering if that’s true, and if it is true, what did they have to say? And how does the reconciliation this time around affect your efforts to try to bring the parties together to agree to an extension of the talks?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. Well, I also want to note that the Secretary’s team has also been in touch with the Palestinians on the ground. He has not spoken with President Abbas, but our team on the ground has. As you all know, our principles on the issue of reconciliation have been consistent for decades. Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties.

This announcement was – the timing was troubling and we were certainly disappointed in the announcement. If – absent a clear commitment to those principles I just outlined, this could seriously complicate our efforts – not just our efforts, but the efforts between the parties, more importantly, to extend the negotiations, as evidenced by the announcement by the Israelis to cancel the negotiating meeting this evening. So this is a case where, of course, we are watching closely. They’ve had – they’ve made similar announcements in the past before. We’ll be watching what steps are taken, but this certainly is disappointing and raises concerns about our efforts to extend the negotiations.

QUESTION: The phone call, did it happen? Can you --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, it did. My apologies. Yes, it did.

QUESTION: Well, I guess you did say that. But I don’t know, can you give us any kind of a readout of the call?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional readout, but certainly this was discussed.

QUESTION: Well, did – would it be fair to say, or can – is it a safe assumption that the Secretary said pretty – well, in addition to whatever he said privately, that this message was conveyed to Prime Minister Netanyahu as well, what you just said to us?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. And it’s also been conveyed to the Palestinians as well.

QUESTION: Right. I understand. Right. I’m just dealing with this phone call. Did the Secretary have anything to say about the cancelation of the meeting, the Israelis deciding to cancel this meeting tonight?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – and I spoke with the Secretary about this --

QUESTION: Was this an understandable thing?

MS. PSAKI: -- this afternoon or this morning as well – I realize it’s afternoon. But I think the Secretary and we all understand it’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist. And that is one of the principles that’s long been expected.

QUESTION: Okay. And then you say that this will seriously complicate --

MS. PSAKI: Could seriously.

QUESTION: -- could seriously – I mean, haven’t actions by both sides to this point already seriously complicated the effort to extend the negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, Matt, there have been ups and downs in this process. And let me just preface, since you gave me the opportunity – they haven’t made these announcements in the past. We’ve been negotiating with President Abbas throughout this process. I shouldn’t say we; the Israelis have been negotiating with President Abbas. We’ve been facilitating those talks. If that continues, we’d certainly support that. But it’s up to the Palestinians now to answer these questions about whether those principles will be met.

QUESTION: But do you think that it is worthwhile for Israel to continue to talk even before the 29th – in this period, the several days that we have until the end of the – until the end of April – given what the Palestinians – both factions of the Palestinians have announced today? Do you – I mean, are you encouraging them to stay in – at the – to keep at it, or do you think that the Israelis are entirely justified in saying, “That’s it”?

MS. PSAKI: I think that the ball, at this point, is in the Palestinians’ court to answer these questions as to whether this reconciliation, whether these principles would be met through that process that have been long established.

QUESTION: When you say, though, it’s in the Palestinians’ court to do this – this is in President Abbas’s court, with Fatah, or is it – or are you expecting this – are you expecting Hamas to come out and say, “Okay, we’re changing our longstanding principle that we don’t recognize Israel has a right to exist”?

MS. PSAKI: Well, if Hamas were to – if this reconciliation – if the Palestinian Government, the PLO – if President Abbas were to continue to pursue reconciliation, Hamas would need to abide by these principles in order to be a part of the government. So if it’s a unified government, yes, they would need to abide by these principles.

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Not in order to be – I mean, the Palestinians can – are free to choose whoever they want to be in their government.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: You’re talking about for there to be the peace talks and for you to be involved in an effort to bring the two sides together.

MS. PSAKI: What I’m saying is what has long been U.S. Government policy, and certainly we understand that when you’re talking about negotiating with a government, if they’re a part of it that has not recognized the existence of Israel --

QUESTION: Right. And then --

MS. PSAKI: -- that poses challenges.

QUESTION: Okay. And then last one, I’ll shut up, and then I got to leave, but – and I’ll be back, but the – in terms of the U.S. assistance to and dealing with the PA, quite apart from the peace process, what does this reconciliation mean, or alleged reconciliation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, there would be implications. I don’t have those all in front of me, Matt, but what we’re going to watch and see here is what happens over the coming hours and days to see what steps are taken by the Palestinians.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Abbas just issued a statement saying that there is no contradiction between national reconciliation and continuing the talks with Israel. Do you disagree with what he’s saying?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think it’s important to note here that the talks are between the parties, Said. It’s between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And obviously, as I just stated, our principles have been – have long been the same in terms of the Palestinian Government in unambiguously and explicitly committing to nonviolence, the recognition – recognizing the state of Israel, accepting previous agreements and obligations. And it’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: So we will see. There are certainly questions, as I noted, that the Palestinians are the only ones who can answer. As I noted, we were – we are troubled by the announcement and we are – we’ll wait to see what their answers are.

QUESTION: Was the U.S. surprised --

QUESTION: I’m trying to understand – I’m trying to understand why --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one at a time. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m trying to understand: Why is it disappointing? I mean, if the Israelis – certainly the Israeli Government has some members in it that do not recognize the Palestinians and so on, but the government itself deals with the Palestinians. Now, if you have exactly the same situation but the reverse on the Palestinian side – the Palestinian Government recognizes Israel, works with it, negotiates with it, but it has members that come from Hamas – why would this jeopardize the process?

MS. PSAKI: There have been longstanding principles, and again, I think I answered that question by conveying --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- it’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist. Again, they’ve made these announcements before.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: This process has been tried before. The principles haven’t changed. We will see what happens. President Abbas has been our – has been the negotiating partner with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and if that were to continue, certainly we would not only support that, we’ve been facilitating that.

QUESTION: But there were statements – if you’ll allow me just to go further – there were statements in the past made that if the Palestinians are divided and fragmented, who do we negotiate with? Who represents the Palestinians? And on the other hand, if there is unity, although there may be total agreement on the process of negotiation, then they are caught between a rock and a hard place. Wouldn’t you agree?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been consistent principles about what a unified government would need to abide by. Those haven’t changed.

Michael.

QUESTION: Thanks. Hassan Yousef just posted on Twitter that Hamas will not recognize Israel and will not give up its resistance against Israel. Have you made clear to the Palestinians or reminded them of --

MS. PSAKI: The principles that I just outlined?

QUESTION: The – actually, the law that governs our aid to the Palestinians, which has codified those principles and says that if they don’t abide by that, that, “No aid is permitted for a power-sharing Palestinian Government that includes Hamas.”

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been in touch with the Palestinians. Obviously, this announcement just happened this morning. I don’t have that level of detail, but I don’t think there’s any secret about what the impact would be.

QUESTION: You’ll recall in 2012 there was an effort between Fatah and Hamas to try to reconcile. It didn’t really work out.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But it’s my understanding that they never ever stopped talking about this. Does this announcement today come as a surprise to the U.S., and if so, why?

MS. PSAKI: In terms of – what do you mean? Can you explain a little further?

QUESTION: In terms of trying to find a way to actually come together as one government rather than two parties running parallel governments.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I noted, Roz, there have been several attempts at this in the past. It’s not just – it’s certainly the content of the announcement. It’s also the timing of the announcement. And they’re in, of course, negotiations with the Israeli Government about a peace process.

QUESTION: But certainly, given that Ambassador Indyk has been in the region recently trying to help both sides figure out how to extend the talks beyond April 29th, was there no sense among the Americans that something like this was afoot? Or was the U.S. caught off guard by this?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any more level of detail than to say that we are disappointed by the announcement and certainly troubled by it.

QUESTION: But doesn’t that go, then, to the question of whether or not the Palestinians feel that they can actually look to the U.S. and actually trust the U.S. enough to say we’re really, really frustrated by the way things are going with the Israelis; we’re wondering whether they’re negotiating in good faith, and in order for us to maintain credibility with our own people, we have to look at possibly doing something such as this if for no other reason than to be able to come back at some point, assuming that these talks fall apart?

MS. PSAKI: I think that’s making a lot of assumptions about their motivations, and I would talk to them about that specifically.

QUESTION: Speaking of (inaudible) and forgive me if I missed this --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- but I know you said that the Secretary had spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken to President Abbas about this?

MS. PSAKI: He has not. Our team on the ground has been in touch with the Palestinians, though.

QUESTION: So they are well aware of your disappointment and concern?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. We’ve expressed the same points privately that I’ve made publicly.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea why the Palestinians may have done this four days, a few days, before the deadline?

MS. PSAKI: I cannot ascribe the reasoning for that on their behalf.

QUESTION: Is it your sense that they’re interested in continuing to talk?

MS. PSAKI: They have consistently expressed that throughout the process, and it’s pretty clear that if that continues to be their view, which we would support, then they need to clarify what is happening here – we need more details on what is happening here – and they need to – we need more information on whether these principles would be abided by through the process.

QUESTION: And if they don’t abide by the principles, from your point of view, there’s no way for them to negotiate?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it would – I think as I’ve said a couple of times, it is hard to see how Israel could be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist. And as you know, that’s one of the principles that has been longstanding.

QUESTION: But does that mean that the U.S. would be willing to step away as the interlocutor?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get ahead of where we are, Roz, in the process. This is, again, between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I think I’ve been pretty clear here about how disappointed we are in this announcement in terms of the content as well as the timing, how seriously this could complicate efforts on the ground to extend the negotiations, and I will leave it at that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you expect the negotiations now, the extension of the negotiations, to be a moot issue?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say that. Again, these announcements have been made in the past. We’re going to see what clarification or what additional information comes from the ground. We certainly continue to support a final status agreement, but obviously, this complicates the effort to extend.

QUESTION: I’m trying to understand. So the Palestinians come to you today and say we have agreed to extend the talks three months, six months, whatever it is; you would say no unless and until you nullify whatever agreement you have with Hamas --

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve been pretty clear that we need more information here, and the principles stand.

QUESTION: What kind of information? What kind of information they would have to --

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve answered that, Said.

Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: Why is it hard to expect Israel to negotiate with a group that does not accept its right to exist? It is not as if there have not been, in past history, negotiations between two sides where one does not agree with the other one’s right to exist or doesn’t recognize them as a state or a government; and yet it is through the process of negotiation that you ultimately, if it succeeds, get to a point where both sides recognize the other’s right to exist. So why --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, it’s up to – go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Given that, why?

MS. PSAKI: It’s up to the Israelis to make that determination. As you have seen, I’m sure, they canceled the negotiating meeting for tonight. I think that’s evidence of their view of the announcement by the Palestinians. We can’t lead either side, nor have we ever been able to, to negotiate as a part of a process that they are unwilling to.

So clearly, there are several layers here. We have our own relationship with the Palestinians, whether that’s aid or principles that we expect the government to abide by through any reconciliation process. But certainly, for the Israelis – I’ll let them speak for themself – but I think they’ve clearly conveyed their displeasure with the announcement.

QUESTION: But what you said was you said – and this is the U.S. Government’s position – that it’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a party that does not believe in its right to exist or doesn’t recognize it. And I don’t understand, just as a matter simply of, like, logic and theory why it is inconceivable to the U.S. Government that two parties who don’t believe in the other’s – or one party that doesn’t believe in the other one’s right to exist could still not be expected to negotiate in the hopes that they might eventually get to a point where they would recognize the other’s right to exist.

MS. PSAKI: Well, negotiating, as you’ve touched on, is certainly about talking about areas where you disagree.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MS. PSAKI: But there are some basic principles, I think, that have been – there’s a lot of history here, as you know. That is important context. And I think that’s – I’m going to leave my comments at what they were.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, is there any sense in the State Department or the U.S. Government that this could provide an opening? I mean, it does mean that, for the first time, the Israelis would be negotiating with the entire Palestinian polity and not just the West Bank, and that this might provide at least a stepping stone towards a more workable relationship with Hamas and an agreement that’s actually representative of all Palestinians. Is there any sense that there may be a silver lining in this, that there may be something to work with?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Nicole, I think there is a great deal that would have to happen, including the – and abiding by the principles that I laid out at the – a couple of minutes ago during the briefing: commitment to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties. And ultimately --

QUESTION: So should I take that as a yes if – yes, it could be a silver lining if?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not saying that at all. Ultimately, I think this is a decision between the parties. It’s not --

QUESTION: Right, but I’m asking about the USG view because you guys have been so involved in this.

MS. PSAKI: No, no, this is a relevant answer. Let me finish my answer.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: It’s not just about what the U.S. Government view is, which I’ve outlined.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: It’s about whether the Israelis will negotiate with the Palestinians, and they canceled the meeting for tonight. There have been – they have made some statements about the announcement today. So I’m not going to play quarter – or I’m not going to – I’ll mess up that analogy. I’m not going to guess on their behalf or speak on their behalf about whether they’d be willing to negotiate.

QUESTION: But I’m not asking you to. It just seems like from a policy point of view this actually may provide a real opening. I mean, before you’ve had the Secretary pouring a lot of energy and time into a negotiation that was arguably with basically half the Palestinians, not all of them, and now you have a chance to do something that’s actually broader.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Nicole, historically though, Hamas has not shown a willingness to abide by these basic principles. And they’ve tried this many times. So what you’ve outlined is --

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MS. PSAKI: -- not how the U.S. Government views it.

Michael.

QUESTION: Great. Just hours before this reconciliation deal was announced, Abbas laid out three conditions for the continuation of peace talks. Those conditions include a freeze of all settlement activity, the release of 30 prisoners, and the third was – what was the third?

QUESTION: Borders.

QUESTION: The borders, which is particularly relevant now. Was Secretary Kerry made aware of these? Did he have an opinion on these? And also in terms of bringing Hamas into the fold, do you find it odd that Hamas would be part of a government that’s negotiating borders with Israel?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I’ve outlined how we feel about this announcement and what we feel is possible as it relates to the negotiations and not possible. In terms of the specific criteria you outlined, there are a range of issues that have been discussed and have been on the table, including those that you mentioned that are important to both parties, whether it’s borders or concerns about ongoing settlement activity, prisoners, et cetera. That has been ongoing. We will see what happens from here based on what happens from the Palestinian side.

QUESTION: I want to follow on Nicole’s point --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- about Hamas and the possibility of an opening. Hamas is probably as isolated as it has been in some time probably in the past decade. It is not on good terms, as I understand it, with Iran, which had long been one of its supporters and underwriters. And it’s also found itself estranged from some parts of Egypt. There could be an opportunity to try to persuade them to give up their ways and to convert. Is there not a sense in this building that this could be an opportunity, perhaps the first such one since 2005?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve pretty clearly laid out what they would need to do as a first step here. We haven’t seen an indication of their willingness to do that, so we’ll start there.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. consider the fact that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are considered terrorist groups by this government, does the U.S. consider that a bar for all bars in terms of engaging with Hamas at all as part of this unity government, should it actually come to fruition?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t have details yet. There have been a range of reports coming from many of you about what they’re proposing this to – this unified – unity government to include. So I’m not going to speculate on that. Our position hasn’t changed. Neither have our principles in terms of what they would need to do in order to be a part of this government.

QUESTION: One more on this.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, go ahead.

QUESTION: After Hamas won the elections in Gaza, I believe in 2005, and there was consideration by some members of Fatah to join some sort of technocratic government akin to what they’re describing now, apparently the previous administration made it very clear to those people, people who were well known to diplomats here in Washington, that if they took part in this government, they too could find themselves designated as terrorists simply because they were working on some level with Hamas. Has that message been sent via people on the ground to members of the PA?

MS. PSAKI: This announcement just happened a couple of hours ago, so obviously it’s very fresh. I don’t have anything new to lay out for you in terms of that.

QUESTION: And you don’t have a readout on what U.S. officials are saying to Fatah members beyond the fact that they’ve actually talked?

MS. PSAKI: Everything that I’ve outlined is what we’ve been conveying to the Palestinians.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you think it is possible that both sides, the Palestinians with this reconciliation agreement which they surely knew would not please the U.S. Government, let alone the Israelis, and the Israeli Government with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s insistence of several weeks ago that the Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state to continue the negotiations, a condition that I don’t believe was there when the Secretary re-launched the negotiations in July, that they’re both basically telling you they’re just not really interested in peace talks?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that, nor am I going to speculate on whether they will pursue this process moving forward. They’ve indicated to us over the last several weeks and they’ve said publicly that they wanted to continue this process. We’ll see what their actions are and whether they follow that.

QUESTION: But we’ve seen some of their actions, right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, the Palestinians just announced a reconciliation government --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- that you just – you don’t particularly like.

MS. PSAKI: What I’m referring to is we’ll see what their actions are moving forward.

QUESTION: And have they reiterated to you in the last couple of hours that they’re interested in the process continuing? Because again, talking of actions, the Israelis just canceled the meeting, right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So, I mean, have they told you – I know what they’ve said in the last few weeks, that they wanted to keep meeting, and they have kept meeting.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But do you have any reason to think that they actually want to keep meeting now? Have they told – they reiterated that to you?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to – I have no further readout for you of the calls.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I just ask what – I mean, we’re less than a week away now from the deadline --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on April the 29th, the self-imposed deadline by all parties, including the United States. What is your plan for April the 29th? Do you come out with some kind of statement, or what are you considering doing?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll talk about it on April 29th. There’s quite a few days between now and then.

QUESTION: Well, two of which are a weekend, so --

MS. PSAKI: I work on the weekends – (laughter) – as do you. I don’t have anything to predict for you. Obviously, this is a very fluid situation on the ground, and I know we’ll continue to talk about it in here and --

QUESTION: But just on the deadline, you still consider the deadline – what’s the importance of April 29th at this point?

MS. PSAKI: Well, up to this – today we’ve been working on – the parties have been working on having discussions about extending the negotiations. As I noted, this announcement obviously could seriously complicate those efforts. We’ll see what happens over the next 24 hours.

QUESTION: So, just to understand something that you said earlier --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- your focus now is on understanding what this means to go forward, let’s say to have negotiations or extension or whatever. You want a clarification from the Palestinians, right?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s part of it, absolutely.

QUESTION: What should that clarification include or entail? Should it include, like, we will not accept members of Hamas in any government? We would expect them to recognize Israel before joining the government? What are they exactly?

MS. PSAKI: I think I outlined them several minutes ago, Said.

QUESTION: Okay, all right. But the negotiating partner to Israel has all along been the PLO, and the PLO has amended the charter back in the presence of President Clinton, I believe, in Gaza and so on, to recognize Israel. It has done this before many times, has done this since. Isn’t that the entity that still negotiates, so that sort of renders the issue maybe a non-issue?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly don’t think it renders it a non-issue. I think there’s more information we need from those on the ground, and we’ll continue to have discussions with them.

Samir. We’ll go to you, Margaret, next.

QUESTION: Do you expect Ambassador Indyk to return to Washington, or he will stay till the end of the month in the region?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates on his travel plans. He’s on the ground now.

Margaret.

QUESTION: Jen, I stepped out for a few seconds --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- so forgive me if someone asked this.

MS. PSAKI: No problem.

QUESTION: But Abbas also said publicly, and then Palestinian officials tried to walk back, this idea that let’s just hand over the West Bank to the Israelis. He issued it – somewhat of a threat.

MS. PSAKI: Several days ago.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So given the context of what’s happening now, I mean, are these threats by the – seen by the U.S. simply as negotiating tactics? Is the possibility of something like a military movement into the West Bank something that also comes up during these conversations with Netanyahu?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give any public analysis of that from the podium. Obviously, there are a range of conversations that go on behind the scenes. I’m also not going to analyze what their motivations are. I think there’s no question, though, if this is a negotiating tactic, then having the Israelis cancel the meeting this evening, having a strong expression of how disappointing and troubling this is, I’m not sure that was their primary goal here.

QUESTION: But would the – would that be seen as some form of consequence, essentially? I mean, you have had the Secretary say that there – if these peace talks don’t move forward, the alternative is pretty bleak, and it could be pretty bad. I mean, are you at the point now where you are actively discussing the what ifs and what could be if, after April 29th, these talks fall apart?

MS. PSAKI: With the parties? In terms of which piece?

QUESTION: In terms of even the prospect of what Abbas was sort of throwing out there as a threat or otherwise.

MS. PSAKI: Our efforts and our focus right now is on determining hour by hour, day by day, what the next steps are. And that’s what we’re doing on the ground, that’s what the Secretary is focused on, and I expect that will continue over the coming days.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on what Mark just said --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: If and when the Palestinians decide to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, do you expect the Israelis to reoccupy Gaza? Or would that be – would they be justified in reoccupying Gaza?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that, Said.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I go to Turkey?

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: Just a technical question to follow up.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Technically, Abbas is negotiating as president of the PLO, not as president of the Palestinian Authority.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: And as yet, Hamas is not a member of the PLO.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: This doesn’t factor into how you approach the peace talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously what we’re talking about here in terms of the announcement is a suggestion that there will be a reconciliation and Hamas would be a part of the Palestinian Authority. So that’s clearly the new factor, and that is certainly different from where we were yesterday.

QUESTION: But the Palestinian Authority, as I said, is not the body that conducts the negotiations. It’s the PLO.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re talking about negotiating with who represents or who is leading the Palestinians. That has been President Abbas. Obviously, if it change – not that that piece would change, but if the group representing or who they’re representing changes in terms of the government or the entities, then that certainly would change things, and that’s what I’ve been laying out here today.

QUESTION: But Jen, I don’t really understand – I mean, to go back to Nicole and Roz’s question – I mean, they may be different parties, but they’re all one people. They’re the Palestinian people. And any peace deal has to, at some point, take into – take that into consideration. You can’t just have a peace deal between one party, Israel, who – which represents all Israelis, whether Orthodox Jews or Arab Israelis, and a section of the Palestinian people who happen to live in the West Bank. I mean, going back to what Nicole said, does this actually not in some way provide a better vector going forward in that if they meet the conditions that you’ve set out, you would have all of the Palestinian people negotiating with all of the Israeli people – or their representatives, rather?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that is an awfully optimistic view and I’m not going to speculate on whether the Palestinians will continue to pursue this. This has been tried or announced in the past. We’ll see what happens over the coming days.

QUESTION: But I don’t understand why the United States gets to choose which section of the Palestinian people they – Israel should negotiate with.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not us choosing. I think it’s pretty clear that the Israelis, since they canceled the meeting this evening and they have made clear comments about this, that they – and they’re an important partner here. They’re the other partner here. So it’s not about the United States, though we have our own views on this issue in general, as you know.

QUESTION: But clearly, you’re backing the Israeli view on this issue.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know that it’s about backing a view. We’re just laying out what would impact a peace process that’s been ongoing.

QUESTION: Jen?

QUESTION: How would this affect the funding that the PA gets from the U.S., both directly and via UNRWA?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, this process – I’m not going to speculate on that. I know there are requirements in law. I don’t have those in front of me. I’m happy to take it, provide those to all of you. And Michael asked the same question.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

QUESTION: So did I. Can I just ask you: Are you preparing now, or is anyone concerned for – about the very real possibility that should this all – should this severe deterioration, disintegration in the peace talk – in the peace process continue, that there’s a very real chance that by the middle of next week the situation is actually going to be worse than it was before the Secretary began his efforts to get the two sides back together?

MS. PSAKI: Our focus remains, Matt, on talking to both parties, hour by hour, to see what process can happen moving forward.

QUESTION: So you’re not yet ready to consider that?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly not.

QUESTION: All right. And then --

MS. PSAKI: We’re going to look for some – go ahead.

QUESTION: One thing that Khaled Meshaal said – I believe it was today after this announcement – was that Egypt had played a key role in brokering this alleged reconciliation. I’m wondering – in the past, it has been the --

MS. PSAKI: In the past. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: No, no. He said this one, too. But in the past, it has been the case that the Egyptian intelligence chief, which was for many, many years General Suleiman, had been the key interlocutor in this. And I’m wondering, since the Secretary is meeting with the new Egyptian intelligence chief right now, I think, if this is an issue that you expect him to raise or if you’re happy, you’re pleased with the Egyptians and their role in doing this again now?

MS. PSAKI: It is certainly possible. We’re happy to get a readout of the meeting. I will talk to our team about that, but I’m not sure if it will be a topic of conversation during the meeting.

QUESTION: Jen.

QUESTION: All right. Then what will be – and we don’t want to get sidetracked on – I mean, is he going to be talking about the certification of the peace – because it would seem to me that if, in fact, the Egyptians did play a critical role in engineering this reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, that there could be real questions about – and given your reaction to it, that there could be real questions about whether the Egyptians are, in fact, adhering to the letter and spirit of the Camp David Accords if you think that this has destroyed or will destroy a chance for the Israelis and the Palestinians to come together for peace.

MS. PSAKI: Well, they have been consistently supportive of the peace process, the Egyptians have been.

QUESTION: Well, they can’t have if they – if they encouraged this, if they brokered this deal --

MS. PSAKI: I have seen those comments.

QUESTION: -- which you say has had – which has a horrible impact on the --

MS. PSAKI: I agree.

QUESTION: Then they haven’t been supportive of the peace process.

MS. PSAKI: What I’m saying is I’m aware of the comments. I don’t know what the accuracy is of their level of involvement. I don’t have that level of detail at this point.

QUESTION: Jen, so you are opposed to any kind of reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority or Fatah under any circumstances despite the fact that negotiations are led by the PLO, Hamas is not vetoing --

MS. PSAKI: That’s not what I said, Said.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: What I said is I laid out the principles that have long been the case for decades.

QUESTION: Right. No, I understand. But Hamas is not saying that it is pre-conditional for the Palestinians, for us to have some sort of reconciliation to drop negotiations, to drop the recognition of Israel. They don’t dictate terms on the PLO to conduct its negotiation. That’s what the Palestinians are saying. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I think I’ve exhausted this topic.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Could we get a readout of the Egyptian intel meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I will --

QUESTION: However unsatisfactory it may – I’m sure it will be.

QUESTION: And if you can specifically address the question that Matt asked, whether the intra-Palestinian reconciliation came up.

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to talk to our team about that. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Change of topic.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Today, Turkish prime ministry, for the first time in history, issued statement regarding 1915 World War I events. Do you have any assessment or reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: I do. We welcome Prime Minister Erdogan’s historic public acknowledgement of the suffering that Armenians experienced in 1915. We believe this is a positive indication that there can be a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts, which we hope will advance the cause of reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.

QUESTION: Do you have any other further comment regarding content of the statement which encourages different perspectives in terms of discussing these past events?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. We welcome the event. We think it – we welcome the statement. We think it was a positive step.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: One more question on Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Okay, one more on Turkey and then we’ll go to Ukraine. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Ismail Besikci, he’s a renowned Turkish author who has written about the plight of the Kurds for 17 years, and he got a valid 10-year U.S. visa, like more than a week ago. But he was denied from leaving Turkey to the United States at the airport, and the Turkish authorities told him that the order had come from the United States. Did you deny Ismail Besikci entry to the U.S.?

MS. PSAKI: Well, section 22F of the INA prohibits us from disclosing details from individual cases. So questions regarding his denial of boarding should be directed to the Department of Homeland Security.

QUESTION: But this is not detail; it’s a yes or no question. Did you deny him or not? I don’t need details.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more information I can provide to you.

Ukraine? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Last week I asked Marie about sending nonlethal aid to Ukraine and she said that the U.S. Government did not want to, quote, “de-escalate the situation between the Russians and the United States.”

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And I was wondering --

QUESTION: She said escalate, not de-escalate.

QUESTION: Oh, she didn’t want to escalate. Thank you, Matt. (Laughter.) She meant escalate the situation.

MS. PSAKI: Double negative. We all do it. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Exactly. How then do you reconcile the United States Government’s sending 600 paratroopers to Poland?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s entirely consistent. We’ve long said – long before last week, and last week as well – that we supported our NATO allies. We’ve continued to take steps to boost support for them. This has – is an issue that’s been spoken about by not only NATO but certainly the Vice President, Secretary Kerry. As you noted, the Department of Defense announced yesterday that they would be sending 150 paratroopers to each of four neighboring countries, and this – these exercises will – including Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. And these exercises will last about a month. This is just a tangible example of our commitment to our security obligations to our allies. But that doesn’t change the fact that we have – and these are exercises. These are showing support for our friends and neighbors in – not our neighbors, but our friends in the region.

QUESTION: They’re neighbors with each other.

MS. PSAKI: They are neighbors with each other. But this doesn’t change the fact that in Ukraine we have had not only an illegal occupation of Crimea and other areas, but we’ve had an – escalatory steps taken by the Russians, including the troops on the border, and that is a threatening step taken by the Russians that is to the – to Ukraine.

QUESTION: But what kind of message does this send to Ukraine, that you’re sending troops to Poland and not Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: That we – I think we’ve been pretty strongly supportive of Ukraine’s – the voices of the Ukrainian people and their efforts on the ground through economic support, through nonlethal assistance, and we’ll continue that. But what’s happening on the ground in Ukraine is not exactly the same as the situation on the ground in Poland or the situation on the ground in Lithuania. They’re different countries, as you know.

QUESTION: It’s worse, most would argue.

MS. PSAKI: Far worse, but it’s – they are different countries. We handle our relationships differently and circumstances differently. And what we feel is needed in Ukraine is de-escalation, as Marie --

QUESTION: Is it because Ukraine is not a NATO member? Is that why you’re sending the forces to NATO members?

MS. PSAKI: No. I think we’ve been very supportive, as evidenced through not only our financial assistance but our nonlethal assistance, our teams we’ve sent to the ground to help them with everything from energy to economic reforms, that we support their efforts.

QUESTION: But Ukraine has asked for weapons, and the United States Government has denied weapons to the Ukrainians.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to consider their request. We’ve granted additional requests, as you know, in the last few weeks. But again, our approach here is de-escalation. We don’t think there’s a military solution on the ground. There’s an occupation happening on the ground. What we don’t think we need to do is escalate or raise the tensions with the Russians, and the – and that’s a step we’re unwilling to --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: So that means the – so they asked for weapons and you send them the Vice President? (Laughter.) Is that – that’s the way to de-escalate? I’m sorry, that was a little – even snarky for me. Sorry.

Listen, I’m wondering if you – on Ukraine – if you are familiar at all with Foreign Minister Lavrov’s rather extensive interview earlier today.

MS. PSAKI: I did see that, yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any general reaction to it? I have some specifics, but I’m just wondering if you have any general reaction.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think many of the claims he made in his interview are ludicrous and they’re not based in fact of what is happening on the ground. The actions of the Ukrainian Government are a legitimate response by authorities to react to the illegal armed seizure of buildings in a few towns in eastern Ukraine. Throughout this process, including last weekend, including in the weeks leading up, the Ukrainians have shown remarkable restraint in their operations and have given multiple opportunities to negotiate a solution to these seizures. But again, his comments do not include any indication of a plan to implement the Geneva statement, to follow through on promises made, and his rhetoric is counterproductive and inflammatory.

QUESTION: Can you say which ones – which ones of the claims – or just to give us an example of the --

MS. PSAKI: Which ones of --

QUESTION: -- of the claims that the foreign minister made in the interview that you would regard as quote/unquote “ludicrous”?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one was certainly that the United States has anything to do with Ukraine’s counterterrorism operations, or that --

QUESTION: Or that you’re running the show? Is that the --

MS. PSAKI: Or that we’re running the show or funding it, exactly.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I would put those all in the ludicrous category.

QUESTION: Okay. Anything else?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: So just one of the things that he said – and if he didn’t say it, it certainly came out of the Russian foreign ministry later – was that the Russians are demanding that Ukraine withdraw its troops from the southeastern part of their country. Is that something that you guys would see as a legitimate request or demand to de-escalate the situation?

MS. PSAKI: No, we would not. It is Ukraine; it is their country.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: They have a responsibility to ensure that there’s law and order, and that is what they’re doing.

QUESTION: So how can you at the same time insist that Russia withdraw its troops from its side of the border? Its troops are in – the ones that are massing that you’re complaining about, not the special Duck Dynasty-looking guys, but the guys who are actually in Russia – how do you square saying that those troops should move and that they should withdraw with you saying, well, the Ukrainians have a legitimate right to be in – their armed forces have a legitimate right to be in the southeastern part of the country? Don’t the Russian troops have a legitimate part – a legitimate reason to be in their part of the country?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our view, Matt, is that tens of thousands of troops massing on the border of a country that they’ve just illegally occupied is not business as usual.

QUESTION: Well, maybe not. But they say, as you just said in response to Lucas’ question about the troops in Poland, they’re just exercises. Well, that’s what the Russians say is all they’re doing on the border. So do you not see how someone could say this looks like a double standard?

MS. PSAKI: I can – I know they have said that, but I certainly think the circumstances are far different. We’re talking about illegally occupied buildings in eastern Ukraine where the legitimate government is taking steps to ensure there’s law and order, versus tens of thousands of troops in a threatening position on the border with the country. There is a contextual difference which is an important one.

QUESTION: But there’s law and order in Poland, and we’re sending U.S. troops there.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I also think Poland is an important ally of ours, and as – what is evident by the announcement by the Department of Defense, we are sending them tangible – we’re showing tangible examples of how we’re supporting them.

QUESTION: How long were these exercises planned?

MS. PSAKI: These exercises that are starting?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI: About a month. Or how long have they been planned in --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: I think you should ask DOD that question.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Poles actually asked for these troops to go? Did they, like, suggest it?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you --

QUESTION: Maybe this is the key for Ukraine. If Poland doesn’t ask for anything, they don’t get the Vice President, but they do get several hundred troops. And if Ukraine didn’t ask for anything, they might get – no?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to DOD on the question of what they requested. Obviously, we’re in close touch with them about their needs.

QUESTION: Ukraine gets boots and Poland gets boots on the ground, perhaps.

MS. PSAKI: That sounds like a tagline for your next hit, Lucas. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Two more questions, Jen. Is it a matter of concern to the Secretary that one of the senior Russian officials who was sanctioned by the President in the wake of the Ukraine crisis continues to this day to benefit from multimillion dollar contracts with the United States Government that were awarded on a no-bid basis earlier this year?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the individual you’re referring to was obviously sanctioned as an individual, not as a company. We have a range of authorities, as you all know, and flexibility with the executive order. But I believe the contract you’re referring to is a Department of Defense contract and I would point you to them for any specifics there, but --

QUESTION: Okay. I believe it was a NASA contract.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Doesn’t it undermine our diplomacy with the Kremlin on Ukraine when the American Government continues to enrich the Russian space sector, whose boss we have placed under financial sanction?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think, one, we have a range of policies that we continue to work with the Russians on. I don’t have additional details on this particular contract, but we work with them on Iran, we work with them on the removal of chemical weapons, we work with them, perhaps, on space exploration as well. But I don’t have additional details about this particular contact.

QUESTION: So is the space program exempt from any sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask if you had anything further to say about the journalist who is apparently being given free room and board now by some very kindly pro-Russian separatists.

MS. PSAKI: I do. One moment. Well, I still don’t have a Privacy Act – information here. I can --

QUESTION: Well, isn’t that a surprise?

MS. PSAKI: I can express deep concern about the kidnapping of a U.S. citizen journalist in Slovyansk, Ukraine, reportedly at the hands of pro-Russian separatists. We have also raised our concerns with Ukrainian officials as they work with local authorities to try to de-escalate the security situation. We likewise condemn the taking of any hostages, including journalists in eastern Ukraine. We call for their immediate release and call on Russia to use its influence to ensure they’re freed immediately.

QUESTION: This is the American citizen, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you think of any possible way that this person could have signed a Privacy Act Waiver?

MS. PSAKI: I cannot.

QUESTION: You cannot.

MS. PSAKI: But again, you’re familiar with the law --

QUESTION: I am.

MS. PSAKI: -- and I just wanted to state that before I gave my answer.

QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, just – this is the kind of situation we go through time and time again, and it – saying that you can’t talk because they haven’t signed a Privacy Act Waiver just – it’s a little bit frustrating since there’s no possible way --

MS. PSAKI: I understand.

QUESTION: -- they could sign one, even if – you can’t even get one to put in front of them to sign.

MS. PSAKI: It is the nature of the law.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead --

QUESTION: On Syria --

QUESTION: Remember what Mr. Bumble said about the law, right?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You remember?

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not sure where that’s --

QUESTION: “The law is a ass.”

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: That’s what --

QUESTION: On Ukraine --

MS. PSAKI: Noted in the transcript.

QUESTION: It’s Dickens. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: Dickens. What the Dickens?

I wondered if you had any reaction to news coming out of Moscow as well that they’ve offered to host three-way talks on gas supplies to Europe between the EU and the Ukraine and Moscow on Monday.

MS. PSAKI: I had not actually seen that announcement before we came down. I’m happy to follow up with our team on it. As you know, some of the root cause of the concern here is from steps and threats coming from the Russian side. We’ve been – had officials on the ground – and Arshad asked this yesterday – but part of the delegation does include State Department officials that I mentioned yesterday working with the Ukrainians. I’m happy to talk with our team and see if that’s something we are supportive of and get back to all of you.

QUESTION: Okay. It seems to be coming from the Russian energy ministry, and they’re saying that they’re ready to discuss proposals from our partners. So I don’t know what that means, but I just wondered if you were more clued into it.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have additional details, but we will look into them. And energy – access to energy and energy security, as you all know, remains one of our concerns about what’s happening on the ground.

Catherine.

QUESTION: Syria?

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine?

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Has the Secretary spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov since yesterday? Are there any calls planned? And if he has, did he address the RT interview specifically?

MS. PSAKI: He has not spoken with him since the call yesterday. I’m not aware of any calls that are planned. If those do happen, we will venture to get you all an update.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s finish Ukraine and then we can go to a new topic. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up from yesterday. Have you able to talk to this leader of Crimean Tatar community, Mustafa Dzhemilev, about the allegations?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware. I know that was a question you asked yesterday.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Let me venture to actually follow up more closely on that and see if we have any update. I know we expressed a concern yesterday.

QUESTION: And again, to follow up about the annexation of the Crimea and being supported by the Armenia, do you have any further comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new on that.

QUESTION: And the last question: Again today, Armenian – just one question --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- economy minister announced that Armenia is going to join Russia-led customs union starting couple weeks. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen that. I will check with our team and see if there’s any comment we have on that.

QUESTION: I have one just sort of really brief one --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Ukraine?

QUESTION: -- but it goes back to – yeah – to Donetsk and that flyer. We seem not to have heard a lot – we seem not to have heard anything about it from U.S. officials over the course of the last couple days. I’m just wondering if you have decided that, in fact, this was a hoax; it wasn’t really worth the uproar that it created.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional information. I know there have been reports – varying reports, I should say.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Regardless, the --

QUESTION: No, I’m just wondering if the relative silence – I mean, maybe it’s because you haven’t been asked about it, but I’m just wondering if the silence means that you’ve decided that it was not – it wasn’t a thing --

MS. PSAKI: It was more that I haven’t been asked about it.

QUESTION: But if you were asked about it, you don’t have anything new to say, right?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new updates on the cause, but the message still has the same level of concern.

QUESTION: Gotcha.

QUESTION: On Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just – do we have any more on Ukraine?

QUESTION: On Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Margaret. Let’s go to Margaret first, and then – go ahead.

QUESTION: On Syria, I’m wondering if the issue of that toxic chemical usage in Syria came up during the conversation with Lavrov at all yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: It was not a part of the conversation yesterday. But I will say that Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller, other senior officials from the Department, have been in touch with our – their Russian counterparts who work closely on this issue.

QUESTION: And since there was a briefing on it up at the UN today, I’m wondering what Secretary Kerry’s awareness is. I mean, is he also being debriefed on this, and what kind of information do we actually have? Do we know anything more now than we did yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new information. I can – one quick update. I mentioned this yesterday, but just to be more specific, our ambassador to the OPCW Bob Mikulak has met with OPCW – the OPCW director general, and we’re continuing to consult and share information with key partners, including the OPCW. The Secretary is kept closely abreast on this – of the updates on this issue. He asks about it on a daily basis. But I don’t have any other updates for you today.

QUESTION: So there’s no confirmation yet on --

MS. PSAKI: Correct. I don’t have any additional --

QUESTION: And is there any – what you said yesterday about the distinction between chlorine being used as an industrial agent, and all that stays the same? There’s no refinement to that?

MS. PSAKI: No, there hasn’t been a change to that. No.

QUESTION: Following up on that, you said that the use of weaponized chlorine is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Chemical Weapons Convention is cited repeatedly in the agreement that was brokered by the United States and Russia. Is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention by Syria a violation of the U.S.-Russia brokered agreement? Does that translate?

MS. PSAKI: So part of the agreement was to become a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Obviously, there isn’t – there’s a lot that needs to happen to determine the facts on the ground. But the UN Security Council decided in the UNSCR, UNSCR 2118, that it would impose measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter in the event of noncompliance, including the use of CW.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So we will see what happens here.

QUESTION: So also in the agreement, it wasn’t just membership in the Chemical Weapons Convention. It was – there were specific provisions of the convention that were cited, including the following: “The detailed procedures for its implementation shall apply to all chemical weapons.”

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And chemical weapons, of course, are categorized into different schedules. And you were talking about how chlorine is a schedule three chemical. Since the actual weapons are --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s what I said yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: But go ahead. Sorry, continue your question.

QUESTION: Well, it is. It turns out it’s a – it’s not a schedule one or two, which are weapons that are solely produced for mass killing.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Like sarin or VX or whatnot.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s used – I think what I said is that what the accurate information is, just so you know, is that since chlorine is used in commercial and industrial processes in a peaceful manner often, it’s not required to be declared under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

QUESTION: Right. But schedule three --

MS. PSAKI: It’s not one of the declared chemicals.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: But obviously, the use of a toxic chemical, including chlorine, would be a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

QUESTION: Yeah. Schedule three chemicals are exactly that.

MS. PSAKI: Toxic chemicals.

QUESTION: They’re chemicals that are – yeah, toxic chemicals that are widely produced for industrial purposes other than weaponization.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But nevertheless, they are categorized as chemical weapons if they are used for the purposes which you cited yesterday, which is the harming or killing of people.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So I guess what I’m asking is: Because these chemical weapons have been categorized in three different schedules, are violations categorized in different tiers as well? Is it – if it’s only chlorine as opposed to sarin, is it treated differently? Are the violations not the same?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that. And that would be an OPCW-UN process. Obviously, they would conduct the investigation and they are the ones who are implementing the UN Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Okay. But at the beginning of the agreement, the Secretary of State said anything but full compliance with the deal that was brokered by the United States and Russia would mean – would mean a violation, period, and it’s not graded or tiered. So is it really up to the OPCW, or do we not – does the United States not have a standard for noncompliance?

MS. PSAKI: I think I answered this pretty extensively yesterday. If there’s new information to provide, we’re happy to provide that.

Do we have any more on Syria or --

QUESTION: One more on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: I have one on Syria, slightly different. I don’t know if you’ve seen the news today that there’s an MP from the Communist Party in Syria who’s registered to be – to challenge Assad in the elections which he seems to be pushing forward. I just wondered if you had a reaction to that. Does it confer some kind of legitimacy on this process, that obviously --

MS. PSAKI: It certainly should not, given the history of the Assad family and the steps they’ve taken to make it difficult if not impossible to have a fair and free election in Syria.

QUESTION: How about the history of the Syrian Communist Party?

QUESTION: Communist Party.

MS. PSAKI: Fair points. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the subject of politics in Syria, it turns out that the head of al-Qaida’s victory committee has – was reported to be dead and killed last month in Syria. Sanafi al Nasr is alive and well and he is a member of core al-Qaida. And would you say that core al-Qaida has an increased presence in Syria and that al-Nusrah – the head of al-Nusrah – it’s not just an affiliate?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed about how we designate affiliates versus core al-Qaida. You’re familiar with our concerns about the growth of extremism in Syria. That hasn’t changed; in fact, it’s increased over time. But I don’t have any change in the way we designate or --

QUESTION: Would you say that al-Qaida’s presence in Syria has grown stronger in the past few months?

MS. PSAKI: I am not going to put a definition on that. Obviously, the growth of extremism, the growth – that is an area of concern and one that we are extremely focused on as we look at the path ahead.

Catherine.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Or Syria? More Syria? Go ahead. Syria.

QUESTION: Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Syria? Oh, Egypt. Some – or, sorry.

CubaAlanGross">QUESTION: Can we go to Cuba, actually?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I need to ask you about Alan Gross.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: MSNBC spoke with his lawyer today, and I’m quoting here, after – the lawyer has just met with him in Havana and, “He told me yesterday emphatically that May 2nd, which marks his 65th birthday will be his last birthday that he marks in Cuba one way or the other.” Alan means that he does not intend to endure another year of the solitary confinement and that he will return to the United States before his 66th birthday dead or alive. What’s your reaction?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that we are – this is a case and a – the – his detainment is one that we are – have been consistently extremely concerned about. It’s one the Secretary and other officials raise with our interlocutors who have relationships and have discussions with Cuba.

We recognize that Mr. Gross is in an extremely difficult situation. He’s been imprisoned by Cuban authorities for more than four years for doing nothing more than helping Cuban citizens gain access to the internet. We have made abundantly clear to Cuban officials our position that Mr. Gross ought to be released immediately. President Obama has engaged foreign leaders and other international figures to use their influence with Cuba to promote his release, and we’ve kept the case at the forefront of our discussions. We reiterate, of course, our call for the Cuban Government to release Alan Gross immediately. His detention remains an impediment to more constructive relations between the United States and Cuba.

And obviously, comments like that certainly are, of course, of great concern to us. His health and safety and well-being are on our minds every day, and that’s why we’re working so hard to secure his return.

QUESTION: Just to put a fine point on this, you’re saying there aren’t any direct discussions between Cuba and the United States about his case? I think you said you were talking through interlocutors.

MS. PSAKI: I’m just making the point that we raise this at every opportunity we have.

QUESTION: So on Cuba, but not this specifically, how is the USAID review going into the Twitter – the text messages?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on it for you, Matt. It is a process that they have been undergoing to look at the entire program and make sure they’re able to answer all the questions that have been posed.

QUESTION: As far as you know, though, the review is not over?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And you would know; they would tell you when it was over, right?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly hope so, yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: New topic, Egypt?

QUESTION: Egypt, please.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Yesterday you released a readout of the phone call between Secretary Kerry and Nabil Fahmy, the foreign minister of Egypt. And a few hours later, it was announced that 10 Apache helicopters would be released. And accordingly, some people said it’s to resume the aid to Egypt and some people say it’s partially resuming the aid. It’s – do you have any clarification about this?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, let me try to outline it a little more clearly. So as was noted in the readout we gave, there are two certifications that we have confirmed – certifications required by Congress through the Appropriations Act that this – we have confirmed they are abiding by. One of those is sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States. The other is upholding its obligations under the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.

So as a result of that, this – these certifications announced, as part of our readout, allow us to use FY 2014 assistance for limited purposes to – prior to certification related to Egypt taking steps to govern democratically, which obviously they still need to take, and those are separate certifications.

So these limited – through these limited purposes, we can now use FY 2014 funds for continuing payments to maintain current FMF contracts, as well – and also to deliver any items funded with FY 2014 FMF for accepted categories, including counterterrorism, border security, and nonproliferation. So it opens up the ability to use additional FMF FY 2014 funding through these two certifications. And again, that is – that was – as is laid out in the appropriations act.

QUESTION: Do you have a (inaudible) for what gets (inaudible)?

QUESTION: So can I --

MS. PSAKI: I do. Sorry, go ahead. Do you have another question?

QUESTION: So – I mean, yeah. I mean, the question is like – to understand this. So the certification is one package or three components differently, separately?

MS. PSAKI: There were two certifications.

QUESTION: Yes, which is the one, the – strategic and the second is bounding with the --

MS. PSAKI: Correct. The Apaches is separate, separate from that. The Apaches – as we all know, Egypt faces a significant and growing threat from extremist groups, particularly in the Sinai, and in the past several months has used Apache helicopters as a significant component of its counterterrorism operations in the Sinai. So we believe these new helicopters will help the Egyptian Government counter extremists who threaten not just Egypt, but Israeli security as well as the United States. And this is a broader element of our – one element of a broader counterterrorism strategy.

QUESTION: So explaining this, what’s – I mean, saying this, what is the next step taken by the Administration or the – Congress is going to do anything, any say about this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, part of – let me get to answer Matt’s question, which answers yours as well. So the next step here is we plan to initially move forward with 650 million of FY 2014 FMF financing, pending congressional notification and approval. That’s obviously the next step for that process, which will support these critical security efforts and continue to fund contracts for other goods and services.

Separately from that, as was noted in the readout we gave, we continue to urge Egypt to follow through on its commitment to transition to democracy, including by conducting free, fair, and transparent elections; easing restrictions on freedom of expression; assembly in the media. And those are steps that Egypt needs to take, even while we take these steps on our end.

QUESTION: So part of the aid now is, let’s say, suspending or frozen till that factor is achieved, right? The --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are --

QUESTION: Which is the last part of – you said – you mentioned.

MS. PSAKI: There are certain limitations that continue to exist because they have not met all of the certifications, including these steps taken that I just outlined. There is additional funding that I just outlined through – that once we go through the congressional notification, and pending their approval, that we would be able to obligate.

QUESTION: Is there any timeframe for this, or just like whenever it’s happened?

MS. PSAKI: We will begin congressional notifications soon.

QUESTION: Do you know how much of the 650 million in FMF is actually going to be paid to American military contractors or defense contractors?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail. I’m happy to check with our team.

QUESTION: Is it possible to find out? Because I’m just curious: it seems that this is – this may be less of a boon to the Egyptians than it is to American companies, at least in terms of dollars. Clearly, they provide services to the Egyptians in parts, but that – a lot of this money isn’t actually going to end up in Egypt. It’s going to end up back in – back here.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I will check and see if we have any additional breakdown.

QUESTION: Also, can I just – can I – on this 650 million, does it include the 10 Apaches? Is the cost of the --

MS. PSAKI: No.

QUESTION: That’s separate?

MS. PSAKI: Separate. That is separate.

QUESTION: And then how much is still outstanding of the annual – of the FY 2014 money?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s about 1.5, so we can get you a more exact number, but --

QUESTION: It’s about 1.5 that is still outstanding, or the total is about --

QUESTION: Total.

MS. PSAKI: Total, total.

QUESTION: -- 1.5, of which 650 million --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay, is going for --

MS. PSAKI: Correct, and that’s not all FMF. That’s the total --

QUESTION: But 1.3 of the 1.5 total is military?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, is FMF.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Could we get a breakdown of that, some sort of global --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. And just so I clarify, of what the breakdown of the 1.5 is?

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Of what has been paid out, what hasn’t?

MS. PSAKI: It is more challenging than you would think --

QUESTION: I imagine.

MS. PSAKI: -- but I will check with our team and see what we can put together.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: We’re sure you’re up to the challenge, Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Certainly.

QUESTION: And is the final – the final – is the final certification on democracy a democratic piece? Is – that’s what’s holding up the rest of the 1.5 billion, minus the 650 million, the 10 Apaches, whatever that adds up to?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the 650 is not the maximum that we’d be able to give under these certifications. I don’t have that specific number. I will see if that’s available. But the additional certification, 6(a) and 6(b), are part of what we’re waiting for, and they relate to some of the funding as well.

QUESTION: Just so I --

QUESTION: So 650 million is what you’re going to – sorry, Arshad – is that what – that’s what you’re planning to release now once you’ve done the congressional notification?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So you could be under those initial certifications – the Israel (inaudible) and the strategic relationship – you can actually release more monies, then?

MS. PSAKI: Technically, you could, yes.

QUESTION: And it is – just so I’m clear, the – your ability to release additional funds prior to the 6(a) and 6(b) certifications rests on the exceptions that are in the law for the purposes that you described – security in Sinai and so on?

MS. PSAKI: Sorry, I don’t – I’m not sure I totally understand your question. All right? Can you repeat it one more time?

QUESTION: So – it might have been good to have a briefing on this last night when we were trying to write this, but as I understand it – and I may not understand it correctly at all – the law gives you the ability to release certain funds with the two certifications that you described --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but absent the democracy and election-related certifications?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: So my question was: Am I correct in understanding that it’s not like there’s a dollar figure that you can release? You can release any funds within the amount that has been appropriated, provided that they only go for those accepted purposes that are in the law, which I think includes Sinai security, counterterrorism, et cetera?

MS. PSAKI: Border security, nonproliferation, counterterrorism, and --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- for a current FMF contract.

QUESTION: But that money – it’s not cash. It’s already designated towards items and programs, right?

MS. PSAKI: That’s my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: And then where does the – sorry, where does the actual money for the Apaches come from? Does that come from 2013 funds?

MS. PSAKI: I believe that’s correct, that it – not from FY2014. So that is a fair guess, but let me double-check that for you as well --

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. PSAKI: -- to make sure that’s the year it comes from.

QUESTION: So it’s ten Apaches plus this extra 650 million --

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Correct.

Go ahead, Nicole.

QUESTION: Just to follow up.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I – still some Egypt, sorry. The Secretary said, or you said in your statement about the Secretary, that he wasn’t yet able to certify that they’re moving towards a fully democratic transition.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What does he need to see in order to be able to certify that? And what would that release in terms of aid?

MS. PSAKI: Well, in order to see that, as was noted in there, that includes conducting free, fair, and transparent elections, easing restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and media. There are obviously additional steps, but those are some core steps that we would need to see them conclude.

In terms of additional funding, let me check that and see if we can get a description for all of you.

QUESTION: In terms of free speech and free media and so on, in the conversation, did the jailing of journalists come up at all, specifically those that are on trial right now?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail. I will check and see. Obviously, that’s something we’ve spoken publicly about --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- he’s expressed concerns privately about. I will see if it --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- is something that specifically came up in this conversation.

QUESTION: As well as the (inaudible) meeting.

MS. PSAKI: Understood.

Yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: In days, Nabil Fahmy will be here in town. Did you have any schedule for when he is going to be in this building or something?

MS. PSAKI: So he will be in Washington next week to meet with Secretary Kerry and senior Administration officials as well as members of Congress. In terms of what his schedule is while he’s here, I would point you to his team. I believe that the Secretary has a meeting with him on Tuesday.

QUESTION: Tuesday.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Jen, new topic. The FBI has conducted an investigation of a pedophile that taught for decades on schools that are used by the children of U.S. diplomats. Has there been any concern from any families in how you handle this kind of threat? And will that be part of the new civilian security undersecretaries?

MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for raising this terrible case. The FBI is seeking the public’s assistance to identify victims of a suspected international child predator who is now deceased. The focus is to locate and identify victims. The – many of the victims will likely be American citizens. It is expected that the victim pool will be multinational. In addition to foreign nationals, the schools were attended by children of American diplomats, military personnel stationed overseas, and other American citizens working abroad. The FBI is committed to providing victim assistance as needed. We will continue to work with the FBI through the – through DS and other national and international law enforcement partners on this ongoing investigation. By his own admission, Mr. Vahey provided victims with sleeping pills prior to the alleged criminal acts. And obviously, as you noted, this has raised a significant concern. We’re certainly closely with the FBI on this around the world.

QUESTION: Can you state what schools this is believed to have occurred in or may have occurred in?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of information.

QUESTION: Fine.

MS. PSAKI: I think it is probably in the hands of the FBI, but --

QUESTION: Is there anything that the Department can do with these schools? Is there private schools?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t, again, have that level of information. Obviously, this is something we’re working with the FBI on around the world to, as I noted, to locate victims and to work in coordination from there.

QUESTION: One more Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is the State Department uncomfortable that a senior al-Qaida leader is now operating in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional level of detail of your original question. So I don’t have any details on that in particular.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: North Korea.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So the South Korean Government has been saying that they’ve seen increased activity at nuclear testing sites in the North. Is this – they’re concerned, obviously, that a new test could be imminent. Is this a belief that the U.S. shares, and is it a concern that you have? If you have anything to add on that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I – we talked about this a little bit yesterday. I don’t have anything new. But we’ve seen, of course, these reports, including the reports of the South Korean defense minister this morning about possible increased activity at North Korea’s nuclear site. We’re closely monitoring the situation. We obviously remain in close contact with both the South Koreans and the Japanese, and we continue to urge North Korea to refrain from actions that threaten regional peace and security, but I don’t have any additional information to share.

QUESTION: And then, kind of at the same time, the regime is releasing these childhood photos of Kim Jung-un. It’s very unusual for them to release a lot of information, so I wonder if you have any comment on that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have seen no shortage of propaganda from the North Korean regime, so that comes as no surprise. But again, I wouldn’t link all of them because we don’t have additional details yet on the reports of a – of increased activity.

QUESTION: (Off-mike) you regard baby and childhood photos as propaganda? I don’t know. Maybe you do. I just --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, what I’m referring to is they have a history and a record of putting out information while their people are suffering, so --

QUESTION: Fair enough.

MS. PSAKI: Great.

QUESTION: No. No, no, no.

MS. PSAKI: Oh. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Because I want to give you a chance to respond to some of my questions about --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- the QDDR here. So what was it? I’m sorry. I’m – again, there was no two-minute warning and we didn’t notice the briefing was started until you popped up on the screen --

MS. PSAKI: Our apologies for that.

QUESTION: -- so I missed the very top.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I am assuming, however, that at the very top, you endeavored to present some demonstrable, quantifiable accomplishments from the QDDR 2010.

MS. PSAKI: I did, in fact. I said it was too bad you were not here because you asked --

QUESTION: I would have been here if – I was all set, but we didn’t get any notice that it was starting. So without you having to repeat them, were there any of these that didn’t simply involve rearranging of the bureaucratic deck chairs or shuffling responsibilities between one bureau to another or creating a new level of bureaucracy? Were any of the accomplishments in – outside of that, those areas?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I would say the whole process, if it works well, as it did in 2010, or leading up to 2010, is to better determine priorities and how to make things work better in a large functioning bureaucracy. So part of that has been – how it’s been implemented since 2010 is an increased focus on economic statecraft. As you know, that was a big priority of Secretary Clinton’s, and as Secretary Kerry often says, economic policy is foreign policy. So we’ve continued to carry that forward – fuller integration of women and girls and a greater focus on that important priority and the role the United States can play around the world.

And when you talk about creation of bureaus or agencies, it’s actually incredibly important because it shows where our focus is. And if you look at the creation of the Energy and Resources Bureau and how important that is as we – as it relates to Ukraine and their energy challenges on the ground, and they have been playing a role on the forefront in that, not to mention our counterterrorism bureau that was created through this process before. This shows priorities and focus and shows the world what we do here at the State Department. So it’s an incredibly important process.

QUESTION: Okay, well, maybe my question is not specific enough. I’m asking for actual demonstrable outcomes, not the creation of a new position or a new job. So the Energy Resources Bureau, which you talk about as important to Ukraine – other people have mentioned how important it is for Europe to diversify its energy supply --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. There are many important aspects.

QUESTION: -- so they’re less dependent on Russia. So in the last four years since this was created in the QDDR in 2010, how successful has it been? How much less dependent on Russian oil is Europe, is Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, look, Matt, I think, one, this is a bureau that was created through this process because there was a decision made that there was a need. And so I would say that if you talk to countries in Europe, if you talk to Ukraine, they would say the creation of this is incredibly important --

QUESTION: Yeah, but how has it --

MS. PSAKI: -- as they look to address their energy needs.

QUESTION: Right. But how has it actually helped them address their energy needs or diversify their economy? Other than making it a priority for you, how has it actually made any impact on the ground? Is Europe any – I mean, I recognize this can be an evolutionary process that would take some years. But it’s been four years now, okay? This thing has been around for four years, since 2010. I’m wondering if the bureau – maybe you could invite the bureau to come down here to tell me or tell the rest of us how exactly Europe is less dependent, how it’s more – how it has diversified its energy supply since this bureau came into being.

Similarly, with the Bureau of Counterterrorism, I’m not sure I really understand because, in fact, that was created by an act of Congress in 1994. It just was never turned into a bureau by the State Department. It was always an office.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it was turned into a bureau.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: It raised the level of focus of its importance, the level of leadership. I think that certainly sends a strong message.

QUESTION: Okay. And again, the impact of that on the actual ground, on counterterrorism efforts? Is there a way that you can show that turning an office into a bureau and giving – instead of having an office director or a coordinator, having an assistant secretary, has actually changed or been beneficial to the United – to the government’s counterterrorism operation? Does it have any quantifiable results? That’s the question. So I don’t expect you to have an answer right now, but it would seem to me that that’s an easy way to go about it.

In terms of the civilian power, I mean, this is a 242-page document. There were four major outcomes of – and all of them seem to be pretty much stating the obvious to me, and I think probably to the – the obvious to others, that we should build American civilian power, we should elevate and transform development to deliver results, we should try to save money, better planning and budgeting. I mean, these are all things that should be being done any – without an enormous QDDR process that requires its own special coordinator.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think that for the resources of the American people that are invested in our foreign policy – only 1 percent of the budget, I realize, but still important – for the message we’re sending to the rest of the world about whether we’re looking closely at what our priorities are, whether we are investing enough resources on that, it’s an incredibly important process. And I think if you talk to countries around the world who now are talking to officials from ENR, officials from our counterterrorism bureau, they would say they appreciate the level of coordination, the level of seniority. And part of what we do here is represent United States interests around the world. So I don’t know if that’s quantifiable in a data document, but it is certainly something that has had a huge impact.

QUESTION: Right. Well, okay. But when I say quantifiable, I mean something other than another government saying we’re very appreciative that you’re willing to talk to us about this – on this topic, because you were talking to them about it before the QDDR. So that’s what I’m getting at. So if there is – just on that one specific thing, on the Energy Resources Bureau, if there is a way to find out how exactly it has moved to diversify – or how Europe, with its help, with the help of the bureau, has moved to diversify its energy supplies away from Russia, then that would be – to me, that would be an indication that there was some definitive or quantifiable measure of success. That’s what I’m saying.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say there are a range of responsibilities under that bureau, not just that specific question, but --

QUESTION: Sure, but that was the one that was pointed to by several people to me on Twitter, including yourself.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. One specific example, though, I would give is the whole discussion of reverse flows that’s happening – I know this is one of Jo’s favorite topics – on the ground with Europe and with Ukraine is a process that ENR has been a lead bureau, a lead negotiator in. And I would say that that is a tangible example of some of the work that they do.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, that’s excellent. Has that actually happened yet, these reverse flows?

MS. PSAKI: They’re on the ground now discussing it, so it’s an ongoing process.

Thank you, everyone.

QUESTION: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:35 p.m.)

DPB # 72


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - April 22, 2014

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 20:28

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 22, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • QDDR Review / Upcoming Town Hall
    • Celebrating Earth Day / Secretary Kerry's Activities
    • Deputy Secretary Burns' Travel to London / Agenda
  • QDDR
    • Focus on More Narrow Range of Issues
  • SYRIA
    • Allegations of Chlorine Gas Attack
    • OPCW Prohibitions on use of Chemicals with Intent to Kill or Injure
    • Assad Regime Using Variety of Methods to Harm Syrians
    • Investigation of Alleged Chemical Weapons Use / Access
    • Syria's Agreement to Join Chemical Weapons Convention
    • Ongoing Brutality by Assad Regime
    • Elimination of Declared Chemical Weapons in Syria
    • Investigating Chemical Weapons Use
  • MEPP
    • Parties Discussing ways to Extend Talks
  • ISRAEL
    • Visa Waiver Program / Range of Requirements / Reciprocity
  • UKRAINE
    • Banning of Mustafa Dzhemilev / Advocacy for Human Rights of Crimean Tartars
    • Countries Condemning Illegal Annexation of Crimea
    • Photos / Russian Connection to Armed Militants in Eastern Ukraine
    • Death of Volodymyr Rybak
    • Ukrainian Counter Terrorism Operations, Amnesty Bill / No Useful Steps by Russians
    • Tools Available to Implement Range of Sanctions
    • Journalists Kidnapped or Held Hostage
    • Ukrainian Steps to De-escalate / Need to see more Steps by Russians
    • Ukrainian Energy Needs / U.S. Interagency Team Traveling to Region to Assist
    • OSCE Monitoring Mission / Request for Russian Participation
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Troop Numbers / BSA
    • Ongoing Deliberative Process
  • SOUTH SUDAN
    • Killing of Hundreds of Civilians in Bentiu
    • Radio Broadcasts of Hate Speech
    • Sanctions / Tools Available for Further Steps
    • Concerns about Targeted Killings / Call to Cease Attacks
  • JAPAN
    • Yasukuni Shrine / Encourage Japan to Work with Neighbors to Resolve Concerns Over History
  • D.P.R.K.
    • Reports of Possible Activity in North Korean Test Site
  • ISRAEL
    • Visa Waiver Program / Criteria


TRANSCRIPT:

1:13 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. I have a couple of items for all of you at the top.

Yesterday, Secretary Kerry announced – well, actually today, this morning – the formal launch of the second QDDR. The 2014 QDDR builds on the foundation established by the 2010 review as a part of Department and USAID’s processes of continuous improvement. It will focus on emerging policy and management priorities and the organizational capabilities needed to maximize the impact and efficiency of this nation’s diplomacy and development investments.

The review will guide the Department and USAID in becoming more agile, responsible, and effective in the face of traditional and emerging challenges, as well as increasing its ability to identify new long-term opportunities. Secretary Kerry has appointed Tom Perriello, former congressman, as the special representative for the QDDR. He will work with QDDR chairs, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom, and USAID Administrator Raj Shah to shepherd the review and foster a participatory process. They’re also doing a town hall tomorrow afternoon.

As you all know, today is Earth Day. We proudly – we will have a statement from the Secretary, but the United States is proud to join countries around the world in celebrating the 44th annual Earth Day. Today is part of the Department’s Earth Day celebration. Secretary Kerry visited the Greening Diplomacy Initiative Earth Day Expo downstairs in the Exhibit Hall. He learned about some of State’s renewable energy sourcing, water conservation efforts, and about Department efforts to incorporate sustainability into many of its programs.

Yesterday, as part of the Department’s Greening Diplomacy Initiative, we also screened five films in the environment film festival – in an environmental film festival. And tomorrow, we have invited the public to join us in a 6k Walk for Water, recognizing the importance of clean water and symbolizing the average distance that many around the world have to walk to get drinking water. You’re all familiar with the oceans conference announcement we made yesterday.

Finally, Deputy Secretary Burns, as you know, is on travel. He is meeting – one item to add to his agenda is he’s meeting this evening with EU High Representative Ashton in London to discuss the ongoing situation in Ukraine, efforts to assist the Government of Ukraine, and coordination between the United States and the EU on next steps. They will also discuss ongoing negotiations with Iran and the P5+1 talks, which will resume in May.

We also have some USAID interns in the back, so hello and welcome to all of you as well.

With that, Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: I have one very brief one on the QDDR.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Off the top of your head, can you identify one tangible achievement that the last QDDR resulted in?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously it’s an extensive, expansive process.

QUESTION: So, no.

MS. PSAKI: We’re looking at how it was done last time.

QUESTION: Just one.

MS. PSAKI: I know. I’m making an important point here.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary wants it to be focused. It’s going to focus on a more narrow range of issues. It’s always to look at how we can improve things, and we’ll see where we come out on the end.

QUESTION: So can you, off the top of your head, identify one tangible achievement that was – that resulted from the last QDDR?

MS. PSAKI: I am certain that those who were here at the time, who worked hard on that effort, could --

QUESTION: One that – since you’ve--

MS. PSAKI: -- point out one.

QUESTION: -- that since you’ve come on board that you’ve noticed, that someone has said – that you noticed, that you can point back saying, “Wow, the first QDDR identified this as a problem and dealt with it.”

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, I’ve only been here since it was concluded.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: So I’m sure there are a range of things that were put into place that I’m not even aware of were a result.

QUESTION: I won’t hold my breath.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria, please, just for the --

MS. PSAKI: We can.

QUESTION: I just want to know if there’s anything more you can say about the chlorine that apparently was used that you talked about yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: There’s nothing new to update you on. We have been in touch with the OPCW. I should say our ambassador to the OPCW has been in touch. Beyond that, I know you asked a couple of questions yesterday, technical questions --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- outside of broadly – what’s happening with this specific process, and I wanted to just give you a few answers on that, if that’s useful.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: So one is the Chemical Weapons Convention, which as you all remember is – was part of what Syria was required to join as part of the September agreement. It does – prohibits the use of any toxic chemical, including chlorine, with the intent to kill or incapacitate people, regardless of whether it’s specifically listed or not in the schedule of chemicals. So obviously, when people were asking yesterday about whether – if there was a use to be – if there was a use found of chlorine, whether it would violate – what it would violate, the use with intent to kill or intent to injure would violate the Chemical Weapons Convention, and obviously that was a part of what was agreed to in September. So that was one of the questions yesterday. I don’t know if there were other technical ones, but if not --

QUESTION: Well --

MS. PSAKI: But I can do my best to address them, or we can also continue to work through this over the coming days.

QUESTION: Well, the technical one was – you said that it – yesterday – that it wasn’t on schedule A or 1 or 2 or whatever it was, A or B. But it is covered, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Was it covered in the agreement that was reached in Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: Okay. So let me try to explain it again in a better way. The chemical – Syria was required to join the Chemical Weapons Convention.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So the use with the intent --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- is covered in the – by the Chemical Weapons Convention, so – that they were required to join last September.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So it’s covered in that degree.

QUESTION: Last – okay. So in other words, if it was proven that they had used chlorine with the intent to kill or injure, they would be in violation of the agreement that was reached in Geneva, because it would violate the OPCW, which they were required to join because of that agreement.

MS. PSAKI: That is a long, extensive – yes. But – and to be more --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: -- broad about it, not just chlorine – I know, again, we’re of course looking into this – but the use of any toxic chemical with the intent to cause death or harm is a clear violation of the convention.

QUESTION: Right. But – so in other words, when – but you haven’t yet determined whether or not it was chlorine and whether or not it – if it was, who used it. Is that --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- correct?

MS. PSAKI: And as you know, but it’s worth repeating, there are several possible mechanisms for investigating a possible violation. The OPCW Technical Secretariat’s international group of experts on CW will almost certainly be involved in that. Point being, it wouldn’t be the United States, as you all know, but it’s worth repeating --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- going in and investigating. There would be an international mechanism. There’s a range of ways that could take place.

QUESTION: Well, at the moment, I’m less interested in – although others might be – in how exactly it will be determined whether it was chlorine and who used it. But I am a little bit confused if there is even the suspicion or there are indications that chlorine was used and that the regime was behind the use of it, how it is that people are still going around saying that the agreement reached with the Russians back in Geneva is worth anything. If it violates it not just in the spirit but also in the letter of the agreement, which required them to join the OPCW, how can people, the Secretary included, this morning say that this is a success and it’s something that you’re working well with the Russians on?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, just a brief update on that. The percentage of declared chemicals removed is now at 86 percent. As you know, there are different categories of chemicals.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: The point that I was making is that obviously any use of any toxic material with the intent to injure or kill is something we’d be concerned about. We’re not at the point of there – we’re obviously in touch with the OPCW, we’re in touch with our international partners. I don’t have any new updates on that.

QUESTION: Were they required to declare chlorine stocks, stocks of chlorine gas? Because I mean, if 86 percent of what – appears not to include any – or it doesn’t include chlorine. And if they’re going to get – I don’t understand.

QUESTION: Does it include chlorine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again – so let me just – on the Chemical Weapons Convention, just to be clear here, the schedule of chemicals are intended to facilitate – its declaration inspection regime are not intended to be an exhaustive list of all toxic chemicals.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Isn’t it --

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish my answer. Chlorine, as you all know, is a globally produced industrial chemical with many peaceful uses. Obviously, the intent – the use of chlorine with the intent is a different category.

QUESTION: But isn’t this one of the problems with the agreement as it stands, and that we talked about at great length at the time of the agreement? That just because you have this limited agreement to remove some of the most deadly chemicals, that Assad was not going to – was going to start killing his people in other crude ways, such as barrel bombs, and now we see possibly barrel bombs with chlorine. I mean, you said this was all – I just don’t understand, like, where U.S. policy in Syria has done anything to change effectively on the ground if he’s skirting – just because he doesn’t use mustard gas and sarin doesn’t mean he’s not able to kill his people in other ways.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, I would say first, again, just, it’s worth repeating, that we’re still investigating what happened here. We’re looking --

QUESTION: But isn’t it --

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. We’re looking closely at the allegations. I just want to be very clear.

But second piece, I don’t think anyone would question that removing priority one and two harmful chemicals is still not a positive step in terms of what the Assad regime has access to. We’ve removed now 86 percent of those chemicals – not we, the OPCW process. Certainly, regardless of chemicals and regardless of what’s been found here, there are remaining concerns about the brutality of the Assad regime, about what they have done and continue to do to their people. They’ve been using access to food as a weapon. We all are familiar with this. Those concerns have not changed, but we still feel it is positive to remove the most harmful chemicals.

QUESTION: But is it – has it stopped in any way the kind of percentage of people that are dying? I mean, I think it was horrible if even one person died of a chemical weapon, but when you look at the numbers of ways that he’s killing his people, I mean, certainly there are tens of thousands more people killed in other ways and there are indications that – indications, anyway, that he’s still using other types of chemicals.

I just don’t – yes, it’s good that you got that out, but how is it really changing the balance on the ground in any way?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, again, we’re horrified by any effort, any step the Assad regime has taken to brutalize, to kill his own people. There’s no question about that. We’ve never said that this was going to solve every issue of what’s happening on the ground. That’s why we’ve continued to pursue other avenues. But what the point is here is that we’ve removed 86 percent of the most harmful chemicals; that still is a positive step. Is there more work to do? Absolutely. And we certainly take every allegation seriously, which is why we’re looking into it.

QUESTION: If I could – just one more.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: If I could go back to the actual chlorine incident itself, I mean, isn’t it indications that this was delivered by a barrel bomb or some kind of canister by the air in which the opposition doesn’t have access to that type of aircraft?

MS. PSAKI: There was indications, as I mentioned yesterday – I don’t have new information to share with all of you from here – of the use of a toxic industrial chemical.

QUESTION: Delivered by the air?

MS. PSAKI: Probably chlorine. I don’t have any other additional details in terms of how, why, if, by whom. That is, of course, what we will be continuing to look into.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: Can I follow-up with just a couple of things?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So I’m clear, chlorine is not included in those – in the sum total of the most dangerous chemicals, of which 86 percent have been removed?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. Second, are you certain that the declared stocks of the most dangerous chemicals represent all of Syria’s such stocks? Or is it possible they didn’t declare some?

MS. PSAKI: Well, on the first question, I think I answered it. And just to repeat: The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the use of any toxic chemical, so including chlorine.

QUESTION: I get that. I get that. I get that.

MS. PSAKI: In terms of – what we’re talking about here is the declared chemicals, obviously we continue to explore this. I don’t have any other additional updates. I will talk to our team and see if there’s more we can share.

QUESTION: So you can’t say whether you’re confident or certain that the declared chemicals, indeed, captures the total universe of those chemicals?

MS. PSAKI: I will check with our team and see if there’s more that I can convey. I certainly understand your question.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: Okay. And then one – and then --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- sorry, one more, if I may. How – two more – how long do you think it will take the OPCW to establish the facts of this incident? And secondly, do you believe that the OPCW will receive unimpeded access to be able to do this on the ground?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the second question you asked is a big factor in answering the first question. So the time required to conduct any investigation of alleged CW use would be dependent on the circumstances surrounding the investigation, not least of all the cooperation of the host country. And again, they have not announced – obviously, they would be – broadly speaking, they would be a key player in all likelihood in any investigation. They have not announced that. They are pursuing that. We’re in touch with them, as are a number of international partners, and we’re continuing to work closely.

QUESTION: But – so, in other words, you can’t say how long it might take, and you can’t say whether you’re optimistic, given the agreement with Syria and Russia, that the Syrians will, in fact, provide access?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: You just – those are unknowns?

MS. PSAKI: Those are unknowns. That’s exactly correct.

Go ahead, Michael.

QUESTION: Jen, the President had threatened the use of force last year – cruise missile attacks – because Syria had used chemical weapons against its own citizens and killed a large number of people. And then there was a diplomatic activity that took place that resulted in the agreement to remove the precursor chemicals, but also led Syria to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, as you just pointed out. Two things happened.

If it’s established that Syria used – the Syrian Government used chlorine as a weapon of war, would that violate the assurances that led the President to withdraw his threat of force?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly think it’s a good question, but I’m not going to speculate on what may or may not happen before we know what the facts are. And obviously, we’re working to determine that now, working with the OPCW and others, to see how we can determine that. But I don’t want to speculate on what we might do --

QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking a question on facts.

MS. PSAKI: -- and whether – mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m just – I’m asking a question on policy. Does the Administration, does the State Department, does the White House consider that the use of toxic chemicals as a weapon of war violates the basic diplomatic accomplishment it achieved, which prompted the President to withdraw the threat of force?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t want to get ahead of the process, Michael. I understand your question. I will talk to our team and see if there’s more we can convey more clearly on that.

QUESTION: Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: You agree that chlorine is commercially available in many markets around the world, right?

MS. PSAKI: I do.

QUESTION: And conceivably, people can – with rudimentary equipment can produce allegedly a toxic weapon, correct? Am I --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, again, Said --

QUESTION: You have anything to --

MS. PSAKI: -- I think I’ve already addressed the fact --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- that it’s a globally produced industrial chemical with many peaceful uses. Obviously, the use of any toxic chemical with the intent to cause death or harm is a clear violation. That’s what we’re talking about here.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any military use for chlorine as a weapon in the past?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly there’s a history, as I’m sure you’re familiar with.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. But we know that this happened in Kfar Zeita, which is an area under the control of the opposition, correct? This --

MS. PSAKI: Again, Said, I’m not going to speculate on the details that we’re still under the process of looking into.

QUESTION: But just going back to some – to the assertion that it was an aerial bombardment – are you sure that this was an aerial bombardment? Or could have it been, like, maybe an artillery shell or --

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t confirm any details, and obviously, we’re still looking into that.

Michel.

QUESTION: I’ve asked you yesterday about this, too. Does the use of chlorine in Syria violate the UN Security Council resolution in this regard, or not?

MS. PSAKI: I think I addressed it, but let me try – if I can do it more clearly. As part of the agreement in September, Syria agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention. The use of any toxic chemical with the intent to cause death or harm is a clear violation of the convention. Obviously, that’s broadly speaking. We’re still looking into the details here, so I don’t want to speculate beyond that.

QUESTION: In the morning, Secretary Kerry has said that there is a big progress in Syria regarding the chemical weapons. Why he didn’t mention the use of chlorine in Syria? And does he consider this as a setback?

MS. PSAKI: Because we have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical. We’re looking into those indications. But again, there is a process that we’d have to – that would be – we’d undergo to do that. And certainly, as I stated earlier, the removal of the most harmful chemicals that have been moved to the port of Latakia is still, we feel, a positive step.

QUESTION: And will there be any consequences in case the regime has truly used the chlorine?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on what we – what steps we may take until we have the facts.

QUESTION: Syria?

QUESTION: But surely, though, even the indication or having indications of the use of a chemical agent that would violate a treaty would – is troubling, no?

MS. PSAKI: Of course. That’s why I talked about it yesterday.

QUESTION: Because had they been – so – I mean, had they – had the Syrians been following or – their agreement, you wouldn’t have these indications at all. Isn’t that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we don’t --

QUESTION: I mean, the opposition – I mean, in the tiny percentage chance that it was the opposition, that this happened and that the opposition was behind it, they are not actually bound by the agreement that Syria signed with the Russians. I mean, with you and the Russians. Right? I mean, they should be; everyone should be. But they’re not.

MS. PSAKI: Well, any – we’ve said this long before that agreement --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- any use would be of concern.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the opposition – the SNC is not a party to that agreement. So if it was proven to be – if it was chlorine and it’s proven to be used by the regime – I mean, by the opposition – they wouldn’t be violating this agreement. As bad as it would be, it wouldn’t be – they wouldn’t be in violation.

It’s – the point – the problem is that you seem to be presuming – and not just this agreement, with other – but with other agreements that you have reached – that you’re negotiating a gentlemen’s agreement and expect the other side is a gentleman and will go along with it, when in fact they’re showing you time and time again that they’re not. That’s the question: Are you still confident in this agreement that was reached in Sept -- last September with the Russians and the Syrians, that – are you still confident that it is holding?

MS. PSAKI: We – I just conveyed that we’re at 86 percent removal of declared chemicals.

QUESTION: Yeah, but that doesn’t include chlorine, and it doesn’t include god-knows whatever rat poison if they start to – if they start doing that. You substitute one chemical agent for another that might not be as dangerous – does that really matter? Are the – can you still hold the agreement up as a – an 86 percent success?

MS. PSAKI: We – I think we can, Matt. But beyond that, I think – and this speaks to Elise’s question before – it has never changed our concerns about the ongoing brutality by the Assad regime using a range of other tools, whether it’s weapons or whatever it may be.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: There’s – but this would indicate – just to follow up on Matt – I mean, that they’re just kind of skirting the agreement to, like, be implementing it to the quote-unquote “letter,” and maybe not even so, if they’re using it as a weapon of war. But do you think that your policies to date have kind of signaled to them that as long as they – well, as long as they don’t cross some specific provision, that they’re okay? And even if they do, I mean, the fact that the President laid out this redline and they crossed it anyway – it doesn’t seem as if your agreements with them, that they hold that much – they can implement some of it, but they don’t have to.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would strongly disagree with that. And this goes with – to some of Michael’s question as well in that the threat of the use of force, which obviously the President made, the Secretary made – our strong view – and the Secretary has said this publicly – that we are eliminating a greater percentage of chemical weapons, of what has caused the horrific tragedy of what happened last August, by taking these steps and by implementing this agreement. Yes, it would’ve perhaps been more satisfying to some had we moved forward with the use of force. However, we were able to secure an agreement, pursue a diplomatic path that now has eliminated 86 percent of declared chemicals.

So I don’t think that saying we went back on what we said we would do is an accurate depiction of what happened.

QUESTION: Jen, to clarify: you seem to be defining your agreement very narrowly. You just pointed out the agreement has two components. One is the removal of the precursor chemicals, but the other is an action by the Syrian Government to join the CWC and then assume the commitment not to use chemical weapons and including toxic chemicals. So if they have, in fact, used these toxic chemicals, they are in violation of the agreement that you reached with them last fall. The agreement has got two components, you said.

MS. PSAKI: By violating the CWC --

QUESTION: The CWC accession by Syria and the removal of the precursor chemicals – the use of chlorine would violate that very fundamental understanding you reached with them.

MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand and I’ve laid out also the details of what would violate. So I’m not disagreeing with your point. I’m just conveying, obviously, those are the facts broadly speaking, but we’re going to look into this, see what happened, get down to the facts and the details, and allow that process to --

QUESTION: But it would seem that you can’t say that by removing the 80-plus percent precursor chemicals, by that activity alone Syria is in compliance with your understanding with them from last fall, because if they’ve in parallel carried out attacks with toxic weapons, they were in violation of one element of that agreement.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we don’t know the details yet of what happened, so that’s why I’m just speaking broadly about the Chemical Weapons Convention.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: How do you go about determining what exactly happened and who used what in your view?

MS. PSAKI: I think I did answer it, Said. But just briefly, there are several mechanisms. Obviously, the OPCW Technical Secretariat’s experts would be likely involved. There are a range of ways that we could look into what happened.

QUESTION: We know that the Syrian regime is answering the question of coming from OPCW regarding this chemical weapons stockpile. I know – I understood that you’re not including this chemical agent to the most dangerous stockpile, but in the last questioner, according to the news reports, the Assad regime answered all the questions sent by the OPCW. Should --

MS. PSAKI: You mean last year, or when are you referring to?

QUESTION: After the agreement in fall.

MS. PSAKI: In the --

QUESTION: In last September --

MS. PSAKI: Last – okay.

QUESTION: After the agreement, they sent additional questions to regime. And according to the press reports, regime answered all these questions.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But was this questioner including the chemical agent like chlorine, or just you focused on the most dangerous stockpile?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think I answered this. But the use of any toxic chemical to cause harm or cause death would be a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Obviously, there are a range of industrial chemicals, including chlorine, that have many peaceful uses, so it wouldn’t be in the list of the – the chemicals included in the CWC Schedule of Chemicals is not exhaustive to include all toxic chemicals. So --

QUESTION: So you are not aware of the chlorine stockpile in the hand of regime right now, at least as far as --

MS. PSAKI: Again, it has a range of peaceful uses. Obviously, the use for harm or death would be of great concern.

QUESTION: And the last one, back to Michael’s questions. Is chlorine – I mean, to ask this more directly, actually: Is chlorine included to the redline of the President, Mr. President?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to the President’s redlines. I would just repeat what I’ve said a few times that the use of any toxic chemical, including to harm or cause death, would be a violation of --

QUESTION: I don’t want to parse this thing. If you – if a toxic chemical which is not classified as a chemical weapon because it has some civilian uses as well is used to cause harm or death, is it then considered to be a chemical weapon?

MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question, Matt. It’s beyond my depth of chemical weapons expertise.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to take it and see if there’s more we can convey on that point.

QUESTION: Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. delivered TOW anti-tanks missiles to the Syrian opposition lately?

MS. PSAKI: I think I answered this question last week. I don’t have anything new to detail for you in terms of assistance.

QUESTION: Okay. If not – or I’m not sure what was your answer. But if not the U.S. directly provided the opposition with this kind of missiles, did one of your partners or friend consulted the U.S. before delivering this kind of American weapons to the Syrian opposition?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m certainly not going to provide details of private diplomatic discussions with foreign governments. What I said last week and I’m happy to repeat is we are committed to building the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderate armed opposition. As we have consistently said, we’re not going to detail every single piece of our assistance.

QUESTION: And do you consider that TOW missiles can build the capacity of the opposition?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on this particular line of questioning.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli talks?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Do we have any more on Syria? Okay, go ahead. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Yesterday your statement about the prospect of resolving the Palestinian Authority is grave and extreme and so on, it caused quite a stir, and to the point where the Palestinian negotiator went on Jordanian television and denied such a thing. However, Abbas in a meeting with Israeli journalists, he put three conditions for the continuation of the talks: the release of the prisoners, the last tranche, including those with Israeli citizen; second, that they will go into the negotiations for three months provided they talk about borders; and third, to stop all settlement activities.

Do you agree with these parameters as reasonable for continuation of the talks?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into details of what the discussions are, obviously, as we’ve stated a few times in here. But the parties are discussing ways to extend the talks. Obviously, part of that would be improving the conditions for the discussions, but I’m not going to outline for you what that means.

QUESTION: Because as it seems, there is now – ongoing now, as a matter of fact – a meeting with Ambassador Indyk that is supposedly to discuss these issues. Do you expect that out of this meeting will come some sort of an announcement that the talks will be extended?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make any predictions or confirm any more meetings.

QUESTION: And on the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, do you have any statement?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to convey.

Go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: Palestinian – on the same --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, on the same topic, if I may.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Today, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said that the Israelis have suggested to you that they will treat Palestinian Americans with less scrutiny in exchange for waiving the waiver or whatever it is, the visa waiver. Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we talked about this a little bit last week, and --

QUESTION: Last week. Yes, I know. But this is something new today.

MS. PSAKI: No, no, I understand. I’m just – just to give a little – in case people want to look at the past --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- how we’ve talked about this.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: The tourist visa refusal rates – there are a range of requirements that any country that is applying to be considered for the Visa Waiver Program needs to meet. The tourist visa refusal rate is one of the many requirements. Israel also doesn’t satisfy most of the Visa Waiver party – Program statutory requirements, including full issuance of e-passports and certain data-sharing agreements. And any country interested in participating in the Visa Waiver Program must meet the statutory requirements for inclusion.

So ultimately, if a country has satisfied these statutory requirements, it may be designated for participation in the Visa Waiver Program at the discretion of the U.S. Government. But any country is required to meet those requirements in order to be considered. So these are prerequisites; these are not post-requisites. They are requirements that any country would be required to meet before being considered.

QUESTION: Okay. But --

QUESTION: You say Israel does or does not meet most of those requirements?

MS. PSAKI: Does not.

QUESTION: Does not, okay. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But you do expect the Israelis to treat Palestinian Americans exactly like as they treat all of our American citizens?

MS. PSAKI: No, thank you for raising that. Certainly – we certainly do expect that, and certainly, that is something we’ve, as you know, conveyed on a regular basis.

QUESTION: I’ve got a lot of questions on this subject. I was going to wait until after people had dealt with perhaps more --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- urgent affairs like Ukraine. But I’m more than happy to start asking now --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- about this. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: One, I believe that I understand from what you just said that a promise or a pledge from Israel to start treating Palestinian Americans in the same – as they – as other Americans are treated is not enough?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: They actually have to meet the criteria beforehand. So how long – they have to have a record, a demonstrable record of no – of reciprocity, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, and there are a range of --

QUESTION: A demonstrable record of reciprocity, not of no --

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of additional steps that they’re required to meet as well.

QUESTION: Right, but in terms of the other – the visa overstay rates, the visa refusal rates are all things that can be addressed apart from reciprocity? In other words, as that letter that was sent to Representative Lowey said last week, you were willing to work with Israelis --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- to lower their overall refusal rate, right? Are you also willing to work with them on any way of easing your reciprocity requirements?

MS. PSAKI: No.

QUESTION: No?

MS. PSAKI: For any country applying – and let me just state for folks who are interested in this – requirements include but are not limited to enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the United States, issuing e-passports, having a visitor visa refusal rate of less than 3 percent during the previous fiscal year – visa refusal rates are posted, as you all know, on the Department of State website – timely reporting of both blank and issued lost and stolen passports; maintenance of high counterterrorism, law enforcement, border control, and document security standards.

Obviously, there are additional criteria. That’s a list of them. That’s criteria for any country applying to the Visa Waiver Program.

QUESTION: I’m missing the reciprocity in there.

MS. PSAKI: That is also a requirement, as I’ve stated, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. There is legislation on the Hill now pending, though, that would allow – that would change that, the refusal rate to go up to – between 3 and 10 percent. You’re familiar with that, I know. But so – in other – what I’m – the point that I’m making is that the rest – those things that you just said, with the exception of reciprocity, which you didn’t say, which I --

MS. PSAKI: I stated earlier.

QUESTION: Okay, okay.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But the things that you just listed there can all be dealt with in different ways. Reciprocity has to be dealt with by treating everyone the same. In other words, all Americans, whether they’re Palestinian Americans or Arab Americans or Muslim Americans not from Palestine or not from the Palestinian Territories, have to be treated the same as other Americans, and is for Israelis to be treated the same here in the United States, coming into the United States. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: So not – so a promise just to treat Palestinian Americans the same has to be – that’s not good enough? They actually have to do it, but it also has to be more than just Palestinian Americans. It’s got to be all Americans, regardless of where they’re from or their background, their religion, et cetera.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: And as much as there are criteria that’s specific that I’ve listed, there’s also a process, once they’ve met the eligibility requirements, of looking at it from a more comprehensive perspective.

QUESTION: All right. Now what about this – and this is in terms of getting into Israel, correct? This is in terms of if you’re – if someone is a Palestinian American or an Arab American and they’re wanting to go to Israel --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- this is the requirement? What about because there is no other way into the West Bank legally than through Israeli immigration, do these standards apply – do the criteria apply also for them wanting to go to somewhere in the West Bank?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail. Presumably that’s the entry point, but I can check with our team on that.

QUESTION: Well, they have to go through – but in other words, I guess the question is: Will anything less than any Palestinian American or Arab American being treated – wanting to go to, say, Bethlehem in the West Bank – if they are treated anything less than an Israeli tourist wanting to go to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is that good enough?

MS. PSAKI: I mean, reciprocity is one of the most basic requirements of the Visa Waiver Program and --

QUESTION: The letter that was sent to the Hill talks about this working group, and there is a concern among many – the story in the newspaper talks about the working group going to be meeting in July – that somehow the Israelis will be able to do something less than offer full reciprocity to get into the program.

MS. PSAKI: Nothing about that letter is an indication of a reduction in requirements to the Visa Waiver Program.

QUESTION: All right. And then, is it – can you – is this in any way at all related to the peace talks?

MS. PSAKI: We were responding to a letter submitted by a member of Congress about --

QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no. No, no. I mean, this whole – it appears that things are moving, and moving rather quickly on this.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me --

QUESTION: And I want to know --

MS. PSAKI: Let me be clear here.

QUESTION: I want to know if this has anything --

MS. PSAKI: This is a question you asked the other day, but I think it in part answers this. There are about 17 countries that – I think you mentioned this – but who are – have expressed an interest in applying to the Visa Waiver Program. Some are NATO allies, some are not. We are working with all of those countries, whatever you call it, to see if they meet the criteria, to see if there are steps that they can take. It’s incumbent upon these countries to take the steps. It’s not something the United States can do on their behalf.

So we do work with a range of countries outside of Israel to see if they can meet these requirements.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so do other countries – how long do they have to prove that they – how long do they have to have demonstrable evidence to show that they have treated American – all Americans --

MS. PSAKI: On reciprocity?

QUESTION: -- on reciprocity?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s see. Let me see if there’s a specific amount of time. Obviously, there is --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- on some other particular pieces.

QUESTION: Because it’s one thing for a country – and I don’t want to single out Israel here, but I mean, clearly they do have some significant national security concerns, and perhaps unprecedented national security concerns that come to that.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But the point is, is that other countries that treat American – different Americans differently aren’t asking to get into the Visa Waiver Program. You have similar – your warnings for or your advice for people going to China, for example, have similar things about dual – what was regarded to be dual nationalities and that kind of thing, and – but they’re – the Chinese aren’t looking to get into the Visa Waiver Program.

And so I guess what people are looking for is an assurance from the Administration that the criteria for the Visa Waiver Program is not going to be in any way altered for any specific country.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: That is correct.

MS. PSAKI: I can confirm that, yes.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine? Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Today, Crimean Tatar community leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev, who has been in Washington couple weeks ago and had meetings here in this building, gave some alarming remarks. And he said that – warned today that possible bloodshed in Crimea and southern Ukraine is coming up, and he also stated that some of the FSB officers from Moscow who hope to promote new deportation of the Tatars.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And one more question on that, but you go ahead if you have any --

MS. PSAKI: So I’m sorry. What was your question specifically about it?

QUESTION: Do you have any assessment or any kind of information regarding some kind of bloodshed or clashes in Crimea?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new updates in particular. Obviously, any bloodshed we’re concerned about. I think – were you asking about Mustafa Dzhemilev?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. So we’ve seen, of course, his comments. We’ve also seen reports that he’s been banned from Russia and occupied Crimea for five years --

QUESTION: Yes, that was another question. Yes.

MS. PSAKI: -- which he’s spoken to, I think you were referring to. He’s condemned, as you know, the courageous – condemned – I’m sorry – the occupation of his homeland and is legendary for his courageous advocacy for the human rights of his people. This ban, if true, is particularly disturbing, given the history of deportation of the Crimean Tatars 70 years ago.

So certainly we’re – we’ve seen those reports. We’re watching them. I don’t have any additional ground reports from Crimea. I haven’t seen those specifically. I can follow up and see if there’s more to report on the ground.

QUESTION: Have you talked to Dzhemilev or --

MS. PSAKI: Have we spoken with him?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of whether our team on the ground has been in touch with him. We’ve obviously seen the public comments he’s made.

QUESTION: And I have one more follow-up on the same issue. Today, I look at countries who supported annexation of Crimea, and there are like half a dozen countries, such as Cuba, and North Korea, Syria, and also there is Armenia. I just want to see whether you still consider Armenia as ally. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: We obviously expressed – the vast majority of countries – I think you’re talking through the UN – have strongly stood with the United States and the international community in condemning the illegal acts. There are a handful of countries that did not. I think we’ve spoken to that.

Ukraine?

QUESTION: On this same issue. Have you been talking to Armenian officials over their support? Because I saw that they – there’s a phone call initiated by the Armenian president to put into support this annexation. I just want to make sure --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of calls to Armenia from this building about this topic.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the pictures that we talked a lot about yesterday. NBC spoke with the mayor of Slovyansk – I don’t know if I’m saying that correctly – and he told us that the reason we’re seeing military there is not because they’re on specific orders from Moscow, but rather he called – he’s former military, he called his buddies to come help the cause. And that’s why they’re in these eastern towns in Ukraine and it’s, I guess, a different interpretation of the photos than --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there were a range of photos and – not just a range of photos, the Ukrainians presented a range of photos in Vienna just a few weeks ago. There have been a range of photos available in international media, available on Twitter and social media sites that have portrayed a range of events. I think you’re talking about one photo. We still feel confident that there is a strong connection between Russia and the armed militants in eastern Ukraine across the board. It’s – we’ve seen similar steps that – or similar behavior we saw in Crimea just a couple of weeks ago. And we are obviously watching what is happening on the ground very closely.

QUESTION: So you’re saying this is just one isolated --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have the details of that particular photo in front of me. What I would say is there are hundreds of photos out there of what’s happening on the ground. There are hundreds of reports of what’s happening on the ground. We look at a range of information, whether it’s publicly available information, information through our own sources, to make determinations about what we think is happening. You’ve heard many others, not just the United States, speak to their beliefs about the strong connection between Russia and the armed militants, and we certainly stand by that.

QUESTION: I guess yesterday, Jen, you said: We’ll let some people draw their own conclusions. Can you, today, with any of the other information that you have that may not be publicly available, say in any stronger terms that Russia is behind these armed --

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve not only been strong, the President of the United States has been strong, the Secretary of State has been strong about the strong connection we feel between – the Vice President has been strong about the strong connection we feel between Russia and the armed militants in eastern Ukraine.

QUESTION: Do you believe that Russia or Russian agents may have been behind the reported torture and killing of Mr. Volodymyr Rybak? He’s a member of the acting president of Ukraine’s party, and his body was found with what local authorities say are signs of torture before he was killed.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that particular incident, Arshad. I’m happy to talk to our team about that and see if there’s any conclusions we’ve drawn.

QUESTION: Okay. The acting president has called for a resumption of what he described as the anti-terrorist operations undertaken by the current Ukrainian Government in eastern Ukraine in response to this particular incident. Those, using his words, anti-terrorist operations were largely suspended after the Geneva agreement to see if the agreement would be abided by. Do you think it’s a good idea for the Ukrainian Government to resume such operations in eastern Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, Arshad, when all sides agreed to it, they all agreed to take steps. The Ukrainians have actually taken steps to date. Of course, one was freezing those counterterrorism operations. One was moving forward with a variety of different amnesty bills, and that process is still moving forward. But we’ve also seen no useful steps by the Russians. You saw the Vice President convey clearly that Russia needs to stop talking and start acting, that its failure to fulfill its commitments made in Geneva will lead to more costs and greater isolation. So certainly our preference here is to see all sides continue to take steps. But again, the Russians – the thrust of what needs to happen is on the Russians to implement.

QUESTION: So given that you’ve seen no useful steps by the Russians and that we are now a full four days since that agreement was reached, is there any reason why the Ukrainian authorities should not act to protect, for example, politicians like this man? I mean, why should they not resume their operations, given that, to use your words, there have been no useful steps by the Russians? Why shouldn’t the Ukrainians resume the operations, particularly if they see it as a way of protecting their people in eastern Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve never said they don’t have a right to protect their people. But I think one of the reasons is that de-escalation is very much in the interest of not just the Ukrainian Government but the Ukrainian people. Clearly there need to be steps taken by the Russians in the coming days. We’re not on an open-ended process here. But we will continue to press that. The Vice President pressed that. The Secretary pressed that with Foreign Minister Lavrov. And we will see if they are willing to take any useful steps in the coming days.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say – because the term “days” I think was used by the Secretary in his Geneva news conference also. Is it fair to say that this can’t slide into a second week?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to put a deadline on it. Days obviously has a range of meanings. We’re watching closely. We are certainly prepared to put in place additional consequences, and we’ll let our internal team make that decision.

QUESTION: Let me see if can just ask that --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- a little bit.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have the update on sanctions for us? As Arshad did say, last Thursday we saw the agreement. You all have been saying days not weeks. How do we define this going forward?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional update on sanctions. It has not changed, that we still have the tools necessary to implement a range of sanctions, whether it’s individuals, whether it’s businesses, whether it’s sectors. We still have that ability. Those discussions and preparations have been ongoing internally, but I don’t want to make a prediction for you at this time.

QUESTION: Jen, do you have any comment on the Vice reporter that apparently has been detained in Ukraine? Simon Ostrovsky is his name.

MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen a range of reports. Obviously, there has unfortunately been a range of journalists who have been detained or held hostage over the last couple of days. We, of course, condemn the taking of hostages. I don’t have any additional information on this reported individual.

QUESTION: Vice is saying that they have been in touch with the State Department about that and they’re helping them out with this. Can you confirm that there has been communication about this issue?

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

QUESTION: Yes, please. Ukraine?

QUESTION: Can I ask about another journalist, Irma Krat?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on her? I know the Secretary raised her case specifically with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that she’s still being held?

MS. PSAKI: That is my understanding, yes, as of my time coming down here.

QUESTION: And has the Secretary had any further calls to Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MS. PSAKI: Not today. No, not since the call that I talked about yesterday.

QUESTION: Yes. May I – Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Regarding what has to be done by both sides, I mean Ukrainians and the Russians, are you happy? Or let’s say more or less I know what you feel about what Russians are doing. What do you think Ukrainians are doing? Enough or not enough, or what they can do?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I spoke about this a little bit yesterday. But we have seen the Ukrainians take a range of steps, not just in response to last week but in advance of it. They have taken steps to be more – to take unifying steps for the country moving forward. They have passed a range of amnesty bills – or they’re working on passing an additional bill. They passed one last week. They took steps to pause their CT operations. They have taken steps to de-escalate. What we need is for all parties to de-escalate. And there are a specific range of steps that Russia agreed to last Thursday, and we need to see more action on their behalf – on their part.

QUESTION: The reason I am asking because it’s more – the steps are more related to long-term commitments, which is mainly when you mentioned that what you call a constitutional reform, for example, it’s not going to be done in days, anyway, or I assume so.

Second, another question which is related to that, two days ago the prime minister of Kyiv or Ukrainian prime minister was stressing many times the word “Novo Rossiya” was used by the new Russia – used by the Putin regarding Ukraine. Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: I would say – I don’t think I do in particular. I would say that to be specific, I outlined a couple of the steps the Ukrainians agreed to take. The Russians – they agreed to use its influence over separatist groups in eastern Ukraine to have them stand down, disarm, and accept the amnesty offered by the Government of Ukraine. This was the public commitment Russia made in Geneva on April 17th, yet in eastern Ukraine, as we’ve all seen and some of you have noted, armed militants say they have not – heard nothing from Moscow telling them to disarm. And we’ve also seen no action by Russia to support the OSCE, another commitment made in Geneva. So there are very specific steps that can be taken, and that’s what I’m referring to.

QUESTION: The other question, related follow-up somehow, because it’s today – Vice President Biden was – there was fact sheet coming regarding assistance.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And many things that – but over the last five days or at least a week now, nobody is talking about the energy problem of the Ukraine. I don’t know if – how it’s going to be handled – you know, it’s like not on a long term – in the coming days when we – because from this podium raised the issue of how the price is rising and it’s going to be kind of putting pressure on Ukraine. So how it’s this handled, this (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: It’s an incredibly important issue, and just because we don’t talk about it every day doesn’t mean we’re not working on it every day. Over the coming weeks, expert teams from several U.S. Government agencies will travel to the region to help Ukraine meet immediate and long-term energy needs. Our team – senior officials in the building are in touch every single day about this issue. A U.S. interagency expert team is in Kyiv right now to help Ukraine secure reverse flows of natural gas from its European neighbors. The team will continue on to Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia in the coming days to work on the details of these arrangements. And U.S. technical experts will also join the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and others in May to help Ukraine develop a public-private investment initiative to increase conventional gas production.

And as you noted yesterday, the Vice President – this was one of the issues he was discussing when he was on the ground there. So energy – access to – improving Ukraine’s energy security continues to be one of the important issues we’re working with the Government of Ukraine on.

Do we have any more on Ukraine? And then we’ll go to Scott or Lalit.

QUESTION: One quick one?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The team that is now in Ukraine and will then go on to all those other countries, does that include State Department officials?

MS. PSAKI: I am fairly certain, but let me double-check that for you to make sure.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: But I’m fairly certain it does.

Ukraine or – okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Igor from Russian newspaper. You mentioned that the OSCE mission have started working in eastern Ukraine, and I’ve seen reports that they have held negotiations with people who occupy buildings in eastern Ukraine. Are there any details of how these talks go? And who is – represents U.S. in this OSCE mission?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well – and this was a good question asked yesterday. And part of the agreement last week was about supporting the OSCE mission. And the United States has contributed 10 monitors to the special monitoring mission. These monitors are non-U.S. Government experts participating in the monitoring teams. And we have been consistently supportive of the expansion of the special monitoring mission. We’re in the process of identifying additional U.S. monitors in addition to the 10 who can participate.

One of the questions – one of the asks the Secretary had for Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday was to send a senior Russian diplomat to participate in the missions that go out and are going out to the cities in eastern Ukraine. And the reason is they have obviously a unique role to play in implementing the joint statement from last week and conveying to the armed separatists the need to move out of the buildings.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Are we – okay. Lalit, go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine or --

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah. One on Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I just want to be clear. My question was: What is your position regarding Armenia’s support of the annexation as a country who receives one of the largest per capita U.S. foreign aid?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything additional. Obviously you know where we stand. We work with dozens of countries around the world on this issue. But I don’t have an additional comment for you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, has U.S. assessment changed after the Afghan – successful Afghanistan elections the number of troops U.S. would have after 2014?

MS. PSAKI: Well, for decisions on troop numbers, I would certainly refer you to the White House, given that’s a decision the President would make. That said, until we have concluded a bilateral security agreement, we would not expect to announce any potential troop numbers. As you know, should we have a BSA and a willing and committed partner in the Afghan Government, a limited post-2014 mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and going after the remnants of core al-Qaida is something certainly we still support. We think it’s in our interest, it’s in the interest of the Afghan people, and we will continue to encourage that.

QUESTION: Yeah. After the first round of elections, you were very highly appreciative of the role that Afghan national security forces played in the largely peaceful elections there. Has that changed your assessment about the number of troops that U.S. could have in Afghanistan after 2014?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Would this have any implications on the decision?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. I understand your question. I’m not going to get an analysis of the factors impacting troop numbers. Obviously that’s a decision the President will make. I’m sure he’s considering a range of factors. We remain fully supportive of our partners in the Afghan security forces. We continue to proudly work side by side with many Afghans who continue to work to ensure the stability and prosperity of their fellow citizens. Clearly, there’s an ongoing deliberative process that is taking into account a range of factors.

QUESTION: And is there any fresh effort to sign the BSA with President Karzai?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve been pretty clear. We’ve expressed an openness to having one of the – not one of the, the future president, whenever that process is seen through, sign the BSA. Obviously we have an interest in seeing that happen.

QUESTION: Yes. Afghanistan.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Do you have any plan or policy to be in touch with Taliban? Or you just concede this is an Afghani process?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think we’ve – continue to be supportive of Afghans talking to Afghans. It would be a process they would run. I don’t have any updates on that for you today.

Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Japan.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Afghanistan? Could we go to Scott in the back? Is that okay? And then we’ll go to Japan. Sure. Go ahead, Scott.

QUESTION: South Sudan.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: As you know, the United Nations has said that more than 200 civilians have been killed in areas recently taken by rebels opposed to the government in Juba. Has there been any action under the sanctions that you’ve announced on South Sudan, but not identified who they might apply to, in regards to this violence?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, let me first say that the United States strongly condemns the recent targeted killings last week of hundreds of civilians in Bentiu based on their ethnicity and nationality. Those responsible for these atrocities must be held accountable. We’re also alarmed by reports of Radio Bentiu FM being used to broadcast hate speech.

In terms of specific sanctions action, as you know, the President signed just about two weeks ago an executive order providing us with the tools. No individuals or entities have been sanctioned under this new authority yet. Well, as you know, we don’t predict or comment on future action, but we consider – continue to have the tools available, should we choose to take those steps.

QUESTION: Those rebels identified by the United Nations today are denying their involvement in that killing. Do you – what is your understanding about what happened there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of reports coming from the ground. We’re still looking into them. We don’t have any independent confirmation at this point of the cause or those responsible. But certainly, our concerns about what appears to be targeted killings. So we are continuing to look into it, and as we have more information available we will venture to --

QUESTION: How does that fit into your calling on both sides, both the government in Juba and the rebels, to take actions to de-escalate the situation and get back to the talks that you are trying to organize in Addis?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we continue to call, of course, on all parties to cease activities – cease attacks on civilians, to cease activities that violate the cessation of hostilities. And we know there needs to be partners in order for this process to move forward. Certainly, as we have more information available and if that warrants additional steps, it may.

Go ahead. Japan.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on a visit by Japan’s internal affairs minister and about 150 members of the Diet to the Yasukuni Shrine?

MS. PSAKI: I spoke to this yesterday. I don’t have anything particularly new. You know as we have indicated many times, we encourage Japan to continue to work with its neighbors to resolve concerns over history in an amicable way through dialogue. We believe the strong and constructive relations between countries in the region promote peace and stability and are in the interest – are in their interest and the interest of the United States. I don’t have anything particularly new since yesterday on this topic.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Staying in the region, a South Korean defense spokesperson announced that they have noticed some activity in a known North Korean nuclear launch site.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And they suggest that North Korea could be preparing for either a test or pretending to be preparing for a test. Is the State Department monitoring the situation, and do you have any concern you wish to express about this?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, we have certainly seen the press reports you are referring to regarding possible increased activity in North Korea’s nuclear test site. We’re closely monitoring the situation on the Korean Peninsula. The United States remains steadfast in its commitment to the defense of its allies and continues to coordinate closely with both South Korea and Japan. We continue to urge North Korea to refrain from actions that threaten regional peace and security, and to comply with its international obligations and commitments.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: All right? Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: Last week you were asked about that Bank of Utah, that Utah bank plane that was – ended up in – flew into Tehran.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And you referred the question to Treasury. But apparently, the bank says that it’s talking to you guys about the whole situation. I’m just wondering if that’s correct and what it is – what the State Department’s involvement is in this.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you a liaison with Treasury, or what’s the --

MS. PSAKI: Let me – I don’t have anything new on this today. I’m happy to take the question and see where we are with this. I know it’s been a couple of days since we spoke about this.

QUESTION: Right. And then I just – I’ve got to go back to the visa waiver thing --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- but it’s very brief, just for one second.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Have the Israelis been told that the visa refusal rate is the most important – is the main obstacle to them getting into the program? Or --

MS. PSAKI: I think that the criteria has been clearly conveyed to them. I’m not sure if there’s --

QUESTION: But the criteria is --

MS. PSAKI: Reciprocity --

QUESTION: -- is included? And – is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Yes.

QUESTION: They have been told that that is --

MS. PSAKI: I think the criteria has been clearly conveyed, yes.

QUESTION: And I just want to make sure that I understand reciprocity correctly the way you’re using it. That means that the Israelis would not be able to discriminate against any particular American citizen; they all have to be treated equally whether they’re Palestinian American, Arab American, Muslim American, whatever.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: So reciprocity --

MS. PSAKI: That is where our concern lies.

QUESTION: Reciprocity means no discriminatory treatment; is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: That is my understanding of what it means.

QUESTION: And it applies not just to process but actual treatment at entry – at entry points; is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I would have to --

QUESTION: There have been – the reason I’m asking is there have been complaints about Arab Americans arriving in Israel being forced to open up their laptop computers --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, at borders and checkpoints. Yes.

QUESTION: -- and exactly. So it applies to discriminatory treatment; in other words, one group or one part – one group of Americans are singled out for different treatment than another?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: So treatment and process – discriminatory treatment and discriminatory process are equally important and they’re both reciprocity --

MS. PSAKI: Let me see if I can state this in a clear way, if that’s useful.

QUESTION: Well, just --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: The reason that I’m asking this is because there seems to be some confusion. I think that there are some, perhaps, officials in Israel who are trying to suggest that reciprocity – that promising to do away with discriminatory behavior is enough as long as the visa – as long as the visa refusal rate is lowered to get into.

MS. PSAKI: I think I made pretty clear that reciprocity – and what I mean by that is one of the concerns we have, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, is the reciprocal – is the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Arab Americans receive at Israel’s borders and checkpoints. And reciprocity, as I noted, is one of the most basic conditions of the Visa Waiver Program.

QUESTION: Okay. And this isn’t going to turn into something like, no, no, no, we’re not considering Jonathan – releasing Jonathan Pollard; no, no, no, we’re not, and then all of the sudden we are at the end – this reciprocity thing is not going – is not subject to debate or negotiation. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve pretty clearly stated it on the record.

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

QUESTION: Can I just – I want to follow up on that --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- because Matt phrased a question about this that I would like to return to.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: He asked you whether you were going to change any of the criteria for potential admission of a country into the Visa Waiver Program. Rather than just – and you said no, you would not change any of the criteria. My question is more pointed: Will you apply the existing criteria in an equal-handed manner to all countries that apply to join the Visa Waiver Program? Or do you leave open the possibility of – to the extent that there is room for maneuver or discretion within the law – the possibility of favoring or going easier on certain countries rather than on others?

MS. PSAKI: There is specific criteria – I outlined some of it; it’s publicly available for anyone to find – that countries need to meet in order to meet the requirements to be considered. Once a country meets the requirements, then it is up to the discretion for a range of other factors of the – of whether that country is going to be admitted as part of the Visa Waiver Program. But there are specific requirements – I read a few of them earlier – that countries are required to meet to be considered.

QUESTION: So my – wait, can I just finish with this? So – but I understand that you’ve said that you’re not going to change the criteria for any one country or another, that the criteria are the criteria. My question is not that. My question is whether, having satisfied the criteria and then entered into the realm where it is at the discretion of the U.S. Government whether or not to grant admission, whether you can say from the podium that the U.S. Government will not unduly favor or disadvantage particular countries – in other words, that you will make your decisions in an even-handed way and treat sort of each country, once they’ve met those criteria, in an even-handed manner so that countries that are in similar situations get the same treatment on whether or not they enter --

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, but every country is different. So what I’m getting at is that there are a range of criteria – of requirements that any country needs to meet. Assessments of eligibility for Visa Waiver Program designation encompasses careful analysis of a number of factors, including those requirements, including security and policy considerations, that must be addressed on a case-by-case basis. And that is up to the discretion once those requirements are met.

Now Israel has not met those requirements. That is what we’re talking to them about.

QUESTION: But you can’t – you don’t get to the discretionary phase of it until you actually --

MS. PSAKI: Meet the requirements.

QUESTION: -- meet the requirements and have a record, a track record able to prove that you’ve met those requirements, right?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Can I – can you just confirm – and this should be very easy – the – some of the things in the report – one, that the working group is going to be meeting in July? Do you know if that’s correct?

MS. PSAKI: I – it will be an easy thing to confirm if I had the details on that. I’m not --

QUESTION: Okay. And then, just the other: Can you confirm that you have gotten a letter from the Israelis saying – or some kind of either oral, written, or whatever kind of assurance – that they are going to end discrimination?

MS. PSAKI: I actually don’t have that confirm.

QUESTION: You don’t know?

MS. PSAKI: I know we’ve seen the press reports --

QUESTION: Can you --

MS. PSAKI: -- but I will check and see with our team if we have.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that they have made a formal request to join the Visa Waiver Program?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, as have a range of other countries.

QUESTION: Right, but this is – this request goes back some time now. It’s not just recent. It’s not just in the last couple months.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe it’s recent, no.

QUESTION: All right. Great.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) address the Yasukuni Shrine issue yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: But I looked at the transcript, and there are two references to Japan – one on whaling, the other on the defense posture.

MS. PSAKI: You’re right. I’m sorry. I addressed it after the briefing --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- I believe with one of your colleagues.

QUESTION: Great.

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry, I – it was all running in together.

QUESTION: No problem.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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

DPB # 71


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - April 21, 2014

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 18:34

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 21, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Secretary Kerry Announces Our Ocean Conference
  • SYRIA
    • Elections Inconsistent with Geneva Communique
    • Geneva Communique Calls for Transitional Governing Body
    • Assad Regime Needs to End
    • Special Envoy Rubinstein in Region / U.S. Engaged with Opposition Determining Next Steps
    • U.S. Examining Use of Chemical Weapons
  • UKRAINE/RUSSIA
    • Photographs Exemplify Russia's Connection to Armed Militants in Ukraine
    • Secretary Kerry's Call with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov
    • Support of OSCE / Adherence to Geneva Joint Statement
    • Russia Remains a Partner
    • Decisions on Sanctions / Europe and Sanctions
  • POLAND/ESTONIA
    • Reports of NATO Sending U.S. Troops
  • UKRAINE
    • Vice President Biden Visits Ukraine
    • Energy Needs in Ukraine and Europe
  • CHINA/JAPAN
    • Shipping Company Debt Dispute
  • JAPAN
    • Japanese Defense Posture
  • MEPP
    • Parties Focused on Extending Negotiations
    • Palestinian Institutions
    • No Travel Announcements for Secretary Kerry
    • Reconciliation Efforts between Hamas and Fatah
    • Supreme Court / Visas
  • JAPAN
    • Japan's Intent to Resume Whaling
  • KEYSTONE XL
    • Length of Agency Comment Period
  • YEMEN
    • Airstrikes Against al-Qaida Militants


TRANSCRIPT:

12:55 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Happy Monday. So I have a couple of items for all of you at the top, including a visual aid. Everyone get excited. You may have --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: I know. Look at the excitement in here. It’s so supportive.

You may have seen the Secretary’s tweet, where he announced the oceans conference. He will host the “Our Ocean” international oceans conference at the Department of State on June 16th and 17th. The Secretary’s conference is the third in a series of high-profile oceans events this spring that together will advance the policy discussion. The time is right to elevate these issues. In his many years as a public servant, Secretary Kerry has a strong record of efforts to promote ocean conservation. He is personally committed to building global stewardship for our oceans in the face of unsustainable fishing practices, record pollution, and the devastating effects of climate change, so let me turn you to the video here behind me.

(Video was played.)

MS. PSAKI: All right. I have one additional item at the top. Presidential – on Syria, I should say – presidential elections – actually a referendum, not a real vote – in Syria planned by the Assad regime undermine the Geneva framework and are a parody of democracy. They have no credibility. Further, the Syrian regime under the Assads has never held a credible, free, and fair election, and has taken legal and administrative steps to ensure that this vote will not be fair. Calling for a de facto referendum rings especially hollow now, as the regime continues to massacre the very electorate it purports to represent. The regime’s violent suppression of the Syrian people’s calls for freedom and dignity is what sparked this brutal conflict. Staging elections under current conditions, including the effective disenfranchisement of millions of Syrians, neither addresses the aspirations of the Syrian people nor moves the country any closer to a negotiated political solution.

And with that, Matt.

QUESTION: Sorry I missed the top of the ocean. Was that the first thing?

MS. PSAKI: That was the first item, and the Secretary also tweeted an announcement of the oceans conference, which will be June 16th and 17th.

QUESTION: Okay. On the Syrian election just for a second. In your view, there’s no way that – there’s no way for an election to actually – for a real election to actually take place because of the current conditions in Syria, or because of the fact that there are millions of people outside who would – outside of Syria, or both?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think one of the major reasons, which you didn’t mention but is worth noting, is that this – the Syrian regime and the Assad family has a history of not holding free and fair elections. Also, clearly what’s happening on the ground and the fact that this brutality has happened at the hands of the very brutal dictator who is planning to announce elections we don’t think would be free and fair is really the greatest concern.

QUESTION: Can you also just explain, how does it undermine the Geneva framework?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as the London Eleven announced in its April 3rd statement, any unilateral decision by the regime to hold presidential elections would be entirely inconsistent with the Geneva communique’s call for the establishment of a transitional governing body to oversee constitutional reforms leading to free and fair elections.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: So – on the Geneva, so I can understand you correctly, it is the transitional aspect that is missing? You need something transitional – a transitional government – to oversee some sort of a fair and free election?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are several aspects, Said.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I think the first and foremost is the brutality of this very dictator who is planning to hold these elections, so – and the history of what’s happened over the last few years. But certainly, the Geneva communique calls for the creation of a transitional governing body.

QUESTION: So that’s the one I think that would legally – or stand in the face of a free and fair elections, correct? A transitional body of some sort.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are also steps – laws that have been passed by the regime that preclude anyone who hasn’t lived in the country for 10 years from running for office that make it very difficult for other candidates to run in an election like this.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you still believe that Assad’s days are numbered?

MS. PSAKI: We do.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: And we certainly – as you know, Daniel Rubinstein is back in the region.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: We continue to work with the opposition, we continue to work with our international partners, and we’ll continue to press for bringing an end to this regime.

QUESTION: Okay. So no amount of transparency could actually be – could be conceivable, correct, in this – in conducting this kind of election?

MS. PSAKI: I think --

QUESTION: Aside from the fact that maybe one-third of the population is dislocated?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Assads have never held a credible, fair, or free election.

QUESTION: And after this announcement, Jen, do you think that Geneva II is still alive? And is there any hope to hold another meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there are many tracks to our process and the Geneva meeting and the beginning of a Geneva process. The purpose was in part to have more than 40 countries and organizations stand together in support of the opposition. We’re still working to determine what the next steps are.

The Secretary met with Joint Special Representative Brahimi last week. Daniel Rubinstein is in the region and will continue to consult and determine what to do next.

QUESTION: And one more on – I don’t know if you have seen the reports on the use of chemical weapons in Syria in the last few days.

MS. PSAKI: I have seen those reports.

QUESTION: And can you confirm these reports?

MS. PSAKI: We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical – probably chlorine – in Syria this month in the opposition-dominated village of Kfar Zeita. We are examining allegations that the government was responsible. We take all allegations of the use of chemicals in combat use very seriously. We’re working to determine what has happened, and we will continue consulting and sharing information with key partners, including at the OPCW.

QUESTION: And did you – do you think that the Assad regime has crossed the redline again by using this --

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to speculate here. Obviously, there needs to be an investigation of what’s happened here. We’re working with our partners to determine what the facts are on the ground.

QUESTION: Chlorine is a chemical weapon?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to get into too many details because it’s probably chlorine, but we’re still looking into the specifics.

QUESTION: Chlorine gas? Chlorine like you put in your pool? Chlorine, like – no, I mean, I’m not trying to --

MS. PSAKI: No, no, I understand what you’re asking.

QUESTION: There are different forms of chlorine.

MS. PSAKI: I understand what you’re asking, Matt. We’re still looking into the specifics. I just don’t want to get ahead of the process.

QUESTION: Is this the same – this incident is the same that the French were talking about – is that your understanding – earlier today?

MS. PSAKI: I believe there have been reports that, as we’ve said, we’ve been looking into these reports. We continue to look into them. Obviously, we have a little bit more information.

QUESTION: And is chlorine something that the Syrians would have had to have – what would they --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Turn in?

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, turn in, but just identify as part of their stockpile under the CW agreement?

MS. PSAKI: No.

QUESTION: So it is not actually a – chlorine is not technically, under the OPCW, a chemical weapon. Is that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are, as you know, a range of different mechanisms for monitoring what is a – and a range of things that could be violated. Obviously, we’re in the preliminary stages here. We’re still looking into what this chemical, in fact, is. But it wasn’t one of the priority one or two chemicals, no.

QUESTION: Jen, you said that you take all allegations seriously?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. The government is alleging that it is the opposition that used this chlorine. Do you take that allegation seriously?

MS. PSAKI: I understand what is being alleged here.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. All right.

MS. PSAKI: We’re examining allegations. We’re obviously looking at the facts on the ground. We shouldn’t forget the context of what the regime has been capable of in the past, Said.

QUESTION: Are you aware that paramilitary forces have used chlorine in the past, like in Iraq, for instance, where they would do – ride along these IEDs, they would have a canister that stinks up the air and makes it yellow, and so on?

MS. PSAKI: Historically --

QUESTION: But actually, it doesn’t kill anyone. The shrapnels kill people, but not the chlorine itself. Are you aware of that?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do a history lesson here, but certainly we’re, again, looking at these allegations. And if there’s new reports or new information to provide, we will be happy to provide that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry. Just one more on it with regard to looking at the allegations beyond just reading them and – who are the partners we’re working with and what is the – is there actually a process in place where we can run this to the ground? And how is that happening right now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, there has consistently been – we’ll work with the OPCW, we’ll work with international partners, we’ll work with the UN. We’re still determining what the best mechanism is to get to the bottom of the facts.

QUESTION: I just want to go back a little bit on an issue that I – a question that I asked Ambassador Ford last week regarding possible contacts with the regime.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Because there are some voices that are being raised that we need to talk to them, especially on the passage of humanitarian aid. Are you prepared to conduct any kind of either direct or indirect talks with the regime itself to ensure that humanitarian aid gets through these multitude of roadblocks?

MS. PSAKI: Said, as you know in the past, and Ambassador Ford and others have confirmed, we’ve had a means of being in contact. I don’t have anything to update you on on that front.

QUESTION: Yeah. But you’re dependent on, let’s say like NGOs or maybe humanitarian bodies and so on?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to update you further on that.

Syria? Or – go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, on this one. Do you consider the use of this gas as a breach for the UN resolution?

MS. PSAKI: Again, we’re going to let the process see itself through to determine the facts on the ground about what this toxic industrial chemical was to confirm those details, and then we’ll work with our international partners to determine if any issue was violated here.

QUESTION: What is that process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think first we need to determine what the facts are, what was the chemical, to make sure we have those all lined up. Then we’ll work with the OPCW, who is obviously overseeing the implementation, and determine if any violation occurred.

QUESTION: But is it your understanding that the OPCW people who are on the ground, it’s part of their mandate to go look at this?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not – again, this is very preliminary.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: So we will be working with the OPCW. I’m not suggesting there is a violation. We’re still determining what the facts are on the ground.

QUESTION: Have you got any samples from the ground?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional details beyond what I’ve shared so far.

QUESTION: Can we move to Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: There seems to be – well, not seems to be. There has been a lot of attention given in the last day or so to these photographs that the Ukrainians have apparently presented or apparently did present to the OSCE showing or purporting to show Russian – people who are the same as in the Georgia incursion in 2008, similar to – or at least one guy in particular – similar to people who have appeared in eastern Ukraine over the course of the last couple weeks. I’m wondering – the stories, the reports about this, about these photographs, this evidence that I’ve seen, say that the Administration endorses or accepts that these are factual. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, a range of the photos that the Ukrainians have provided – and to be fair, a number of U.S. officials have Tweeted and provided publicly – are from publicly available photos, either in international media or already on Twitter that show either individuals or signs of a connection with – between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine. So that, as you know, has long been what we have believed and we’ve made the case publicly about, whether that’s the Secretary or the President or others. So these are just further evidence of the connection between Russia and the armed militants.

QUESTION: Well, how confident are you in their veracity or in the strength of the case that these photographs would appear or that you and the Ukrainians seem to say – let me start again. I’m having a difficult day here today.

How strong is the case, do you think, that these photographs make?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve stated the case pretty strongly publicly before these photos were out there, before we were talking about them, in terms of our belief that there’s a strong connection between Russia and the armed militants that we’ve seen in eastern Ukraine and Crimea and other places. So this is more just further photographic evidence of that.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean, how certain are you that these photographs show people, individuals who are – who have links to Russia, who were involved in Georgia in 2008 and now are involved in Ukraine in 2014?

MS. PSAKI: Well, what we’re – what we see in the photos that have been, again, in international media, on Twitter, and publicly available, is that there are individuals who visibly appear to be tied to Russia. We’ve said that publicly a countless number of times. I will let you all draw the conclusions yourself as to whether these are individuals who look similar or not to other events.

QUESTION: Right. But you keep calling it evidence.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you think that this is evidence that would stand up in a court of law?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it’s a legal – we’re not making a court of law case here. We’re just showing that this is photographic evidence that indicates the connection we’ve been talking about for weeks now.

QUESTION: But it doesn’t prove – but you think that it is proof of the connection, or it’s just a – or you’re just alleging that it’s another sign of this?

MS. PSAKI: It’s another sign, Matt, of --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- just if you look at these photos.

QUESTION: I’m just – as you know, and you’ve talked about – and the Russians have talked about as well, this propaganda war that’s going on between the two sides. And what we saw last week was Secretary Kerry in Geneva getting up and talking about this leaflet that was put out, which – regarding Jewish registration in Donetsk. And it appears that this is just a hoax. This is not a real thing. And yet, it was identified as something of major significance by the Secretary and by others. And I’m just wondering, given that and the apparent – the fact that that – or the – what appears to have been a hoax got turned into something very much more major than it potentially – than it had the potential to be, if these photographs could fall – if the Russians could point to these photographs as falling into the same category.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, there’s a range of details out there we’ve talked about that leads us to believe there’s a strong connection. We’ll let people draw their own conclusions.

QUESTION: Jen? But you’re saying – you’re making a case, in this case. And --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I would point you to --

QUESTION: Let me just ask you --

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. I would point you to what the Secretary, what the President, what Susan --

QUESTION: I’m aware.

MS. PSAKI: -- and Susan Rice have said, what we’ve all been saying for weeks about the strong connection. This is not a new argument.

QUESTION: But you’re not – are you saying that the United States Government, with its great tradition of intelligence gathering and sources and so on, is now dependent on publicly traded photographs on the internet and Twitter and so on?

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s fair to – for me to convey that we’re looking at a fair share of classified and unclassified information. We’re discussing both. But these are a range of photos – and you’ve hit the point on the – nail on the head there – that have been publicly available, that are on Twitter, that are in international media, and we’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

QUESTION: No, you said something that they appear to be, they look like. Are you saying that you’re actually looking at the – what they look physically, and they look like people who are connected to Russia? Is that what you’re suggesting?

MS. PSAKI: Again, Said, I think I’ve answered this question. Do we have --

QUESTION: Sorry, you’re saying that these photographs back up classified intelligence that you’ve gotten from --

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying they back up the public argument we’ve been making for weeks.

QUESTION: Right. But your argument is not just based on the publicly available photographs like these ones, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, I’m not going to talk about classified information.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just asking, do you --

MS. PSAKI: But it is fair that we are having a range of conversations with our international partners, and these photos are – which are, again, publicly available --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- are just further evidence or further examples, I should say.

QUESTION: I guess I’m just not sure why you keep pointing out that they’re publicly available. I mean, no one’s saying they’re not. But just because they’re publicly available doesn’t – I don’t see how that buttresses your argument one way or the other. What I’m asking is whether these publicly available photographs mesh with, back up anything, any indications that you’re getting from non-public or intel --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I’d point you to the public argument we’ve been making for weeks about the connection.

QUESTION: Would you make that public argument if you didn’t have other reasons to believe that it was true?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to answer it further.

QUESTION: Well, then I’m not sure. Then you’re just --

MS. PSAKI: I think we have consistently --

QUESTION: You have no reason to believe --

MS. PSAKI: Matt, we have consistently made the same argument about the connection between – we see between Russia and between these armed militants. That’s been consistent for weeks. These photos just show further examples of that connection.

QUESTION: But you wouldn’t be making that argument – am I correct? You wouldn’t be making that argument if you didn’t have other reasons to suspect that this – that (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: We feel confident in our argument. I’m not going to back – I’m not going to outline it further.

QUESTION: (Off-mike) these photographs and publicly available evidence. This publicly available evidence does actually support what we have gathered in other – by other means?

MS. PSAKI: What we have stated for weeks.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on this topic?

QUESTION: Yeah, I have one more question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Now, the Russians are claiming that the Ukrainians are already – they – whatever you call – they alreadyviolating the terms of the agreement in Geneva. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen those comments. Let me give you just actually a readout on a phone call with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning. The Secretary urged Russia to take concrete steps to help implement the Geneva agreement, including publicly calling on separatists to vacate illegal buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty and address their grievances politically. He also called on Russia to assign a senior diplomat to work with the OSCE mission in eastern Ukraine to make absolutely clear to the separatists that Russia supports the agreement and wants de-escalation. He also called on Russia to speak out against the seizing of journalists and other innocents as hostages and to join the U.S. in calling for the immediate release of Irma Krat. He noted that the Ukrainian government has pledged a full investigation of the violent events in Slaviansk. Given some suspicious aspects of the events, Russia should withhold judgment on who was responsible until that investigation is complete.

The Secretary also made clear that Russia’s recent public statement casting doubt on Ukraine’s commitment to the Geneva agreement flies in the face of the facts. The Government of Ukraine put forward a broad amnesty bill for separatists to give up buildings and weapons, and has sent senior representatives to the east with the OSCE to help implement the agreement, and had called an Easter pause in its counterterrorism operations. He asked that Russia now demonstrate an equal level of commitment to the Geneva agreement in both its rhetoric and its actions. As noted in Geneva, without implementation, the joint statement is only a piece of paper, and what is needed is true de-escalation.

QUESTION: But given the fact that Foreign Minister Lavrov – I don’t know if it was before or after this call, but – I don’t know if – he spoke today --

MS. PSAKI: He just spoke with him in the last hour.

QUESTION: All right. Well, then, in the hour or so – hours before the phone call, Foreign Minister Lavrov was basically trashing Ukraine and the West for these violations. Did the Secretary get any indication from him that they are willing to do or to take any of these steps that he discussed in the phone call? And also, is the United States assigning a senior diplomat to the OSCE monitoring mission, or is that Ambassador Pyatt?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that was part of the discussion. Obviously, Ambassador Pyatt is closely involved. I will – I’m happy to check and see who our person who will be closely on – working closely on the ground with the OSCE. But part of what was in the statement was that all parties would --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- have individuals from their countries play a role. I’m not going to, obviously, speak for what Foreign Minister Lavrov or the Russians are or aren’t willing to do. But the point here is that the Ukrainians have taken steps; the Russians need to take additional steps. Obviously, we would have to make a decision in the matter of – in a matter of days if there are going to be consequences for inaction.

QUESTION: Okay. You said the Russians need to take additional steps.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: To your – in your view, have the Russians taken any steps at all to help implement the Geneva agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we did see a couple of steps. I don’t want to overstate them. As I mentioned over the weekend, we saw the OSCE ramping up their efforts. That, of course, is on the Ukrainian side. In accordance with – on Sunday, we also saw a government building in the city of Yenyakiyevo released and is now back in the hands of Ukrainian authorities. But obviously, there are a range of steps that need to be abided by in the joint statement, and that’s what we’re looking for.

QUESTION: In light of the situation thus far, since Thursday, since the Geneva statement was signed, I’m wondering if you – do you still think it was worth the time and effort to negotiate this statement?

MS. PSAKI: We do. We think that there should always be an opportunity for diplomacy. We – as we said last week, we are looking at this over the coming days with our eyes open. And if they don’t take steps that they have committed to, then there will be consequences.

QUESTION: Is not the presumption of negotiating agreements like this the – do you not have a presumption that the other side is actually going to commit – to actually undertake what is agreed to in them?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, you do. And we’ll see --

QUESTION: And you still have --

MS. PSAKI: -- over the next pivotal days what happens.

QUESTION: And given that was has happened since the crisis in Ukraine began and with Geneva on – the Geneva process on Syria, you still go into these negotiations with the Russians with the presumption that they are actually going to do what they say they’ll do?

MS. PSAKI: We do, Matt, because Russia has been a partner on other issues. I would point you to even the removal of chemical weapons and the progress that’s been made in recent weeks there. So --

QUESTION: So you would reject those critics – and there are many, perhaps the usual suspects, critics, but – who say that the Administration is just being hopelessly naïve in entering into agreements with the Russians and thinking that the Russians are actually going to follow through on them? You would --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point those critics to the fact that nearly 80 percent, if not 80 percent of chemical weapons, have been removed from Syria, that Russia remains a partner in the P5+1 talks.

QUESTION: But --

MS. PSAKI: But clearly, there are areas where we disagree. And we --

QUESTION: Right. But 80 percent of the chemical weapons are gone, but yet another chemical which is not covered by that appears to just have been used. So if they’re just going to switch things up – there seems to be a fundamental disagreement over what you even agreed upon, and you – did the Secretary in his call with the foreign minister make clear to the foreign – Foreign Minister Lavrov that illegally occupied buildings does not mean government buildings in Kyiv?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any further readout than what I just provided to all of you, Matt, but I think that should be pretty evident to the Russians.

QUESTION: Forgive me, Jen. You said the Russians are partners. They’re not adversaries in this case? Russia is not your adversary in the Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Said, there are areas where agree – where we agree; there are areas where we disagree. We have not held back in laying out economic consequences when necessary, but again, we feel there should be an opportunity for diplomacy. If they don’t take steps in the coming days, there’ll be consequences.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, but you – there are areas you agree and disagree in Syria, but the lines are --

MS. PSAKI: Broadly speaking, Said, there are.

QUESTION: Just bear with me for a second.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The lines are really clearly drawn in the Ukraine. They are your adversaries, aren’t they, in the Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Again, Said, I think I’ve --

QUESTION: I mean, listening to all this talk and bellicosity.

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve laid out what our view is on this. Do we have more?

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: Let me come from another --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Yeah, on the Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: On Ukraine, sure.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. At what point did United States decide and move to additional sanction? Last week the Russian has to take another action within couple days or by the weekend. But – so I’m talking about the timeline.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we hope to see a de-escalation in the coming – in this – over the situation over the next few days. And if there’s not progress, we remain prepared, along with our European and G7 partners, to impose additional costs. So there’ll need to be decisions made in a matter of days.

QUESTION: Jen, Senator Murphy yesterday called on the Administration to take those additional steps to put more sanctions on Russia. Do you have a reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: Not specifically. Obviously, there are a range of members who have their views, and we consult with them regularly. Obviously, we haven’t held back from putting sanctions in place. We are prepared to put more sanctions in place, including on individuals and on sectors, and if the situation warrants it, we won’t hesitate to do that.

QUESTION: Now these additional sanctions would target petrochemical companies and banks, which would, of course, have a dire impact on the European economy. How do you expect Europe to go along with additional sanctions if it’s going to hurt their economy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, I would say, as you know, but just to remind any critics out there, that this executive order the President signed weeks ago gives us the flexibility and the ability to sanction sectors, including those that you mentioned. Beyond that, obviously, we’ve been working closely with our European partners on continuing to work in lockstep. I’m not going to get ahead of where we are, but they are fully briefed on what our options are and what we’re thinking about, and we’re obviously fully briefed on what they’re thinking about as well.

QUESTION: Would a decision on Keystone help our European allies come to a conclusion?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a connection, but you may lay one out for me.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just saying if this is going to hurt their economy, and we tell them to go along with more sanctions, which is going to hurt them, how do we justify that when we won’t pass Keystone?

MS. PSAKI: Entirely different situations. Not apples and not only oranges; apples and, I don’t know, papaya or something very different.

More on Ukraine? Go ahead Ali.

QUESTION: Thank you. There are reports that NATO is going to be sending U.S. troops to Poland and Estonia. I’m just wondering if you have anything on that from here.

MS. PSAKI: I have seen those reports from over the weekend. Obviously, we’ve been taking steps in cooperation with NATO to continue to boost our allies in the region. Let me see if I have anything new on this. I don’t. But I will, of course, let DoD make any announcements about that. I know they’ve made comments over the weekend.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah. Jen, I know you already went through the readout of the Kerry-Lavrov call, but was – can you just – was there anything in there about the Vice President visiting Kyiv today? And the fairly large delegation that he has of people from both sides of the aisle here in the legislature --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- running around having meetings. And I wonder if there was any connection in the messaging on the call, because it looks like the Vice President’s office says that part of the mission is to reverse the flow of gas in the region. So I’m wondering, I mean, was there – how did this come together and did it get talked about at all?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, again, I don’t have any further readout just because this call just happened. I’m happy to check if more, but --

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. PSAKI: -- the Vice President, as you noted, is on the ground for the next couple of days. He’ll be meeting with a range of Ukrainian officials. At every point in this process, there have been several paths that we have been pursuing, including seeing if there is a path to work with Russia and encourage them to take additional steps to work with the OSCE to de-escalate, but also boosting the Ukrainians and the legitimate government. And that’s what the Vice President is on the ground to do over the next couple of days. He’ll be assessing the situation on the ground. He’ll be – we’ll all be in close contact over the next couple of days.

But a big part of what we’re going is lifting up the Ukrainian government, providing them economic assistance, political assistance. We put out a kind of a range of details I think a week or so ago of what we’re doing to boost them, and that’s part of the Vice President’s trip.

QUESTION: And have the Russians expressed any misgivings about this?

MS. PSAKI: About which piece?

QUESTION: That we are trying to prop up, as you say, this government. I don’t know if you used that word exactly, but that we’ve got our Vice President in Kyiv right now trying to legitimize a government that basically came to power after overthrowing the president there.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s hardly an actual, accurate account of what happened.

QUESTION: Right, he fled.

MS. PSAKI: The former president --

QUESTION: He fled, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- left Ukraine. As you know, the Rada put the new government in place. They’re working towards constitutional reform and elections at the end of May. I don’t think that the Russians would be surprised, given we have been working with the Government of Ukraine for weeks now, that we have the Vice President there, that we are continuing to coordinate and work closely with them. So I don’t know that there’s any conflict there.

QUESTION: Do you have any clarification on that comment he referred to about the gas supplies from Russia to Europe through Ukraine? Because it seems that in Brussels the Europeans are not very happy about this particular comment.

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly I’d refer you to the Vice President’s office. Broadly speaking, we are working closely with Ukraine on their energy needs. We’re working with our European partners on that, whether that’s putting energy reforms in place or ensuring that they have the resources they need.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any Ukraine? Ukraine?

QUESTION: On a different topic.

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine – no more Ukraine? Okay. One – can we – okay if we give we give a few other?

QUESTION: Sure. Absolutely.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, I have one on Asia.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: So just ahead of the President’s trip to Asia, there’s been a few provocative actions occurring in East Asia. I want to know if you any comment on a particularly odd one. A court in Shanghai has ordered the seizure of a Japanese ship that’s owned by the Matsui Corporation over an 80-year-old unpaid debt. So for the Japanese, they believe that this issue, among others, was resolved in the 1972 agreement, so many Japanese businesses are concerned about the security of their assets in China. I wanted to know if you have a comment on that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have seen that report. We believe that strong and constructive relations between countries in the region promotes peace and stability and is in the interests of both these countries as well as the interests of the United States. We continue to encourage dialogue and diplomacy to resolve any areas of disagreement. And obviously, the President, as you all know, will be arriving in Asia, I think, on Wednesday. So I’m sure there’ll be a range of issues that will be discussed that I know the White House has previewed already.

QUESTION: And I have another question on a related topic. The Japanese also announced a few days ago their intention to have about 1,000 troops on the island of Yonaguni. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I believe I do have something on this. Decisions regarding Japan’s defense and security are for the Japanese Government and people to make. Japan has demonstrated over the last 60-plus years an abiding commitment to peace, democracy, and the rule of law. Its very significant contributions to global security speak for themselves. We welcome Japan’s efforts to be transparent as it implements its evolving defense policies, and good relations between Japan and all of its neighbors benefit everyone in the region.

All right, I can do a few more and then I’m doing a little Twitter town hall.

QUESTION: Real quick --

MS. PSAKI: Tune in.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: If we could change topics to the Palestinian-Israeli --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- peace talks.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Today there is a meeting that is ongoing that’s supposed to either resolve the – I mean, put life back into the process or basically announce it brain-dead.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Could you comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, we’re focused on helping the parties find a way to extend the negotiations, because we believe they both want to find a way to do that. Unfortunately, developments over the last month make it – made it necessary to find a new formula or mechanism to move it forward, but we would hope that the parties can reach agreement as soon as possible. As long as they want to find a way to continue the negotiations, we’re willing to help them do that.

QUESTION: So the focus now on extending the talks --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- not necessarily a framework agreement that may come out between now and the 29th, correct?

MS. PSAKI: The parties – the focus between the parties is on extending the talks, yes.

QUESTION: So in other words, we are not likely to see a framework, or at least an announcement of a framework by, let’s say, the 29th of this month.

MS. PSAKI: Their focus at this point is on extending negotiations.

QUESTION: Are you making headway?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give a further readout of it. Obviously, we’re – continue to work with the parties, and it is going to be up to them to determine whether there’s path forward.

QUESTION: And my last question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Are you telling Abbas not to keep issuing statements and proclamations that they are going to sort of just close shop with the PA and turn over the occupation responsibility to the Israelis?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me speak to that, because it’s an important question. That – we’re aware, of course, of these reports and comments. That type of extreme step would obviously have grave implications. A great deal of effort has gone into building Palestinian institutions by Palestinians as well as the international community, and it would certainly not be in the interests of the Palestinian people for all of that to be lost. We – the United States has put millions of dollars into this effort. It would obviously have very serious implications for our relationship, including our assistance going forward. And as I just noted, of course, the parties are continuing to work to find the basis for extending the negotiations. Ambassador Indyk is there to help facilitate that, and that’s where our focus is.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: Sorry. Does the Secretary still remain willing and able to fly over to help get an extension?

MS. PSAKI: He does, but there’s no plans I have to announce today.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, would you say that if there was going to be an extension that he would be involved in it – directly involved in it? In other words, on the ground before the 29th, which is only 8 days.

MS. PSAKI: I understand why you’re asking the question. But again, it’s between the parties, so I think it would only be if there’s a determination that would be helpful.

QUESTION: Right. But if they would ask for him to come, he has not gotten so fed up with this process and shuttling back and forth all the time, he would go?

MS. PSAKI: No. He would, I think, be open to discussing what the most useful steps are. But again, it’s between the parties, so we’d have to consider what the right steps are.

QUESTION: But right now – so you don’t expect him to make a trip over there at the last minute just before this – the target deadline expires?

MS. PSAKI: There’s – I have no trip to announce at this point, but we’ll keep monitoring day by day what would be most productive.

QUESTION: If there were to be an extension, it is natural to expect that the Secretary of State would announce. I mean, that’s been his project all along.

MS. PSAKI: You’re the communications planner in chief here, Said.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not. I’m just a modest reporter. I’m not --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to make a prediction of that. Obviously, it would be because the parties agreed to extend. So I don’t want to make a prediction of what would happen.

QUESTION: I’ve got two very, very brief ones on different --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I’ve got one more on this issue.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. But let me check with our team and see if there’s anything we have to say on that.

QUESTION: All right. One, did you get any answers to my questions about this letter that was sent to Representative Lowey and other members of Congress? Or we can do it when you have more time, if you want.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. We don’t have the final answers yet, but we’re continuing to work on those.

QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, you will have seen that the Supreme Court this morning said that it would look into or we – go over this case about the – involving passports and whether people born in Jerusalem can have their passport to say “Jerusalem, Israel”? I’m presuming that the Administration position on this, which is that it should not – that’s a final status issue and it has not changed since previous times this has come to court. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of it changing. No.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one which is not on this is: Did you get an answer to my question about the resumption of Japanese whaling?

MS. PSAKI: I did.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: And then we’ll go to you, Lucas, next. And then we may have to wrap this up. But you can tweet me questions. #AskJen. Okay. The United States has not received any official reports, including Japan’s – indicating Japan’s intent to resume whaling. We refer you, of course, to the Government of Japan on this issue. We continue to support the moratorium on commercial whaling, adopted by the International Whaling Commission, as a necessary measure for the conservation of large whales.

QUESTION: Jen, who made the decision in the State Department to extend the public comment period on Keystone? And did it require the Secretary’s signature?

MS. PSAKI: Again, this was a decision made by a range of officials, and you’re familiar with the reasoning, but let me just repeat that for all of you. As you know, there has been a court case in Nebraska in the Nebraska Supreme Court. There have also been an unprecedented number of public comments. So on Friday, we notified the eight federal agencies specified in the Executive Order that we will provide more time for the submission of their views on the proposed Keystone Pipeline project. Agencies need additional time based on the uncertainty created by the ongoing litigation I referenced in the Nebraska Supreme Court, which could ultimately affect the pipeline route in the state.

In addition, during this time we’ll review and appropriately consider, of course, the 2.5 million comments. The Secretary was certainly aware of the decision, but there – I don’t think – it was more of a decision about what was needed, what the agencies needed, what was needed for the process.

QUESTION: And was that – did that decision require the sign-off of the Secretary?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, he was supportive of the decision.

QUESTION: The court case that you mentioned in Nebraska – this is – that litigation’s been pending for some time. Did it just occur to the Secretary to extend the deadline last week?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again obviously, yes, it’s been out there for a little bit of time, but there was a determination made that it could impact, of course, the route of the pipeline. Obviously, we have no impact on that. That’s a judicial process in Nebraska. But because of that, we felt it was the appropriate step to extend the timeline.

QUESTION: And why was early-May ever chosen?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Why was early-May, as a decision, ever chosen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there it was – there was a mandated timeline through the executive order that gave up to 90 days for public comment – I’m sorry – for agencies to comment – the same agencies that we notified on Friday. There was also a public comment period, as you know, so that was the May timeline.

Ali?

QUESTION: On a different topic? Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: There have been reports of drone strikes the last couple days in Yemen, as part of this wide-scale operation.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m wondering if you can share with us – obviously U.S. involvement, we’re curious about that, but separate from that just anything on what sort of coordination is going on between the U.S. Government and the Yemeni Government on --

MS. PSAKI: Well, sure. I mean, broadly speaking we have a strong, collaborative relationship with the Yemeni Government. We work together on various initiatives to counter the shared threats – threat we face from AQAP. You saw, I’m sure, this weekend that the Yemeni Government confirmed that air strikes were carried out this weekend against al-Qaida militants in remote training camps and in a convoy. According to the Yemenis, these individuals were planning to target civilian and military facilities – in military facilities. As a matter of policy, of course, we don’t comment on the details of counterterrorism cooperation with our foreign partners, so I don’t have more to share with you. But of course, as I noted, we have a strong working relationship and I would point you to the details the Yemeni Government confirmed over the weekend.

QUESTION: Jen, did any of those killed appear in the al-Qaida video?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details for you.

QUESTION: Was it a coincidence that the video was released and the strike happened --

MS. PSAKI: Lucas, I would put a call in to the Yemeni Government and see if they have more details to share with you.

We have to wrap this up, unfortunately.

QUESTION: You are aware that the Yemeni Government was not able to provide a single name or a single statistics on these people that were killed and allegedly were (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: They confirmed the details.

Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:41 p.m.)

DPB # 70


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - April 18, 2014

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 18:42

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 18, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Welcome to Visitors
  • SYRIA
    • Homs
    • Chemical Weapons
    • Lavrov / Brahimi / Rubinstein
  • UKRAINE
    • Donetsk / Accord / Foreign Minister Lavrov / OSCE / Sanctions
  • IRAN
    • Sanctions
  • ALGERIA
    • Elections
  • SOUTH KOREA
    • 7th Fleet Assisting with Search and Rescue Efforts
  • JAPAN
    • Whaling
  • ISRAEL
    • Visas
    • Visa Waiver Program


TRANSCRIPT:

12:18 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Light group today except family in the back.

QUESTION: Love it.

MS. PSAKI: I just have one item for all of you at the top. And let me say too, we’ll try to keep this very short, which should be easy given it’s a holiday. First, I want to welcome lots of family in the back. My husband is here in the back, so watch out, and my in-laws Mike and Mary Ann. And Mary Ann, I’ll just brag about her, was the – one of the Catholic school teachers of the year in the country last year. So if anyone does anything bad – Matt, I’m looking at you – (laughter) – she’ll be watching.

QUESTION: It’s Good Friday. I’ll try to be nice.

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) And then we also have many of Kate Starr’s family members – her sister Lisa and her nieces and nephews are here. Let’s see, Joey, Nick, Zoe and Kate. Did I get all of them right? All right. Well, welcome. Thank you for coming.

QUESTION: The Buffalo side.

MS. PSAKI: One – what did you say?

QUESTION: The Buffalo side.

MS. PSAKI: The Buffalo side – the Buffalo and the Cincinnati. Okay.

One item at the top. The United States is deeply concerned by the dire and tragic situation in Homs, the latest instance in which the Assad regime is brutalizing its own population. We strongly condemn the regime’s breaking of the cessation of hostilities and its brutal assault against residents of old city Homs. The regime’s bombardment and encirclement of the city is a despicable example of its starve-and-surrender battlefield approach. We urge the regime to cease its attacks on the old city and allow for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. As the UN Security Council made clear, the world is united in insisting that the regime facilitate immediate and unhindered access for UN humanitarian agencies and lift its sieges.

As the situation in Homs reminds us, the regime has not only failed to comply with the requirements of the UN Security Council resolution, it is intentionally increasing the desperation of the Syrian people in its all-out bid to retain personal power. In Homs as elsewhere, civilians must be allowed to come and go freely. The people of Homs must not have to submit to the regime before receiving much needed food and humanitarian assistance. And the United States, along with every member of the international community concerned with the welfare of civilians in this conflict, will not stop its calls in support of the people of old city Homs and all the innocent civilians in Syria who are suffering so much from this brutal war. We will continue to draw international attention to this catastrophic situation until the suffering of the Syrian people ends. We call on all those with influence with the regime to realize the fundamentally inhuman intent of the Assad regime, and push the regime to stop its barbaric acts against civilians.

With that – and we’ll go to Syria next. I don’t know if that’s your first topic.

QUESTION: No, no, no, I’ll start with that.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You call on all those with influence with the regime. Can you be more specific about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we call on the regime, and certainly this issue and the need to exhibit pressure on the regime has been raised with Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Russians and any other who may have influence.

QUESTION: Do you believe that they have been --

MS. PSAKI: That --

QUESTION: -- using their influence with the regime? Considering the fact that the government continues to – this all-out assault, do you – are you aware that they have been using their influence and Assad has just been saying, “No, thanks for the advice”? Or are they not trying to use their influence at all? What have you seen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve certainly been advocating publicly, and we believe – and we’ve asked them to also advocate privately with the regime on issues like movement of chemical weapons to the port at Latakia. I can’t speak for whether they have been or whether it’s influential. Clearly more needs to be done, and we’ll continue to raise it publicly and privately.

QUESTION: Right. But – okay. So did the situation in Homs come up yesterday at all in – with – in Geneva with the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov? Or was that mainly Ukraine? But surely it came up with Brahimi, yes?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly the discussion with Brahimi covered a range of topics. It was unfortunately a brief meeting because we had to depart, but they did talk about the humanitarian situation on the ground, naturally. With Foreign Minister Lavrov, it was really – the discussion was focused on Ukraine, but they have talked about Syria in recent weeks.

QUESTION: All right. Well, but you do believe that the Russians could do more – the Russians and maybe the Iranians as well could do more to exert influence on Assad to stop this kind of behavior?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. The situation on the ground is catastrophic and we have remaining concerns about the humanitarian situation, and all those who have influence should exert that.

QUESTION: I have Ukraine questions, but --

MS. PSAKI: Syria? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Do you know if Mr. Brahimi is going to take any new initiative? Or did he tell the Secretary if he’s going to travel to the region, or --

MS. PSAKI: Well, he did meet – the Secretary did meet with Joint Special Representative Brahimi yesterday. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, it was a brief meeting because the quad meeting ran a little bit late. They discussed the path forward.

QUESTION: A little?

MS. PSAKI: Quite late, a couple of hours late, but it was productive, as we all saw. They did discuss the path forward, but I’m not going to speak for Mr. Brahimi. Our Special Envoy Daniel Rubinstein is traveling around the region, as I believe Marie announced yesterday. He also met with Joint Special Representative Brahimi yesterday, so they’ll continue to have that discussion.

QUESTION: Do you expect Mr. Brahimi to resign from his position?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to what his plans are. I’ll let him speak to that. Obviously, he has served in a difficult role, but we’ll let him speak to his future plans.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Should we go to Ukraine?

QUESTION: Syria, please.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. First of all, I mean, what is changing that make you think that now is catastrophic. It was not catastrophic a week ago or something?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve long said that the humanitarian situation on the ground is incredibly concerning, it’s catastrophic. Food and medical supplies should not be used as a weapon or taking them away shouldn’t be used as a weapon. And this is something we just wanted to voice our strong concerns about publicly.

QUESTION: And now when you mention the special envoy message or the mission, whatever you can call it, is it now just to focus on the humanitarian? There is not any political solution?

MS. PSAKI: No, not at all. The humanitarian concerns and the situation on the ground has been a longstanding concern of ours. And we feel more needs to be done. The regime has the ability to let convoys through, let aid and assistance through, and that’s something we will continue to raise and continue to call on others to put pressure on the regime. But part of the discussion the Secretary had with Joint Special Representative Brahimi yesterday was about the political path forward. And Daniel Rubinstein will be traveling in the region. He will travel to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, and he’ll also stop in London before returning to the United States. And the big focus of those conversations is on the political path forward. So we’ll see how he comes out on the end.

QUESTION: So just like within two or – the last two or three weeks, we are not mentioning anything related to these “other partners,” quote-unquote, not the Gulf countries, which is like for me the political solution has to be either Russia or Iran in the process of finding a political solution of Syria. Is there anything going on through them or by them or for them or whatever?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think Joint Special Representative Brahimi and his team have continued to engage on those issues. The Secretary has spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov about --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- ongoing concerns about the situation on the ground in Syria. So that will continue. But clearly, our special envoy has a busy and active schedule over the coming days, and he’ll continue those consultations in the weeks ahead.

Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yeah. A couple questions relating – that go back to the Geneva statement from yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’ll just run down them in order of the – in order that they appear in the statement. The first one is the second paragraph, which talks about the anti-Semitism. I’m wondering if you have figured out anything more about the origin, seriousness of this leaflet in Donetsk.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to report. Frankly, at this moment, we’re still looking into that, but the source is less important than how horrific the content was and the message it sent. But I don’t have any new details on the source.

QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, in Donetsk, the head of the – I don’t know, whatever you want to call it – of the --

QUESTION: Self-proclaimed --

QUESTION: -- self-proclaimed local authorities saying, well, this Geneva statement is all very nice and all very well and good, but we’re not going anywhere because just as you regard us as illegal, we regard the government in Kyiv as illegal, and having come to power by a coup, and so we’ll leave when they leave. What’s your reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we absolutely reject the comments by the Donetsk separatists that the evacuation of their forces is contingent upon Maidan activities ending their legal and peaceful protests. You know where we stand on the legitimacy of the Government of Ukraine. You know where we stand on these claims that there was a coup, which we completely disagree with. There’s no parallel whatsoever between the armed and illegal seizures of government buildings, streets, and public spaces in eastern Ukraine, which are clearly covered by the accord from yesterday, and the legal and peaceful protests. And furthermore, I think it’s clear to the international community, and the Secretary and the President have made clear, that we see a strong connection with Russia here. That’s why they were an important partner in the diplomatic discussion yesterday. They have a responsibility to take steps to call on the separatists to evacuate.

QUESTION: But the agreement – it seems like the agreement kind of equates the Ukrainian Government and these separatists when you call on all sides to kind of de-escalate. So it seems as if they’re one – they’re both two part – you’re talking of them as equal parties, and it doesn’t necessarily address Russia’s – the agreement doesn’t necessarily, in writing, represent Russia’s role (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not how we view the agreement. And Foreign Minister Lavrov was there yesterday because of the role Russia has played and can continue to play in de-escalating.

QUESTION: Yes, but is that evident in the agreement, though?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s evident in what will be required for implementation of the agreement. And Foreign Minister Lavrov was a party to the discussions and to the accord yesterday. And so it’s clear to everyone what steps Russia will need to take in order to de-escalate the situation, and we will see – we will test the proposition of diplomacy over the coming days.

QUESTION: But it doesn’t say anything about Russia moving its troops back, Russia moving its troops from Crimea. I mean, Russia’s role in Ukraine – I know you have stated it, and Russia was a party to the talks, but it doesn’t really spell out that Russia really has a serious responsibility.

MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that, Elise. Yes, you’re right that these initial steps of what will be – or these are initial steps of what will be, our hope is, a broader de-escalation process. And we expect, as the situation de-escalates, the constitutional reform process unfolds, and the rights of all Ukrainians are ensured, Russia will begin to respond on troop numbers.

We’re going to test over the coming days whether this accord sticks, whether it will be implemented. And I think the clear answer to your question of what’s Russia’s engagement is if they do not play a role here, if they do not take steps they need to take, there will be consequences, and there will be consequences, certainly, for Russia.

QUESTION: But just to Matt’s point, that the kind of leader of these uprisings, in Donetsk in particular, is saying look, Russia didn’t sign this agreement on our behalf. So can you really – so – and they’re saying that they’re not going to implement it. So, a) what do you do in that situation, and b) how can you – do you believe that Russia has the influence over these folks if they’re saying that they’re not beholden to anything Russia signed?

MS. PSAKI: We do believe they have influence, and we do believe they have the ability to implement this accord, Russia does.

QUESTION: Let’s hope they have more influence with them than they do over Assad, yeah?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think we can talk about what’s happened with the CW process there, but --

QUESTION: Hold on --

QUESTION: Well --

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Let me just continue – just one more question. So are you saying that if these self-proclaimed people’s republic and these obviously pro-Russian rebels don’t stand down and vacate these public buildings, that you’re going to hold Russia responsible?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, we’ve talked over the last several days, as has the President, as has Secretary Kerry, about the clear and strong connection we see between these separatists and Russia. So yes, we do feel they have the ability to influence and – influence the separatists and change the situation on the ground. There’s no question about that.

QUESTION: As the discussion was going on in Geneva yesterday, President Putin was on television making a series of statements reiterating the fact that the Russians believe – regard what happened in Kyiv as a coup and that the new government is illegal. Do you – given that, the Russians would seem to be able – because this statement is quite vague, they would seem to be able to argue that all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners could refer to government buildings in Kyiv. I realize that you reject that, you say that your stance is well known, but the Russian stance is also well known. Do you discount them an interpretation of this statement --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the context --

QUESTION: -- that would include that? Or do you believe that the fact that Lavrov was there sitting with the Ukrainians is tacit acceptance of the legitimacy of the new government in Kyiv?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speak for Lavrov, naturally, but I think it’s clear in the – all parties came out of the meeting yesterday with a clear understanding of what needed to be implemented. We recognize – and the context and the history here is, of course, important – that Yanukovych left his own government. That was not a coup. He left the country with a vacuum of leadership. The Rada voted to put the legitimate government in place.

QUESTION: Right. I understand your argument, and I understand your position. But the Russian position is diametrically opposed.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And they could interpret this statement in – from Geneva as meaning that the – what they believe is the illegal government in Kyiv has got to get out. Do you not see how they can interpret it that way?

MS. PSAKI: I do not, and I don’t think any other party there saw that as part of the agreement. I mean, one important contextual piece to --

QUESTION: Well, certainly – maybe not people in Geneva, but certainly the guys in Donetsk see it that way.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what’s clear here, Matt, is the parties yesterday know what steps need to be implemented. The OSCE will be leading the process of implementing these steps over the coming days, working closely with the Government of Ukraine. We will know and we will see if they take the necessary steps. If they don’t, there will be consequences for their inaction.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yes, please. You mentioned that the OSCE is going to follow the mechanism or whatever, the process itself --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And more or less, it is mentioned what you are trying to see if it’s Russians or Ukrainians are going to do it. But is there any timetable, or you can see accordingly if it’s – something is done or not and you decide to make sanctions or not or anything else?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we will not know for several days, but we will see over the coming days whether steps are taken to move this forward. And as part of – written into the agreement yesterday was support by the United States, by the EU, by Russia and Ukraine to support the OSCE monitoring mission. The OSCE monitoring mission will be working closely with the Government of Ukraine and they’ll take steps, we hope, in the coming days to begin that process.

QUESTION: So I was asking because OSCE – they – do they have a normal relation with both sides? Because at a certain point, they were not allowed to enter something – some areas.

MS. PSAKI: You’re right. Well, as part of the accord signed yesterday, the Russians as well as the United States and the EU will support their effort. So implementation, it’s not just, as the Secretary said yesterday, what’s on a piece of paper; it’s whether there are actions taken to implement that. So we will see what happens.

One other piece I just wanted to note on – that the Ukrainian Rada has shown its commitment to moving forward on amnesty. In fact, many of these processes were underway, including constitutional reform, as we all know, but the text of the April 8th law on amnesty was published today in the official parliament’s newspaper. And according to the law’s provisions, it will come into effect tomorrow, April 19th. And that was, of course, part of what the Ukrainian Government said they would do yesterday.

QUESTION: The constitutional reform, just to clarify, because it seems that it was – he was quoted many places, Lavrov, that – saying that there is a commitment or promise from the U.S. side that they are going to convince the Ukrainians to make that change. As a matter of fact, constitutional reform, when it was mentioned – it was not mentioned. I mean, do they look for equality in rights, or superiority in rights --

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: -- those who are in east coast or east Ukrainian part?

MS. PSAKI: Well, inclusivity is a part of what we have been arguing for, and we’ve seen the Ukrainian Government take steps to be inclusive, to include representatives from all parts of Ukraine, to take steps to protect minority rights, and so we’ll continue to encourage that moving forward.

QUESTION: So there is no like a pushing for being autonomous in deciding what they want to do in the east part of Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Ukrainian Government will make that determination. The prime minister has spoken publicly in the last several days about an openness to having that discussion. So we expect that will continue, but we’re going to make those decision for them.

On Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yeah, on Ukraine. So 24 hours after the Geneva agreement, what is your level of confidence that Russia will comply with the agreement? And when you said “in the coming days,” when will you start monitoring on the ground that the agreement is implemented?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the agreement takes effect immediately. So clearly, there are steps that need to be taken, including the role – the OSCE’s role, obviously the Ukrainian Government will be closely engaged in that. I’m not going to put a – make a prediction on how confident we are. I will say we’re clear-eyed about Russia’s record of not implementing steps in the past, so we will see if they do take steps this time, and if they don’t take steps there will be consequences. But I’m not going to put a date on that. We won’t know for a couple of days.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, why don’t you have complete confidence that they’ll implement the agreement? I mean, this agreement is very favorable towards Russia because it asks for most – I mean, except for the getting rid of the occupying of the public buildings, I mean, it gives them all the things that they’ve been looking for, such as – well, I guess not annexing the actual territory, but now, between constitutional reform, the autonomy that the Ukrainians are offering, and even Secretary Kerry said it’s far more than any of these other type of territories. Doesn’t it give Russia – if these autonomous regions are leaning towards Russia, doesn’t it really give Russia kind of a firm hand in the eastern Ukraine without having to invade?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the most important priority here, Elise, when we were discussing this yesterday, was de-escalatory steps. So we’re going to see if Russia takes those de-escalatory steps. It doesn’t make a prediction of the outcome of a discussion about autonomy. It says they will have a discussion about autonomy, which the Ukrainian Government themselves have said they’re willing to have anyway. And the constitutional reform process has been underway. So what I’m conveying here is that we’re clear-eyed in the sense that we want to see them take action. It’s not just about having a piece of paper.

QUESTION: If I could just point out that the Russian foreign ministry is already saying that the Kyiv Government has misinterpreted the Geneva statement, and that all illegally – all the buildings occupied illegally includes them. So it seems to me that you’ve got a situation like you had after the Geneva 1 agreement on Syria, where there’s just a fundamental refusal by both sides – by both you and the Russians – to agree on what you agreed.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I --

QUESTION: Your position after Geneva 1 in Syria was that it – there was no way Assad could remain in power, and the Russians said no, that’s not what it says. And now you’re saying that our interpretation is right and their interpretation is wrong. All that – one side might be right or might be wrong, but the problem is that it’s never going to get implemented as long as you don’t have a fundamental agreement on what you actually agreed to.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think there are clear steps that led – that the OSCE-led mission will be implementing, and that is moving out of these buildings, disarming irregulars. We support that, certainly. We’re going to see if they take those steps. At no point have we agreed or would we agree that the legitimate Government of Ukraine has a – would be impacted by this in the way that suggests. If that’s what the Russian interpretation is and that’s all they’re willing to address, then there’ll be consequences.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: And we’ll keep preparing those on our side.

Ukraine?

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: What’s the next step if we see good faith efforts from Russia to work toward the agreement, but the situation in the east does not de-escalate, they don’t come to the table for constitutional reform, they boycott elections? What’s the next step?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure if I would characterize what you just outlined as good-faith steps. So we’ll evaluate day by day. The immediate step here is the OSCE will be engaged with the Ukrainian Government about the steps outlined in the accord yesterday related to buildings in the eastern Ukraine. There are obviously a range of steps that have been taken already, including, I mentioned, the amnesty law that’s going to be published or that has been published. So we’ll just watch each day as these steps are implemented and see what happens.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I ask you – on the consequences?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: We’ve seen sanctions – if the Administration doesn’t take the next step for sectoral sanctions in terms of sanctioning more individuals, is there any reconsideration going on about sanctioning President Putin himself?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it hasn’t changed that we wouldn’t – there are a range of individuals – not President Putin – who have been engaged in this process in an unhelpful way, who have been helping the illegal activities, who have been providing financial support. There’s a range that are not yet sanctioned, but certainly we continue to look at. We have the ability through the executive order to also put in place sectoral sanctions, but it hasn’t changed that we’re not leading with the sanctioning of the leader of a country.

QUESTION: So is it fair to say he’s off the table for now?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new update to tell you. Just to convey that there are dozens of individuals who have played unhelpful roles who we could certainly sanction if warranted.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on this mystery U.S. plane that seems to have landed in Iran? Is this – are you knowledgeable about this? What’s going on?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen those reports, as obviously you have as well. Let me just see what the latest information I have on this is. We don’t have any further information. Obviously, Treasury would make any determination if there was any violation of sanctions here. I’m not predicting there was. But certainly we look into any instance.

QUESTION: Well, what would violate sanctions in terms of if a U.S. plane lands in Iran without a license? Is that a violation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Iranian transactions and sanctions regulations prohibit the exportation of goods, services, or technology directly or indirectly from the United States or by a U.S. person to Iran, and would generally prohibit U.S. registered aircraft from flying to Iran. So we will – Treasury will, of course, have the lead on it.

QUESTION: So just a U.S. plane flying into Iran would violate sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, would generally prohibit it. But again, Treasury has the lead. They’ll take a look at the circumstances here and see if there are concerns about --

QUESTION: But like for instance if a trade delegation or – I’m not saying that they’re trading right now, but like in anticipation of the lifting of eventual sanctions if there’s more – I mean, it’s not illegal for U.S. people to travel to Iran.

MS. PSAKI: No. No. That’s why there’s a lot of nuance and a lot of different questions here, and all of your questions are good questions. It’s just that we look at every circumstance differently. The Department of Treasury will look at this and see if there’s any concern here.

QUESTION: When you generally prohibited from flying to Iran, does that mean – that means that they’re – if one wanted to fly a U.S. registered plane to Iran, one could apply or one could ask for permission to do so and it might be granted, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there may be a process in place. I’m not familiar with those details. But --

QUESTION: And does that apply to overflying Iranian airspace as well, or just landed in Iranian territory?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Do we have a new topic?

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Algeria.

MS. PSAKI: Algeria. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The minister of interior announced the preliminary results and declared the winning of President Bouteflika, and the main opponent rejecting this and say it wasn’t just or something like that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – I’m not sure – so have they had their press conference? I hadn’t seen it yet, as we came down --

QUESTION: Yes. Yes.

MS. PSAKI: They did?

QUESTION: The minister of interior.

MS. PSAKI: They did. Okay. Well, we’ve seen these reports. Naturally we leave it to the Government of Algeria. We, of course, look for any allegations of fraud to be investigated in any case, as we do around the world. We have not seen the reports of international observers. I’d basically refer you to the Government of Algeria at this point and their specific announcements.

QUESTION: Did you get any reports from the Embassy there, or any --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we didn’t --

QUESTION: -- assessment of how that --

MS. PSAKI: No U.S.-based organizations monitored the election, and the U.S. Embassy staff did not have formal observer status, so I don’t have any other additional updates for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: I’m getting the hook almost to take my lovely in-laws to lunch --

QUESTION: Yeah, I have – it shouldn’t take too much time.

MS. PSAKI: -- but let’s do a couple. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, I have one on the ferry in South Korea.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Can you outline any specific support that the U.S. is offering in the search and recovery efforts there? I know that Marie said yesterday that the 7th Fleet is in position to offer assistance, but is there any active participation going on?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the 7th Fleet is assisting with the search-and-rescue effort. The U.S. Bonhomme Richard – did I – Richard – did I pronounce it correctly?

QUESTION: You got it.

MS. PSAKI: All right.

QUESTION: Bonhomme.

MS. PSAKI: -- has been assigned a search area of five to 15 nautical miles from the shipwreck site. Two MH-60 Seahawk helicopters are conducting search-and-rescue operations within the assigned search area. And the U.S. and South Korea will exchange liaison officers to facilitate communications for the search operation. So we are assisting and we’re ready to provide further assistance as needed.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you.

QUESTION: All right, so I’ve got a couple on one issue and one very brief one.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: First very brief one, which is not what you’re expecting – this is about Japan announcing that it’s going to start whaling again.

MS. PSAKI: Oh.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen --

QUESTION: Particularly as it – they were just ordered by the ICJ to stop whaling in the Antarctic. This announcement today suggests they are going to resume, maybe not this year but the next year, while that case is still (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I had not seen those comments. Our concerns haven’t changed. We’re happy to get around a comment on that if there is such a desire.

QUESTION: Thanks. And then I have several questions about this letter that was apparently sent or allegedly sent yesterday up to the Hill to Representative Lowey and other members of Congress from your Office of Legislative Affairs. I’ve been told since I first raised this to you that this letter was a draft. I don’t know if that’s correct or not, but I still have questions about it, the first question being: It’s dated and signed by the assistant secretary. When do drafts get dated and signed?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail. I’m happy to check on that, obviously.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: I’m aware of the letter, but --

QUESTION: Okay. The letter raises a bunch of questions about, one, about visa – about visas for Israelis. And I don’t know if you can answer these, but I’d like to get them out there so that they can be answered. It says that, in fact, the complaints that – it suggests that complaints from Israel that young Israelis are being denied visas at a disproportional rate – these are people from 21 to 26 years old – may have some basis in fact. It says that the rejection rates have doubled from 16 percent to 32 percent from 2009 to 2013.

One, I’m wondering if you can say how this compares to visa rejection rates from other countries. Has any other country seen a spike like that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get into specific countries, and I believe most of that information is available, but I can say the disparity is typical worldwide because younger applicants are less likely than their elders to be able to demonstrate the strong ties needed to qualify for nonimmigrant status under U.S. immigration law. So that is something that those statistics that we’ve seen in other countries as well.

QUESTION: Okay. The letter then goes on to say that Israel is one of – that it’s a misperception that there is some intent to keep – for such a – for the denial rate to go high. It also notes that the actual approval rate is 68 percent, which is actually quite high. But it says it’s a misperception that you’re trying to keep young Israeli – or that young Israelis are unwelcome in the United States.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It says, “Israel is one of our closest friends and allies.” And while that is undoubtedly true, Israel is not actually a treaty ally of the United States. In other words, the United States is not treaty-obligated to come to Israel’s defense, nor is Israel treaty-obligated to come to U.S. defense.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But in light of the idea that they are a close friend and ally, which they are, I want to know how the treatment that this letter says Israel is now going to get compares to that of countries that actually are treaty allies of the United States and countries which are major non-NATO allies of the United States, which includes Israel.

One, it says that there – that the – there’s been an increased rate of overstays and illegal employment by young Israelis with visas in the United States.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And that that trend has been going on over a number of years.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m wondering if that does not mean that because of the – that the consular people who are adjudicating these visa applications are not, in fact, doing the right thing based on this overstay and illegal employment information in denying the percentage of visas that – applications that they get.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, visas are obviously adjudicated on a case-by-case basis, and applicants in that process are required to tell the truth on their application and during their interview about the purpose of their travel as well as their length of stay. So if embassies and consulates begin to notice that applicants are violating the terms of their visa, they will more closely scrutinize all applicants to ensure that the applicants are qualified for the visa under U.S. law.

Now all that being said, you don’t want the fact that that’s being looked at to impact individuals who have met every requirement to meet the requirements.

QUESTION: Is there any evidence – does this letter suggest that your initial review of this has uncovered any evidence that Israeli applicants, young Israeli visa applicants, have been improperly denied visas?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the review is ongoing, but not as --

QUESTION: Is there any --

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. And just to be clear, there are reviews that happen not just in Embassy Tel Aviv but in embassies and consulates, as you all know, around the world every single day.

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. PSAKI: So --

QUESTION: I understand. But there’ s no evidence that you are aware of so far that’s been uncovered by this initial review that people – that young Israelis are being improperly denied – or unfairly denied visas?

MS. PSAKI: No, but --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- obviously, you do reviews to ensure that you’re --

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. PSAKI: -- not only communicating all the information that you can communicate, you can help groups that need more information. And all of these factors are, of course, looked at.

QUESTION: All right. It’s been my understanding, and you just repeated it here again today, that individual visa cases or the visa applications are judged on their own merits on a case-by-case basis.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But this whole paragraph would seem to suggest that that is not the case, that in fact other factors are weighed in, including the overall – the overstay rate and illegal employment rate. Is that correct? So that when you adjudicate a visa, it’s not just what that person has in their application; it is also country statistics on overstays and illegal employment that also weigh in. So it’s not just each application weighed on its own merits.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not how the applications are weighed. It’s – obviously, you look at how visa recipients use their visas. So posts identify trends among their applicant pools and allow them to appropriately adjust the lines of inquiry consular officers pursue during their individual visa interviews. But still, each individual is adjudicated on an individual basis.

QUESTION: Okay. And the letter then goes on to outline some steps that the Secretary is instructing senior staff to get involved in so that – to ensure that no extraneous issue – I won’t go through the whole thing.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there any evidence uncovered in this review to suggest that any of the things that people have expressed concerns about are actually happening? In other words, one of the things is to ensure there are no extraneous issues impacting decisions by consular officers at posts with respect to the granting of visas to otherwise qualified applicants. There’s no evidence, I think, from what you’ve told me the first time, that, in fact, that that’s happened.

MS. PSAKI: No, but you conduct the review to ensure, of course.

QUESTION: Right. People who have been rejected, in other words – in this case, young Israelis who have had their visas rejected, have – those rejections have been in accordance with the proper procedure and the law --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: -- as far as you know. So there’s no admission that there’s anything wrong with the adjudication process as it regards – as it relates to young Israelis in this letter?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: All right. It says then that we’re – that you’re going to work to expand outreach and assistance to Israelis applying for visas through education of the Israeli public on how to successfully navigate the visa process, which sounds as though – and correct me if I’m wrong – that you’re going to offer to coach visa applicants in Israel on how they can – how their application can be successful? Is that wrong?

MS. PSAKI: It’s not an indication of that. We do outreach around the world.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: And certainly, when there are – there is an age gap or an age group where we’re seeing higher rates of refusal, we want to make sure that individuals are aware of what the requirements are for applying, what the consequences are of violating the terms.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: And so it’s simply providing information, and that’s something the Embassy in Tel Aviv is doing.

QUESTION: Can you take this question, or find out --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- if there are any other countries in which there is a similar outreach, expanded outreach to visa applicants, whether they’re young or old?

MS. PSAKI: There is.

QUESTION: There are?

MS. PSAKI: There are dozens of countries, absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. Okay, then I – could you provide or ask --

QUESTION: Could you provide a --

QUESTION: -- a list – for a list?

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s unlikely we provide a list. I’m happy to take the question and see if there’s more we can provide.

QUESTION: It’s just that, like, I mean – frankly, like, every Arab man of that age group gets denied a visa. So it’s – clearly, it’s – you’re looking for, like, ways to increase Israelis to come to this country. Is that basically what the bottom line is?

MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, this letter was a response to an inquiry from a member of Congress, as we respond to those inquiries all the time, asking for more information on this program. There is outreach we do about visa information and how to apply for a visa around the world in dozens of countries. Perhaps those inquiries are not coming about other countries as much from members of Congress. That’s a process we undergo and we undertake. When there’s a high rate of application, when there are – when countries have applied for a Visa Waiver Program, when we do work with them closely, oftentimes you do work with them to see what’s happening with the percentages and why. But it’s not different from what we’re doing in other countries. This is simply a letter responding to a specific inquiry.

QUESTION: So are you saying that this letter is not – is actually the letter; it’s not a draft?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that level of detail for you.

QUESTION: Okay. One of the other things in here is that it says that finally, and perhaps in the long term most importantly, the State Department, together with DHS, is going to create a joint U.S.-Israeli working group to help Israel move toward eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program, including through reduction of the overall refusal rate. I’ve got a couple questions just about this.

Back on March 21st, you said that Israel was currently ineligible for the Visa Waiver Program for a number of reasons: one is the overstay; one is the illegal employment, what we’ve just been going through; but also, most importantly, you said most basically they are ineligible because of the lack of reciprocity for U.S. citizens, particularly U.S. citizens of Palestinian or Arab origin. This working group is designed to do what?

MS. PSAKI: None of that criteria has changed. If those pieces don’t change, whether it’s the tourist visa refusal rate or other requirements to meet the Visa Waiver Program requirements, they won’t be a member of the Visa Waiver Program. This is a process of working with countries to see if those statistics of those pieces can be improved that we also do with a range of countries who have applied for the Visa Waiver Program where there’s a high rate of application.

QUESTION: But is it the case or is it not the case that reciprocity will remain – and until Israel shows or demonstrates reciprocity with all American citizens, that they will be ineligible for the Visa Waiver Program --

MS. PSAKI: That is --

QUESTION: -- or is that something that this working group is going to try to work to ease --

MS. PSAKI: The requirements have not changed.

QUESTION: -- or drop the reciprocity requirement?

MS. PSAKI: No. The requirements have not changed. The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State both remain concerned with reciprocal visa free – travel privileges for U.S. citizens due to the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Arab Americans receive at Israel’s borders and checkpoints. And reciprocity is the most basic condition of the Visa Waiver Program. That hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: And will remain – remain so?

MS. PSAKI: And will remain. That’s right.

QUESTION: And so that’ll be part of the working – the discussions of the working group?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. How to address these issues, how they can improve --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- the conditions to meet the requirement.

QUESTION: But – okay. But it’s an improvement in their conditions, not an easing --

MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: -- of the U.S. criteria.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware of any other working groups, similar working groups for countries, particularly countries that are in the so-called roadmap to the Visa Waiver Program?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to give you specific countries, but yes, we do work with other countries who have applied for the Visa Waiver Program who have a high rate of application, about why they aren’t meeting the requirements and how we can – they can take steps forward to meet those requirements.

QUESTION: Okay. In this kind of working group setting, I’m aware of one. Perhaps there’s others.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure if it’s called to the same thing, but --

QUESTION: Well, there’s one with Brazil. It was started in 2012.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m sure you’re aware of that. But I don’t believe that – there are several other countries – Argentina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland, Romania, Turkey, and Uruguay, which are all in this so-called roadmap category, countries that have expressed – and Israel is among them – countries that have expressed interest in getting into it. The only other working group that I’ve been able to uncover, similar to this one that you’re starting with Israel, is for Brazil.

What’s interesting about this to me is because several of the countries that are on the roadmap are NATO members.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Poland, Romania, Turkey. And I’m just curious as to why working groups haven’t been established for them.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, it may not be called the same thing, but we work with a range of those countries to address the reasons why they’re not meeting the Visa Waiver Program.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: What about cynics who are saying that you’re – I mean, to put a fine point on I think what he’s asking is there are some cynics that say that you’re doing this because – to get yourself in better graces with Israel, particularly after some kind of negative comments on both sides between the defense minister and Secretary Kerry, obviously – Secretary Kerry’s comments about the kind of breakdown of this recent deal. There are some people that think that you’re doing this to kind of make nice with Israel.

MS. PSAKI: I would say that we were responding to a letter from a member of Congress. The programs and the steps that are outlined in that letter are programs that were already underway. They weren’t an announcement of new initiatives. There are steps we routinely take, whether that is working to increase our educational programs, whether that is working to address a drop in – or an increase in rejections, and we – we’re responding to a request for more information.

QUESTION: Well, hold on. You can’t say this was – that all this stuff was already going on before the outcry?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Why doesn’t the letter say the Secretary has directed us to address these matters quickly and comprehensively?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, they’re looking --

QUESTION: I mean, this is a response to a letter that was – that she sent to you.

MS. PSAKI: They’re looking – they’re reviewing the issues that have been raised, but those are already programs that have been underway.

QUESTION: There are 17 countries – Canada is a – we’ll put in a different category because it has its own deal. There are 17 countries that are members of NATO and major – countries identified as major non-NATO allies, which are not in the Visa Waiver Program.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It would appear that Israel is the only one of them that is getting this special treatment here. Can you – so --

MS. PSAKI: Well, if somebody from Capitol Hill wants to send a letter about Uruguay, I’m sure we can respond to that.

QUESTION: Okay. So it would be – how about my request? I’ll ask right now. I would like to know what’s going on for Albania, Poland, which President Obama promised in 2010 would be made a member of the Visa Waiver Program --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but that hasn’t happened yet.

MS. PSAKI: And we remain supportive of that, yes.

QUESTION: So Albania, Poland, Romania --

QUESTION: So what --

QUESTION: Hold on. Just let me finish this list: Albania, Poland, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Those are the NATO members which are --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let me talk to --

QUESTION: -- treaty allies of the United States.

MS. PSAKI: I understand.

QUESTION: You have sent soldiers to die – fight and die --

MS. PSAKI: I know what a NATO ally means. Let me see --

QUESTION: -- in Afghanistan and Iraq.

MS. PSAKI: Let me see, Matt if – and Elise and any others who are interested, if there’s more details on specific countries. I know we’ve been resistant to doing that, but in the circumstances, I will make that ask.

QUESTION: All right. And I would – and then – those – so those are the NATO ones.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The major non-NATO allies, of which Israel is one, other than Israel, countries that are major non-NATO allies, which are in – which are not in the Visa Waiver Program, are Afghanistan, Argentina, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Philippines, Thailand, and Pakistan. Are any of those countries getting similar treatment that – treatment similar to what Israel is getting, according to this letter?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:04 p.m.)

DPB # 69


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: April 17, 2014

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 17:24

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 17, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • IAEA Director General's Report to Board of Governors / Iran Joint Plan of Action
    • Secretary's Travel Update
    • UN Meeting on DPRK Human Rights
    • Special Envoy Rubenstein's Travel Update
  • UKRAINE
    • Military Assistance to Ukraine
    • Anti-Semitic Leaflets in Eastern Ukraine
    • Upcoming Elections in Ukraine
    • NATO Enlargement / Implementation of Joint Geneva Agreement
    • Assistance to Ukraine
    • De-escalation
    • Russian Propaganda
  • IRAN
    • Nuclear Issue / Iranian Support for Hezbollah / Sanctions Relief
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom
  • JAPAN/SOUTH KOREA
    • Regional Relationship
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Private Citizens Travel Overseas / Privacy Waivers
  • SYRIA
    • Targeting of Christian Communities
  • CUBA
    • Cuban Mission to the UN / Suspension of Consular Services / Banking Solution


TRANSCRIPT:

1:29 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. My tea is making another appearance today. I have a few items at the top, and then we’ll open it up for questions. I’m sure you saw the Secretary and Lady Ashton’s press conference. I’m sure there’s lots to talk about today.

First item at the top: We have seen the IAEA director general’s report to the board of governors. And the IAEA confirmed that Iran has completed its dilution of the agreed amount of 20 percent enriched uranium. If you remember from the Joint Plan of Action, they had to dilute half of it and convert the rest. The conversion process is still underway. Based on this confirmation and consistent with commitments of the United States made under the Joint Plan of Action, the Department of Treasury took the necessary steps pursuant to the JPOA to facilitate the release of a $450 million installment of Iran’s frozen funds.

To remind people, to this point all sides have kept the commitments made in the Joint Plan of Action. As Iran remains in line with its commitments under the JPOA, the United States and its P5+1 partners and the European Union will continue to uphold our commitments as well.

Oh, and a travel update: The Secretary will be on his way home at some point shortly.

The second item at the top, on North Korea: Ambassador Samantha Power will participate in a discussion today in an Arria meeting of Security Council members on the human rights situation in North Korea and the recently released report of the UN Commission of Inquiry. The United States, France, and Australia are co-sponsoring this meeting. This important discussion by the members of the Security Council appropriately takes place during North Korea Human Rights Week in Washington. It is a further testament to the growing awareness in the international community of the magnitude of the human rights problem in North Korea and of the importance of holding accountable those responsible for committing the systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations.

Two more quick items at the top, and then we’ll get to your questions. There were some questions about Special Envoy Rubenstein’s travel yesterday, so I wanted to give a travel update for him. He will be traveling to the region tomorrow to continue his consultations with international partners on the crisis in Syria. In the coming days, he will go to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar. Upon leaving the region, he will stop in London before returning to the United States. We’ll provide additional details as his itinerary develops. This is an opportunity for Special Envoy Rubenstein to further consult with Syrians and others seeking an end to the horrific conflict and a different kind of future for all Syrians. As you know, we remain committed to the diplomatic process and to all diplomatic efforts to find a political solution as the only way to a lasting, sustainable end to this conflict.

And finally, one other item on Ukraine, and then we’ll get to questions, because I think they’re probably on Ukraine. Today my former boss, Secretary of Defense Hagel, called his Ukrainian counterpart, the acting defense minister, to tell him that the President of the United States has approved additional military assistance for Ukraine, for health and welfare items and supplies. The State Department will provide $3.5 million in foreign military financing to support Ukraine’s armed forces with medical supplies and service member equipment, including helmets, sleeping mats, and water purification units. We’ll deliver these items as quickly as possible. Delivery timing will be item-specific, depending on availability and transportation. We’ll provide additional updates as items are processed for delivery. The State and Defense Departments will work closely with the Embassy and the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and the State Border Guard Service to develop a plan for procurement and delivery of the supplies. Additionally, the Department of Defense will allocate $3 million from Cooperative Threat Reduction funding to support Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service, with supplies to include clothing, shelter, small power generators, and hand fuel pumps.

This announcement is not the end of our assistance. As you know, the review we’re undertaking with the Department of Defense about assistance is ongoing.

Matt.

QUESTION: I don’t really have anything on Ukraine, but the --

MS. HARF: Okay. Or anything you want.

QUESTION: You said that – well, no, but on this, just on that, your announcement there, so it’s 6.5 million total?

MS. HARF: Let me see. Uh-huh.

QUESTION: 3.5 in FMF and 3 million from DOD?

MS. HARF: Yep. Mm-hmm, that’s correct.

QUESTION: That just doesn’t seem like a particularly large amount.

MS. HARF: Well, this is at the end of – it’s not the start of the end of our announcements. It’s just the latest step in assistance, and the assistance we think will help the Ukrainians on the ground.

QUESTION: I don’t have anything else on Ukraine.

MS. HARF: Okay.

Shortest briefing in history. Go ahead, Ali, and then --

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, in his remarks just now, mentioned the – or he didn’t say reports, but the instances of anti-Semitic behavior in eastern Ukraine. So I just wondered, could you expand on what evidence are you seeing that this is happening on the ground? What exactly was he referring to? Because he seemed to very not – very, very strongly say that yes, this is happening. So we’re just curious about --

MS. HARF: Right. He called it not just intolerable, but grotesque. He was very strong in condemning this. I’d also point you to the joint Geneva statement that all four parties signed onto that strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism, and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism. So we are seeing the same reports, I think, that are out there in the press. We’re trying to gather more information, but it is clear that some of this is taking place, whether it’s leaflets or other items that are directed at Jews in Ukraine. And again, as the Secretary said, absolutely intolerable, grotesque, no place for this.

QUESTION: So just to follow up really quick: Obviously, there were those reports about the leaflets that you just mentioned specifically, and again, he seemed pretty unqualified that those reports are accurate, so is that --

MS. HARF: We have no reason to believe they’re not. And you heard – you are accurately characterizing the way he described it, yes.

Yes.

QUESTION: Well, do you have any idea who is behind it?

MS. HARF: I think we’re trying to look into that right now and gather information about where they’re coming from. As we said in the joint statement, all four parties very clearly condemn anti-Semitism. So, again, I don’t have more details on where the leaflets are coming from, but I know we’re looking into it.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, do you take this as a serious threat to Jews in Ukraine? I mean, I just – I --

MS. HARF: I think the Secretary made very clear that we take this very seriously.

QUESTION: Well, but would you take it – if it turned out that it’s just some dude running around with a mimeograph machine throwing these leaflets around, that --

MS. HARF: We’d still take it very seriously.

QUESTION: Well, do you have any reason to believe that either the Ukrainian Government or authorities in some – someone who has any kind of authority in the east is behind this?

MS. HARF: I think we’re still trying to determine who’s behind it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But you – and that doesn’t affect how seriously you would take it?

MS. HARF: No, Matt, it doesn’t. I mean, we take any anti-Semitism incredibly seriously no matter where it is.

QUESTION: No, I understand that.

MS. HARF: Or who perpetrates it. I think our – depending on who we talk to about what needs to happen now --

QUESTION: Right, but you don’t have any --

MS. HARF: -- it matters who’s behind it.

QUESTION: But you don’t – well, right, exactly, it does.

MS. HARF: Right. So we’re still looking into it.

QUESTION: And you don’t know who is behind it?

MS. HARF: I don’t – we don’t know yet. I don’t know. I don’t know if folks on the ground know more. I’m happy to check.

Yes.

QUESTION: I think that was my question, but can we move on to Pakistan?

MS. HARF: Anything else on --

QUESTION: On Ukraine, yes.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Russia has already said that they believe the Ukrainian president was overthrown in a coup. Is the U.S. concerned that Moscow will not recognize the results of the election on May 25th?

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly are pointing to the elections on May 25th as a key milestone in Ukraine’s future. We want them to go forward, we strongly support them, and we want people to recognize them.

QUESTION: Because President Putin in an interview today said that he will not – he does not view the May 25th elections in Ukraine as legitimate.

MS. HARF: Well, I think there are a lot of things that President Putin said in that interview that just defy logic and are at odds with reality. That would certainly be one of them.

QUESTION: Do you believe that President Putin has control over his military?

MS. HARF: I have no indication that he doesn’t.

Yeah. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: On the Putin interview, do you have any reaction or comment to that segment where Snowden sent a question in and was answered by Putin?

MS. HARF: I really don’t.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Ukraine?

QUESTION: Do you have a readout about the Secretary’s meeting with Mr. Brahimi today?

MS. HARF: I’m not sure it’s happened yet. I think it had gotten pushed until – because of the ongoing Ukraine meetings. So as soon as we can get one, we will get you one.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes, anything --

QUESTION: Just one more follow-up.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Are you worried that President Putin doesn’t have control over his military?

MS. HARF: Again, I haven’t seen indications of that. I think one thing you can say about President Putin is he likes to be in control, and has control. I don’t think that’s been lacking throughout this crisis. I’m happy to check with our folks and see if there’s anything more to that.

QUESTION: Do you believe the spread of NATO has caused some of Putin and Russia’s aggressive actions?

MS. HARF: No. I know they say that, and if that’s a reason they’ve told themselves and they start believing the fiction, that’s just not based in reality. What we’ve said all along is that we’re committed to NATO, that we’ve been open with them as we’ve talked about NATO enlargement. I’d also point out that today, look, we’re going into what happens now with Russia with our eyes wide open. This is a first step, but it’s not a breakthrough unless and until this agreement today is implemented.

So I think we achieved more than I think some people thought we might over these last 24 hours in Geneva, but again, it’s not a breakthrough until this is implemented on the ground. And we need to see the Russians follow up these words with actions. We haven’t seen them do that yet, and we want them to now.

QUESTION: Would you like to see Ukraine join NATO or would you like Ukraine to stay neutral?

MS. HARF: Well, look, in terms of NATO enlargement, I know that’s an interesting topic and obviously NATO has been a key part of our response, but we – what we’re focused on now in the discussions with Ukraine and with the Russians and the EU is how the Russians can de-escalate the situation in eastern and southern Ukraine. The NATO conversations happen separately. We don’t want to mix the two because the Russians are trying to and we don’t think that it’s part – should be part of that discussion.

QUESTION: Shipping this nonlethal gear and kit to Ukraine, is the U.S. Government essentially saying, “You have to fight your own battles here”?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re saying a few things. First, we’re not considering providing lethal assistance right now for a number of reasons, the first of which is we want to de-escalate the situation, not escalate it. And we’re not interested in getting in some sort of a proxy war with Russia here. That’s not the goal. The goal is de-escalation. We think this is the most appropriate assistance to provide to help out the Ukrainian armed forces on the ground. We’ve also said – the Secretary has been very clear that while we have applauded their restraint, that increasingly, they have an obligation to provide order and security for their people. And so we’re going to keep assisting them in any way we think is helpful.

QUESTION: You mentioned this restraint. Are you talking about Ukraine’s forces or Russian forces?

MS. HARF: Ukraine’s. I think the Russians have not shown what anyone could call restraint.

Ukraine?

QUESTION: With the understanding that all of this is happening in Geneva and you’re here, I am curious about some of the language that was in the joint statement that came out, which is the calling on all illegal parties to draw back and to vacate. Is it your understanding that there is an agreement as to what qualifies as illegal?

MS. HARF: Right, and I know there’s a lot of wordsmithing here, and I think Foreign Minister Lavrov has also come out and talked about what they all agreed to in Russian, which I don’t speak. But yes, we said all illegal groups. That means all. But as I said, right, the devil’s in the details and the devil’s in the implementation. So this is an important step, but it cannot be considered a breakthrough until everyone, most importantly the Russians, follow through with this, and really take steps to – and I’m reading from the statement here – disarm, quote, “all illegal armed groups,” period. So we’re going to keep having the conversations, but these are the steps that need to happen.

QUESTION: So to follow up on that, and the Secretary was very clear that if those steps aren’t taken this weekend, there will be further --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- actions taken by the U.S. on – or after the weekend sometime, presumably early next week. But, I mean, what is the bare minimum that Russia would need to do in order to avoid that happening?

MS. HARF: Well, we hope they do more than the bare minimum; let’s put it that way.

QUESTION: You have to draw the line somewhere.

QUESTION: B-e-a-r minimum.

MS. HARF: (Laughter.) Look, I’m not going to outline what the goalpost is for what they could do to avoid further action. We’ve always said we will calibrate our response based on what the Russians do or don’t do. We’ll respond accordingly. And we’re testing right now the propositions that were laid out in this agreement. We are testing whether the Russians are serious about taking tangible steps to de-escalate. And what they do in the coming days will really speak to that very clearly, and we’ll calibrate our response accordingly.

QUESTION: And I wanted to ask as well on this – the issue that you touched on of the Ukrainian Government’s need to maintain law and order.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have full confidence in the capacity of the government and its armed forces to be able to do that effectively?

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly stand side by side the Ukrainians as they’re fighting this battle, but let’s be clear: I mean, the Russian armed forces have extraordinary power here. I mean, they’ve amassed enough troops at the border to basically do a full-scale invasion of southern and eastern Ukraine. So what we’re talking about here is a Russian military that has a lot of power behind it, which is exactly why we’ve said they need to take steps to de-escalate immediately. And we have praised the restraint of the Ukrainian armed forces because we don’t – what we don’t want is escalatory actions to somehow spiral out of control, as you heard the Secretary speak to, and really take the country down a path that would be counterproductive.

QUESTION: Yeah. I guess the reason I’m asking is because there have been some reports coming out that are a little bit – that seem to suggest that the Ukrainian armed forces lack the legitimacy in the eyes of people in the eastern part of the country as well as the capacity to really enforce the kind of rule and law and order that they’re talking about.

MS. HARF: Well, I’ll say a few points. It’s hard – it’s difficult to enforce law and order for any military when you have armed illegal groups and thugs coming from another country and messing around in your country. So that’s tough for any country to do, right? That’s point A.

Point B is that actually, I would take notion with your first question. I think actually in southern and eastern Ukraine, the armed forces and the government does have legitimacy – the central government – in the eyes of the Ukrainian people. I think that that’s clear. I think that in some ways, what we’ve seen is them standing up and saying they don’t want these Russian illegal groups being supported by the government meddling around in their affairs. So that’s what we’re all working towards right now.

Ukraine?

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the Putin thing for a second?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: You said that some – that many of the things that he said today defy logic and are at odds with reality. Do you have any reason to question President Putin’s faculties?

MS. HARF: Faculties, no.

QUESTION: So you don’t think he’s crazy? It sounds as though --

MS. HARF: I would not use that term to describe President Putin, no.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds as though – if you think that every – most of – a lot of what he said today defies logic and is at odds with reality, there’s either two – there’s two options. One is he’s just making this stuff up and he knows it, or two, he actually believes it, in which case it would seem to --

MS. HARF: I have no idea what he believes.

QUESTION: -- it would seem to suggest that you’re making some kind of a diagnosis of his mental ability – capability.

MS. HARF: I was not making some sort of armchair diagnosis about him. What I’m saying is I think that the Russians – what you’ve seen is – this is what you asked a little bit about yesterday – there is a massive Russian propaganda machine at work here right now trying to spin the world on what is happening in Ukraine. And what we’ve very clearly seen is the world seeing that that’s propaganda and saying that they reject it and that they believe the Ukrainian people should get to determine their future. That’s certainly what we saw from President Putin today.

QUESTION: And just going back to this incident, the anti-Semitic things in Donetsk --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- do you have any concern that this might be something that the Russians have done in order to destabilize the situation further?

MS. HARF: Let me get a little more on who’s behind this. I don’t want to go around accusing people before we have more facts on this one.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: We’d have concern about anyone we found out was behind this.

QUESTION: Fair enough, okay. And then just – the other thing you said is you’re not interested in getting into a proxy war with Russia --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and Ukraine, but in Syria, it’s okay?

MS. HARF: We don’t think there’s a military solution in Syria either.

QUESTION: Well, but what’s going on in Syria is essentially --

MS. HARF: We don’t think there’s a military solution in either country.

QUESTION: -- is essentially a proxy war, is it not?

MS. HARF: We don’t think that – we do not think there’s a military solution in either country. We are not interested in fighting the Russians anywhere. In both countries, though very different situations, we believe that there is only a diplomatic solution forward.

QUESTION: I understand that. So you say you would reject the idea that…

MS. HARF: I would reject the notion that they’re the same.

QUESTION: -- reject the idea that there’s a proxy war going on with the Russians and Syria?

MS. HARF: I would reject that, yes.

QUESTION: With Iran as well? In any way?

MS. HARF: I just don’t think there’s a comparison to Ukraine --

QUESTION: In Syria --

MS. HARF: -- that’s useful to --

QUESTION: I’m not asking about – I’m not asking you to compare Ukraine to Syria. I’m just – if you’re not interested in getting into a proxy war with Russia over – are you saying that you’re not interested in getting into a proxy war anywhere with Russia? Is that the idea?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: And you --

MS. HARF: This is not the ’50s, this is not the ’60s, this is not the Cold War.

QUESTION: Just following on with Matt’s question --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- on proxy wars, how can the United States negotiate with Iran in good faith about its nuclear weapons when it is fighting a proxy war against Iran in Syria?

MS. HARF: Well, because – well, for a few reasons. We’ve always said that the nuclear issue is of enough importance that we need to sit down and talk to the Iranians about it because we have to get this resolved. That doesn’t take away from how concerned we are about their activities in Syria – which we are very clear about, we sanction them over; we will continue to raise our concerns with them over that – or their human rights record, or their support for terrorism, or the fact that three Americans are still missing and not home with their families.

QUESTION: Will the State Department or the Treasury Department be able to track this 450 million in frozen assets to Iran and be able to see where it goes?

MS. HARF: Well, again, we have provided the necessary mechanism for the funds to be released to Iran. I don’t have more details for you on sort of what they can use it for – what they can use it for – what’s still applicable under the limited sanctions relief we’ve given, and just don’t have more details for you.

QUESTION: Theoretically, this money could be used to buy rockets to send to ---

MS. HARF: If we found out that the Iranians were using any money of theirs for sanctionable activities, it would be a huge problem. I can guarantee that.

Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So does that mean the State Department support – would support new sanctions on Iran for its activities in Syria at this point even though there’s negotiations going on?

MS. HARF: I think it would depend what the sanctions look like. I think there are pretty heavy sanctions in place already over Iran’s support for Hezbollah, which obviously is the main driver of the instability in Syria from the Iranian perspective, or who the Iranians are supporting. I’m not sure there’s much left to sanction there, quite frankly.

QUESTION: But there’s – there is talk of a new round of sanctions coming up in the House.

MS. HARF: I’ve seen that, and I haven’t seen exact language. I don’t even know if there’s been a bill introduced yet. But again, I’m not sure there is anything left to sanction over Iran’s support for Hezbollah, but if there’s some sort of legislation proposed at some point, I’m sure we’ll take a look at it, because we have been clear we will continue to hold Iran accountable for its support for Hezbollah, for terrorism, and destabilizing activities in Syria.

Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: On Pakistan?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: The Pakistani cabinet today decided to continue with talk – these talks with the Taliban, although slow the pace to adopt a policy of wait-and-watch. And have you seen that? Do you have anything to comment on the talks?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any comment. I think I’ll let the Government of Pakistan comment.

QUESTION: The talk – a about the peace talks with the Taliban?

MS. HARF: It’s not for us to comment.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: This really might be the shortest briefing in history.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: On the topic of religious freedom, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom – that post remains unfilled for the past six months. Do you have an update to provide?

MS. HARF: I don’t have an update. We obviously agree with folks out there on the need to fill the position. It’s an incredibly important position. The White House and the State Department, we are actively working to nominate someone as soon as possible. Obviously, in the meantime, we at the Department are continuing to work on the whole range of issues that fall under religious freedom, including dialogue with foreign government counterparts, civil society, religious leaders, people of faith. We also, as you probably know, have a Special Advisor for the Office of Faith-Based Communities, Shaun Casey. It’s not a replacement, obviously, but we have a lot of folks working on these issues, and hopefully we’ll get someone nominated soon.

QUESTION: President Obama spoke specifically of this position and just the topic of religious tolerance at the National Prayer Breakfast in February.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And is not filling this position sending the wrong signal to the world?

MS. HARF: Not at all. It’s something we take incredibly seriously. We hope to fill it as soon as possible. It’s an important position, but the issues that are worked on under that auspices are being worked on by people here every single day. We’re engaged with the communities that care about this. We hope to get someone nominated soon.

QUESTION: Is the State Department vetting candidates or is the holdup – bottleneck elsewhere, perhaps?

MS. HARF: The White House and the State Department are actively working to nominate someone as soon as possible. Hopefully that’ll be as soon as possible. I don’t have more --

QUESTION: Do you have a name or anything?

MS. HARF: Not one I’m going to float here, and I actually haven’t heard a name.

QUESTION: Is that still a Senate-confirmed job, or is that one of the ones that was taken out of the --

MS. HARF: I’m not sure. Let me check on that. It’s a good question, Matt.

QUESTION: I’ve got – no one else? Go ahead. I just have two very brief follow-ups.

MS. HARF: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Sorry. On Wu Dawei, do you have any comments about the meeting?

MS. HARF: Let me see what I have in here. Which meeting specifically?

QUESTION: The one that happened this morning.

MS. HARF: I don’t have a readout of that yet. Let me see if we can get you something.

QUESTION: Okay. And – sorry, staying in Asia. Sorry, Matt. I had one more question. So there will be a meeting between South Korea and Japan at the directors general level on comfort women. It’s going to be specifically on comfort women. And I was wondering if you thought that this was a concrete step towards the amelioration of the relationship, or whether you thought --

MS. HARF: A what step?

QUESTION: A concrete step.

MS. HARF: A concrete step.

QUESTION: Or whether you think that this is kind of papering over and whether they’re doing this because President Obama will be in the region?

MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s important that our friends and partners and allies in the region talk to each other. I don’t know why they’re having this meeting. I don’t have any analysis of that to do for you. But we obviously think it’s important for dialogue to happen between them directly. Obviously, the President has a full agenda for his trip to the region, which I know the White House will be outlining in more detail. But the improving relationship between our friends in the region is certainly at the top of that agenda.

QUESTION: Thanks, Marie.

MS. HARF: Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, two separate issues, two – one in the Middle East. I understand that one of the people that I asked about on Monday has now been released, or at least released from Israeli custody. But I’m wondering if there’s an update on the American citizen who was detained.

MS. HARF: I can’t comment on that case specifically due to --

QUESTION: There’s still no --

MS. HARF: -- privacy considerations.

QUESTION: Do you – are you --

MS. HARF: Obviously, we’re following the situation.

QUESTION: Right. Are you aware if there’s been a consular visit, and if there has, if this woman, the detainee, has been made aware of the – her ability to sign?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any further comment on the case. I just can’t because of privacy.

QUESTION: Because privacy.

MS. HARF: Because of privacy considerations, yes.

QUESTION: Right. So --

MS. HARF: I know you hate that part of the law, and if you were in Congress that’s the one thing you would do to change it.

QUESTION: No, I hate the entire – I just think that you apply the law selectively and inconsistently.

MS. HARF: No, we don’t actually. In some --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Hey, if you’re ever locked up overseas and you don’t sign a privacy waiver, I’m going to stand up here and not comment on your case – (laughter) --

QUESTION: You know what?

MS. HARF: -- out of respect for your privacy.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. I would never do that.

MS. HARF: You would sign it right away?

QUESTION: In fact, other members of the press corps have preemptively signed --

MS. HARF: Oh, that’s interesting actually. I didn’t know that.

QUESTION: -- Privacy Act waivers before going abroad on private holidays.

MS. HARF: That’s a good idea actually. I’ve never – I’ve honestly never heard of that.

QUESTION: Yeah. I just am not sure that Americans going abroad, the general public, are really aware of this, and I do believe --

MS. HARF: In general, we --

QUESTION: I do believe that you --

MS. HARF: -- inform people of their --

QUESTION: Yeah, once they’re arrested. Anyway.

MS. HARF: Well, we don’t obviously vet or monitor all private citizens’ travel overseas, so we can’t, like, proactively reach out to people.

QUESTION: No, as you well know – no, I understand that.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: But as you well know, I have strong suspicions about whether people are encouraged not to sign Privacy Act waivers just to save you guys the trouble of having to talk about it.

MS. HARF: Because this is so much fun going around and around on privacy with you. You’re right.

QUESTION: I know. Anyway. So clearly, since you can’t even say whether she’s had a consular visit, the Privacy Act has not – a waiver has not been signed. All right. Then moving on, unless someone else has anything on the Middle East.

MS. HARF: Or privacy.

QUESTION: I have something on the Middle East.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Does – since this is Holy Week, and with – we’re in the middle of Passover and Easter is coming up soon, does the State Department believe that Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East?

MS. HARF: We’ve talked a lot, particularly about in Syria, in some of the Christian communities. Look, we believe everyone in Syria is living under incredibly dire circumstances right now. We’ve talked about some of the Christian communities, particularly in Syria, who have been targeted. We’ve talked about some in Egypt who have been targeted. Look, there’s no place for violence or targeting on a religious basis anywhere, but particularly churches, people worshiping, I think even – or especially at this time of the year, it’s important to keep in mind the challenges that still remain in fighting religious persecution. The questions on Ukraine today about the anti-Semitic leaflets I think speak to the challenges that still remain.

Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: A couple on Cuba, both of them follow-ups.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: One, how is the review of the Cuban Twitter, the content of these text messages going?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. I would encourage you to check in with my colleagues at USAID who are undertaking that right now. I don’t have any updates from here. I know they’re looking into it.

QUESTION: Do you know if they’re anywhere close to completion?

MS. HARF: I do not know that, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. But just to put a fine point on this, USAID does come under the auspices of the State Department, does it not?

MS. HARF: A fact I’ve reminded them of several times recently.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. So they will let you know that – when it’s done and you might have something to say? Because they don’t have a daily press briefing, as you (inaudible).

MS. HARF: I’ve offered them this podium if they’d like to talk more in depth about this issue.

QUESTION: I’m sure they’re thrilled at the offer. And then I have a follow-up to a question that’s gone back now a couple months.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: This is on the banks, the bank accounts --

MS. HARF: For the Interests Section.

QUESTION: -- for the Interests Section and for the Cuban mission to the UN. Has this been resolved, and what is this – and if not, what exactly is the government – if anything, what exactly are – is the Administration doing to help the Cubans find a bank that will (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: To my knowledge, it hasn’t been resolved yet. As they announced in a press release on February 14th, because of banking difficulties, they’d suspended certain consular services. We have been working with them to try – we have been to try to identify a new bank. We are continuing to help them find a long-term banking solution. We are encouraging them to consider all available options, including potential solutions we’ve discussed with them, which I can’t outline from here obviously. But we’re working with them and we hope we can find a solution.

QUESTION: I’m not sure I understand why.

MS. HARF: Why? What don’t you understand?

QUESTION: What’s a potential solution that you’ve --

MS. HARF: We’re trying to be creative here because we want to be able to solve this, so we’re discussing several potential solutions with them. Can’t outline them from here.

QUESTION: Why – well, why not?

MS. HARF: Because it’s private diplomatic discussions that haven’t come to a conclusion yet. Obviously, we don’t want to get ahead of the process. It’s a decision the Cubans can make. We’re trying to help them with that.

QUESTION: Is it your sense or your – it’s your understanding, then, that they have been presented with an option that would work, but they just have not yet decided whether --

MS. HARF: I don’t know about more of the details. I think we’re trying to work through some potential solutions right now. Again, we’re trying to help in any way we can.

QUESTION: Is there a reason that it’s taking so long? I mean, you talked about the date, February 14th. That’s two months ago.

MS. HARF: That’s when they --

QUESTION: -- that’s two months ago.

MS. HARF: Yeah. I don’t know, honestly, Matt. I know that we’re trying to help them find a solution.

QUESTION: All right. Could – if there’s any way that someone could check to find out exactly what it is that’s being done to help them and why --

MS. HARF: Well, we’re --

QUESTION: -- frankly, it’s taking so long because it’s been two months and the accounts have been closed, so --

MS. HARF: Right. I mean, this isn’t a unique situation necessarily to Cuba. Diplomatic missions often encounter banking challenges here. We try to help them find banks and we’re trying to work with the Cubans here as well.

Anything else? Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:58 p.m.)

DPB #68


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: April 16, 2014

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:42

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 16, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Secretary's Travel to Geneva
  • SOUTH KOREA
    • South Korea Ferry Tragedy
  • UKRAINE
    • Multilateral Meeting on Ukraine Tomorrow / Russia / U.S. Priorities
    • Secretary's Bilateral Meetings Tomorrow
    • Energy Conversations
    • Ukrainian Requests for Assistance / No Military Solution
    • Russia / Misinformation
    • U.S.-Russia Relationship
    • Russia's Role in Destabilization SYRIA
    • Chemical Weapon Elimination / Neutralization Process
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Parties Working to Extend Negotiations / U.S. Role as Facilitator
  • IRAN
    • Denial of Visa for Iranian Nominee to the UN
  • SAUDI ARABIA
    • Resignation of Prince Bandar
  • YEMEN
    • Concerns about AQAP
  • LIBYA
    • Security Situation


TRANSCRIPT:

12:43 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Wow. Big turnout today.

QUESTION: Nothing personal.

MS. HARF: This is going to go 90 minutes, isn’t it? I have my tea because I’m losing my voice. So we can’t go 90 minutes. Hello, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. Everyone – each of you gets 20 minutes to yourself. (Laughter.)

I know. Matt’s like, “That’s less than I normally have.”

QUESTION: No, no, no.

MS. HARF: That’s not okay. Okay, a few things at the top, and then we’ll go into questions.

A travel update: Today Secretary Kerry is en route to Geneva, Switzerland. Tomorrow he will participate in a multilateral meeting among the United States, Ukraine, Russia, and the European Union to discuss the ongoing situation in and around Ukraine. He will also tomorrow meet with Joint Special Representative Brahimi to discuss Syria. There were some questions about why Special Envoy Rubinstein’s on the plane with the Secretary, because he obviously does work on Ukraine, so that is why – they will have a meeting tomorrow in Geneva as well.

And the second item at the top: We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of those who lost their lives on board the South Korean ferry, the Sewol. The United States is ready to provide any assistance needed. To that end, the U.S. 7th Fleet is ready to assist with the search-and-rescue efforts. The USS Bonhomme Richard has moved to the area to assist the Government of South Korea with the search-and-rescue operations. I don’t have more updates for you than that, but we are ready to help in any way we can. Obviously, it’s a terrible, terrible tragedy there.

Matt.

QUESTION: Is it the Bonhomme Richard? Or the Bonhomme Richard?

MS. HARF: Oh, maybe. It might be Richard. Excuse me. I can check.

QUESTION: I don’t know. I don’t really --

MS. HARF: Get us started today.

QUESTION: I don’t have anything specific, but I do have somewhat of a general question --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- about tomorrow’s meeting.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: In the short term on Ukraine, is it – am I characterizing what the Administration wants correctly? You basically want the Russians to drop their annexation of Crimea, but you also want them to stop messing around in east and south Ukraine. Is there anything else the Administration wants to see the Russians do in the immediate term?

MS. HARF: Yep. So a couple points on that, and then I’ll make a few, I guess, overall points about our goals for tomorrow, and then we can talk a little about Ukraine.

So we want the Russian Government, as you said, to pull its forces back from the border and from the Crimean region of Ukraine. We want it to halt the destabilizing actions you referred to and violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and we want the Russians to call for armed separatist groups in eastern Ukraine to stand down and disarm. So those are a couple things we want the Russians to do.

Tomorrow will be the first opportunity for Russia, Ukraine, the EU, and the United States to sit down at a table together and discuss a range of issues, including, and probably most importantly, de-escalation, demobilization, the ongoing process of constitutional reform, and of course, the lead-up to the May 25th elections. I’d note that this is – this is not the whole game; this is one part of it, and talk doesn’t replace actions when it comes to what’s happening on the ground, and that we will continue to prepare, as we’ve said, additional sanctions and other steps, if we can’t get some de-escalation here.

QUESTION: Okay. But what are the biggest priorities for immediate action that you would like to see? Recognizing, even though I know you never will, at least publicly, that there’s not a lot you can do about Crimea, is it mainly the destabilization and the provocations in the south and east that you would like to see an immediate halt to?

MS. HARF: We definitely want to see an immediate halt to that provocation. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay, so then --

MS. HARF: That’s certainly one thing. There’s not – I don’t know if I can provide a rank in order, if we have that, of what we want them to do --

QUESTION: Well --

MS. HARF: -- but that’s certainly at the top of the list. Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So but then in terms of immediate – I mean, do you regard the use of what you have called the – or what the Secretary has called the use of energy as a tool – is that something that is more of a medium-term, less of a short-term thing for you to want them to stop? It doesn’t seem to be having – it doesn’t seem to be something that is an immediate, like a right-now issue that has to be resolved. Is that more of a medium-term thing?

MS. HARF: Well, I think sort of yes in – I think what you’re getting at here is obviously this is – we don’t want them – the Russians to use energy as a weapon.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: We have been very clear about what they should and should not be doing when it comes to energy for Ukraine and Europe and other folks as well. But clearly, the presence of armed groups that the Russians are supporting in eastern Ukraine is an incredibly pressing priority. And energy is a – we want them to not do any of this stuff, right?

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: But in terms of pressing priorities, they need – and what they can do to de-escalate, that involves what I said: the armed separatist groups, getting them to disarm, pulling back from eastern Ukraine, pulling back from Crimea. But the energy conversation is one we’re going to keep having over many, many weeks here.

QUESTION: All right. And then my last one: Is there anything that the Ukrainian Government, as you’ve just talked about what the Russian – what you would like the Russians to do in the short and immediate term, is there anything that you’re wanting the Ukrainian Government to commit to or to do in that same immediate timeframe? Or are they already doing what you think they should be doing?

MS. HARF: Well, we – they’re already doing what we think they should be doing. And just a couple logistical points, too, for tomorrow – or planning points, I guess. While he’s in Geneva, he will also meet with EU High Representative Ashton, have a bilateral with the Ukrainian foreign minister, and likely also have a bilateral with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I know there were some questions about that.

But just to be clear, in the bilaterals that aren’t with the Ukrainians, these are conversations about the discussions they’re having, but it’s not anyone making decisions about Ukraine when the Ukrainians aren’t in the room. As we’ve said, this is for the people of Ukraine to decide themselves, but he will have these separate conversations.

Yes. Ukraine?

QUESTION: No, it’s –

MS. HARF: No? Do we --

QUESTION: -- on the Secretary’s travel.

MS. HARF: Okay, let’s finish Ukraine. Yep.

QUESTION: You are talking about de-escalation. I mean, but you are generally – the focus was on the movement or mobilization of the forces. But escalation – the main escalation, as Matt was mentioning, is the issue of the energy and this, like, tightening or trying to suffocate, like maybe it’s a big word, to Ukrainian economy and everyday life. So in anything is going to be taken in that regard, or it’s just like wait and see if tomorrow?

MS. HARF: No, it’s not wait and see. I mean, we’ve been having the energy conversations for some time now. They were – they happened – some conversations on that issue happened just last week or the week before when folks were in Brussels. We’ve said very clearly that Russia should not use this as a weapon and that, actually, Russia has a lot to lose if they try to do so. We’re also going to talk about ways we and the Europeans can work with Ukraine in terms of meeting their energy needs, and that conversation will absolutely continue.

I didn’t mean to imply that it wasn’t a top priority. It is. It’s incredibly important to us. It’s something we’re working on every day. But in terms of the de-escalation, that’s part of the whole puzzle of what we need to see Russia do here.

QUESTION: There is another issue related to tomorrow’s meeting, it seems like.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I hope it’s not – I mean, assume it’s a wait-and-see status, which is first a status of the – of (inaudible) – put more sanctions or widening the scope of the sanctions.

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: Second thing, which is the possibility or the necessity, let’s say, of arming Ukraine, or this is not on the table at all?

MS. HARF: Right. Well, we’ve said that we’re not considering lethal assistance to Ukraine at this time. Again, as Jen said, I can’t predict what we will or won’t rule out at some point in the hypothetical future. But right now, we’re not considering lethal assistance.

QUESTION: Can I --

MS. HARF: We are looking at nonlethal assistance. We’ve given some. We’re looking at what more we could do on that.

Do you have a follow-up on that?

QUESTION: Yes, in fact, about --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m trying to figure out or understand what is the wisdom of the explanation of not arming the – because two or three weeks ago already it was one of the main issues was discussed in the NATO meetings and in European, EU and U.S. meetings that how the size and the efficiency of the armed forces in Ukraine are actually shrinking. So do you think that is not a wise decision to make it now?

MS. HARF: Well, what we’ve said is – and the President has said – there is no military solution here. We don’t want to see more escalation. What we want is de-escalation.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: At the same time, we’re constantly reviewing Ukrainian requests for assistance and determining what’s most appropriate to provide. And we’ve said throughout that the Ukrainian Government and military has shown incredible restraint in the face of incredible hostility. But we’ve also said – you’ve heard Jen say this – that they have a responsibility to maintain order and protect their people. So we’ll keep looking at the requests. Again, we’re not considering lethal assistance at this point.

In terms of your question on sanctions, we have additional sanctions prepared. We’ve talked about them a lot in here. As we said, don’t expect any before tomorrow’s meeting. But if there are not steps taken by Russia to de-escalate, we will take additional steps, including additional sanctions.

QUESTION: Talking about de-escalation as a, like, target or an aim, how do you justify or how do you explain to me – it’s not justify, it’s not the right word. How do you explain to me de-escalation of this all, let’s say, I will not say rhetoric, but a lot of words coming out of this podium and other podiums regarding Russia and the fiction of Russia and the fact of America and all these things? You don’t think that those type of talks escalate the situation or escalate atmospherics?

MS. HARF: Not at all. I think what we’re doing is responding to misinformation and falsehoods that the Russian Government is putting forward about its actions. We have a responsibility to not let propaganda that’s false stand. I have a responsibility, as do my colleagues, to stand up here and tell the truth about what’s happening. We can’t let the Russian view of what’s happening be the final word on this because it doesn’t happen to be what’s actually happening on the ground. So we think that’s something that’s important to do.

And what we’ve said is we want to de-escalate the situation on the ground. We’re not focused on words. We’re focused on what actions the Russian Government is or is not willing to take here to see what the situation will look like going forward.

Still on Ukraine? Anything else on Ukraine? Elliot.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Go ahead, Elliot, and then Matt.

QUESTION: Great. So the way Jen said it yesterday kind of made it sound like if the meetings don’t go well tomorrow, then we can expect additional sanctions. Is that the case?

MS. HARF: Well, I wouldn’t put it all on this meeting, right? This isn’t sort of the whole ball game. This isn’t the end all/be all. Russia needs to take steps to de-escalate in order to prevent additional sanctions from being levied on them. Now, we hope, obviously, coming out of this kind of diplomatic meeting, we can see some of those steps. But I wouldn’t say we have the clock ready the second they’re wheels-up to do that. But this is an important diplomatic step. It’s not everything.

As I said, but I think before you came in, we’re going to have a bilateral with – likely with Foreign Minister Lavrov, with the Ukrainians, and with the EU. So we’re going to have these conversations. But I wouldn’t look at this as the end all, be all necessarily.

QUESTION: Sure. Okay, thanks.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: And then I apologize, I did come in a little late, so if you already answered this --

MS. HARF: It’s okay. I know, you’re all the way in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, sorry.

MS. HARF: No one wants to sit up front today.

QUESTION: But I did want to ask about the – this Donald Cook incident in the Black Sea.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. launched a protest against the Russians?

MS. HARF: So it is my understanding that the Department of Defense actually will be taking the lead on diplomatic response to this.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I’m not sure if it’s actually happened yet. It’s my understanding it will be.

QUESTION: Is that how it generally goes? Does the – does DOD --

MS. HARF: That’s my understanding. Obviously, we have different diplomatic mechanisms to communicate with countries, and it’s my understanding that’s how this message is being sent. I’m not sure there’s anything typical about anything that’s happening here.

QUESTION: (Off-mike) yesterday the Pentagon said that the State Department was taking up the issue --

MS. HARF: Yeah, I know --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) take up the issues with the Russians.

MS. HARF: I’ve talked to my colleagues at the Department of Defense, and we’re all trying to figure out how we’re responding, and the latest I have from them is that the Department of Defense will be responding, obviously in close coordination with us, but I think we were trying to figure out the mechanism through which to do that.

QUESTION: But will Secretary be taking up the issue when he meets Lavrov?

MS. HARF: I’m not sure. I don’t have anything to preview specifically about his conversation. We’ll see if it comes up.

QUESTION: And how best do you describe your relationship with Russia right now?

QUESTION: Stellar.

MS. HARF: (Laughter.) I think it’s complicated. I think that there are still places we work together. We were in Vienna a week and a half ago for the P5+1 EU talks on Iran, and it was business as usual. But that’s because it’s something the Russians care about – preventing a nuclear-armed Iran – and it’s something we care about. On Syria CW, we’ve reached I think now 65 or 70 percent of the stuff being taken out of Syria. We’re working with the Russians on that. But I don’t think anyone would be surprised that the events of the last weeks and months have really been hard for the relationship, and that’s why we’ve made very clear that this action can’t stand and that we will continue to take steps against Russia if they continue this activity. But it’s a complicated relationship.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I just --

MS. HARF: Not stellar, as Matt said.

QUESTION: Well, I was being sarcastic.

MS. HARF: I know.

QUESTION: You mentioned in a response to someone earlier that you can’t let the Russian view be the last word, and that’s why --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is – so it’s the Administration’s position that the Russian view is not an interpretation of facts on the ground, but a just blatant distortion and lie?

MS. HARF: I was talking about the propaganda.

QUESTION: Well, I --

MS. HARF: I’m not necessarily talking about the view they put forward in diplomatic settings.

QUESTION: Right. But what they’re saying, what they’re putting out on social media or whatever and press releases and that kind of thing, you don’t view as their interpretation of facts on the ground; rather, you view it as a distortion --

MS. HARF: Propaganda, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and a lie?

MS. HARF: Well, it may be their view, but it also is a distortion.

QUESTION: But it’s incorrect?

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: It is just not factual?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to say every single word they’ve said about everything --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: -- but in general, the narrative they are propagating about what’s happening there is not in line with what we think is the reality there, correct.

QUESTION: Well, what you think is the reality or what actually is the reality? Because their – this is what I’m trying to get at.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Your position is that what the U.S. Government is saying about the situation on the ground in Ukraine is factual --

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- without any distortion, and what the – and what --

QUESTION: In part because that’s based on what the Ukrainians themselves are saying about what’s happening in their country.

QUESTION: Okay. Right. And what the Russians are saying about the situation on the ground you think is --

MS. HARF: Is a distortion of reality.

QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted to make sure.

QUESTION: Let me ask you specifically --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- on something we’ve been hearing not just once now, but Russia is saying that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. Is that something you view as a distortion?

MS. HARF: Yes. And I would say, in response to that, that any destabilization that’s going on inside Ukraine right now is a direct result of Russian action there. So it’s ironic to me that they seem concerned about the stability of Ukraine when they’re the ones trying to destabilize massive parts of it.

QUESTION: Right, but if you take – if you accept – if we are to accept your line that what you say is correct and everything the Russians are saying is false, or most --

MS. HARF: I didn’t say everything, I said the narrative.

QUESTION: Well, but when they say that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war, even if they’re responsible for it being on the brink of civil war, it’s not --

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t say they’re on the brink of civil war.

QUESTION: Even with --

MS. HARF: I said destabilization.

QUESTION: Even with the --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: So even with all the Russian destabilization and provocation, you do not believe – the Administration does not see Ukraine as on the brink of civil war?

MS. HARF: I haven’t heard anyone use that term.

QUESTION: Well, but if you look at what a civil war is, it’s like one sector of the population fighting another or often the government in itself.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And are you saying that all the people who are fighting against the Ukrainian Government are not Ukrainian, but Russian?

MS. HARF: No, I didn’t say that. Uh-uh. I said Russia is fomenting instability in parts of the Ukraine.

QUESTION: But they could – I mean, certainly you can foment – someone can foment a civil war that isn’t necessarily one of the parties.

MS. HARF: Again, I haven’t heard that term used. I’m happy to check with our folks. I know there’s a definition of it. I just haven’t heard that term used.

Ukraine, anything else? Samir, yes.

QUESTION: Yes. Will Special Envoy to Syria Mr. Rubenstein travel to the --

MS. HARF: Excuse me, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- bless you – travel to the Middle East from – after his meetings in Geneva?

MS. HARF: I haven’t heard that he has onward travel. I’m happy to check on his schedule.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I just haven’t heard that he has onward travel. I think he may. He’s been doing a lot of traveling, so let me check.

QUESTION: So – excuse me.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I mean, what’s the purpose of his being with – to meet Lavrov?

MS. HARF: No. The Secretary tomorrow, as I said, will be meeting with Special Envoy Rubinstein with Special Joint Representative Brahimi in Geneva --

QUESTION: Oh, okay, in --

MS. HARF: -- to talk about the diplomatic process on Syria. So he’s joining that meeting.

QUESTION: And you mentioned --

MS. HARF: To my knowledge, he’s not joining Ukraine meetings.

QUESTION: Okay. In mentioning the – still about the relation and it’s complicated with Russia --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you mentioned their role in Syria and chemical weapon. What is the latest about that?

MS. HARF: On chemical weapons?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: So I think we’re either at 65 or maybe even up to 70 percent of the chemical weapons have now been shipped out of the country.

QUESTION: So within one week, which was the last week when Secretary Kerry was talking about 54, now becomes 70?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, yep. I know there’s been some movement on the ground. Obviously, the OPCW will be the one announcing as they have reached milestones, but it’s my understanding there’s been some activity on the ground.

QUESTION: And were you able to confirm reports about the use of chemical weapons --

MS. HARF: No, we still --

QUESTION: -- last weekend?

MS. HARF: We still can’t corroborate them. We’re obviously looking into it, but we can’t corroborate those claims.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Regarding these chemical weapons, I mean --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- I know that you are not the side of deciding or explaining to us everything related to this. What’s your understanding? Because it was before – I mean, it is – like, now it’s 70 percent and the plan was announced even by – approved – not approved, it was announced by this podium that it’s – by the end of June, everything will be finished.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: I assume so.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And what is the United States role in this issue in particular? It’s like, related to the shipment of the – or destroying the weapon?

MS. HARF: Yeah. Let me see if I have that in here. I know there are a number of different countries – and I may, let me just check on this – I may not, though – a number of different countries that are contributing to the CW destruction effort.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: As we’ve talked about, we do have some assets in the region that are helping, so let me see. Actually, once the chemicals are brought – and I think this is still accurate – to the port of Latakia, they are loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships. After they’re removed from Syria, the chemicals will be transported to the Italian – an Italian port where they will then be transloaded onto a U.S. vessel, the MV Cape Ray, which we’ve talked publicly about. They’ll be neutralized at sea, which we will do on that ship, so that’s our role in it. Obviously, also talking to the Russians about pushing the regime to make progress. We have a diplomatic role as well.

QUESTION: So just a question. I don't know if you have the answer. It’s a little bit technical usually, but asked in these cases when --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- these type of weapons are – what you call it – destroyed or --

MS. HARF: Neutralized, destroyed, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Neutralized, whatever.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there a place it’s going to be dumped or not?

MS. HARF: Let me see. There are a couple different priority levels of chemicals that they have in Syria. I think the neutralization byproduct from the MV Cape Ray will be transported, I think, for disposal facilities in the United Kingdom, Germany, and some commercial facilities in the U.S. and Finland. So obviously, once we’ve gone through the neutralization process.

QUESTION: So it’s going to be distributed at this place?

MS. HARF: A number of different – this is actually a great example of a number of different countries pitching in and helping out to get this done, because we think we’re still on track, if people hold their commitments, to doing this by the end of June.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Middle East?

MS. HARF: Middle East?

QUESTION: Yeah. There seem to be some conflicting reports in the region today about Ambassador Indyk --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and what he is doing or not doing. Can you give us the rundown on that?

MS. HARF: Yeah. So the parties themselves have been meeting regularly to try to achieve an agreement to extend the negotiations. The bottom line is both parties tell us they want negotiations to continue and are searching for a path to do that. The U.S. is continuing to play the role of facilitator and to support the two sides as they try to reach an agreement.

To that end, Ambassador Indyk and his team are traveling to the region today after consultations with Secretary Kerry to resume their role as facilitators. As we’ve said throughout, we won’t be giving daily readouts of their efforts, of meetings, of specifics, but they are headed back there today.

QUESTION: Okay. And then with the eye toward getting an extension, do --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. And really, again --

QUESTION: So have we now dropped the – I don’t – “pretenses” is a loaded term but --

MS. HARF: It’s never stopped you before.

QUESTION: It’s – well, right. But it’s now impossible, is it not, for there to be a deal by the end of April?

MS. HARF: We’re focused on extending the negotiations.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: And one thing that I want to stress here is that the parties have been meeting regularly and that we are serving as facilitators. But as we’ve said now for several weeks, it’s really up to the parties to make the decisions now.

QUESTION: But there’s two kinds of deals, right? There’s the – well, I mean, we’re not – I don’t think anyone’s even talking about a peace deal in the true sense of the word, but we’re talking about a framework agreement, and then we’re talking about – there was some kind of interim deal that would be an agreement between the two parties to extend, so --

MS. HARF: We’re talking about an agreement to extend the negotiations.

QUESTION: So that would have each – that would have things that each side would have to do in order for you to agree. It’s not just like we both, say, agree. So there – so you are still working on some kind of --

MS. HARF: Well, the two parties are working together.

QUESTION: Maybe the word “deal” is too big, but --

MS. HARF: Agreement, an agreement to extend the negotiations. What that looks like, I don’t have any details for you on. They’ve been working on it together. We’ll be going back and serving as facilitators.

Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I’m trying to understand – I mean, so today Ambassador Indyk and whoever are going back to – just to be sure that they are continuing?

MS. HARF: To serve as facilitators.

QUESTION: And then is there any envisioning of any kind of framework or any kind of mechanism by which it can be continued beyond April 29th?

MS. HARF: Well, that’s what we’re – right now we’re – the two parties are meeting to try to achieve an agreement to extend the negotiations, so speaking exactly to that.

QUESTION: Well, the other day, Monday, I asked Jen about two people who had been detained by the Israelis. I recognize that it’s not – with Passover and everything , it’s not easy to get things, information out of Israel, but I’m just wondering if there are any updates on these two. One is an American citizen.

MS. HARF: I’m sorry. I don’t have any updates on them, Matt. I’m sorry about that. Let me see if our team does.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you --

MS. HARF: I am sorry about that. Let me see what I can do.

QUESTION: No, no. Well, I believe that you’re sorry about that.

MS. HARF: I know.

QUESTION: I just wanted to make sure. Do you know if anyone was looking into it --

MS. HARF: I think they were, yes.

QUESTION: -- after Monday?

MS. HARF: We always look into questions when you ask them.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Thank you.

MS. HARF: What else on Middle East peace? Anything?

QUESTION: So the framework is a hopeless case now?

MS. HARF: I’m not saying that. (Laughter.) Are you filling in for Said today? That was a very Said-like question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) is sitting there.

MS. HARF: What we’re focused on is facilitating between the two parties to see if they can make the tough decisions to extend the negotiations.

QUESTION: I’ve got an Iran --

QUESTION: Towards the --

MS. HARF: Oh, wait. We have – I think we have another Middle East peace --

QUESTION: Towards the framework agreement, though.

MS. HARF: Just to extend them.

QUESTION: So now you just want to extend them and talk in perpetuity for nothing? I mean, presumably, if you --

MS. HARF: No, that’s not what I’m saying, Elise.

QUESTION: So – but presumably, if you are looking to extend the negotiations, it’s with the --

MS. HARF: With a goal in mind.

QUESTION: What – well --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- what is the goal?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to get into details about that. What we’re focused on, what the goal is right now, is what I outlined.

QUESTION: So you can’t even say that you still have a goal of a framework agreement?

MS. HARF: We still have a goal of a lasting peace agreement that addresses all issues between the two parties. That’s our goal. That’s always been our goal. How we get there, we’re focused right now on the next step, which is seeing if we can get an agreement on extending the negotiations.

QUESTION: Well, but then it seems as if you’ve dropped the idea of a framework agreement.

MS. HARF: I’m just saying what we’re focused on now in these next set of meetings.

Yeah.

QUESTION: From the meeting today, is it your understanding that that’s been pushed back or is that still happening? Are they waiting for Ambassador Indyk?

MS. HARF: I’ve seen some of the press reports. We’re not going to confirm individual meetings or when or why or – I know it’s frustrating.

QUESTION: When he’ll be back to the --

MS. HARF: Ambassador Indyk? He’s returning with his team today.

QUESTION: Today?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can I go to Iran for a second?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: This is – has to do with this UN host committee meeting.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: What is – if it hasn’t happened already, can you outline what it is that you expect to come out of this meeting? I mean, this committee appears to be one of the – and this is saying a lot for the UN – one of the more useless committees at the UN. It appears to have produced its last report about five years ago and nothing since then. And it seems to be mainly preoccupied with listening to the complaints of foreign missions about parking tickets that they have accrued over the years on the streets of New York. Can you tell us what you – what the U.S. expects to come out of this meeting?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any predictions to make about what might come out of the meeting.

QUESTION: Well, no --

MS. HARF: They can speak about their process and how it will move forward. As I said, we take – as Jen has said, as I’ve said as well, we take our host country obligations very seriously. That’s why cases like this are so rare. We’re happy to have a conversation about why we won’t be granting this visa with the UN, as we have already. We’ve also had them with the Iranians. And I don’t want to speak for their process.

QUESTION: No, no, I understand that, but I mean, when – this meeting is going to happen, and you’re a member of this committee --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and presumably you’re going to go in, and I just want to know if you’re going to say anything to this committee that is different than what you have said publicly about this situation.

MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details on what we’ll say. I assume, as we’ve said publicly, that we will make the case for why we won’t be granting this visa. As Jen said yesterday, it’s not appropriate for Iran to nominate someone to be their permanent representative, to live in the United States, who was involved with such searing events in U.S. history.

QUESTION: Syrian events?

MS. HARF: Searing.

QUESTION: Oh, searing.

MS. HARF: Searing.

QUESTION: Well, is it not appropriate for them to nominate him, or is it not appropriate for him to serve in the United States?

MS. HARF: It’s not appropriate for us to grant him a visa, so we won’t be granting a visa.

QUESTION: But do you think that – do you have any reason to believe that they did this as a provocative gesture, or you thought that they thought enough time had passed? I mean --

MS. HARF: I don’t – I honestly don’t know what their motivations were, and I don’t want to guess at them. What we’ve said is we want to move past it.

QUESTION: Can I --

MS. HARF: And we’ve made our position clear, and we won’t be granting the visa, and hope that the Iranians can move past it as well.

QUESTION: Can you outline for – why is it that you are able to speak about not granting this visa if all visa records are confidential? Is it because the application – an application was never received? I don’t think that’s the case. What’s the legal --

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not – I can’t speak about our – I’m not speaking actually about our legal underpinnings for why we’re not doing that. There are some things we can’t talk about because of visa confidentiality.

QUESTION: But you can – well, you’re saying you’re not going to grant a visa, which means that --

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: So how is that permissible under the --

QUESTION: They’ve talked about not granting --

MS. HARF: There are different circumstances under which we can talk about whether or not we will grant a visa.

QUESTION: Okay. And the reason that you’re able to do it in this case is?

MS. HARF: Because we’ve made a decision that it’s important. He has made his application public, so once people talk publicly about their own applications, we can then talk about them as well.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: All the time?

QUESTION: Thank you for putting that on the record --

QUESTION: Yes, thank you.

QUESTION: -- because the next time it comes up, you’re going to – it’s going to be interesting --

MS. HARF: Well, hopefully, I won’t be here, and someone else can deal with the precedent I just set. (Laughter.) No, but in general, there are few exceptions to when we can, the biggest of which is when somebody has already made a visa – when they’ve already publicly talked about their case or their application. Obviously, we think confidentiality is important.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, yes.

MS. HARF: Wait. I think there are a few more.

QUESTION: Yeah, me. This committee --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- when it is formed, I mean, the main purpose it seems that to, beside discussing, is challenging this, your decision, right? Or you don’t know what they are meet --

MS. HARF: I’ll let them speak about their purview and what they are going to discuss.

Anything else? Samir, yes.

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the resignation of Prince Bandar bin Sultan before – as head of intelligence?

MS. HARF: I don’t. I don’t. We obviously work with Prince Bandar quite closely. I’m sure we’ll work with whoever replaces him. I know his deputy, I think, is replacing him for now. Don’t have more analysis than that.

Catherine.

YemenAQAP">QUESTION: Marie, have you and the Administration and the intel community seen this new al-Qaida video?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment generally on that? And then also there has been some talk, I guess, by experts that this is potentially a missed opportunity for the United States.

MS. HARF: To do what?

QUESTION: To conduct a drone strike.

MS. HARF: A couple points on the video. Look, the first is that it’s in no way breaking news that AQAP is a significant threat to the United States, the people of Yemen, to other people in the region and around the world. I mean, since 2009, we’ve seen them try to attack the homeland with several attempts, and they’ve clearly carried out a number of attacks inside Yemen. We work very closely with the Government of Yemen to arrest operatives, to put pressure on AQAP.

A couple other – I think this video actually was fairly unusual in some ways for AQAP. It highlights the leader, a Mr. Wahishi, who – I think there are a couple of interesting points, one of which is that in addition to being the head of AQAP, he’s the number two now of al-Qaida core, which speaks to some of the points we’ve talked about with al-Qaida core, that they’re increasingly decentralized. As we’ve had success in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they’ve really looked to their affiliates, which is why we’ve been increasingly concerned about their affiliates. So I think that speaks to some of the things we’ve talked about about al-Qaida in general.

QUESTION: What about – what is this – the fact that there were, like, 100 operatives out in plain sight pretty much, what does that video tell you about how much stronger and emboldened AQAP is right now?

MS. HARF: I don’t think we can make generalizations about their strength based on one video, quite frankly. We know they’ve been gaining in strength. We have been increasingly concerned about them, as I said, since 2009. That’s why we’ve worked increasingly to counter the threat from AQAP in a variety of different ways.

So I don’t think this increases our concern, because quite frankly, our concern was already incredibly high. If folks remember as recently as I think August of last year, we actually temporarily suspended operations in our Embassy in Sana’a based, again, on a credible threat stemming from AQAP. So it’s something we have taken very seriously for a very long time.

QUESTION: And how much of a specific concern is their well-known effort to build bombs that could make it past airport security?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s been a concern for a long time, if we look at some of the printer cartridge bombs, we look at the underwear bomber, if we look at others. They – we know they have tried – some of the attacks they’ve tried to undertake inside Saudi Arabia, they have tried to build explosives that can get around security. We’ve been concerned about that for many years now, are taking steps by working with the Yemenis, other countries around the world, to counter that threat. But we know they’re interested in doing it; that’s why we take it so seriously.

QUESTION: Yes, but in this same region --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- but in Libya, I mean, yesterday you released a statement related to the ambassador, Jordanian ambassador.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: And in general, in the last few days, a lot of unrest, or let’s say uncertainty, is going on in Libya. How do you read this situation in Libya, especially a lot – there’s an embassy there, there is other things going on with Libya.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said that we will work closely with the government as it builds its own capacity to improve security in its country. We know there are challenges there. We know that they have tried very hard and made progress since the historic events that took place there to improve the security situation. We’re helping them. But the goal, obviously, is for them to be able to build their capacity, which is what they’re doing. It doesn’t mean we’re not concerned about it still.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Thanks, guys. My voice held out until the end. And I spilled tea up here.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:16 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: April 15, 2014

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 17:04

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 15, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing
  • UKRAINE
    • Measured Approach by Government of Ukraine / Law and Order in Eastern Ukraine / Russian Link to Armed Militants
    • Upcoming Meeting on Thursday / Opening for Diplomacy
    • Economic and Political Support to Ukrainian Government
    • Next Round of Sanctions / Coordination with European Union
    • Efforts to Disarm Armed Militants / Peaceful Protests in Maidan
    • Secretary Kerry's Continued Contact with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk
    • Secretary Kerry's Travel to Geneva / Quad Meeting / Sanctions
    • Secretary Kerry's Contact with Foreign Minister Lavrov
    • Chinese Abstention on UN Vote / History of Nonintervention
  • IRAN
    • Denial of Visa for Iranian Ambassador to the UN Hamid Aboutalebi / 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis
  • IRAQ
    • Support for a Unified Iraq / Work of Diplomat Brett McGurk
    • National Elections / Concern for Levels of Violence
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Parties Working to Extend Negotiations
    • Condemnation of Shooting that Killed Israeli Man on Eve of Passover
    • Officials on the Ground in Close Contact with Israelis
  • SYRIA
    • U.S. Commitment to Building Moderate Opposition
  • ALGERIA
    • Mistranslation of Comments / Strengthening of Strategic Partnership


TRANSCRIPT:

1:16 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Tuesday. I don’t have anything at the top. So Lara, let’s get to what’s on your mind.

QUESTION: Great. I’d like to start in Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: As you’ve seen, Ukraine forces have launched an anti-terror campaign against separatists in the eastern part of the country and I believe taking back an airport and gaining ground. I’ve got a couple of questions on this.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But I wanted to start off by asking, does the Administration still believe that this is showing remarkable restraint by the government in Kyiv? And I’m sure you’ve seen the Russian prime minister also saying that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. Do you agree with that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me start with your first question – (inaudible) your second question here. As you all know, the Government of Ukraine is working to try to calm the situation in the east. They have been taking a measured approach over the course of the last several weeks, and we’re encouraging them to continue that. As you know, they’ve also repeatedly sought to negotiate with the armed groups that have seized public buildings and established unauthorized roadblocks in eastern Ukraine in an effort to resolve the situation peacefully through dialogue. That has been their first preference, and their first priority has been resolving peacefully without escalating in any way. And so we appreciate their efforts to undertake that.


That said, the government also has the responsibility to provide law and order, and they have the right to provide law and order. And these provocations in eastern Ukraine, which as we know are being caused and provoked by armed militants, are creating a situation in which the government has to respond. So yes, we want the situation to remain as calm as possible. We are certainly calling for de-escalation. But the government is overseeing all parts of Ukraine, and they have a responsibility to take steps needed to maintain calm in their country.

QUESTION: Do you think this is the start of civil war?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, this is not a – well, one, let me first say, as we’ve indicated or stated many times over the last several days – and I’d point you to Ambassador Power’s comments and many others – there is little question in our mind about the connection between Russia and these armed militants that are provoking this unrest in eastern Ukraine. And certainly Ukrainian Government taking steps to have their own staff, their own military, to promote calm is hardly a civil war. That is maintaining peace and calm in their own country. If the Russians and their supporters were not taking these provocative steps, there wouldn’t be a need for the Ukrainians to try to promote calm within these buildings and in parts of the country where this is – where the unrest is occurring.

QUESTION: You had mentioned the dialogue bit. I don’t know if you saw some comments by I think it was the permanent representative to the EU from Russia today, basically saying that the next hours will show whether or not the four-way talks in Geneva are worth going to because of the escalation in violence. What do you all hope to get out of this meeting that’s coming up, if it does happen? I assume you think it will still happen. And can you also bring us up to speed on what’s a timeline for upcoming potential new sanctions, and on whether the U.S. is considering today, as opposed to prior days, maybe giving some non-lethal aid to Ukraine forces to include body armor or NODs or something like that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me see if I can remember all the questions – (laughter) – but I’m sure you’ll remind me if I don’t. One thing, just to add, is it’s important – to the earlier question – it’s important for everybody to remember that one of the priorities that Russia has put out there is disarming irregulars around the country. And the Ukrainian forces have taken steps to do that in parts that are not in eastern Ukraine. So this is pretty consistent with what the Rada decided just a couple of weeks ago about disarming those who are not official forces. And so we think that’s another reason. I just wanted to add that.

In terms of the meeting upcoming on Thursday, we feel there should always be an opportunity and an opening for diplomacy. And this is the first time that, of course, Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Ukrainian foreign minister did meet. But this is really the first opportunity to engage with them at the same table, with the EU, with the United States to talk about priorities, including de-escalation, demobilization, support for efforts moving forward, including constitutional reform, protecting minorities. These are priorities that even the Russians have said they support. So this is an opportunity to have a discussion. Yes, certainly we are – have expressed our concern about what’s been happening on the ground over the last couple of days, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t – that we should not take an opportunity to have a diplomatic discussion.

QUESTION: But can you speak to the bit about sanctions and --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure. Sure.

QUESTION: -- about body armor and --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Absolutely. We’re not actively considering military assistance. Obviously, there have been steps that we have taken. The end of March, DOD provided about 300,000 MREs --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- certainly, there are requests that have come in from the Ukrainians. But our focus at this point remains on the economic and political support that we’re providing to the Ukrainian Government.

In terms of sanctions, our national security team is in active discussions about the next round of sanctions, as they have been. The Secretary also spent this morning on a range of phone calls with – including with Foreign Minister Fabius, EU High Representative Ashton, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, and UK Foreign Secretary Hague, because obviously coordination with the Europeans and taking complementary steps is a priority. So not only do we anticipate additional sanctions at some point, we’re preparing additional steps.

I will say that in terms of how we look at the timing and our – a strategic approach, Thursday, in our view, is likely the next step here, because it’s an opportunity for everybody to sit down at the table and have a discussion. At the same time, we can make preparations for any additional sanction steps we want to take.

QUESTION: Are we still talking about --

QUESTION: Just to be clear on that --

QUESTION: Are we still talking about --

QUESTION: Can we be clear on that?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do – just one at a time.

QUESTION: Can we be clear on – just on the sanctions stuff: When you say Thursday is the next step, does that mean no sanctions likely to be imposed prior to Thursday?

MS. PSAKI: That means that Thursday is the next opportunity to have a diplomatic discussion, and I think it’s safe to lean in to the unlikelihood of making announcements before Thursday.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. And then secondly on sanctions: Is what is at issue now sort of tier two-plus – in other words, additional individual designations of entities or people? Or is it the broader sectoral sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re all on the table. We – there are a range of individuals who have ties to the Russian Government, tied to the events happening in Ukraine, that we are looking at, and we’re certainly prepared to sanction. If escalation continues, sectoral sanctions, of course, also remain a viable option, and we have the tools if we decide to move in that direction.

QUESTION: Just last one for me on this. Is The New York Times accurate in its report that – that among the people who are under consideration for being sanctioned is the head of Rosneft, Russia’s largest energy company?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, there are a range of individuals under consideration, but I’m not going to confirm reports of individuals that have been named in the media.

QUESTION: Can you --

QUESTION: Can I just ask on the sanctions that – you mentioned a range of phone calls that the Secretary’s had with his – particularly with his European allies?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there some sense that the Europeans are perhaps a little more reluctant to go further down the road of sanctions? Is the Secretary having to whip them up and get them on board?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, there’s, of course, 28 countries in the European Union, and I think it’s safe to assume that they’re in a variety of places, and they all have different ties and certainly have stronger ties in some ways than the United States in the financial front to Russia. But we’ve been coordinating and working with the Europeans at every step in this process. There are times when they have announced sanctions on individuals and we have announced individuals a week or so later. So it hasn’t been exact at any point. It’s been complementary, and we’re keeping them abreast of our thinking and they’re keeping us abreast of their thinking as well.

QUESTION: So your answer would suggest there has been some reluctance on the European side when you say --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think I need to state that. Obviously, there have been some in the European Union who have said there are – their financial ties are a factor in their decision-making.

QUESTION: Back to – on the sanctions. Is it fair to assume that unless Russia invades or actually puts troops across the border into eastern Ukraine, that you would not consider these sectoral sanctions? I mean, would that have to be a – more bigger consideration of what Russian actions --

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, if that unfortunate step were taken, that would prompt some serious consideration of sectoral sanctions. But I don’t want to be as black and white as that because obviously there are a range of discussions that happen within the Administration every day about the appropriate steps, and I don’t want to get ahead of where we are in the process.

QUESTION: A couple more things.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: First of all, on these “anti-terror operations,” do you consider these – obviously they’re separatists and obviously they’re militant, but do you consider them terrorists in the classical sense of what you would define as a terrorist? Because these are being called anti-terror operations.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional – I don’t have any characterization of the naming. I mean – and our concerns here are about the fact that you have militants, who – whatever you want to call them – who are armed and are taking over buildings and scaring citizens and taking escalatory steps into many parts of eastern Ukraine. So that’s where our concern is. That’s one of the reasons we feel the Ukrainians have a right to maintain their own common order in their country.

QUESTION: But you wouldn’t – but when they say that these are – is that really the right definition of what these kind of operations should be, or who they’re targeting? I mean, these people aren’t terrorists in the sense like they’re launching terrorist attacks, would you say?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure it matters what they’re called.

QUESTION: Really? Because when Russia cracks down on terrorists in Chechnya, obviously, there are some terrorists that launch kind of large-scale attacks. But you often criticize Russia or other countries that crack down on broad swaths of the population in the name of fighting terrorists.

MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I’m calling it what we view it as, which is the Ukrainian Government taking steps to provide law and order in parts of their country. I don’t think we need to name it further.

QUESTION: Okay. And then one more about the phone call between President Putin --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and President Obama: I understand that the White House gave the readout and all, but why is there this emphasis that President Putin was the one, that the Russians were the one that initiated this call? Do you think that the Russians are trying to paint themselves as the kind of injured party here, while at the same time taking these actions that you said, such as – taking to destabilize Ukraine? I mean, do you think they’re playing a double game here?

MS. PSAKI: Well, oftentime that question is asked, as you know, so I think it may not be much more complicated than that. I suppose it shows that there’s a desire from their end to engage, but beyond that, actions are far more important than phone calls, so I wouldn’t put much more importance on it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, you said that this is part of the Ukrainian Government reasserting its authority and maintaining peace and order and so on. Would you consider these other elements that are in the building at least outlaws if they are not terrorists?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I need to --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- put much more of a name on it. I’ve called them armed militants, Said.

QUESTION: Okay, okay. Let me ask you, prior to the 22nd of February --

QUESTION: Maybe an unarmed militant?

MS. PSAKI: Probably not. Militant and after hours, I suppose.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Prior to the 22nd of February when the president of Ukraine fled, prior to that, did you call people at the – did you give the same kind of leverage or authority or latitude to the Ukrainian Government to do the same against the people in Maidan?

MS. PSAKI: It’s an entirely different situation. Obviously, when there were --

QUESTION: How so?

MS. PSAKI: -- armed militants or extremists or whatever you want to call them --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- when they’ve been at work around Ukraine, we have encouraged the Ukrainian Government; they’ve been active in disarming the irregulars.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Russia has also supported that effort in many parts of Ukraine. Let me finish my answer here. But the efforts in the Maidan, the majority of the protests in Maidan were – in the Maidan were peaceful. That’s an entirely different circumstance.

QUESTION: Okay. So that’s what I’m saying. The activists or whatever you want to call them in the Maidan were basically unarmed, peaceful, and – but these guys are outlaws and carry guns and they’re fighting back. Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, and it was also, as you know, a different government taking steps that, at the time, we made clear were inappropriate as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you feel that this emboldened position by the Ukrainian Government in retaking the airport and so on has anything to do with the visit of the director of the CIA?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t venture to make that assumption. I think they have been prepared to keep calm and stability where possible, and that’s why they’re taking the steps they are.

QUESTION: And lastly, do you – and I know we all read the readout on the President’s --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- conversation with President Putin – did the Russians give some sort of a commitment not to intervene, at least at this stage, in response to any kind of similar military action to the one that we saw today?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more readout than the ones the White House provided.

Do we have more on Ukraine? Ukraine? Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Has Secretary Kerry had any – spoken with any Ukrainian official since this operation began?

MS. PSAKI: He spoke with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk yesterday, and he’s been in regular contact with him over the course of the last several weeks.

QUESTION: Have the Ukrainians indicated that this operation would – this is something that they would pursue?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think they’ve been clear, and they’ve said publicly that they too want to take steps to maintain calm and stability throughout the country, and I’d point you to their public comments they’ve made.

QUESTION: And just one more: Are you seeing any change in the number of Russian troops on the borders? Any increase or decrease?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update for you on that. We’ve been saying tens of thousands. Nothing has changed in our analysis on that front.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Jen, can I ask what – is there something concrete that you’re expecting to happen out of Thursday’s talks? I understand that you want the situation to be de-escalated.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You want to talk about things like observers and preserving stability and so on. Is there a concrete action that you’re asking the Russians to take?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, I think there’s a couple components of Thursday as – and I don’t think we’ve put out the full public schedule yet, but he’ll have a bilateral meeting with the Ukrainian foreign minister. He’ll also meet with EU High Representative Ashton. And of course, then there’ll be the larger quad meeting.

And part of our efforts here – there’s a couple of parallel tracks. One is certainly continuing to support the Ukrainians, and that includes economic support, it includes political support, having a discussion about that. It includes coordination and working closely and in lockstep with the Europeans. So they’ll have a conversation about that.

And then I don’t want to predict the outcome of the meeting. Obviously, there’s a range of issues that will be discussed. And we’ll see what comes out of it after they have the opportunity to talk for a couple of hours, but this is the first time they’re all sitting down.

QUESTION: Right. I mean, I guess my question is – because you mentioned Thursday’s timing in relationship to the fact that you’re thinking of additional steps or sanctions: Is there something that could happen on Thursday or maybe early Friday that would stave off additional sanctions (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s always been an off-ramp. And so if Russia were to take de-escalatory steps, certainly we would calibrate our own response.

QUESTION: Such as a --

MS. PSAKI: They can move their troops out. They can --

QUESTION: Out of Crimea, or away from the border?

MS. PSAKI: Away from the border. There are many steps that they can take, and I’m sure that will be a part of the discussion.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, you’re not even asking them to – at this point, when you say “move their troops,” we’re talking about eastern Ukraine now; we’re not really dealing with Crimea right now?

MS. PSAKI: No, we’re certainly still talking about Crimea. I’m just not going to outline more detailed – I think everybody knows what de-escalatory means.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov separately?

MS. PSAKI: No, I don’t believe so at this point.

QUESTION: Why is it better to impose no additional sanctions prior to Thursday?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I’m not going to go too much into our own strategy, but we’ve already imposed a range of sanctions. We’re going to talk to our EU counterparts. The Secretary will continue to do that over the next 48 hours. And we’re going to give an opportunity to have a discussion on Thursday, and we’ll see what we need to do from there.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that additional sanctions prior to the meeting might result in the meeting’s cancelation?

MS. PSAKI: No, that’s not our concern. We think it’s in the interests of all parties to participate in a meeting and to give diplomacy a chance to work.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that not imposing additional sanctions beyond those that were imposed on Friday, despite what you yourselves have said is the manifest involvement of Russian agents in sowing unrest in a growing number of Ukrainian cities, signals weakness on the part of the United States and the European Union?

MS. PSAKI: No, absolutely not. We have indicated very clearly that we’re prepared to sanction a range of individuals. And I said “unlikely.” I didn’t say “not.” Obviously, there are decisions that can be made by the national security team at any point in time. We’re also talking about a meeting that’s taking place in 36 hours, so tomorrow – the day after tomorrow is Thursday.

QUESTION: But in the intervening – I mean, Thursday, in the intervening four days – Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday – surely you would acknowledge you have seen more of the same from Russian-sponsored forces in a growing number of places in Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So why not pull the trigger?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I’m not going to bring you into the curtain of what our decision making is. But I can just convey to you that we are prepared to impose additional sanctions on a range of individuals – those discussions are ongoing – as well as sectoral sanctions, and we’re prepared to pull that lever if we decide to do that.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: One more. Is part of it that notwithstanding the decision of the EU foreign ministers yesterday to sanction additional individuals – although they have yet to name those – is part of the unlikelihood of additional sanctions before Thursday that it is something of a strain to get on the same page with the Europeans in terms of what to do next?

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re working closely with them and we’ve been working in lockstep with them throughout this process. And we’re making a – throughout we haven’t made announcements that are identical; we’ve made complementary steps. And I’m sure we’ll discuss those on Thursday. But again, we’ll make decisions about what the appropriate steps are, and we’ll work with – to keep the Europeans abreast of those choices.

QUESTION: Can we go to a different topic?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine? Go ahead, Catherine.

QUESTION: Has Secretary Kerry spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov? Are they talking about prepping for the meeting, any laying the groundwork?

MS. PSAKI: He hasn’t spoken with him since yesterday. He speaks with him on a regular basis, and they’ve had conversations leading up to the meeting over the course of the last week or so.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Why there won’t be a bilateral meeting between Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov?

MS. PSAKI: The schedule is still coming together. That could certainly change, but I don’t have any bilateral meeting to announce for all of you at this point.

QUESTION: And do you expect any Russian intervention or reaction to the Ukrainian Government moves in the east?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly would encourage them – would discourage them from having a reaction. The Ukrainian Government is maintaining – taking steps to maintain peace and order in their own country. So it’s hard to see what the explanation would be for Russian action there.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s – do we have any more on Ukraine?

QUESTION: Oh, sure.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, a couple more. Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: So Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov actually is visiting China, and he personally thanked China for Chinese unbiased position on Ukraine situation. Do you think China’s position on Ukraine is helpful?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would let the Chinese speak for their own position. Obviously, they didn’t – they declined – they abstained in the UN vote several weeks ago. They have a history of not – of non-intervention, so we’ll let them speak for themselves. But I don’t have any other particular analysis on it.

QUESTION: But I – as I was saying, China and Russia’s relation, the ties is getting closer as the Ukraine crisis is going on. What would you expect China to do?

MS. PSAKI: I’m going to let China make their own choices. Obviously, we are encouraging all countries around the world to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and that’s the same message that we’re conveying to China as well.

QUESTION: New topic?

QUESTION: And one more. It was reported that when Russian President Putin visit China next month, the China and Russia may reach a deal on the gas supply. Do you welcome this deal or decision?

MS. PSAKI: China and Russia?

QUESTION: Yeah. They are going to reach a gas deal.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any particular comment on that. If that happens, we’ll be happy to speak to it at the time. Do we have more on Ukraine?

QUESTION: Can we talk about Iran and the – Iran has --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- sent a letter to the UN asking the UN Secretary General to get involved over the row, as they say, over your refusal to provide a visa to Mr. Aboutalebi.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, obviously, as we stated yesterday, there are steps that can be taken, and the Iranians have indicated they did take in terms of filing with the Host Country Committee. I know somebody asked yesterday if the United States is a member of the Host Country Committee. We are a member.

But what we have told the United Nations and the Iranian Government is that we will not grant this visa. That has not changed. We’ve been clear both publicly and privately that this nomination is unacceptable. And while we’re not going to get into any specifics of what we do or don’t think he was involved in during the hostage crisis, he himself has said he was involved. And given his role in the events of 1979, which clearly matter profoundly to the American people, it would be unacceptable for the United States to grant this visa. And that is the message that we have conveyed very clearly to the UN as well as to the Iranian Government.

QUESTION: One – just one detailed thing here. He said, I believe, or he has been quoted as saying that he was not in Tehran when the hostages were initially taken. As you know, the hostage taking began in ’79 but then ran through ’80 and into early ’81. Do you – when you said the events of 1979, did you mean that he was involved in 1979 itself, or did you mean that he was involved at some point between – when the hostages were taken in ’79 and when they were released in early ’81?

MS. PSAKI: Well, often, Arshad, as you know, people refer to the overall event as “the events of 1979,” so I was referring to the overall hostage crisis over 444 days.

QUESTION: So the broader period?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Right, okay. Great.

QUESTION: But (inaudible) --

QUESTION: Jen, this is the first time that you, from the podium, that you’ve linked the nominee to the crisis in – to the hostage crisis.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So you’re now saying this is the reason why you believe that that visa will not be granted or should not go ahead?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. And that is the message we’ve conveyed to the Iranians and conveyed to the UN.

QUESTION: Have you yet outright denied the visa?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that, and I’m not going to outline that further. But it’s – we’ve been very clear that we will not grant --

QUESTION: You said you don’t want --

QUESTION: Has it – sorry. Has anything changed since Friday?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: You said you don’t want to get into exactly what he did, but can you say whether or not you believe that he had a significant role as one of the Iranians involved?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to go into it further. He himself has said he was involved.

QUESTION: Well, he played down his involvement, frankly, saying that he was a translator, a negotiator, and he tried to do it in a humanitarian spirit.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, I’m not going to get into from here what we do or don’t think he was involved in during the hostage crisis. Regardless of that, as we all know, this was a searing experience for 52 American citizens who were held hostage, and for that reason this is a visa we cannot grant.

QUESTION: But have you been able to establish from, let’s say, the former hostages, that he, in fact, that’s what he did?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to go into any more details on what we do or don’t know, Said.

QUESTION: Also, do you maintain a list of the number of people that you’ve denied visas to, diplomatic, similar situation? Do you have a list of that?

MS. PSAKI: Do we maintain a list of --

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have --

MS. PSAKI: -- individuals we’ve denied visas to?

QUESTION: I mean, yeah, I mean, have you – do you have a list of, let’s say, a number? Do you have a figure on how many people – I know Yasser Arafat was denied --

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure there are records, but I’m not going to go into those from the podium.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I ask a couple questions about Iraq and Kurdistan?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Do we have any more on Iran? Okay, go ahead. Iraq and Kurdistan.

QUESTION: We had Brett McGurk like a few weeks – a couple weeks ago in Iraq to help mediate peaceful efforts between Kurdistan and Baghdad.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But apparently, he achieved no meaningful result because we just saw yesterday President Barzani saying in the media that a Kurdish independent state is on the way. First of all, like, do you agree with me that Brett McGurk like basically failed in achieving – in bringing Baghdad and Kurdistan together?

And secondly, what’s your reaction to Barzani’s statement about a Kurdish independent state coming soon?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, our position has been pretty consistent. We continue to support an Iraq that is federal, democratic, pluralistic, and unified. And we urge all parties in Iraq to continue working together toward that objective. It would be hard to find a more tireless diplomat who has worked as hard as Brett McGurk has on helping the Iraqi people, helping promote the unity of the Iraqi Government. And my suspicion is he will continue working on that. And the sign of a good diplomat is somebody who doesn’t give up when it’s hard and doesn’t throw in the towel, and so I would just caution you to call him out because he’ll keep working on it.

QUESTION: What about the independent state, Kurdistan? Are you against that?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered what our position is on Iraq – federal, democratic, pluralistic, and unified.

QUESTION: But that does not mean that you won’t be against a Kurdish state if it --

MS. PSAKI: That means we believe Iraq should be unified, including all portions of Iraq.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: That means you don’t believe.

MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Jen, today the head of ISCI, Ammar Hakim, and Sadr, Muqtada al-Sadr, the head of the Jaish al-Mahdi, they formed an alliance against Maliki. Are you concerned that after the election, and if Maliki wins as he is predicted to, that the country will actually fragment?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not --

QUESTION: And descend into chaos?

MS. PSAKI: Obviously – obviously, the government of – or I should say the country of Iraq is working towards elections. We do have concerns about the nature of attacks that have happened, the recent increased levels of violence. And ultimately, the preparations for national elections at the end of – soon, in coming weeks, is a constant reminder of the formidable challenges they continue to face on the security front.

I’m not going to make any predictions. Obviously, our efforts and our work and the work of Brett McGurk and other diplomats is to support the people and the Government of Iraq, and maintain a democratic, pluralistic, and unified Iraq.

QUESTION: Are you – will you be taking, like, special security measures during the elections?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that. We obviously have been expediting our security assistance, as you know and we’ve talked about a little bit in here, and we’re working closely with the Iraqi Government on that. But I will see if there’s more to report around the elections specifically.

QUESTION: Just one more question.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Barzani also said in his interview that it’s very strange that the United States and Iran disagree on most everything, but they agree on Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. What do you make of that statement?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have any further comment than he’s been elected to lead Iraq. So go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we stay here in Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: And just one more question regarding this independence question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: One of the factors of the situation is the oil transfer made by the – I mean, the KRG to Turkey. And I know that your position was against this.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And do you have any update? Because the oil – oil delivery is still going on and there was a dispute on the – in interests in revenue sharing on this oil trade between the two --

MS. PSAKI: Our position is exactly the same as it has been. Nothing has changed on that front.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli talks?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I wonder to begin with if you glanced at the editorial today in The New York Times calling that time – the time has come for the United States to state: This is our position, that’s how we see the state, this is how we see the parties reacting; or otherwise, it’s time for us to move on. Did you see this and do you agree with this notion?

MS. PSAKI: I did read the editorial. I do not agree with the notion. Neither does the negotiators, neither do the parties, neither does the Secretary. As you know, Said, the parties met this weekend. They’re going to be meeting again tomorrow. The parties are working right now on an agreement to extend the negotiations. And that means extending the negotiations past April 29th. There are naturally a range of issues being discussed. There are steps that both parties would need to take in order to improve the conditions for peace. But the parties remain highly engaged. Both parties tell us they want negotiations to continue and they’re searching for a path to do just that.

QUESTION: Okay. So you do expect the negotiating to continue past the 29th?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the parties are working on determining if there’s a path to extend the negotiations for a period of months past April 29th.

QUESTION: Do you feel comfortable that both parties will be likely to continue on for lack of a better alternative, really?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to make any predictions. The parties are working on this as we speak.

QUESTION: Okay. So – but if – their positions, actually, they are – they’re sort of – are intransigent, really – their position. And in fact, the government of Mr. Netanyahu has members – very powerful members – who are not for the negotiations, they’re not even for a peace settlement.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And on the other hand, you have also factions within the Palestinian movement that are beginning to reject whatever outcome these negotiations might have. So you still see value in these negotiations going forward?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely, because the Israeli and the Palestinian people deserve a two-state solution where parties are living side-by-side and they have the economic opportunity and the security that they deserve.

QUESTION: But --

MS. PSAKI: And that’s why the parties remain committed and why they’re working so hard on extending negotiations.

QUESTION: But look at the last three days. I mean, the Israelis announced taking another 900 dunams, which is like 250, 300 acres and so on. Somebody attacked and killed – most likely a Palestinian – a settler and shot his wife yesterday on their way to a Passover dinner and so on. So the situation is really getting fluid and in flux and so on. What should be done to sort of reassure both sides --

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say – since you gave me opportunity, and then we’ll move to Jo, who I think has a question on the same topic – that we, of course, condemn the shooting that killed an Israeli man on the eve of Passover. We offer our condolences to the man’s family and support Israel’s efforts to bring those responsible for justice – to justice. We urge all parties to exercise restraint and avoid any actions that would raise tensions.

Let me just say finally, before we move to Jo, that naturally we know that these are issues that have a great deal of history, a great deal of emotion. But the parties remain engaged. They’ve indicated they want to see if there’s a path forward for extending the negotiations, and they’re going to continue to work on that effort. But they have a greater stake in it than the United States, so we’ll see if they’re willing to take the choices.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: If Jo allows me just real quick, the settlement that was expanded is really an old settlement, Gush Etzion. I mean, they took – I mean, it’s right in the heart of the West Bank. Did you at least condemn this particular takeover of private land? It’s a land --

MS. PSAKI: Are you – the moving in Hebron that – what – that happened --

QUESTION: No. The land that was taken, these last parts of privately owned Palestinian land --

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look at the details of that. You’re familiar with our view on settlements.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: I wanted to check whether the talks that you mentioned tomorrow are going to take place with Ambassador Indyk as well.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates on his travel yet. Nothing has changed since what we talked about last week, but I don’t have any update on when he’ll be traveling. But an important reminder here is there – they had meetings over the weekend without the U.S. negotiators participating. There may be some where the U.S. negotiators do participate, as there has been through the process. So as I have an update over the next day or so, we’ll – happy to keep you abreast.

QUESTION: So it’s possible these talks could happen without Ambassador Indyk tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. And I wanted to ask – and again, I’ve asked this yesterday, the day before – if you’ve had any more updates from the Israeli side on the tax issue about whether they’re going to – whether this reported freeze is actually happening or not.

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t had any update. Obviously they’ve been sort of on their Passover holiday over the last 24 hours. I will see if there’s more we can report to all of you after the briefing.

QUESTION: Are you able to say what some of the issues are on the table about what the outlines of an agreement might look like to extend the talks beyond April the 29th, such as is there likely to be some kind of prisoner release or some kind of perhaps – not settlement, partial settlement freeze or something like that? Are you able to give us any details?

MS. PSAKI: All of those issues are being discussed. Clearly, it’s going to be the parties that need to make the choices about which steps they’re willing to take and whether the other corresponding party agrees to that as part of the nature of the possible extension. But many of those same issues are still being discussed and on the table.

QUESTION: And given where we are and how bleak everything seemed in the last week or so --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- how hopeful are you that they will get an extension of the talks?

MS. PSAKI: It’s hard to put a grade or a number on that, because it’s ultimately up to them. And while we certainly are strong supporters of this effort and we have been very active participants and boosters, they have to make some tough choices. And again, because there are decades of emotions and history, it’s not an easy thing. Certainly, it’s important to note that the negotiations are ongoing, that the parties have indicated they want them to be ongoing, and that they are open to discussing and actively discussing an extension. So that is positive. But we’re not going to put the cart before the horse here.

QUESTION: And just a final one. Have you any kind of notion – are we talking about a few months, are we talking about another nine-month extension, or a year? Do you have – is there a timeframe emerging?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll leave that to the parties to discuss and decide what is appropriate and what amount of time they need, if they agree to an extension.

QUESTION: Jen, technically it would be – if the negotiations go past the 29th of April, will this be announced, let’s say, in Washington, take place in Washington, symbolically or otherwise like last year?

MS. PSAKI: You have a communications planning future in your life, I think. I can’t make any prediction of that, Said, because the parties are still working through what the conditions would be and whether there will be an extension.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: So there’s nothing I can report to you on that front.

QUESTION: Okay. On a separate issue from the start of the talks, have you talked to the Israelis since yesterday, since I asked yesterday, about the withholding of the tax revenues?

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary has not. Obviously, we have a range of officials on the ground who are in very close touch with the – both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: New topic? Is that okay?

QUESTION: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: There are reports that a section of the Free Syrian Army has received anti-missile tanks from a Western source, U.S.-made anti-missile tank. So wanted to know is that Western source the United States, or can you give us any information about where those tanks might be coming from?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the United States is committed to – and has been consistently – to building the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through work with our international partners. And that has consistently been the case for the last months and over – and years even. And that also includes through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderate armed opposition. As we have consistently said, and I know frustrates all of you to no end, we’re not going to detail every single type of assistance, nor are we going to detail or outline every type of diplomatic engagement with our international partners. So unfortunately, I just have very little to convey to you on this front.

QUESTION: But you’re linking the engagement with your international partners to the provision of this --

MS. PSAKI: Tanks.

QUESTION: -- anti-tanks in question. It sounds like you sold them or they – or you gave them or they were --

MS. PSAKI: I was just making a --

QUESTION: -- bought by one of your international partners and then provided to the Syrians.

MS. PSAKI: I was just making a broad point about how we engage and how we support the moderate opposition, Elise.

QUESTION: But you’re not opposed to having the opposition actually have or own or be in possession of these kind of weapons, do you? Are you in opposition?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to detail that further from here.

Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Because these kinds of weapons, I mean, were the kind of weapons that were talked about way back then to change the equation on the ground. So are you changing your political stance that maybe it’s time to change the equation on the ground?

MS. PSAKI: We haven’t changed anything. We haven’t outlined our details of our decisions and our assistance at any point in this process.

Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Were you able to confirm reports about the use by the regime of chemical weapons last weekend in the province of Hama?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new updates. Obviously, as we’ve said for the last couple of days, we continue to look into these reports. We don’t have any information to corroborate them at this point.

QUESTION: But you are looking into them?

MS. PSAKI: We continue to, yes.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction or comment on the – after Maaloula yesterday, we’re seeing now the Syrian army’s entering into parts of Homs as well, which would seem to be another kind of gain. I know you said you didn’t want to do just day-by-day gains on the ground, but is that something that you’ve been able to confirm as well?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any independent confirmation of that. I will check with our team and see if there are – is more we can say about different movements. But it’s unlikely we’ll be giving independent confirmation from here.

QUESTION: Jen, on this, do you think that President Assad is changing the calculations on the ground now?

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve answered that question a countless number of times.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: On this point --

QUESTION: No, no, after the gains that he made in Maaloula and different places.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I talked about it yesterday. I’d point you to that.

QUESTION: Can you repeat that, please?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: So as he consolidates his position on the ground and there were statements by, let’s say, former ambassador to Syria Ryan Crocker and former ambassador to Iraq, who said maybe it’s time to talk to Assad. Do you have any plans to talk to the regime anytime in the future?

MS. PSAKI: As you know, Said, and we’ve said before, we’ve had a range of different contacts, but I have no update or plans on that front.

QUESTION: So what happens if he consolidates his authority over much larger portions of Syria? Would you then be sort of compelled to deal with them or no?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into a hypothetical. Do we have a new topic?

QUESTION: Algeria?

MS. PSAKI: Algeria, sure.

QUESTION: Any – do you have anything on the upcoming elections there? And are you still supporting President Bouteflika as they translated the Secretary’s speech when he was in Algeria?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it was pretty clearly put out from our Embassy there that there was a mistranslation of his comments. Naturally, we don’t engage in supporting candidates in countries, so that remains the case here. Obviously, we’re watching the elections closely. We were just in Algeria – the Secretary was, as you know – and we talked about a range of issues, including our cooperation on counterterrorism issues and strengthening our strategic partnerships, and that will certainly continue.

QUESTION: That means you’re not supporting President Bouteflika in this election?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re referring to comments that were mistranslated, and there was a statement put out by them.

Do we have any more? Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Turkey, Jen. Ambassador Ricciardone visited the ruling party officials yesterday in Turkey and he congratulated for the election results. And at the entrance or at – in – while leaving the building, he mentioned about the allegations against Fethullah Gulen also. Marie was – I had talked about this issue when you were not here. But he said that the concerns of the Turkish Government on this issue is reasonable or something like – maybe the translation – I just read it.

MS. PSAKI: And I’m sorry, which concerns were you talking about?

QUESTION: The – in Turkish Government, these concerns about the activities of Gulen movement and the guy he was leaving in Pennsylvania, Fethullah Gulen. And Ambassador Ricciardone mentioned on this issue and he said that – I didn’t see the exact words because he spoke in English, according to the reports. I don't know what exactly he said, but according to the press reports, he said something like that this is reasonable, these concerns are reasonable.

Do you have anything to add to these, any comment on this to clarify the --

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me look at the actual comments and we’ll see if there’s anything we want to add on that front.

QUESTION: May I --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, it was mentioned today in Egypt that the foreign minister of Egypt, Nabil Fahmy, next week or the following week will be here to meet the – Secretary Kerry. Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those. I’m happy to check and see. And they’ve met a range of times and talked a numerous number of times on the phone, so I’ll see if there’s anything on that front to announce.

All right. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: One more.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the resignation of Prince Bandar from his position as intelligence director in Saudi Arabia?

MS. PSAKI: I think that happened a while ago, but --

QUESTION: No, it’s today.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, it was just announced today?

QUESTION: Yeah.

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

QUESTION: Just announced? It happened, like, two months ago.

MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Maybe you have an idea about this?

MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Okay.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)

DPB #66


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: April 14, 2014

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 16:49

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 14, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • FIFA World Cup Trophy Presentation
  • UKRAINE/RUSSIA
    • U.S. Effort for a Diplomatic Solution
    • U.S. Prepared to Impose Further Sanctions
    • U.S. Concerned About Conflicts in Eastern Ukraine
    • $1 Billion Loan Guarantee Agreement / Other Forms of Assistance
    • Focus on Economic and Diplomatic Efforts to Resolve Crisis
    • Ukraine Exercising Restraint
    • President Obama's Executive Order on Sanctions
    • CIA Director Traveled to Kyiv
    • Crimea / Forum to Cover a Range of Issues
    • NATO / Factsheet Focuses on the Truth
  • SYRIA/RUSSIA
    • Reports of Chemical Weapons Use
  • ISRAEL/RUSSIA/UKRAINE
    • Israel / UN Vote on Ukraine
  • MEPP
    • Meetings Continue
    • Special Envoy Indyk in Washington
  • ISRAEL
    • Arrests of American Citizen
    • Reports of Journalist Arrest
  • MEPP
    • Parties Engaged in Negotiations
  • SYRIA
    • U.S. Engaged with the Opposition / Focus on Political Solution
  • NIGERIA
    • U.S. Condemns Violent Attacks in Abuja and Borno State
  • IRAN
    • U.S. Aware of Iran's Complaint to UN / UN Representative Nomination / Visa
  • TURKEY
    • Concerns about Due Process and Justice
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Chelsea Manning Conviction
  • GUINEA-BISSAU
    • Elections
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Election Results
  • IRAQ
    • Removing Travel Restrictions for Political Parties
  • CUBA
    • USAID Program
  • JAPAN
    • Internal Affairs Minister Visit to Yasukuni Shrine
  • IRAQ
    • Removing Travel Restrictions for Political Parties


TRANSCRIPT:

1:02 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Hope everyone had a nice weekend with the beautiful weather.

I just have one item at the top. Today, the State Department celebrates the arrival of the FIFA World Cup trophy. This is its first stop in the United States on the global trophy tour, presented by Coca-Cola preceding the FIFA World Cup tournament in Brazil, which begins on June 12th. Before the trophy presentation here at the Department, over 50 athletes from local youth soccer organizations will participate in a soccer clinic with DC United players and former U.S. national team members Cobi Jones and Julie Foudy. Beyond their participation today, Jones and Foudy are also sports envoys for the Department. And in that capacity, they hold sports clinics for young people and their coaches and participate in community outreach efforts. And the Secretary, I know, will be stopping by and we’ll see what soccer skills he brings to the table.

QUESTION: Who did you say it was presented by?

MS. PSAKI: Coca-Cola. What did I say?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Preceding – preceding – presented by Coca-Cola preceding the FIFA World Cup tournament.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Just curious. Can we go to Ukraine, please?

MS. PSAKI: We can.

QUESTION: So while many of us were enjoying the very nice weekend, it seems that you and the Russians were engaged in yet another round of name-calling and bickering over what’s going on in Ukraine, and I’ve got a couple specifics, but more broadly, first, is there any common ground here? Is there a point to having this meeting that’s being planned for later in the week? Or is it now, given the recriminations, given what we’ve been learning about what happened in the Black Sea over the weekend, is it just a waste of time – much like the Security Council meeting last night appeared to be?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly do not see it as a waste of time. We feel there should always be an opportunity and an opening for diplomacy. And our belief remains that there’s no military solution to the conflict in Ukraine. We remain engaged both on the phone, as well as later this week in person. And over the course of the weekend, you’re right, we did put out quite a bit of information, and we have a responsibility to provide the facts. And the best antidote to false information are facts, and so we’re trying to communicate to Ukrainians, to people around the world, about what the facts are in this case.

QUESTION: Do you believe that you have any common ground with Russia right now on this issue of Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we will see, Matt. We have seen the Russians say they respect the sovereignty of Ukraine. We’ll see. We’ve seen them say they don’t want to escalate, or they want to de-escalate. That was in one of their readouts last week. We’ll see. Obviously, actions are more important than words here, but we still think there is a value --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- to sitting down at the table and discussing.

QUESTION: Okay, fair enough. But “we’ll see” – aren’t you already seeing?

MS. PSAKI: We are seeing, but Matt, it doesn’t mean it’s over or we give up our efforts --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- at a diplomatic solution here.

QUESTION: Okay. The Ukrainian president has suggested the – floated the idea of UN peacekeepers for the East. Is that something that the United States would be prepared to take to the council to have vetoed by the Russians?

MS. PSAKI: I have seen those reports; they just came out naturally, as you know, right before I came down here, so I haven’t had the chance to talk to our team yet – or they were sort of exploring what our thoughts are on that.

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: Can we go back to the meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: As you are well aware, the Russians appear to have been laying down conditions for the meeting, notably that these separatists in eastern Ukraine – in eastern Ukraine be included. Is that remotely acceptable to the United States Government?

MS. PSAKI: No. This is a meeting that will be taking place at the foreign – at the level of foreign minister. That is true for Ukraine. It’s true for Russia. It’s true for the EU. It’s true for the United States. And we feel that the Government of Ukraine represents all of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that by adopting that position, you may be giving the Russians a pretext for calling off the meeting? Because they could say, “Well, we think the eastern Ukrainian separatists should be represented, and since they’re not, we’re not going to come?”

MS. PSAKI: Well, we understand that’s their view, but they’ve indicated a desire to participate in a diplomatic conversation, so it is important that they deliver on that promise.

QUESTION: And Samantha – Ambassador Power yesterday was again beating the drum on potential additional sanctions. The sanctions that you imposed on Friday – if I’m not mistaken I think all of the individuals who were sanctioned are already on EU – analogous EU designations.

MS. PSAKI: There was an overlap. I’m not sure if it was exactly everyone, but yes, there was certainly an overlap.

QUESTION: And the sanctioning of the gas company was interesting in that it would seem to put it off-limits to Gazprom. But where are you in the debate on whether to impose additional sanctions on Russian individuals or entities, and on whether to impose the sectoral sanctions that the Secretary discussed in his testimony last week?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have the tools and the flexibility to move forward with those sanctions should we choose to. And the President has been clear that depending on Russian behavior we’re prepared to impose further sanctions, including on individuals and entities in certain sectors of the Russian economy, such as financial services, energy, metals, and mining, engineering and defense. I don’t have anything to announce or predict for you today, but certainly there is an ongoing discussion about next steps within the Administration.

QUESTION: There’s a big difference, though, between sanctions on individuals within various sectors and sanctions on those sectors themselves.

MS. PSAKI: I said: “And entities in certain sectors.” And --

QUESTION: Right. But individuals and entities is kind of – I think, is kind of one thing whereas something else that would affect the ability of the entirety of Russia’s mining industry, for example, or the entirety of its financial services industry, is a different thing, which is what I had thought sectoral sanctions was about. Maybe I misunderstood, but it sounds like --

MS. PSAKI: Well, companies within sectors, yes. That is something we have the capability to do with our executive – the executive order the President signed just a few weeks ago.

QUESTION: But you’re not looking at sectors as a whole?

MS. PSAKI: Those are the next steps that we’re looking at, Arshad, at this point – the ones I outlined.

QUESTION: Jen, can I go back?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You just said that you’d seen statements out of Moscow saying that they wanted to de-escalate the situation as of last week. But I wondered how you reacted to the Kremlin today saying that President Putin has had a lot of requests to help or intervene in some form in eastern Ukraine. Do you believe that’s threatening or helpful or --

MS. PSAKI: We have, of course, seen those comments. We are – as we’ve said over the weekend, but it’s worth repeating, we’re very concerned about evidence of Russian support for a concerted, orchestrated campaign of incitement and sabotage to undermine and destabilize the Ukrainian state.

As you saw over the weekend with a lot of the documents or information we put out, and what UN Ambassador Samantha Power said, we feel very strongly that the pattern of activities bears striking similarities to the situation in Crimea, ahead of the illegal Russian occupation and purported annexation of that part of Ukraine. And the question to us is: What exactly – who are they referring to, what are they referring to? Because all evidence points to the likelihood that these are individuals with strong ties to the Russian Government who are causing these conflicts in eastern Ukraine.

QUESTION: Do such comments increase your concern that there could be some kind of invasion planned by the troops that are massing on the borders?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction of that. I know you’re not necessarily asking me to, but we are watching it closely, Jo. We are conveying very clearly that those steps would be completely unacceptable. We’ve been consistently doing that.

QUESTION: And I believe there was an instant over the weekend with the U.S. warship Donald Cook where there was a fighter that did some --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- low-altitude passes over this. Your colleagues at the Pentagon have already spoken to this, but they advise that it’s actually up to the State Department as to whether you’re going to formally lodge some complaint against Russia for a provocative and unprofessional act.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve seen the comments that my Department of Defense colleagues have put out. They’ve put out some specific details on what exactly happened here. I’d have to check with our team and see if there’s any plans for that. Not that I’m aware of, but --

QUESTION: Okay. Just one more part on the money, is while there was also – this morning the United States signed the --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- one billion loan guarantee. And I just wondered if you’d found out any of the other pieces of the aid that I was asking about last week.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. And part of the challenge here is that things keep changing, and so hence we keep updating. But I can walk through some of that. And just to confirm what Jo mentioned, today Secretary Lew and the Ukrainian finance minister signed a $1 billion loan guarantee agreement for Ukraine. The $1 billion loan guarantee that USAID will implement will help Ukraine access capital at reasonable rates and manage the transition to a prosperous democracy. But let me go through some of the specific assistance questions that you all had asked about.

So just a couple of updates here. We are providing many forms of assistance to meet Ukraine’s most pressing needs and to help it enact the reforms needed to make its IMF program a success. This includes helping Ukraine carry out crucial economic reforms. We’ve sent Treasury Department and USAID technical advisors to work with Ukraine’s national bank, finance ministry, and deposit guarantee fund. We’re also helping – as Margaret noted, I believe, last week, we had announced our desire to help unfreeze stolen assets and reduce corruption. We’ve sent a team of experts from the Treasury Department, Justice Department, and FBI to advise the Ukrainian Government on how to investigate and collect evidence needed to recover stolen assets located abroad. The United States and the United Kingdom will co-host a multilateral meeting April 29th and 30th to bring together Ukrainian officials and their counterparts from key financial center countries to coordinate on tracing stolen assets.

In addition, USAID and the State Department have also provided over $11.4 million in assistance to promote free, fair, and peaceful elections on May 25th. This will include support for domestic and international election observers, transparent and effective election administration, and voter education campaigns, among other activities.

And finally, on the security side, as you all know, we have longstanding military-to-military cooperation with Ukraine. Our ongoing FMF and international military and education programs have focused on supporting defense reforms, military professionalization, increasing the interoperability of Ukrainian forces, and expanding Ukraine’s deployable peacekeeping capabilities. We announced this, or DOD announced this, but on March 29th the United States delivered approximately 300,000 MRE rations to Ukraine. And we will venture to get out if there are additional updates to that later this afternoon.

QUESTION: One more on aid. Counselor Shannon is quoted in Berlin as saying that the Administration is considering arming Ukrainians. He said I can’t tell you what the decision will be on that, but that it’s an option. Does the fact that he aired this publicly suggest this is under any greater consideration now than it has been in the past?

MS. PSAKI: No, it does not. Our focus remains on the economic and – on our economic and diplomatic efforts, as evidenced by the – some of – the signing today and our efforts later this week. We don’t see a military solution to this crisis, and that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: And you’re – so you’re not – even though you’re thinking about it, you’re not particularly disposed to arm the Ukrainians?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed about our view or our consideration. I have nothing, of course, to announce, but obviously, they’ve made a range of requests. We have provided them with MREs, as I mentioned, and we’ll continue to consider those. But again, our focus is not on military assistance or a military solution.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you believe that it would be a good thing for the Ukrainian authorities to order their military to try to regain control of municipal buildings, other parts of their territory, that have been seized by whoever they’ve been seized by?

MS. PSAKI: Sorry, I didn’t understand your question. Do we believe it would be --

QUESTION: Is it a good idea for the Ukrainian authorities to order their military or other law enforcement forces to try to regain control of some of these buildings – police stations, et cetera – that have been seized by separatists?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know we all, of course, saw the Ukrainian Government make some announcements this weekend and set a deadline which obviously has passed. We – they have shown first and foremost that their goal is to find a peaceful way forward. Certainly, they have the right to try to control challenging situations on the ground. They have the right to maintain in a peaceful way, as much as is possible, order in Ukraine. But again, time and time again, they have exhibited a remarkable level of restraint, and we’re continuing to encourage them to lead with that moving forward.

QUESTION: Sorry – to lead with restraint?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And sorry, one last one for me on this, please.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The stated purpose, if I understand it, of the now three rounds of sanctions, if you count Friday’s as the third, that the United States has imposed, have been – has been sort of two-fold; one, to make Russia pay a price for its actions, and two, to try to deter them from going further. The Russian response, as you yourselves described it over the weekend, was to completely brush aside your sanctions and to continue to support actions in eastern Ukraine that erode the government’s control of its territory and so on.

Given that, how can you not plan additional sanctions? What more do you need to see to impose additional sanctions, when even as you talk about negotiating with them, they continue, in your telling, their undermining of the Ukrainian state?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one of the reasons that the executive order the President signed was so broad and so flexible was to provide us with the ability to impose additional sanctions. So there are certainly conversations ongoing. As we noted a few minutes ago, there are many more individuals, many more sectoral sanctions that can be put in place should we choose to do that.

QUESTION: But no decisions yet?

MS. PSAKI: No decisions yet.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Jen, on – a bit of a follow there. On the message to Ukraine’s Government and to the military to show some restraint, was that something that the Secretary delivered in a conversation at all over the past few days with Ukraine’s leaders?

MS. PSAKI: He had – he actually spoke with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk today. I wasn’t able to get a readout; it just happened. But over – and on Friday, he also spoke with him. It’s not a message of conveying what they need to do. They are already doing this. They are already exhibiting a remarkable level of restraint, so it’s applauding them for that level of restraint, encouraging them to continue that moving forward. And certainly, that’s part of the discussion that often occurs when the Secretary speaks with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk.

QUESTION: It seems like the level of provocation, though, is being escalated by these separatists or whoever’s paying them or otherwise. So at what point will the U.S. message be one of understanding that you can’t just hold back here; you need to --

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, as I conveyed a few minutes ago, we understand, well, one, they have the right to control the situation and they have the right to maintain order, but I think we all want to see a peaceful outcome here and for all sides to deescalate. So that’s a message we’re conveying to all sides.

QUESTION: But their actions thus far on the security front have all been appropriate, in the U.S. view?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that is something we’ve seen across the board, that they have been remarkably restrained, and we’re continuing to encourage them to do so moving forward.

QUESTION: I have one question on the sanctions front.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it fair to understand that there’s a fair amount of broadening and sharpening of the existing sort of level of sanctions we’re in that can be done before we move up to sectoral sanctions, that there’s more room to tinker here?

MS. PSAKI: There are certainly more individuals. But again, I’m not going to outline when a decision hasn’t yet been made that far about how we would do it or what we would do because there are many options that we could undertake. So --

QUESTION: So on --

QUESTION: So it’s wrong to assume that the next round of sanctions would automatically be in that sectoral space. It could be a number of things.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t make any assumptions, given that hasn’t been decided internally at this point.

QUESTION: So Jen, consistent with your message that there is no military solution to this thing, are you impressing upon the president of the Ukraine, Turchynov, not to use force to sort of force these people out of these buildings?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, Said, I think I’ve answered this a few times, but we do feel that exercising restraint and having a peaceful outcome is what’s in the best interests of the people of Ukraine.

QUESTION: I guess my question is: Did you make this directly to him? Did anyone, whether the President or the Secretary of State, make that statement clearly to the president?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’ve already been exercising a remarkable level of restraint, and when the Secretary speaks – has spoken with the prime minister, he has thanked him for that and encouraged him to continue that moving forward.

QUESTION: So today – I don’t know if you saw Mr. Lavrov’s press conference, but he called the West’s hypocrisy as knowing no bounds, that on the one hand you called – you praised what was happening in Maidan, but on the other hand you are calling these people that took over the building thugs and so on, and not protestors. So --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think it’s pretty clear all evidence points to the connection of these individuals to Russia, so I think that answers you question.

QUESTION: Exactly what I wanted to ask you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: What kind of evidence do you have to substantiate your claims?

MS. PSAKI: I could go on and on, Said. We have talked about this last week.

QUESTION: Could you share some of it?

MS. PSAKI: We put out a range of documents yesterday. I would point you to all of that. And Ambassador Power also spoke to it.

QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, he also said that there was absolutely no Russian intelligence personnel, no forces inside of the Ukraine, and so on. So do you believe that the Russians’ foreign minister is actually lying?

MS. PSAKI: Said, I would point you to the fact/fiction document we put out yesterday that outlines a number of the claims and what the facts are on the ground. That may be useful.

QUESTION: So what he is saying is basically fiction?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to that.

Do – Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Minister Lavrov has asked for clarifications from the U.S. regarding the CIA director visit to Kyiv.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you provided him with clarifications?

MS. PSAKI: I believe that the CIA has answered this, but let me just reiterate what they’ve said. We know that the CIA does not normally comment on the director’s travel. Given the extraordinary circumstances in this case and the false claims being leveled by the Russians at the CIA, however, we can confirm the director was in Kyiv this weekend as part of a trip to Europe. As you all know, senior-level visits of intelligence officials are a standard means of fostering a mutually beneficial security cooperation. That’s something we do with Russia, and certainly it’s not out of the norm we would do it with Ukraine.

There were some claims that Director Brennan encouraged Ukrainian authorities to conduct tactical operations inside Ukraine. Those are completely false. I believe that all has been conveyed, but those are the facts of the matter.

QUESTION: May I ask – these are really quick, boom, boom, boom.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Okay.

QUESTION: One, are you able to repeat what Ambassador Shannon said in Berlin today that arming the rebels is an option, which came in – his reply came in response to a question about the Secretary’s formerly good friend, Senator McCain, who basically went on a rampage again this weekend against the Administration and the Secretary himself, saying that they need to arm – the U.S. should arm the rebels? So are you able to repeat what Ambassador Shannon --

MS. PSAKI: Our position is as I laid it out earlier.

QUESTION: Is it an option?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re of course considering their request. But again, our focus is on economic and diplomatic means.

QUESTION: I’m looking for you to say the words, arming – or “shipping arms or selling arms or giving arms to Ukraine is an option.”

MS. PSAKI: That’s --

QUESTION: That you’re – that the Administration is considering.

MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what our focus is, Matt. I’m not going to eliminate in the future forever, but at this time --

QUESTION: Okay. So it is an option.

MS. PSAKI: At this time, our focus is on economic and diplomatic efforts --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- to de-escalate the situation. It’s not at all on military incursions.

QUESTION: All right. As it relates to Crimea itself, in answer --

QUESTION: Military incursion or military arming?

MS. PSAKI: Both, both. Neither.

QUESTION: As it relates to Crimea, your answer a while ago to Jo, you said the “purported annexation of Crimea.” President Putin has today appointed a head of Crimea.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: At what point or ever will the Administration concede that Crimea has become part of Russia?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t predict a point, Matt.

QUESTION: So as far as you know, never?

MS. PSAKI: I --

QUESTION: Crimea will always be part of Ukraine; it will never be part of Russia to the United States?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Crimea is a part of Ukraine. I don’t foresee that changing, no.

QUESTION: On --

QUESTION: But it – you don’t argue, though, that for all intents and purposes, it is part of Russia right now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s how Russia treats it, but we don’t recognize that and neither does the majority of the international community.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the meeting on the 17th?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: What is really expected to come out of the meeting? What are the points that you want to discuss?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of issues that we want to discuss: De-escalation, demobilization, support for elections and constitutional reform. This is a forum when the Ukrainians and the Russians will be at a table together for the first time since the – Foreign Minister Lavrov’s meeting with the Ukrainian foreign minister. So it’s an opportunity for dialogue and that’s why we’re holding the meeting.

QUESTION: Will that meeting be the kind of forum where you can say, “Look, we’re going to give you a certain amount of time to rectify the situation, or we are going to do 1, 2, 3, 4?”

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make predictions of that, but to be clear, Said, we’ve already been conveying messages of what the consequences will be.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure. You are – the Russians are going? They’re going to Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, yes.

QUESTION: You’re sure of that? Because after the announcement on Friday by both you and by Catherine Ashton’s people, the Russians came out and said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, this is very premature. We haven’t agreed to anything yet.” You’re – as of today, they’re on board to get – as far as you know?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I will – our announcement was fully coordinated. They were aware of our announcement as well as the EU’s, and all parties are planning to attend.

QUESTION: Okay. So as far as --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Just as far as you know, it’s still on?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine or --

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine, okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. You mentioned that you are focusing on the economic and diplomatic efforts --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- to de-escalate the situation. Regarding the economic, what you mentioned – you mentioned – most of the steps that you are mentioning is, like, somehow long term – it seems like it’s long-term project with – like, to take the frozen assets or whatever and related to the corrupted money.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re working on them as we speak. And just today --

QUESTION: I mean, I’m just trying to --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- ask two questions --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- regarding the economic measures to help the Ukrainians, is first: How the financial aid is reaching them as soon as possible?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The second is: How they – you are helping them regarding the energy problem, which is – like you mentioned in details last week. Are there any steps taken in these two fields?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I talked a bit last week about our coordination on the energy issues, and that’s why I didn’t mention it. And what I talked – the list I went through to Jo’s question. So that’s ongoing. We’re continuing to work with Ukraine, with the Europeans, to address their energy needs.

On the financial assistance, I mentioned a little bit earlier that just today, Secretary Lew and the Ukrainian finance minister signed a $1 billion loan guarantee agreement. Obviously, there’s a short implementation phase for that, but that’s something that should be moving pretty quickly.

QUESTION: At this point it will be reached as soon – I mean, possibly? I know it’s going to be approved by the Congress --

MS. PSAKI: Well, it helps – it’s a loan guarantee, so it helps the Ukrainians have access to capital at reasonable rates. But there is a range of assistance coming from the Europeans. They’re obviously working with the IMF. And I think every entity that has a stake in the future of Ukraine is working as quickly as possible to make sure they have the economic assistance they need.

QUESTION: Beside the 17 of April, I’m still puzzled and other people puzzled by your diplomatic effort insisting to go to UN, although it’s – the positions are really clear.

MS. PSAKI: The meeting yesterday?

QUESTION: Yes, for --

MS. PSAKI: That was called by the Russians.

QUESTION: By the Russians?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And – but you are ready – I mean, are you planning to attend more meeting like this, or it’s just useless?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our UN representative often attends the meetings, and there’s a range of diplomatic paths that we work through for every global issue. But that was a meeting called by the Russians.

QUESTION: Regarding the sanctions, recently, I mean, there are some observers who think – I mean, mentioning that the Europeans are not that much excited about these sanctions. Do you have any say to the – to say about that? I mean, I’m just trying to figure out what is your understanding of that. Is it exaggeration?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’ve continued to announce sanctions over the course of the last several weeks, just as we have. There’s no question there is strength in numbers, and we are working in close coordination and cooperation with the Europeans, but – and I’m sure that will be – continue to be a topic of discussion in the coming days.

QUESTION: The first week of this escalation of the tension in Ukraine and the Crimea, it was mentioned that one of the things that the U.S. is doing through NATO is to guarantee the neighbors of Ukraine --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that they are safe enough and nothing can be – even Poland and others --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are – these measures are still going on, or just like it was the first weekend, over?

MS. PSAKI: No, they certainly are. Vice President Biden announced a number of steps. A number of steps were taken by NATO, all in close cooperation and coordination to strengthen and bolster countries in Eastern Europe and neighbors, as you mentioned, and many are NATO allies, and we work closely to help make sure they have the resources they need.

QUESTION: The last question is regarding this Russian fiction/American facts game.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, I’m just trying to figure out is this a tool that you think it’s helpful, and what is the wisdom behind using this? And it’s done in English or other languages, too?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, it’s in English but we’ve translated different fact sheets or different materials in the past into other languages, so that may be the case here as well. And the purpose here is to communicate what the facts are, what the actual information is. And as I mentioned a little bit earlier, the best antidote to false information is the truth, and so that’s what our focus is on.

QUESTION: Which is related to this just follow-up because it was – for those who lived in ’60s or studied ’60s, it’s looking – it looks what was happening yesterday is kind of – the tools of the 19th century or 20th century, which is now we are in 21st century. You think that it’s exaggeration, this observation that the tools of using facts and propaganda machine which is like whatever is said, it’s this is the opposite version of it because it looks like those who – what those who are seeing the facts, they see it. Those who are seeing the fiction, they’re seeing it as fiction or facts for them?

MS. PSAKI: Well, if there wasn’t a great deal of propaganda happening on the ground, there wouldn’t be a need to lay out the facts. So that’s the reason we’re doing it.

QUESTION: Move to – move on?

MS. PSAKI: Do you have Ukraine or something else?

QUESTION: No.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh.

MS. PSAKI: I thought he had a Ukraine question in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, I just want to ask briefly – it is Russia-related but it’s also Israel-related. It has to do with Syria first. The reports of chemical weapons use that you were asked about last week, the Russians have now – Foreign Minister Lavrov in this same press conference, I guess, with whoever it was today in Moscow, talked about the Russians being concerned about this.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more today?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: We’re not able to corroborate the claims, same as we were on Friday.

QUESTION: And then as it relates to Ukraine, I wanted to ask about Israel. There was a report in an Israeli newspaper over the weekend that the Administration is irate, infuriated with Israelis because of their lack of a position on – with Russia on – over Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is that an accurate statement or is this just – I mean, does it matter to you how Israel comports itself?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that wouldn’t be how we would characterize it. As you know, we work closely with a range of countries, not just European countries, on Ukraine and we have been for months. And so we were surprised that Israel did not join the vast majority of countries that voted to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the United Nations. But that’s more our view, not the way you just characterized it.

QUESTION: Well, surprised. You recall that they were – the foreign ministry was on strike at the time --

MS. PSAKI: I do recall that.

QUESTION: Do you not regard that as a – do you think that they were shirking their responsibility by observing the strike and not showing up? I mean, it wasn’t that they voted no or even abstained. They just didn’t even show up.

MS. PSAKI: No, no, I understand that. I understand that.

QUESTION: I mean, how problematic is this to you, to the Administration? Or is it – is it a major concern here?

MS. PSAKI: I would not characterize it as a major concern. We work closely with Israel on a range of issues and we can move forward.

QUESTION: Staying on Israel?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay, the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. There’s a meeting that took place, I guess on Sunday --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- between both the Israeli and the Palestinian negotiators without the presence of an American or the American envoy. Is that like a new trend? Is that the way it’s going to be, that they will meet independent of your presence?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction, Said. Obviously, throughout the last eight and a half months there have been meetings with a representative from the United States and there have been meetings without. And I’m not going to confirm, announce, or read out every meeting that takes places, just as we haven’t throughout the process.

QUESTION: So this is not a message to both sides that we’ve had it with you, we don’t want to be there during – while you exchange --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe either side has conveyed that as the message.

QUESTION: Could you tell us if there is going to be any kind of meetings in the next few days? We know that Ambassador Indyk is in town, so will there be ongoing meetings and will there be an American representative?

MS. PSAKI: In the region or --

QUESTION: Yeah, in the region over there.

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to read out or announce every meeting that may take place, just as we haven’t throughout the process.

QUESTION: But --

QUESTION: Ambassador Indyk is back in Washington or he has returned to the region?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. He got back Friday night.

QUESTION: And any idea when he’s going back?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a prediction of that yet. It’s – we’ll see if there’s something I can report to all of you later today.

QUESTION: And is it not a good thing that the two sides should be talking to one another?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, it certainly – as it has been throughout the process, there are times when they talk without an American representatives, there are times when they talk with an American representative.

QUESTION: You still do expect him to return sooner rather than later, right?

MS. PSAKI: I do. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up as far as do you have any information that would lead you to sort of believe that the talks will go past the 29th, there will be an announcement on the 29th, they will end on the 29th?

MS. PSAKI: I just --

QUESTION: Just give us like a feeling --

MS. PSAKI: -- don’t want to make a prediction --

QUESTION: -- I mean, we’re two weeks ago --

MS. PSAKI: -- for you, Said --

QUESTION: -- or two weeks away.

MS. PSAKI: -- of where we will be two weeks from now. Obviously, we’re taking this day by day. Discussions are day by day.

QUESTION: Jen, can we just go back on where we left it last week as well, which was --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- where the Israelis had, according to you, reportedly said that they were going to freeze the taxes --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and you weren’t sure what your reaction was because it was only reports.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new on that. I just talked to our team about it this morning. Don’t have anything new to report.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I’ve got three really, really quick ones on this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: On Israel, two of them have to do with arrests made by Israeli authorities over the course of the past week or so. One involves an American woman, Mariam Barghouti. Do you know anything about that?

MS. PSAKI: Due to privacy considerations and no Privacy Act waiver --

QUESTION: Oh, great. This is going to be another – we’re going to go through the --

MS. PSAKI: -- we’re unable to provide further or additional information, Matt.

QUESTION: So, okay. So we’re just going to go through the Egypt airport experience all over again.

Then there’s a second one. This is not an American citizen, but it’s a journalist --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- Majd Kayyal. I don’t know if I’m pronouncing the name right. He was arrested over the weekend. Are you aware of this case?

MS. PSAKI: We have seen the reports, but – that he’s being held incommunicado detention, but we have not been able to confirm these reports. We’re continuing to seek more information.

QUESTION: Is this – recognizing that you don’t have an interest because he is not an American citizen, do you – is this the kind of thing that you – that causes you concern, these types of arrests, or is this something --

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, reports of journalists being arrested certainly cause concern, but we don’t have any confirmation of that specific case, so we’re just looking for more information.

QUESTION: Do you know if you have asked the Israelis about it?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that. I believe we were exploring through all avenues we have, but I don’t want to speak out of turn, so let me check back with our team.

QUESTION: Okay. And the PAW for Ms. Barghouti, that – you can’t say – because you don’t have a waiver, you can’t say whether you’ve raised her case with the Israelis? Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t – there’s no more details I can discuss.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the last one, which is very briefly, is that it’s come up that apparently the Israeli defense ministry has done something that would allow the construction of more housing in Hebron. Are you familiar at all with this?

MS. PSAKI: I believe I’ve seen some news reports about it, but I’m not sure what the impact of it is. But go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t know – no, no, I’m just wondering if you had seen it, and if you had, if you had any reaction to it or – beyond what you usually say about settlements.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have anything new to report, but I will venture to follow up on that one as well.

QUESTION: Can you check --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- because this just seems to be a new, or relatively new, development?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Happy to.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) issue of the tax that you raised, I think. I didn’t hear you properly. Did you call the Israelis about that this is not helpful? Did you tell them to release the taxes --

MS. PSAKI: I said that on Friday. I don’t have anything new to report.

QUESTION: But nothing has transpired. I know. I mean, Friday was 72 hours ago. Has anything transpired?

MS. PSAKI: I understand that.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new on that.

Syria?

QUESTION: So they did not – I’m sorry, but they did not – the Israelis did not tell you they will release these taxes and --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to tell you on it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry. Just what --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary has had any contact with either Foreign – Justice Minister Livni or Prime Minister Netanyahu or the Palestinian side over the course of the – over the weekend, or since Friday, since we last --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe so. Let me see if there’s anything else that’s added today, but nothing over the course of the weekend.

QUESTION: Sorry, Jen. Lastly, the Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said today that he expects to have normal relations with Arab countries, suggesting that Kuwait or Saudi Arabia or many others. Do you know anything about this?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen his comments.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment?

MS. PSAKI: But certainly, we support strong relations between a range of countries, but I don’t think I have a – more of a comment to weigh on it than that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: To your knowledge, are there any kind of --

MS. PSAKI: Of course. I mean, if the Arab League – if there’s a peace agreement, the Arab League is prepared to move forward with some significant steps. But obviously, there’s a lot that would have to happen, and it’s between all those parties.

QUESTION: But you don’t have any information whether there are some behind the scene talks?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details for you.

QUESTION: Sorry. There’s one more. Are you aware if the Palestinians have done – if President Abbas or any of his top people have done anything in response to your concerns about unilateral actions involving signing up to the UN conventions? Or to the best of your knowledge, are they ignoring you pretty much the same way the Israelis do when you --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional updates beyond the one that we provided last week.

QUESTION: So, okay. And just to make clear, that was they had deposited whatever it was that --

MS. PSAKI: But again --

QUESTION: -- their thing with in Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: -- both parties remain engaged in the negotiations. Both parties are in touch with our negotiators. So that tells you something as well.

QUESTION: Well, but you also acknowledge that both parties are taking steps that are negative and unhelpful to the process, correct? Right?

MS. PSAKI: But both parties have – but also, even with that going on, both parties have indicated they want these discussions to continue. So that’s an incredibly important point.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Syria? Sure.

QUESTION: I’m sure you’ve seen over the weekend there were some comments by President Assad that he believes that he’s gaining the upper hand in the conflict, saying it’s a turning point of the crisis. And then I wondered if you also had any reaction to that as well as the fact that Syrian troops have retaken the town of Maaloula today from rebels.

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen all those. Our analysis remains what it has been, that this is a war of attrition, and neither side has been able to deliver or hold onto significant gains. I’m not going to give ground game updates. Certainly, our efforts to engage with the opposition continue. As you know, we have a new envoy who has already made a trip to the region, and we’ll continue down that path.

QUESTION: I understand you don’t want to give updates, but if the Syrian troops have retaken Maalula, that’s obviously another reversal for the opposition. I mean, what are you doing in terms of trying to actually bolster them on the ground physically?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we work closely with them. As you know, we work closely with our international allies. This is an important issue that comes up even while we’re discussing Ukraine and other crises that are on the front of newspapers around the world. We’re also discussing Syria. So those efforts are continuing. I don’t have any specific update to provide you all with today.

QUESTION: This is a war of attrition, obviously, but I mean, if President Assad feels he has the upper hand, he’s clearly getting arms and help. Isn’t it --

MS. PSAKI: Well, and naturally, President Assad is going to make that statement. I don’t think that’s a particularly surprising comment from him, that he’s winning.

QUESTION: But isn’t it going to just be a war of attrition that’s just going to – I don't know what the verb is – to attrite in his favor in the end?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t make that assumption. Obviously, there is broad concern and there has been for some time about his actions. The international community is focused on this, and I don’t think we’re going to make a prediction of the outcome here.

QUESTION: Have you used that phrase before, “war of attrition,” and I’ve just missed it?

MS. PSAKI: I believe so.

QUESTION: You have?

QUESTION: But you would welcome to see that Maaloula, one of the oldest Christian towns in the world, set free from the hands of extremists, wouldn’t you?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think our focus here is on a political solution, not a military solution, so I’m not going to do an evaluation of each report from the ground.

QUESTION: I understand, but your – but your position – would like to see that Maaloula, a very old Christian town where people still speak Aramaic --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have anything more to add. Do we have more on Syria?

QUESTION: Yes. Any ground --

MS. PSAKI: Go.

QUESTION: Yeah, ground up – you said that you don’t have any ground upgrade about these – the clashes, but I know that you had issued a statement on Kessab, and there are some ongoing clashes in Kessab.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So do you have anything? Because --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates for you all today. If – I will check with our team and see if there’s more. Often, we, as you know, put out statements when there are broad reports of casualties and issues related to humanitarian issues. I will see if there’s more that we can report today.

QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Do you have Syria?

QUESTION: One question about Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, you – I think you mentioned that the special envoy is going somewhere?

MS. PSAKI: He was. He did do a pretty extensive trip a couple of weeks ago. I don’t have any next updates. I know he plans to do a bit of traveling, but I’ll see if there’s anything to report.

QUESTION: Just in the last – a question – a request, actually, Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Last week there was a briefing in Turkish foreign ministry conducted by a senior official to journalists. And this senior official said that there are, right now, four border gates who are under control of the ISIL in Turkish-Syrian border. So I’m wondering how you are providing the assistance – humanitarian or either nonlethal assistance to rebels right now, and in which ways? Would it be possible to get a --

MS. PSAKI: Let me see if that’s something we want to talk about publicly. But I will talk with our team about that.

Syria?

QUESTION: No, different topic. Nigeria. Do you have anything on the --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- explosion in the capital today?

MS. PSAKI: I do. We condemn today’s attack on Nyanya Motor Park south of Abuja which killed over 70 people. We are outraged by these senseless acts of violence against innocent civilians. We also condemn the attacks in three villages in Borno State that took the lives of nearly 100 people over the weekend. We encourage the Government of Nigeria to conduct a full investigation to identify and bring justice to the perpetrators of these attacks. We continue to stand with the Nigerian Government and people as they grapple with violent extremism.

QUESTION: The Nigerian president has blamed Boko Haram for the incident, the bombing in Abuja. Do you see any evidence supporting that claim?

MS. PSAKI: We have seen that, but to our knowledge, no group has claimed responsibility yet. We continue to work closely with the Nigerian Government and its neighbors to address the growing threat of Boko Haram in a comprehensive manner. But again, it’s, in our view, preliminary to make that judgment.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Are you aware if the Iranian – or have you been made aware through the Swiss or through anyone, through the UN, if the Iranians intend to somehow contest your decision or non-decision on granting a – or deciding not to decide on granting a visa to the --

MS. PSAKI: We are aware of reports that the Iranians have filed a complaint with the host country committee. I’m not sure if that’s what you’re referring to. I would refer you, of course, to the UN or the chair of the host country committee, which is Cyprus, for additional details on that.

QUESTION: Cyprus?

MS. PSAKI: They are. I thought that was interesting as well.

QUESTION: The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus or the regular part of Cyprus?

MS. PSAKI: Cyprus is the chair.

QUESTION: Has anything changed since your announcement that the Administration has decided not to grant Mr. Aboutalebi a visa. Have you, for example, actually denied the visa, stamped “no”?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed, Arshad. I don’t have any update for all of you.

QUESTION: Are you – sorry, on this committee, and I’ll check with our UN people --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- but is the U.S. a member of this committee?

MS. PSAKI: That is a good question. I’m not sure we are. Let me check back with our UN – our USUN counterparts.

QUESTION: My understanding is --

QUESTION: Do you know if it has any – what it’s --

QUESTION: As I understand it, but you should – it’d be good to put this out as a TQ, but I think this committee simply has the right to consider stuff and then make recommendations to the General Assembly these decisions are not binding.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Right. I mean, that’s just – so what kind of remedy is – could Iran be seeking, or what kind of remedy would the committee be able to offer it if it wasn’t – if the complaint was accepted or --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, that, I’d point you to them, but I would certainly find – take your question on whether the U.S. is a member --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- and how the process works.

QUESTION: But in answer to Arshad, is it no, you’re not changing your mind? What you said Friday is --

MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed since Friday. No.

QUESTION: So you’re – I’m trying to understand.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Only on the premise or on the basis of this individual or any individual being a security threat to the United States of America, that you will not allow them or her or him entry into the United States. Isn’t that the case?

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of reasons. I’m not going to outline them from here, Said. But what was announced on Friday was that we had made clear that we would not be granting him a visa.

QUESTION: Okay. But Hamid Aboutalebi acknowledged being at the embassy, but he said that he was a translator. So are you aware of that?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen a range of reports, Said. I don’t think I have much more to add to all of you on this.

QUESTION: And finally, the Iranians said that they will not replace him, that he will be their ambassador to the United Nations whether he works in New York or elsewhere. You would not have any comment on that, would you?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I do Turkey quickly?

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Iran? Okay, Turkey.

QUESTION: Yes. Over the weekend, State Department Turkey official Amanda Sloat made a speech for a Turkish convention, and she talk about it – she said that U.S. deeply concerned over the allegations that the politics interfering into the judicial system in Turkey. Is there any way you can elaborate on this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we have made clear in the past, including in our annual Human Rights Report, we remain deeply concerned about due process and effective access to justice in Turkey. Independent investigations and independent judicial processes are essential for the rule of law. We look to Turkey to uphold the essential elements of a healthy democracy such as the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and the system of checks and balances between branches of government. And as I mentioned, this is an issue we’ve raised in the past when warranted, and it’s also included in our annual Human Rights Report. So I’d point you to that as well as the text of the speech for more details.

QUESTION: While Ms. Sloat was making that speech, she talk about that over the last recent months that there were disturbing events. So apparently this is not the last year’s annual report, but something happened over the last two months. There were several incidents over the months --

MS. PSAKI: And oftentimes over those months we raised concerns as those instances occurred.

QUESTION: But you – also many times, you stated that these were the internal affairs, for example, when I ask about the judges and prosecutors, counsels, legislation. So if you are now deeply concerned, that means that you change your --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think so. I’m still not weighing into internal political matters in Turkey. But certainly, as we’ve expressed in the past, over – around a variety of events, when there are concerns to express about the independence of the judiciary, we’ll express those.

QUESTION: So they – can I just follow up? Is this about the prime minister or the leaders in the government talking about the Constitution Court, or is this something about legislations? I’m just trying to get a sense of what exactly are --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to detail it further. Our deputy assistant secretary did an entire speech just a few days ago.

Okay, a few more? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Quick question on WikiLeaks: I guess the Army announced today that commanding generals approve the conviction and 35-year sentence of Chelsea – formerly Bradley – Manning for leaking military and diplomatic data, as you well know the case. This announcement came today. Is there any comment or response to the --

MS. PSAKI: I hadn’t seen that. I will check and see if there’s anything we’d like to add from our end.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: I wanted to go to Guinea-Bissau.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: They had elections this weekend. It’s the first time since the coup in 2012. There was a large turnout, by all accounts. I just wondered if you had any reaction from the U.S. on it.

MS. PSAKI: I believe we put out a statement last week in advance of the elections. I don’t have anything new today. But let me touch base with our team and see if we can get you or anybody who’s interested a comment on that.

QUESTION: Anything on the preliminary results – and I realize it’s only on – based on, like, 10 percent of the vote – in Afghanistan --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure.

QUESTION: -- that suggests that Abdullah Abdullah is leading?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as you mentioned, it’s – it was a step in the process that they outlined they would do from the beginning. But just to give a little more detail, the electoral process is, of course, ongoing. We look forward to the Afghan electoral bodies continuing to do their work and processing the outcomes. We – the initial tranche of results is part of the IEC’s announced process for providing results information. We all, of course, need to have patience to allow the Afghan-owned process to play out. So we will allow that process to happen. As you mentioned, it’s only a percentage of the votes that is being counted. So obviously, there is more work that the election committee needs to do.

QUESTION: And then I had one quick one as well. On Friday, you were asked by Matt about the bill put forward by Senators McCain and Menendez on removing the Kurdish – Kurdistan Democratic Party and the PUK from the terrorism list.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have some reaction on that? Is that – is this something that you would actively consider?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. There has been – I have something on this. But we have – we would support legislation in this case. There are – there have been a range of reasons why it’s been difficult for individuals to travel. I have more in-depth lines, so let me venture to get that to all of you after the briefing.

QUESTION: And I suppose the logical connection would be, then: What about the PKK, which is, obviously, Turkish?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Let me get you something after the briefing. I have something on it. I just don’t have it in front me.

QUESTION: How goes the USAID review of these allegedly political text messages?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing new to report today. It is ongoing. The review is ongoing.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do two more here. Well, she hasn’t had one, so let’s let her have a question.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, but I’m just following up with that question.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: That’s why. Are there similar projects going on now in different countries, or not? Or that is by itself?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Absolutely we support programs around the world that provide people an opportunity to have their voices heard where that’s not possible. This is a particular program that USAID is doing a due diligence to make sure we have all of the accurate information and answers. And so that’s why they’re taking a review of the program.

QUESTION: The reason I’m asking the question is not the purpose. It’s the same company or similar companies are doing similar things, or not? Or you are reviewing --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on the particular company, but it – but we do support programs around the world that allow people to have their voices heard.

Last one. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Japan.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Japan’s Minister of Internal Affairs Shindo visited the Yasukuni Shrine last weekend. And considering Shindo’s visit is right ahead of President Obama’s visit to Asia, do you have any comments on this?

MS. PSAKI: To the – can you – sorry, can you repeat your question one more time?

QUESTION: Japan’s Minister of Internal Affairs Shindo visited the Yasukuni Shrine last weekend. And his visit is ahead of President Obama’s visit to Asia. Do you have any comments on this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we’ve indicated many times, we encourage Japan to work through its neighbors to resolve concerns over history in an amicable way through dialogue. We believe that strong and constructive relations between countries in the region to promote peace and stability are in interests – are in their interests and in the interests of the United States. So that is the message that we are conveying to all of them.

Let me – Jo, I found the answer to your question. I don’t think it answers all of your questions, but let me give you this in the meantime.

Let’s see. The PUK and the KDP have not been designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations and have been among our closest partners in the region going back decades. However, expansive language in our immigration law complicates their travel to the United States. We support, as I mentioned, legislative action to remove those impediments, and we look forward to working with relevant committees in Congress to accomplish this goal.

We will venture to get you answer on the other question you had as well.

QUESTION: Isn’t it the case, though, that Congress itself created this problem?

MS. PSAKI: That may be the case, but we will work with them to fix it.

QUESTION: Right. But does that mean – but it’s not a – it’s not something that the Executive Branch did in the first place. It was in the Patriot Act, right?

MS. PSAKI: That may be true, Matt. But we’re working with them now --

QUESTION: I think it is.

MS. PSAKI: -- to address concerns that have arisen.

QUESTION: Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:57 p.m.)

DPB # 65


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: April 11, 2014

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 15:55

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 11, 2014

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    • Welcome to Briefing Visitors
  • IRAN
    • Iranian Ambassadorial Nominee to the United Nations / Visa
    • P5+1 Negotiations
    • Iranian Crude Oil Exports
  • QATAR
    • Secretary's Meeting with Foreign Minister of Qatar
  • UKRAINE / RUSSIA
    • Letter Regarding Ukrainian Access to Oil
    • Meeting of U.S., Ukraine, Russia, EU
    • Coordination of Funds and Assistance to Ukraine
    • Russian Troop Buildup in Eastern Ukraine
  • RUSSIA
    • Block of VOA Broadcast / Media Freedom
    • Secretary Kerry's Conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov
    • Russian Space Program
  • RUSSIA / UKRAINE
    • Natural Gas Routing
  • CUBA
    • Visit of French Foreign Minister
    • Alan Gross
    • USAID Communications Platform / Text Messages
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Ambassador Indyk's Schedule
    • Tax Revenue Transfers to Palestinian Authority
  • DPRK
    • Special Representative Glyn Davies Schedule / Ongoing Consultations
    • Kenneth Bae
    • Consultations with Six-Party Partners
  • IRAN
    • Drafting of final Agreement
  • FRANCE
    • SNCF / Holocaust Compensation
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Tax Revenue Transfers to Palestinian Authority
  • UKRAINE
    • Ukrainian Neutrality
  • SYRIA
    • Reports of Chemical Weapons Use
  • UKRAINE
    • Representation at U.S., Russia, Ukraine, EU meeting
    • Inclusivity in Ukraine


TRANSCRIPT:

12:56 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Friday. I would first just like to welcome – we have several interns today in the back from DRL who are here today as observers, so welcome to all of you.

With that, let’s get to – and I should also mention there’s a bilateral meeting, as all of you know, with the Qataris at 2 o’clock, so let’s try to get through all the topics as quickly as we can.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Gotcha, all right. Well, I want to start with Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTIONiran">: But in fact, the White House has just changed my mind because they’ve just said that you’re not going to give a visa to the Iranian ambassadorial nominee, and I’m wondering if you can expand on that at all.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can also confirm, of course, that we have informed the United Nations and the Government of Iran that we will not issue a visa to Mr. Aboutalebi, and we – I don’t believe I can expand that much more, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, when did you tell them?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into details of that. Obviously, these discussions have been ongoing.

QUESTION: How is that – yeah, I’m sorry, how is that – why is that some kind of sensitive bit of information?

MS. PSAKI: In terms of what? Why, when?

QUESTION: When? When did you tell them?

MS. PSAKI: Well, these discussions with the Iranians and with the UN have been ongoing. I’m just not going to detail the timeline.

QUESTION: Well, you didn’t say that you wouldn’t do this yesterday, so can – should we assume that it happened either yesterday afternoon after – sometime after your briefing or prior to the White House briefing just now?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t make assumptions about the timing. I’m confirming the facts here and that’s where we stand.

QUESTION: All right. Did you give them a reason?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve been very clear that – with the Iranians that this nomination is not viable, so there’s been no secret of that. But I think they understand what the reasons are.

QUESTION: Why?

QUESTION: Well, did you give them a reason why his nomination is not viable?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly we’ve had discussions with them about the reasons for why it’s not a viable nomination.

QUESTION: What is the reason, for the record, now that you’ve denied him a visa? Or have you actually denied the visa or have you simply asserted to them that you would deny it or will deny it?

MS. PSAKI: We have made clear to them that we will not issue a visa.

QUESTION: So – but did you – this may sound like a distinction without a difference, but it’s not. Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: No, I understand your question. I’m not going to detail it; I’m not going to outline it further.

QUESTION: So you won’t say whether or not you actually denied it?

MS. PSAKI: I will not, no.

QUESTION: Why not?

MS. PSAKI: Because I’m not going to go.

QUESTION: And what – why – (laughter) – and, well --

QUESTION: Hey.

QUESTION: -- because – well, why – I know we’ve discussed this here a great deal --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- for the record, now that you have informed the Iranians that you will not issue a visa to Mr. Aboutalebi, why is his nomination unviable? What are the main issues that came up here?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to that from the podium, Arshad. Obviously, we have confirmed what we’ve conveyed, which is that we will not issue a visa. It doesn’t change the fact that details of visa cases, including the reasons, which gets to your past – your last question prior to this, are not issues that we can talk about publicly for legal reasons.

QUESTION: So here’s a question, then.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How can you announce that you won’t give him a visa if visa applications are entirely confidential? Isn’t it – to say, “We’re not going to do this,” doesn’t that impinge on the confidentiality of the process?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve conveyed – I’m conveying what we have communicated to the Iranians, and that’s what I’m communicating to all of you today.

QUESTION: So to capture it --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You said earlier this week, I believe, that there were a couple of categories where there was a limited exception to the general rule that, as a host nation, you should be granted visas. They were – they included security, terrorism-related matters, and foreign policy concerns.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Should we assume that this application fell within one of those three categories, at least?

MS. PSAKI: I – obviously, all of these issues are looked at by our legal teams, but I’m not going to give a specific reasoning.

QUESTION: All right. So understanding that you’re not going to give a specific reasoning --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you can say, though, that the Iranians have been told why you believe his nomination is not viable. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, throughout --

QUESTION: They – this is not – it is not a secret to them why you’re saying, “No, we’re not going to issue a visa?”

MS. PSAKI: It should not be, no. But as a reminder, Matt --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- we’ve also communicated that it’s not viable as well --

QUESTION: Gotcha. Well --

MS. PSAKI: -- prior to the news I’m confirming today.

QUESTION: Right, but they aware of the – or they are aware of the reasons why you can – even if you’re not going to tell us, they know why.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think there should be any mystery to them about that.

QUESTION: All right. And then you said the details of – did this actually rise to the level of a visa case?

MS. PSAKI: Can you just expand on that question?

QUESTION: Well, you said details of visa cases are confidential, but if this didn’t actually rise to the level of there being an application that was actually considered, then how is it a visa case?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve all seen the media reports, or many of us have seen the media reports, that the Government of Iran has stated that a visa application was submitted to the U.S. Government. As I’ve noted, U.S. law generally prohibits us from commenting on details of visa cases, but I would not dispute that statement.

QUESTION: Right, unless – okay, so they did submit the application --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- according to – and you said – and I guess the – I realize it’s a detail and it’s --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but did you actually stamp “no” on the application or did you just say, “We’re not going to take any action on this?”

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any greater level of detail.

QUESTION: Is it also not the case that usually if a visa – someone who is denied a visa speaks out about the reasons publicly and speaks out about a denial, that you will discuss or you can discuss, you are no longer bound by the – is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: That has happened in the past.

QUESTION: So we should ask the failed nominee to speak about this and then get back to you – and then come back to you and you should be able to enlighten us all, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m happy to keep continuing the discussion. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you believe that your decision to tell the Iranians that you will not give him a visa to enter the United States will harm – has harmed or will harm the P5+1 negotiations with Iran about their nuclear program?

MS. PSAKI: No, we do not. And obviously, our team was on the ground this week, as you know, negotiating through the P5+1 process, and our team did not find that this ongoing discussion in the public impacted those negotiations.

QUESTION: And why do you think it won’t harm them going forward? I mean, it’s a rejection of their choice.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Presumably that will upset them to some degree. Why won’t that – why do you think that won’t have an effect going forward?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t analyze what will or won’t impact their own views. But obviously, they’re engaged in these negotiations because they – and they have their own reasons for that, including the impact of sanctions and their desire to deliver on President Rouhani’s promise he ran on.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: I said, “has or will have,” and you said, “No.”

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Did you mean no, it has had no effect, and no, it will have no effect? Or did you mean no, it has had no effect?

MS. PSAKI: It has not, and we don’t anticipate it.

QUESTION: Did you mean that you --

QUESTION: And can I ask – can I ask --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one at a time. Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: Sorry. Have you asked the Iranians to put forward another nomination? And presumably it’s not your intention that Iran should operate without a representative at the United Nations.

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say that was our intention. I’m not aware of that level of detail on – but again, we’ve been pretty clear even before today that this nomination wasn’t viable. And obviously, there could have been an alternative --

QUESTION: So you welcome – you would welcome an alternative name being put forward?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been, just historically, a range of individuals who have represented the Iranians in the UN. So I would point you to that.

QUESTION: And just as a matter of historical precedent, do you know if this is the first time that you’ve actually turned down a --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into historical precedent from the podium.

QUESTION: You won’t tell us from the podium?

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Did you mean that --

MS. PSAKI: Iran?

QUESTION: Yes. Did you mean that you conveyed the denial to the Iranians before the negotiations? That’s why it didn’t affect the negotiations from --

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t – no, I wasn’t indicating that at all. We’ve over the last couple of days, as you know – pardon me, sorry, microphone – we have stated that we have conveyed it’s not a viable nomination. Obviously that conversation has been happening publicly while the negotiations were happening. So our negotiators were clear on the ground, and I’ve spoken with them as well and they don’t feel there was an impact.

Go ahead. Iran? Or --

QUESTION: Yeah, the ambassador.

MS. PSAKI: Iran, okay.

QUESTION: Did your – or is – your decision was related to the unanimous vote in the Congress in a way that, “Hey, we are obliged to, because we don’t have another exit for it?” Was it connected to the vote in Congress to deny the visa for this ambassador?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the votes in Congress certainly underscore how troubling this potential nomination would be, and we share those concerns. But obviously there’s an ongoing process internally in the federal government as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Did Under Secretary Sherman raise this issue with the Iranians in Vienna?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to go into more detail about what channel it was raised through.

Do we have more on Iran?

QUESTION: No. Could I – if we don’t, can I go to Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Sorry, I have one more on Iran --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- just to close out that topic.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The International Energy Agency today released its report on Iranian crude oil exports for the month of February.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Those figures show that it exported on average 1.65 million barrels per day during the month of February. As you’ll recall, the fact sheet that the White House put out said that your target was to keep Iran to 1 million barrels per day under the JPOA. How are you going to keep them under a million barrels per day if, in the first month after the JPOA took effect, right, on January 20th, they’re already at 1.65?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Arshad, but just for everybody, the current average amounts of crude oil refers to the average volume over a six-month period. It’s not referring to one specific month. So month-to-month variability is normal in oil markets, and we expect and we still expect and anticipate that the average over – that this will average out over a six-month period.

QUESTION: To 1 million?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, to meeting the bar that was set in the JPOA.

QUESTION: In the JPOA or in the White House fact sheet? I’m sorry to interrupt. The JPOA doesn’t actually specify a number, but the White House fact sheet does, which is 1 million barrels per day. So that is what I think is the marker.

MS. PSAKI: Well, what is specified in the JPOA --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- is that the United States will pause efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales, which allows current customers to purchase their current average amounts of crude oil. And those averages are looked at over a six-month period. Nothing – I don’t – we have nothing to dispute what was either in the White House fact sheet or the JPOA. We are still anticipating on meeting everything that was laid out specifically.

QUESTION: So in – and just so I’m clear, so your target – since it came from the White House, it’s clearly Administration policy.

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So your target is that over the six-month period beginning when? Beginning November 24th, or beginning --

MS. PSAKI: Beginning January 20th, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that Iran’s oil exports must be held to an average over that 180-some-day period of one million per day.

MS. PSAKI: Correct. What was in the White House fact sheet still stands, yes. Let me just outline for you a couple of reasons why these monthly numbers have recently looked high. Iran’s contributions to Syria are part of what drives up numbers cited on exports. What’s important to keep in mind here is that Iran does not get revenue from this oil. So oftentimes, you see those numbers, but that’s not reflected in the revenue Iran is receiving. And that’s part of the numbers as well. Also, there are variations in month-to-month numbers because of seasonality, and of course, the numbers you’re referring to are February numbers. Winter is traditionally a peak period, so that is often reflected in how high the oil numbers are.

And finally, and this is more of a technical piece but still relevant for those close followers of these issues, export figures often mix condensates and crude oil, which often creates inconsistencies in the way numbers are reported. And what matters as it relates to implementation of the JPOA and the accompanying fact sheet is the crude oil numbers. So we look at all of these factors, as we look at what the average are over the six-month period.

QUESTION: How do you know that they don’t get any money for the stuff that they send to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: How do we know?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to go into greater detail.

QUESTION: Do – are – I mean, are you 100 percent confident that they’re not getting anything either in – revenue in cash or in kind?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t be saying it if we weren’t confident, but --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- I’m not going to put a percentage.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Iran?

QUESTION: Just one more on this.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The OFAC guidance on the JPOA implementation makes very clear that – it’s in the sort of frequently asked questions – that any transactions that are now permitted that were not previously permitted must be initiated and completed within the six-month period.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In other words, you can’t agree to sell them something on July 13th and close the deal on July 21st.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there, therefore, a propensity for oil buyers to try to make their purchases and pay for them earlier in the cycle rather than later? In other words, is there any possibility that India, China --

MS. PSAKI: That individuals would be buying a lot in February --

QUESTION: Right, that they’re front --

MS. PSAKI: -- in anticipation of later months?

QUESTION: That they’re frontloading it, exactly. Do you think that’s a reason for this?

MS. PSAKI: That’s not one that I understand from our team. I will ask them if that’s something that we’re watching closely.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Iran?

QUESTION: No, on the Secretary’s meeting with the foreign minister of Qatar.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What’s on the agenda for this meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I expect they’ll talk about a range of issues that we work together on, including the ongoing crisis in Syria, including the ongoing negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, and I’m sure we can put a readout out after the meeting.

QUESTION: And the Secretary met the Amir of Qatar during his visit to Algeria. Was that a coincidence or pre-planned?

MS. PSAKI: He was – happened to be in Algeria and so there was a discussion about whether it made sense to have a meeting, and we agreed it did.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary trying to improve relations between Qatar and the Saudis?

MS. PSAKI: No. We work closely – look, of course discussions about the best ways to ease any tensions in the region can came come up in these discussions, but we work closely, as you know, with the Qataris on a range of global issues.

QUESTION: You work to ease tensions in the region. There’s a report today the ambassador of Iran in Beirut – he said Iran’s relation with the Saudis is getting – improving, and this will have an impact on the region. Is this – did the Secretary try to urge the Saudis to receive the foreign minister of Iran to visit Saudi Arabia or to improve --

MS. PSAKI: Well, the meeting that the Secretary most recently attended with the Saudis was one led by President Obama and King Abdullah, and they, of course, were the leaders of the discussion. I’m not aware that this came up, that issue came up at the meeting. And I’d point you to the White House for more clarification on that.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So there’s a lot of stuff coming out of the Kremlin and out of the Russian foreign ministry today, some of which is kind of, I don’t know, fluffy.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Fluffy?

QUESTION: Some of it is not.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Let’s start with the non – with the more jovial parts of it, perhaps. President Putin seems to have – not seems to, has accused you of peeping on his correspondence with the Europeans and making – and you specifically making comments --

MS. PSAKI: Me, personally?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, interesting.

QUESTION: Peeping Jen apparently is what – (laughter).

MS. PSAKI: Okay. I haven’t seen those reports.

QUESTION: Right. Well, and apparently in a meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, he made these comments. He said that it’s not unusual for the United States to eavesdrop; everyone knows they do it. But this letter that was sent to the Europeans wasn’t addressed to you – the United States – and therefore you shouldn’t have read it and/or commented on it. I’m wondering if you have any response to that.

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Pointing out that it was, of course, published online and in English.

MS. PSAKI: I was going to get to that next, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. Go ahead.

MS. PSAKI: Naturally, this was a letter that pertained to access to oil for the Government of Ukraine and the people of Ukraine. And helping the people of Ukraine through this difficult period, helping them have the economic assistance they need, the resources they need, is – it’s no secret that’s a priority to the United States. So I certainly don’t think it’s out of any line for us to comment on concerns we have about efforts to thwart that.

QUESTION: Right. But you don’t regard this as some kind of rude invasion of the Russian president’s privacy?

MS. PSAKI: I think commenting on a public letter is hardly an invasion of privacy.

QUESTION: All right. Okay. So you’re aware of former Secretary of State Stimson’s comment about – “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail?” This does not apply in that case?

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of public correspondence out there that individuals --

QUESTION: Got you.

MS. PSAKI: -- across the world comment on.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, apart from that, Foreign Minister Lavrov had a meeting with some NGOs, unclear to me whether they were Russian NGOs, because I don’t know if there are any NGOs left in Russia anymore, but in which he made a series of comments about how active Russian engagement in Europe has always resulted in stronger European economies and growth. Do you agree with that statement?

MS. PSAKI: Statistically, Matt, I don’t have any data to back that up or refute it in front of me, obviously. But I will say that Russia’s exports, if you look at oil, to Europe are much more beneficial to Russia and they’re much more dependent on them than most European countries. So I’m not sure what those comments are based on.

QUESTION: Another thing he said was that Russian participation or Russian cooperation with NGOs has been – is critical to understanding the – I can’t remember the exact words he used, but something like critical to understanding the – civil society is a very important part of understanding what things are going on politically and foreign policy-wise. Given Russia’s actions, the Russian Government’s actions against NGOs, do you – I mean, what do you make of a comment like that?

MS. PSAKI: I think there are more lessons and more studying that can be done about what civil society is trying to teach, if they’re saying they learned from them.

QUESTION: That they need more --

MS. PSAKI: Right.

QUESTION: Let me just ask --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- since we’re on Ukraine, whether you’d managed – whether everybody had managed to square up their schedules yet and whether you have anything to announce on the meeting?

MS. PSAKI: I hope to later this afternoon, and I will just convey to all of you that we’re coordinating between several governments on content and timing and specifics, and that is the delay, not anything else.

QUESTION: It’s not over the name?

MS. PSAKI: I think your name is maybe in consideration, Matt.

QUESTION: Really? It is?

QUESTION: That’s good.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Is there a prize? The tetrad?

MS. PSAKI: Quad.

QUESTION: No, the tetrad, the tetrad.

MS. PSAKI: There’s a range of --

QUESTION: Quad is shorter.

MS. PSAKI: Stay at your emails. We’ll see – you’ll see what the name will be.

QUESTION: I think (inaudible) should do a contest on this. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I think there should be a prize.

MS. PSAKI: A Friday afternoon contest, perhaps.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Oh, go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have something on Jo’s question yesterday on where you are in terms of a loan guarantee and the money which has been allocated for --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- 2013?

MS. PSAKI: It was a very good question, and we’ve been working through the interagency since yesterday, when I promised to get you something, to kind of do a comprehensive list of all of the coordination. It just took a little bit longer, but we hope to have something this afternoon.

QUESTION: So, and then on the more serious parts of the --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- of what was coming out of Moscow today --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- they continue to insist that the buildup of troops on the Ukrainian border is nothing unusual, and don’t worry about it and nothing to see here. Have you, you or NATO – NATO is presenting you satellite images that show the buildup.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you now – and I asked this question yesterday. Have you now seen any diminution in either that buildup or the provocations that Toria and others have spoken about over the course of the past few days in the east of Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Look, we have remaining concerns about the troop buildup. I’m not aware of a change in the troop buildup or the tens of thousands of troops that we’ve been speaking about over the past couple of weeks. So we don’t view that as a military exercise preparation or as one that is just business as usual, and we have the same concerns we’ve had.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Russia has cut off Voice of America radio transmissions in Moscow by refusing to renew any broadcasting license for VOA. Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: I do. We condemn the Russian Government’s recent decision to block continued Voice of America broadcasting in Russia. In the last year the Russian Government has passed laws imposing unprecedented censorship and restrictions on media and online publications. In the past few months alone, it has blocked independent websites and blogs, turned wire services into a propaganda tool, denied visas and accreditation to foreign journalists, and forced leadership changes at several media outlets that dared to challenge Kremlin politics.

We support the rights of all people, including Russians, to exercise their right to free speech regardless of their political views. This right is enshrined in the Russian constitution as well as in international agreements to which Russia is a party. In recent months, Russia has spoken out to defend free speech in other countries. We call on them now to drop this obvious double standard and allow the same access to information for their people that it insists other nations provide.

QUESTION: Will there be any reciprocal action from your part? We know that Russia has media outlets working in the United States.

MS. PSAKI: No. Look, I think we as a country that respects freedom of speech, that respects the rights of media, I don’t think that would be a particularly effective tool.

QUESTION: And how will you react to this?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just reacted to it.

QUESTION: Only by condemning this action?

MS. PSAKI: That’s correct.

Russia?

QUESTION: Yes. Did Secretary Kerry speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov today?

MS. PSAKI: He did. It was just before I came down for the briefing. They spoke this morning. I don’t have any readout of that at this point, but we’ll venture to get you one after – this afternoon.

QUESTION: Okay. The Russian foreign ministry is saying that Lavrov was trying to convince Kerry to use his influence on the Ukrainian Government to not forcibly remove the protestors in the east.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve seen what’s been happening on the ground, and the Ukrainian Government has exercised remarkable restraint throughout the last several weeks. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk – and I should also mention that the Secretary also spoke with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk. But all of this happened sort of right before I came out here for the briefing. But Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and other Ukrainian Government officials visited Donetsk yesterday to speak to citizens of eastern Ukraine to address the current situation and constitutional reform. This is another sign that the interim Government of Ukraine is taking positive steps to be inclusive and receptive.

We have not seen evidence of what the foreign minister or others are referring to in terms of incursions or aggressive actions by the Ukrainian Government; quite the contrary.

QUESTION: I’ve got one more one more on Russia. It’s unrelated to Ukraine. Well, maybe it’s unrelated to Ukraine. I’m wondering if you’ve seen this column written in a Russian newspaper by your favorite deputy prime minister, Mr. Rogozin, which talks about Russia’s space program and the need to colonize the moon. And I’m wondering if you’re concerned at all that Russia may try to annex the moon.

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen that column, though it does sound interesting, Matt. I will talk to our team and see if we have any views on it.

QUESTION: I just wondered if you managed to get – glean any more details about this suggestion to help yourself to gas, the idea that you would reverse the gas flows back into Ukraine. I understand once the gas is in the European part of the pipeline, it’s considered to be Europe’s gas.

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But do you have any more details about the kind of – which pipeline we’re talking about because there are several?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. You’re right. There are.

QUESTION: Which company and --

MS. PSAKI: It’s all part of the discussion. It’s a little preliminary in terms of those details. You are right that once gas enters Germany then it’s Germany’s gas to give, and that’s obviously what the discussion is about.

QUESTION: But you haven’t got any more details about how, when, who would do this?

MS. PSAKI: Not at this point. Not at this point. This is just one of the pieces that is being discussed and considered in terms of ways to help the people of Ukraine.

QUESTION: cuba">Cuba?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, do we have any more on Ukraine? Or – okay, Cuba. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. The French foreign minister will be in Cuba tomorrow.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: This is the first time for more than 30 years. Is it a good thing according to the United States?

MS. PSAKI: I think I spoke to this a couple of weeks ago on the trip --

QUESTION: But it was not confirmed. It is --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, when the trip was announced. Obviously, every government makes their decisions about who they have relations with and where they visit, and we certainly respect that. We do ask countries around the world, including France, to raise issues that we share concerns about, whether it’s freedom of media and speech or human rights issues. And we’ll see if this is one of the issues that the Secretary discusses when he next sees the foreign minister.

QUESTION: Do you know if he’s going to raise the issue of Alan Gross at all? Is that something that you’ve asked him to do?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a recent discussion about this particular issue, but broadly speaking we certainly do ask foreign counterparts, including the French, including a range of our allies, to raise that issue and the importance of returning Alan Gross to his family.

QUESTION: On Cuba more broadly, do you have – has there – is there an answer yet from either you or AID as to these apparently political texts/tweets?

MS. PSAKI: There’s nothing new. And what I was trying to convey yesterday was that Administrator Shah, what he was – what he – in answer to a question yesterday, he conveyed a desire to look broadly at the program, including the text messages, and so I suspect they’ll take the time to do that before further evaluation publicly.

QUESTION: Do you know that – then should we expect an answer from AID or from here, once there is one?

MS. PSAKI: I suspect AID, and we can certainly discuss it as well, but they’re taking a broader look beyond the text messages.

QUESTION: Peace process?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Any update on the negotiations between the two parties? Any agreement has been achieved or --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update. I mentioned yesterday that Ambassador Indyk is returning. He is returning today. I understand he’ll be back in the United States later this evening. I don’t have any travel updates for you, so we’ll continue that discussion next week.

QUESTION: How about the Israeli decision to suspend the transfer of tax revenue to the PA? Anything on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen these press reports, but we have not seen an official public announcement by the Government of Israel, so it’s – we’re not in a position to confirm either the specifics or the details that have been reported. That said, we would regard such a development as unfortunate. We believe that the regular transfer of the Palestinian Authority’s tax revenues and economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been beneficial and is important to the well-being of the Palestinian economy.

QUESTION: Do you regard the transfer of money as something that the Israelis are obligated to do under Oslo or post-Oslo, any post-Oslo agreements, or is this kind of a privilege that the Israelis can suspend or put back into place kind of at will?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. It’s a good technical question, Matt. I’m not sure what our team views it as, whether it’s obligation or just something we think is useful and unhelpful to stop. So let me talk to them and see if we can clarify that further.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, it’s more than just useful. They can’t – they can barely pay their salaries of their people as it is, so --

MS. PSAKI: Right. As I said, it would be unfortunate if that were – if those reports are true.

QUESTION: Do you think there’d be any – if this is the case, would there be any move, do you think, within the U.S., to fill in the gap or – even temporarily and then – financially, I mean.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a discussion of that.

Do we have more on the peace process or another topic? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Another topic.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have a travel update for Ambassador Glyn Davies?

MS. PSAKI: Let me see if I have anything on that. If not, I will see what we have in the pipeline in terms of travel announcements. Let’s see. Okay, I do. Let’s see.

Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies will host bilateral meetings in New York April 14th and 15th and Washington April 17th with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei – I think we just sent this out this morning – to exchange views on a wide range of issues related to the DPRK. Special Representative Wu’s visit is part of a series of high-level, in-depth U.S.-China discussions on how to achieve our shared goal of a denuclearized North Korea in a peaceful manner.

QUESTION: For these bilateral meetings, would you be able to tell us with whom he’ll be meeting with? Would they be UN officials or civilian leadership or --

MS. PSAKI: I will see if there’s any more detail we can spell out for all of you.

QUESTION: And does this meeting indicate that there’s now a picking up of momentum for re-executing Six-Party talks?

MS. PSAKI: This is just ongoing consultations with our partners on these important issues.

QUESTION: On North Korea.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Sorry.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on Kenneth Bae and his status, his well-being, and any – possibly any efforts to help get him out?

MS. PSAKI: I know we were venturing to get you an update on that, and my apologies on that. Obviously, we remain focused on securing his release. We have remaining concerns about his health. We are in close contact with his family on a very regular basis. I will check to see if we can send a quick update on last contacts out.

QUESTION: Great, thank you.

QUESTION: Jen – sorry – a follow-up on Taurean’s question.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Why New York? Why are you meeting in New York? And I ask this because usually when you have a Washington-Pyongyang communication, direct communication, you do it through New York. So is this – are we laying the groundwork for a future diplomacy? Are the North Koreans being involved in any other talks?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details to lay out for you. We’ll see if there’s anything more we can share.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: A couple of days ago --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- the South Korean director for the North Korean issues noted they – Japan and United States and South Korea is going to pursue the variety method of dialogue in order to resume the Six-Party Talks, which means what – I don’t know exactly what the variety method of dialogue means. Is it kind of New York talk, this kind of --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure which announcement you’re referring to.

QUESTION: Not an announcement. Just --

MS. PSAKI: Reports?

QUESTION: Debate. They talked before.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I think regardless of those reports, our approach remains the same, which is that we are in close consultation with our partners, our Six-Party partners. Obviously, there are steps North Korea would need to take. The ball remains in their court. Nothing has changed in that regard.

QUESTION: Nothing has changed. The U.S. position is not – doesn’t change?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed.

Any other topics? All right, Jo, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry, I should have mentioned this back --

MS. PSAKI: No, no problem.

QUESTION: -- back when we were talking about Iran. But there was something that was said in Vienna – and I just wondered if this was your understanding of it – by Foreign Minister Zarif that he believes that the next talks to be held in May, mid-May, will get down to the drafting part of the actual agreement. And I wondered if that was your understanding as well on the U.S. side.

MS. PSAKI: That is something that we have conveyed from our end as well. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. So then you’re actually going to be putting things down on paper with the idea of working towards an agreement by July still?

MS. PSAKI: Well, yes, that remains the goal. Again, this doesn’t change the difficulty of the issues, the challenge of the issues. But yes, it has been confirmed from our side as well that that is the timeline.

QUESTION: So from mid-May?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In order – I mean, are your experts already working on it to present something in mid-May, or are you going to start from mid-May doing the actual writing down --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the way that it’s been communicated is that the drafting will begin in May.

QUESTION: I’ve got two very brief ones.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: One, I believe that yesterday was the third round of talks between you and the French on the SNCF compensation for Holocaust deportations.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yep.

QUESTION: How’s that going? Is there any progress?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of any specific progress to report. I know we put out a statement the other evening about this. This is a process that we feel is the most effective way to address. There have been some legislation in a couple of states attempting to address, so we are recommending to everyone to --

QUESTION: But the meeting did happen as planned yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s my understanding.

QUESTION: Do you know where that was? Was it here or in France or --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details of that. I can check and see if there’s more to report.

QUESTION: All right. And then my other one is that Senator --

QUESTION: Could you tell us one clarification on that?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it – with you directly negotiating with Paris on this, any agreement for compensation would be paid by who? The rail firm in question or by the governments in question?

MS. PSAKI: Well, my understanding – I’d have to check on that level of detail, Jo. I mean, my understanding is the issue here is there are U.S. subsidiaries of the French company. So in terms of who would pay it, I’d have to check with the teams working on it. I don’t have that level of detail.

Yeah.

QUESTION: I believe the statement that was released about that a couple days ago mentioned that the legislation that’s being considered in both Maryland and New York is unproductive for negotiations. Why would that be unproductive?

MS. PSAKI: Because we feel the best means of addressing this is through the negotiations that we’re having with the French.

QUESTION: And my last one was just on the – Senators McCain and Menendez have come out today with a proposed bill that would remove the terrorism designation under the Patriot Act for some several Kurdish groups. Are you familiar with this at all?

MS. PSAKI: I am not. I haven’t seen that.

QUESTION: Okay. Could you look into it and --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, happy to.

QUESTION: I would like to know what the Administration thinks of it.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have anything – any reaction to the Senate adaptation of the Armenian genocide bill yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional comment beyond what I stated yesterday.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just two quick things. I think you were asked about the media reports that the Israelis were going to start withholding some of the tax revenues.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Did you say that because you hadn’t seen any of – anything official on that, you couldn’t comment? Are the media reports in and of themselves unhelpful?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I think I said that as well.

QUESTION: Oh, did you?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. Great. And then last thing --

QUESTION: Wait, you said that the media reports were unhelpful?

MS. PSAKI: No, I said the content, obviously, of the media reports was unhelpful, if this is true. Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And then second, on Ukraine, I don’t think you were asked, but forgive me if you were.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Lavrov is quoted as having said that Russia wants legal guarantees of Ukraine’s neutrality.

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen that, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. What do you think about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our view is that sovereign countries make their own decisions about – in relation to what other countries and what organizations they may have relationships with or they may seek to join. Now, as we all know, the legitimate Government of Ukraine has been clear that they have no plans to pursue a NATO membership at this time. But regardless, all of these decisions are up to the Government of Ukraine and the people of Ukraine, and that’s where we think they should lie.

QUESTION: Right. So there’s no reason why anybody except the Government of Ukraine, if it chose to, should give anybody guarantees about its neutrality?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

QUESTION: On Syria, the opposition has said that the regime has used the chemical weapons in the last few days. Do you have any confirmation?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen those reports you’re referring to. We don’t have any information to corroborate those claims at this time. We certainly take all reports of alleged chemical weapons use seriously, which is why we’re working with the OPCW and UN to remove and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. But again, we have no information to corroborate those claims at this point.

QUESTION: And what does it mean if they are – if these reports are accurate?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that. Obviously, we don’t have information to corroborate them at this time.

QUESTION: Just back to the Ukraine tetrad conference.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Yesterday, I think you were asked or someone was asked about the Russians wanting representatives of the Russian – ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking minorities from the east to be involved in the delegation that goes to wherever this meeting is, whenever it is.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Did you have a response to that? Or do you think that – I mean, are you amenable to that, or do you think that the representatives of the Ukraine delegation to the tetrad talks should be just the Ukrainian Government, as you see it now?

MS. PSAKI: We think that the Ukraine Government represents all of Ukraine.

QUESTION: So you see no need for people from – for people that the Russians might think – ethnic Russians and Russian speakers who have an interest now in what goes on in Ukraine, you don’t see the need for them to be there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, for this – no, because --

QUESTION: But at this meeting?

MS. PSAKI: At this meeting. The Government of Ukraine will represent all of Ukraine, and they’ve taken steps to be inclusive, to protect minorities, Russian speakers. That’s the most effective way we feel they can do that.

QUESTION: Are the representing Crimea also, from your point of view?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.

QUESTION: What about like a separate discussion of all of the groups in Ukraine? That’s one thing that, from the foreign ministry, he’s said that Secretary Kerry has promised them, like a separate parallel thing where all – they would all have their input.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what that’s a reference to. Broadly speaking, we’ve continued to encourage the Government of Ukraine to be as inclusive as possible, to include all components from all communities. Even the prime minister’s trip to Donetsk is an example of reaching out to eastern Ukraine, and they have delivered on that – the government has. So we’ve seen them put that to action.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:36 p.m.)

DPB #64


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: April 10, 2014

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 15:30

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 10, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Welcome to Interns and Journalism Fellows
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Parties Remain in Intensive Negotiations
    • Ambassador Indyk Travels
    • Range of Issues
    • Jonathon Pollard
    • Final Status Agreement
    • Move toward Joining UN Conventions / Technical Step
  • TURKEY/ARMENIA
    • U.S. Position on 1915 Atrocities
    • Turkey and Armenia Relations / Normalization
  • IRAN
    • UN Representative Nomination
    • U/S Sherman Meeting with Iranians / Nuclear Negotiation / American Citizens
    • JPOA / Payments / OFAC
    • P5+1 Meeting / Comprehensive Agreement / Next Meeting
  • UKRAINE/RUSSIA
    • Upcoming Meeting
    • G-7 / Range of Issues
    • Loan Guarantee Package
    • Energy Security
    • Russian Action in Eastern Ukraine / U.S. Concerns
    • Ambassador Pyatt's Twitter Account / Satellite Images
  • GREECE
    • Explosion in Athens
  • DEPARTMENT
    • U/S Gottemoeller Travel to Japan and China / Nonproliferation
  • SOUTH KOREA
    • Deputy Secretary Burns' Meeting with South Korea Deputy National Security Chief
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Immunity Granted to Blackwater Employees in Iraq in 2007 / DOJ
  • CUBA
    • "Cuba Twitter" / USAID / Administrator Shah


TRANSCRIPT:

1:21 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone, everyone in the back. I first want to welcome two groups we have visiting us today at the briefing. First we welcome several interns working in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. Hello. And second we also welcome three journalism fellows from the Prague Freedom Foundation, an initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic to promote and advance independent journalism and free media globally. Welcome to all of you as well.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: European and Eurasian Affairs?

MS. PSAKI: And welcome to the reporters as well. (Laughter.) I know. Well --

QUESTION: Why? Do they have free time what with Ukraine and Crimea and all this stuff? You should put them to work. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Just they give them a little break within their 23-hour day.

QUESTION: Let me start with the Middle East because there are reports just coming out within the last hour – erroneous reports, I understand, but I just want to check to make sure – that the Israelis and Palestinians have come to some kind of an agreement to extend the talks. If – can you say whether that’s true or not, and also tell us if there – is there any kind of a readout from this meeting that Ambassador Indyk apparently had today?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, let me give you a couple of updates. Our teams on the ground, the negotiating – our negotiating team and both parties remain in intensive negotiations. They had another meeting today. The gaps are narrowing, but any speculation about an agreement are premature at this time.

A couple of other just quick updates on this particular topic. Ambassador Indyk will be returning to Washington in the coming days for consultations. He plans to return to the region again next week. As all of you know, there are a range of holidays, whether it’s Passover or upcoming Easter, so this is a natural time for him to return. And those are the updates I have for all of you.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you what you mean by speculation would be premature? Can you just say that these reports are wrong?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, the reports are inaccurate, so speculation that’s been out there and reports that there is a deal is inaccurate.

QUESTION: All right. So – but that is what you’re trying to do, right?

MS. PSAKI: Of course it is. And our teams remain in intensive negotiation --

QUESTION: So that’s the goal --

MS. PSAKI: -- and the gaps are narrowing.

QUESTION: That’s the goal, but you’re not there yet. Is that it?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. That’s right.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: That’s right.

QUESTION: Just a quick – go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: What is it you’re actually trying to do? I mean, Matt said that is what you’re trying to do, but what is it you’re trying to do? When you say you’re narrowing the gaps, what gaps? What are you actually physically trying to do?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re working, Jo, as you know, to determine what the path forward is for these negotiations. And that is up to the parties. It’s always been up to the parties. It remains up to the parties to make that determination. There are issues that were, of course, raised last week, and we want to determine what the path forward is.

QUESTION: So do these include the prisoners, the prisoner issue?

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of issues that are being discussed. Certainly, that’s one of them. There are other topics I’m not going to go into greater detail on that have been out there.

QUESTION: And is the release of Jonathan Pollard among those other topics?

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of topics. I’m not going to detail it further.

QUESTION: Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Said.

QUESTION: -- their sources or their reports insist that the deal includes the swap of prisoners, the 30 prisoners that were supposed to be released on the 23rd of – on the 29th of March, another 400 prisoners, but also they insist that Jonathan Pollard is part of the deal. Could you say or could you tell us or could you deny flatly that he is not part of the deal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, nothing has changed. No decision has been made about Jonathan Pollard. That’s the same as it was last week. And I just made very clear that these reports are premature.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, would the Palestinians have to, let’s say, resend their applications or cancel their applications or call them back with the UN agencies for the talks to continue, or no?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to go into that level of detail, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. But would you say that the Israelis now are either reconciled to this fact that this is done and there is no backtracking by the Palestinians or backpedaling in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Israelis of what they would or wouldn’t feel comfortable with. Obviously, there are a range of issues being discussed, including the Palestinians’ recent steps, including their desire for prisoners to be released, including a range of issues. But I’m not going to go into further detail.

QUESTION: Only if you would indulge me for a second. Now, what does that do to the framework agreement or the 29th of April deadline? I mean, if they decide to go on beyond, so we continue doing the same thing, or is there going to be some sort of an announcement on the 29th that we have covered this period now, the nine-month period and we’re going to another six months or another nine months?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t predict for you, Said. Obviously, if there’s a decision made because of steps by the parties that these talks will continue, then it would take longer than the next couple of weeks to come to a final status agreement. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it. We’re taking it one day at a time here.

QUESTION: Now, would any agreement that is brokered or – by the Americans, in this case by the American side, include also sort of the cessation of settlement activities, as we have seen the announcement? Just, in fact, yesterday they announced 300 dunams, which is about 100 acres of land is being confiscated from an agricultural --

MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re familiar with our view on settlements. I’m not going to address that question further.

Do we have more on Middle East peace, or should we move on?

QUESTION: I’ve got one very briefly.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: What’s your understanding of the status of the Palestinians’ decisions to go ahead and move toward joining these UN conventions? I understand the Swiss have said that they received --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. So to be clear, this is simply a technical step that Matt is referring to, I would caution you against reading too much into the significance of what is essentially a ministerial step in the processing of the Palestinians’ letter. So the role – let me --

QUESTION: Yeah, but I just want to make sure – administerial?

MS. PSAKI: Administerial, administerial. The role of the depository, the UN or the Swiss, is simply to notify parties to the treaty what – which has – what has happened. And the depository does not determine the legal validity or effect of the communications. It actually remains in the hands of the treaty parties, states that are a party to each treaty, to decide for themselves questions of who they recognize and with whom they consider themselves in treaty relations. So this is a technical step in their process.

QUESTION: So you do not believe that that step which was taken --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- violates the terms of the agreement that they reached back last year?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Is that correct? Because it’s just an administrative thing and it --

MS. PSAKI: We strongly – continue to strongly oppose unilateral steps, which of course we consider this one, that seek to circumvent or prejudge outcomes that still need to be negotiated. So there’s no question this process of steps has been unhelpful. But again, we’re at a stage here --

QUESTION: Right. But nothing --

MS. PSAKI: -- where we’re determining what the path forward is. We’re not going to dwell on what was or was agreed to in previous months.

QUESTION: But in terms of the way the United States looks, this doesn’t change anything in terms of the Palestinians and their --

MS. PSAKI: Our funding or --

QUESTION: No, in terms of – not in terms of your funding. But you don’t think that this changes anything – this one step changes anything on the ground or something that needs to be negotiated, or does it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a technical step that follows on the unhelpful step taken last week. So in that degree it’s a continuation, but again, it’s not a different step. So I don’t think it changes necessarily what we’re negotiating now, no.

QUESTION: And have you made that point to the Israelis, or do you know?

MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I mean, the focus we have that’s happening between the parties now is about what the path is forward. Yes, this is a technical step, but we’re determining what the path is forward.

QUESTION: But just because the Palestinians have – their whatever-it-is has been accepted by the Swiss does not mean that they are suddenly members of the Geneva Convention.

MS. PSAKI: That’s right. That’s right. It’s a technical step. It’s still – again, unilateral steps are still unhelpful, and we’ve made that clear to both parties.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, just to clarify, when you say that gaps are narrowing, are we now at the point where we’re just talking about the length of time for an extension, or are we still on the substance of the ins and outs of negotiation?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into that level of detail, but it’s fair to say that there need to be more negotiations. Those will continue. And Ambassador Indyk will be returning to the region next week for that.

QUESTION: One thing on that.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, the Secretary said the other day in his congressional testimony that the bitter irony – the irony, the bitter irony was that you were really just talking about process and how to keep the process going, not about the fundamental issues of a final settlement. Has that changed? Has anything changed since Tuesday?

MS. PSAKI: No. But again, without going into too much detail, there are also discussion of conditions that would create the best environment for a peace process, and that’s part of the discussions as well.

QUESTION: Got it. But the fundamental point which hasn’t changed then since his testimony is what you’re really just trying to do is keep the talks going now, rather than actually working on – though I get that the two are not entirely divorced from one another, but that the focus is just keeping them going, not on negotiating the final status issues.

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re talking about, of course, the important difficult issues. I’m not going to go into further detail than I have.

QUESTION: Can I just have a follow-up very quickly? Does this narrowing of the gap --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- was it influenced by what the Secretary said on Capitol Hill, by the meeting in Cairo of the Arab ministerial meeting in Cairo, and by the meeting yesterday between the Israeli foreign minister and Secretary Kerry?

MS. PSAKI: Said, I would encourage you to pose those questions to the Israelis and the Palestinians. It’s their decisions and their choices that are being made, so I’m not going to do an analysis on that.

QUESTION: I promise, my last question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Are you hopeful that the talks will continue on past the 29th? Do you see that it is happening?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I don’t want to make a prediction, but certainly, our goal has always been to work with the parties in a role as a facilitator to achieve a final status agreement.

QUESTION: Just on Indyk’s travel, do you expect him to come back – are there any more meetings that you’re aware of that are going to happen before he returns? Do you know when exactly he’s going to return?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. I’ll check and see if there’s more specificity. As I understand it, it’s in the coming day or so.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Could you give dates for his return here and --

MS. PSAKI: Next week. He’ll be returning back to the region next week, and he’ll be returning in the next day or so to Washington.

QUESTION: Okay. But you said about dates that, naturally, holidays that are coming up, but those holidays aren’t until next week.

MS. PSAKI: Oh well, some of them start next week, as you know. So maybe – I don’t have anything specific. When we have anything specific to let you know, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Is this for him to – and I’m sorry, I may have missed a word or two at the start. I this for him to consult with the Secretary and give briefings, or is it at the White House or elsewhere, or is he just getting a break?

MS. PSAKI: Well, hopefully he’ll have a little bit of a break too. But certainly, it’s to have discussions and consult with the Secretary and the national security team here.

QUESTION: Jen, the holiday begins on the 14th and ends on the 22nd. Is it safe to assume that Ambassador Indyk will be here during that time?

MS. PSAKI: No. We’ll let you know as soon as we know when he’ll be returning, but it’s at some point next week.

QUESTION: Can I just --

MS. PSAKI: On Middle East peace or a different topic?

turkeyarmenia">QUESTION: No, very quick on Turkey.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: About an hour, there will be a resolution at the Senate regarding Armenian genocide resolution. Do you have any position on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our position has long been that we acknowledge – clearly acknowledge as historical fact and mourn the loss of 1.5 million Armenians who were massacred or marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. These horrific events resulted in one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century, and the United States recognizes that they remain a great source of pain for the people of Armenia and of Armenian descent, as they do for all of us who share basic universal values. Beyond that, I don’t have any other comment for you.

QUESTION: Okay. So this resolution wants Administration to recognize or the President to recognize 24th of April as the commemoration for the 1915 events, genocide events. Would you – do you have any position regarding this?

MS. PSAKI: I just provided what our United States position is.

QUESTION: Jen, you can’t address --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) or when you were working for candidate Obama what his position was on this issue?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I know that candidate Obama has his own personal views about this issue, which he – was actually in his statement that the White House sent out last year. I’m sure there’ll be more statements to come at the end of this month.

QUESTION: But you cannot specifically address the question of whether the U.S. Government regards the events that you just described near the end of the Ottoman Empire as genocide?

MS. PSAKI: I just stated what our position is. Do we have more on this? Turkey?

QUESTION: Jen, one single question more. There is a protocols between the Armenia and Turkey that your Administration helped in 2011 or ’10, I believe. Do you have any update on that, how those normalization process is going on?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to urge both countries to work together to achieve a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts. We believe that by working together to address their shared history, Armenia and Turkey can promote stability and prosperity in the entire Caucasus region, so we continue to work with them on that.

While the protocols may not be moving forward at this time, we note that both sides remain committed to the process of normalizing relations and neither side has withdrawn. Our greatest interest on this issue is to see Armenia and Turkey heal the wounds of the past and move forward together in a shared future of security and prosperity in the region, and our policy is, of course, naturally guided by that goal.

QUESTION: Do you know why this process is not moving forward? It has been five years almost that --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, I understand that. I don’t have any more detailed analysis for you.

Shall we move on to a new topic?

QUESTION: Just to return to the issue of the Iranian nomination for representative at the UN, reports today, there are court papers that allege that he was implicated in the assassination of a dissident, an Iranian dissident in Italy in the 1990s. First of all, is the Administration aware of this?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen the reports. We’ve obviously expressed our concerns publicly to the Iranians and to the UN about the fact that this nomination is not viable, but I’m not going to detail the specifics of those concerns more.

QUESTION: But this new information, or at least new to us, does that factor into the discussion about whether or not to ban the visa at all?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to detail that further.

QUESTION: But you haven’t made a decision yet?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to update you all on on this specific issue.

QUESTION: I just want to know if you have any reaction to the passage in the House of the bill.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly share the concerns expressed by members of Congress and we have expressed those to the Iranians, but I don’t have anything particular on the congressional vote.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just – I just wonder if you can say – is it the case that by saying that his nomination is not viable and saying that publicly – not just you, but the White House and others as well – is that what you would like to do, what you would like to see, is for the Iranians to withdraw his nomination. Is that a fair assessment of the position that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, that would certainly be one option, but I’m not going to detail any further.

QUESTION: But is that not the preferred option for – would that not be a preferable option than to go – than having to deny a visa or having to approve the visa? Wouldn’t be easier if it just went away, if they just withdrew the nomination?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our preference certainly would have been that he wouldn’t have been nominated to begin with.

QUESTION: In the first place, right.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: But now that he has been, it’s fair to say that the Administration would like to see – that the easiest and quickest resolution to this problem is for his nomination to be withdrawn, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, as I’ve noted a few times, we’ve made our concerns clear and they’re going to make whatever choice they’ll make.

QUESTION: Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I asked if you could take the questions of whether there had been precedents for this. Are you able to – whether there are – not precedents to this – whether there are past instances of U.S. visa denials for foreign representatives to the United Nations, whether permrep or lower level. Can you address that?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into historical precedents from the podium. Certainly, I know everybody has lots of access to information out there, but I don’t have anything I can detail for you from there.

QUESTION: And is there a legal reason for that, or is it a policy decision?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to detail it further.

Do we have more on this issue?

QUESTION: On Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday the American team in Vienna issued a statement that the Under Secretary Sherman had an hour and a half meeting, bilateral with the Iranians.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And she raised the issue of the Americans detained and disappeared in Iran, which means they are talking more than the nuclear issue. Do you know if they discussed any regional issues beside this?

MS. PSAKI: My understanding from talking to our team, Samir, is that, yes, they did meet for an hour and a half. They talked about two things during that bilateral meeting. That is, of course, the nuclear negotiation as one of them. The other is the issue of American citizens and our concern about Mr. Hekmati, Pastor Abedini, and Robert Levinson, all of whom deserve to be home with their families. So those were the two topics of discussion.

QUESTION: No other regional issues?

MS. PSAKI: Those were the two topics.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I think under the schedule that has been outlined for the payments under the JPOA to Iran, the fourth payment, which is for a total of $550 million, is supposed to happen today.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Has that happened?

MS. PSAKI: So as you noted, we – at the beginning of this process, we made a schedule of installments public. This one was worth the equivalent of 550 million, as you noted. This is actually – the process and the step that happens here is that OFAC would of course notify banks of this step each time it comes due. I would point you to them to confirm whether that’s happened or not.

QUESTION: So you can’t, but OFAC can let us know what --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. OFAC would be --

QUESTION: -- that the payment has gone through or that --

MS. PSAKI: OFAC – they would let you know if the banks have been notified. I don’t think they can confirm whether a payment has gone through, but they can let you know if a bank – if the banks have been notified, which would be the step they take.

QUESTION: That they could make such a payment?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I thought Marie had confirmed from the podium in the – or I thought either you or Marie had confirmed from the podium that such payments have gone through.

MS. PSAKI: I can look back. Obviously, if it’s happened in the past, maybe that’s a different circumstance. Obviously, since this is a due date today I would point you to OFAC and they can let you know if the step on our end has been taken.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Iran? Or any more on Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I referred to Foreign Minister Zarif yesterday – 50 to 60 percent already been agreed upon with respect to the agreement. But on – yesterday on the background, the senior officer said nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. So it looks like – it is clear there is a disagreement on many thing. What are the major point that there is no full agreement with the Iranian about, or the remaining point to agree upon?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me walk you through a little bit about where we are. As you know, the last round of talks was completed yesterday. Our team continued our substantive discussions about all of the issues that will be – have to be part of a comprehensive agreement. These sessions have been in-depth and the conversations have given us important additional insights into the biggest and most challenging gaps that we’ll be required to address, we’ll all be required to address as we move forward.

At this point, as you know, we don’t know if we’ll be successful in bridging these gaps. And I think that was the point that was being made. We are certainly committed, as are all the parties, to doing so. And certainly from the beginning, Under Secretary Sherman and others who have been leading these negotiations have made clear that there are two principles that are important. One is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and the other is that nothing is agreed until everyone agrees to it, because the unity between the P5+1 on these issues is hugely important.

The next step in this process is to begin actually drafting text, which we have said would happen after this next round. I would caution anyone from thinking that a final agreement is imminent or that it will be easy. That’s just the next step in this. And the P5+1 will meet back in Vienna at the political director level again on May 13th. As has been the case consistently throughout, our experts will also be working in the interim together to address some of the technical issues.

QUESTION: But isn’t that the same thing? Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and nothing is agreed until everyone agrees to it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, not to --

QUESTION: Or is it – or is there a distinction?

MS. PSAKI: I actually – how I view that, Matt, is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed refers to the content; nothing is agreed till everyone agrees to it means the partners. So that’s, I think, what is the meaning – not to put too fine of a point on it – of the saying.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: May 13th, that’s with the Iranians, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. It’s the next round of negotiations.

QUESTION: Yeah, right, right. Right, right, right. Good.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, yeah. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Move on?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I just want to – logistically, on Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Who is going to – whenever this meeting is set for next week – and I have a suggested name for the group, by the way.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, let’s hear it.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: You don’t like Quad or Quartet?

QUESTION: No. I think that --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- Tetrad would be good. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: That doesn’t flow off the tongue.

QUESTION: Tetrad.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. We’ll come back tomorrow and see if you have a better option. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No. You mean you’re rejecting it out of hand? I’m going to try to get it to catch on.

Anyway, is there anything to announce on that? And even if you’re not in a position to say if there is, who is, like, in charge of this thing? Who would the announcement come from if not from you, on the meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, when we’re prepared to announce, we would announce in conjunction with the other participants. But we’re still in discussions with the Ukrainians, with the EU, with the Russians, and so I don’t have anything to announce for all of you today. We’re still, of course, planning on next week.

QUESTION: But what’s the holdup? I just know this has been in the works for a while now. Why is it so difficult to decide between a couple of European capitals and a couple of very close dates?

MS. PSAKI: Because you’re coordinating a lot of parties. I think everybody is working towards making a determination on the final details, and as soon as we do, we’ll make it available.

New topic? Okay.

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine. Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. The G20 meeting has already started, and my understanding, at the same time G7 meeting is also be held. And --

MS. PSAKI: The G7 meeting --

QUESTION: G7.

MS. PSAKI: The one that will be in June?

QUESTION: Here. No, no, no, today. Today or tomorrow here in Washington, D.C.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: And probably they are going to discuss IMF support or economic support to Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But do they also talk about the political issues, such as kind of the sanction – fresh sanction or something like this?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure which meeting you’re referring to, but broadly speaking, we have been discussing with our G7 partners and any partners in the international community a range of issues, including economic support for Ukraine, support for the IMF-backed package, individual packages that our countries may be supporting, as well as taking complementary steps, including sanctions. So I would expect that during any meeting where Ukraine is discussed with our international partners, these issues would be discussed.

QUESTION: The same time, the U.S. and Russia, in a bilateral meeting, is also – that it’s going to take place today or tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what you’re referring to.

QUESTION: A ministry of finance.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, a meeting – is it of – a meeting with the Department of Treasury? Is it those officials?

QUESTION: Yes, yes, exactly. Yes, yes.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. I would point you to them on details for that. I don’t have any specifics on the content of their meeting.

QUESTION: Jen, can I just ask you, on the economic support, where exactly we are? This is a little bit on catch-up after being on the road last week. The 1 billion loan guarantee that was approved --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yep.

QUESTION: -- has that actually been put forward? Is that – has a, like a button being pressed somewhere --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and you are now standing guarantor?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the --

QUESTION: And also bits of money that I believe Assistant Secretary Nuland was talking about in her testimony about – in the FY13 and FY14 --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- has that actually been spent --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or is it still pending?

MS. PSAKI: It’s all a good question. The President signed into law, as you know, last week the loan guarantee package. In terms of where it sits right now, let me take that and just see if we can get an update for you and the other bits of money that Assistant Secretary Nuland referred to.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Jen, when the Secretary visited Kyiv, there were other things included in that package that was announced that day beyond money. It was also, like, technical advisors on things – not just to look at the books, but to claw back money that had been sort of looted.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Any update on where we are with that --

MS. PSAKI: Why don’t I check in the same round of questioning. Obviously, there are a lot of channels happening at the same time, including consultations on those issues, consultations on issues like natural gas and access to energy resources. We’ve been working closely with them, with the Ukrainians in recent days on that specifically. So I know there’s a lot of activities taking place; let me just see if we can get an update for you.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to President Putin’s letter this morning to the EU saying that they’re going to cut off supplies unless the EU stumps up the cash for the Ukrainian bills?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve certainly seen that. Just to catch you all up, which you may all already be aware of, on a couple of actual steps they’ve taken. Also on April 1st, Russia raised the price of natural gas for Ukraine by more than 40 percent. Now they’ve raised the price – they also then after that raised the price again, and then we saw, of course, the letter you referred to this morning. And Russia reneged on an agreement signed with Ukraine that offered reduced gas prices in exchange for a 25-year lease of Black Sea Fleet facilities. We condemn Russia’s efforts to use energy as a tool of coercion against Ukraine. Ukraine is now paying $485, a price clearly not set by market forces and well above the average price paid by EU members.

As I just touched on, the U.S. is – the United States is taking immediate steps to assist Ukraine, including the provision of emergency finance and technical assistance in the areas of energy security, energy efficiency, and energy sector reform. In addition, we’re working with Ukraine and our allies on its western borders to encourage them to prepare to reverse natural gas flows in the pipeline so that Ukraine can access additional gas supplies if needed. And what that means is there are flows of gas, of natural gas I should say, that go through – from Western Europe through Ukraine to Russia, and we – or I’m sorry, the other way – from Russia through Ukraine to Western Europe. And we want some of that natural gas to be available to go back into Ukraine. It was a warmer winter, they have some excesses that makes that possible, so we’re working on that as well.

QUESTION: So who controls the pipeline, then? Do the Ukrainians control it?

MS. PSAKI: Depends on the pipeline. And we’re working with a range of partners in the region to see what’s possible.

QUESTION: Two things briefly, Jen. Why can’t – the gas that the Russians are selling is Russia’s to sell, is it not? Why can’t they charge whatever price they want for it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, there are also – they had an agreement that I referenced about what they would provide in response to the 25-year lease.

QUESTION: Right. But clearly that agreement was abrogated when the Russians just moved in and took over Crimea and have no longer any need to lease the – correct?

MS. PSAKI: That may be the case. It doesn’t mean we don’t still have strong views about the steps they’ve taken, which clearly we do.

QUESTION: So --

MS. PSAKI: And we’re taking steps to help Ukraine.

QUESTION: Fair enough. But you – so you think that the – you think that you should be able to tell the Russians what price to charge for the gas that it sells to Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I said that, but again --

QUESTION: Well --

MS. PSAKI: -- I think they’ve had a long agreement. They’ve – obviously, it’s relevant to point out that they are selling the gas at far above the market rate.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: And obviously, we’re taking steps to work with our partners in the region to help Ukraine during this time.

QUESTION: But you think that it’s some kind of violation of something other than just not being a nice seller to – I mean, why can’t they charge whatever they want?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I’m just speaking to our views --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- on their steps they’ve taken.

QUESTION: Okay. And then, secondly, there was a lot of talk yesterday and the day before – or last several days about these actions going on in eastern Ukraine that you guys say are being fomented by the Russians.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you seen anything since – anything in the past, say, 48 hours that would ease any of your concerns? Or have you seen anything that would make you increase – that would make your concerns grow on the agent provocateur front?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we still have the same concerns. Obviously, things have calmed a bit and there are still some buildings where there are remaining issues. We have seen reports that the separatists who seized a security building in Luhansk may have rigged the building with explosives. There are conflicting reports about some particular buildings. But it remains the case, as Assistant Secretary Nuland said yesterday, that these are not spontaneous – a spontaneous set of events. These incidents bear all the hallmarks of an orchestrated campaign of incitement, separatism, and sabotage of the Ukrainian state, and those concerns remain.

QUESTION: Right. But in his conversation yesterday with Foreign Minister Lavrov and in all these public statements, including Toria’s which you just said --

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you’ve been telling the Russians to knock it off. Is there any sign that you’re aware of that they’re listening, that they’re actually doing that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously these events are from a couple of days ago. We’ll see what actions they take moving forward.

QUESTION: So the answer is no. You don’t know whether there has been any – I’d rather --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there haven’t been --

QUESTION: It’s not a trick question.

MS. PSAKI: -- there haven’t been new steps.

QUESTION: Okay, there hasn’t been anything yet.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re monitoring as closely as we can. But we still remain concerned about the steps that have been taken.

QUESTION: Just going back to your condemnation of what you described as “the Russians have used energy as a tool of coercion” – was that meant to apply to the letter, which is what Jo had asked you about, or to the totality of circumstances that you described, including --

MS. PSAKI: The totality of circumstances in response --

QUESTION: -- including the letter?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: And in response to Jo’s question, what I thought was relevant here was specific actions more than the letter; also, that they have taken to increase the prices.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to what you mentioned? If I understood this right, you’re trying to work with experts to reverse the gas flow --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- so that Ukrainians get it back?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Isn’t Russia going to take that as some kind of act of sabotage on – or Gazprom on their gas pipeline?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not an expert on this, obviously. I’ve learned quite a bit about it in the last couple of days, but I can see if there’s more specifics, technical specifics on how it would exactly work. I think it would be gas flow that would be coming from Europe, so it wouldn’t – I don’t know that it would be owned by Russia.

QUESTION: It just seems to me that there would be other situations in other countries where if nation states started to try and reserve gas flows, there would be an outcry by other nation states about that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a lot of circumstances happening on the ground and there are a lot of things under consideration to help the people of Ukraine.

QUESTION: But I mean, the Russians could take the position that you’re actually effectively pinching their gas. No?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure that that’s technically correct. It’s a good question, but I will see if there’s more our technical experts can tell.

QUESTION: More technical term than pinching – (laughter).

QUESTION: You don’t think that pinching – pinching is not a technical (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: It is not, but I understand what Jo’s getting at.

QUESTION: How about just theft? Let’s call it theft.

MS. PSAKI: I’m understanding her nuance of meaning --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: -- they could think we’re taking their gas supply. So I don’t think that is what the actual technical – technically what would happen, but I will check with our team on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: It’s called larceny, actually.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Any more on Ukraine?

QUESTION: Ukraine?

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine, okay.

QUESTION: Yes. Did you know (inaudible) Ukraine Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And he showed three satellite images on his Twitter yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry, he did what?

QUESTION: On his Twitter.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, satellite images. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. So I want to know – so what is the purpose of his – this – he shows these three satellite images?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one – let me be clear. These are publicly available images. These weren’t private images or images taken from a government stock, so to speak. (Laughter.) But --

QUESTION: They’re not spy satellite images. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: But he was – as we’ve been making the point clearly that we’ve been concerned about not just the troop presence gathering on the border but the fact that they’re staying, and this clearly illustrates that point.

QUESTION: Jennifer, there is an explosion today in Athens, Greece, outside of the Bank of Greece. First I wanted to know if you have a reaction to this, and second, do you help or participate in the investigation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we strongly condemn those who use violence to seek to achieve their goals. The United States and Greece are partners in combating terrorism in all its forms. For information about this particular incident, we would refer you to the Greek Government. We are certainly partners. I’m not aware of a United States role in this. I think it would be led by the Government of Greece.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Nonproliferation.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So earlier this morning, the State Department announced the travel plans of Under Secretary Gottemoeller to Japan and China. Can you outline her travel details for us?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, I’m happy to. Under Secretary Gottemoeller will travel to Japan and China from April 10th, today, to April 15th. From the 10th through the 11th she will meet with Japanese counterparts from the cabinet secretariat and the ministry of foreign affairs in Tokyo. She will discuss regional security issues, arms control, and nonproliferation policy, and missile defense cooperation. She will travel on the 12th to Hiroshima to attend the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative ministerial. She will also lead the U.S. delegation to the Japan-U.S. Commission on Disarmament and Nonproliferation, a bilateral dialogue covering weapons of mass destruction, nuclear energy, and conventional arms issues.

On the 14th and 15th, she will take part in the fifth P5 conference in Beijing, China. The conference is the latest in a series of meetings between the United States, China, France, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom, aimed at furthering the disarmament goals laid out in the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference action plan. And finally, on the 15th, she and her counterparts will participate in the P5 conference public event titled “Comprehensive Enhancement of the NPT.”

QUESTION: So as part of her trip, she’ll attend the annual NPDI ministerial meeting in Hiroshima.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What’ll be the main agenda of her participation in this meeting?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the organizers of the event. She’s participating, but the event is not organized by the United States.

QUESTION: And this is the first time that the U.S. is going to be participating in this particular meeting. What is the impetus for U.S. participation this round?

MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly nonproliferation and the importance of working with our partners and allies around the world. To further that agenda is important to the President, important to the Secretary. Obviously, Under Secretary Gottemoeller is an expert on these issues and I think all agreed it would be important to send a message about how important we think this issue is.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Follow-up question?

QUESTION: The reason that you’re being asked these questions is not – is the symbolism of the venue itself. Do you not have anything --

MS. PSAKI: I understand that, Matt. Thank you for --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Well, do – but do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. Obviously, it’s not our event. We’re participating in the event.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, I have a follow-up question on that. Is her participation in the NDPI meeting somehow related to the negotiation for preparatory talks of NPT review conference in Beijing next week, which I’m assuming she’s also --

MS. PSAKI: She’s also attending that. I mentioned that in the list I just gave.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Burns met with South Korea Deputy National Security Chief Kim Kyou-hyun today. Can you tell us more detail about the purpose of this meeting?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I have more details. I believe it was part of kind of ongoing discussions and – with our important partners, and a follow-up to the range of meetings that the President had over the course of the last couple of weeks. I’ll check with Deputy Secretary Burns’s office and see if there’s more to share.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to return to the question of the immunity granted by the State Department to Blackwater employees in Iraq in 2007. Were you able to establish, one, whether you felt that the Department had the right to grant immunity at that time absent the authorization of the Justice Department or the concurrence of the Justice Department?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to comment on what people in 2007 thought about a right to grant immunity in Iraq. I will say to kind of expand a little bit on one of your questions yesterday about what we specifically did to address, we have worked to address immunity concerns that arose soon after Nisour Square, including by creating in conjunction with DOJ new warning forms for voluntary interviews and compelled interviews, and emphasizing procedures to follow when using the forms through improved training and notices to overseas posts. So certainly that was part of, among other, issues that we work to address in conjunction with the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: What does that mean? Does that mean – what do the forms actually do? Do they warn people that anything they say can and will be used against them? Do the forms say to the DS or other investigators you have no authority to grant immunity without checking with the Justice Department? I mean, I – it still doesn’t to me address --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’m not sure if these forms are publicly available forms. If they are, I will talk to our team and see if we can make one available, and perhaps we can get you a briefing with them on the specifics.

QUESTION: And why are you not able to address that question of --

MS. PSAKI: About 2007?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, it’s not like you haven’t had enough time to think about it or figure out what happened. So why not address – get somebody who worked on this to address that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for your advice, Arshad, but I’m not going to speak to what happened seven years ago in a different administration, and clearly we’ve taken steps to address this since then, and I think that’s the important point we should all focus on.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: I had a question.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: I’ve got more. Sorry –

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- but it’ll be brief I’m sure. Just to follow up to my --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- questions yesterday on that whole Cuba Twitter thing.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Have you – I know that Administrator Shah was on the Hill this morning and that he was asked some questions about this, and I know that Senate – the Foreign Relations Committee has asked for some kind of a – I guess not an investigation, but some kind of a look into all of AID’s internet – not just this one, but anything they might be doing. But I’m wondering if you were able to get an answer to the question about those texts that I was referring to yesterday --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- that did appear to have political content.

MS. PSAKI: Well, USAID is continuing to gather background information. I would point you to specifically what Administrator Shah said this morning I believe in response to a question. He’s asked his team to review all of the information related to the program, and certainly these reported texts will be a part of that process.

QUESTION: Okay. Bu you do not – yeah, that review is not finished; it just started, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Correct.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:01 p.m.)

DPB #63


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: April 9, 2014

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 17:36

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 9, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing
  • UKRAINE
    • Secretary Kerry's conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk / Tensions in Eastern Ukraine
    • Possibility of a meeting of the EU, the United States, Russia, and Ukraine
  • MEPP
    • Secretary Kerry's Meeting with Foreign Minister Lieberman
    • Cancellation of Ministerial-Level Meetings between Israelis and Palestinians
    • Reports of Additional Meeting with Ambassador Indyk
    • Comments made during the Secretary's SFRC Testimony/ Unhelpful Steps by both Parties
    • Next Steps in the Process / U.S. Goal Remains Final Status Agreement
    • Secretary's Meeting with the President / Update on Peace Process
    • Arab League Support, Role in Peace Process
    • Status of Ambassador Indyk
  • SYRIA
    • State Department Engagement with Members of Congress
    • Transfer of Chemical Weapons / Sigrid Kaag's Briefing to UNSC
    • Continue to Press Russia to Work with U.S. on Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons
    • Syrian Refugees
  • BAHRAIN
    • Human Rights Practices / Legal Action Against Medical Personnel
  • RUSSIA/UKRAINE
    • Secretary's Conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov
    • Remain Concerned About Russian Military Intervention
    • Russia Behind Actions in Ukraine
    • Sanctions / Range of Escalatory Steps Available
    • U.S. Working in Lockstep with Europeans
    • No Date, Location, Agenda for Meeting of EU, U.S., Russia and Ukraine Finalized / Purpose of Meeting
    • U.S. Cooperation with Ukraine / Intelligence
    • Range of Issues for Multi-party Discussion
    • Sanctions / Extensive Flexibility to Sanctions
  • EGYPT
    • Terrorist designation of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis
    • Foreign Military Sales to Egypt
  • IRAN
    • Iranian Nominee to United Nations
    • Host Nation Admission of Chosen Representatives of UN Member States
    • Visas for Proposed Ambassadors to the United Nations
    • P5+1 Talks in Vienna
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Blackwater Judicial Recommendation / Steps Taken Since Nisour Square Incident
  • IRAN
    • Iranian Nominee to the United Nations
  • CHINA/JAPAN
    • Good Relations Benefit the Region
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Host Nation Admission of Chosen Representatives of UN Member States
  • CHINA
    • Taiwan's Interest in Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • SOUTH SUDAN
    • Secretary to meet with Awan Riak
    • No Decisions yet on Sanctions
    • Ongoing Crisis
  • MONTENEGRO
    • Prime Minister's Meetings in Washington
  • SUDAN
    • Reports of Expulsion of UN Employee
  • CUBA
    • ZunZuneo Communications Platform


TRANSCRIPT:

1:21 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Thank you for your patience. Turns out there’s quite a bit going on in the world today, as all of you know. I have a couple of items at the top.

The Secretary spoke this morning with Foreign Minister Lavrov. He also spoke with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk separately. When he spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov, he reiterated our concerns – his concerns about escalating tensions in the east. They discussed the possibility of a quad meeting next week that you all saw EU High Representative Ashton refer to yesterday. He spoke with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, thanked him for his leadership, encouraged him to continue efforts at inclusiveness across Ukraine. They discussed the ongoing efforts by the Ukrainian Government to continue to address the situation in eastern Ukraine peacefully, and they also discussed the possibility of a quad meeting next week.

One other item: With us at today’s briefing, we have eight students from the U.S. Defense Information School sitting in the back. Hello, everyone. They’re here today as part of a public affairs course for international students, a DOD initiative to build effective media relations in partner nations. They represent six different countries and upon graduation will serve as public affairs officers within their respective defense ministries.

Hello, Matt. Welcome back.

QUESTION: Thank you. Same to you, although, I guess you were back on Monday.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: So just on the – (laughter) – Ukraine thing. Just on --

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Jo. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Exactly. Just on the Ukraine thing for a second. Has it been settled that this thing, whatever this group is going to be called – the quad?

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t intending to give it any arbitrary name, just it’s been called that in the press. But it would be a meeting of the EU --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- the United States --

QUESTION: Because if it was --

MS. PSAKI: -- the Russians and the Ukrainians. Yes.

QUESTION: So that would be four, right?

MS. PSAKI: That is. That’s four.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So that is quad.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. So was Quartet.

MS. PSAKI: I know none of us are math majors. Quartet, too.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: How successful has the Quartet been? And based on that, just – the troika. There was a quad before. Does that mean that this new quad will supersede the old quad?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, you’ll have to stay tuned for when the meeting is finalized to just see what the name will be.

QUESTION: All right. I’m sure there are other questions on Ukraine, but I’ve got to start with the Middle East --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- because of the Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lieberman, which I assume is going ahead later this afternoon, yes?

MS. PSAKI: It is.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to curtail ministerial level meetings with the Palestinians, with I guess the exception of Livni --

MS. PSAKI: The negotiators?

QUESTION: Right. And then also about some comments the Secretary made yesterday on the Hill.

So starting, one, with the first – the meeting with Foreign Minister Lieberman, the foreign minister has said that he – said in the past that he would vote against – had there ever been a cabinet meeting, vote against the prisoner release. What’s the purpose of this meeting this afternoon? Is the Secretary hoping to get him on board with the peace process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I am certain they will discuss the ongoing negotiations between the parties. But he is his counterpart in the Israeli Government. They have met many times before, as you know. And we’ll do a readout after the meeting. But it’s been a scheduled meeting, and I think he’s in town for other meetings as well.

QUESTION: All right. Secondly, do you have any reaction to the prime minister’s decision to suspend or to cancel ministerial level meetings with the Palestinians?

MS. PSAKI: I do. We are certainly aware of the announcement. We regard it as unfortunate. We believe that cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has provided benefits to both sides. We continue to urge both sides to take steps that contribute to a conducive environment for peace. We note that the contact in meetings between the negotiators are continuing, and note that they are engaging in serious and intensive efforts to find a way out of the current impasse. We do consider it very important that security-related cooperation is not affected.

QUESTION: Okay. And then you said that the meetings are continuing. There’s reports in Israel today that Ambassador Indyk will be having another meeting – the third since Sunday, I guess – tomorrow. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I have nothing to confirm for you at this point. Let me talk to him and the negotiators after the briefing and see what we may have for you.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one on this is the Secretary on the Hill yesterday managed to get the Israelis, in particular, upset about him when he described, what he called a “poof” moment when things went, for lack of a better word, to hell. Given the fact that you guys have made clear for some time now, for at least two weeks now, that both sides have taken negative steps: one, would it have been perhaps more appropriate for the Secretary not to use his “poof” moment comment; or, if it was appropriate, do you think that it was – that he put it in the context of the timeline at the wrong place?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I spoke with the Secretary about this this morning, and he was, frankly, surprised by the coverage of his comments because he doesn’t believe, as you noted and has said repeatedly, that one side deserves blame over another media note because they’ve both taken unhelpful steps – that’s something you’ve heard him say frequently. And at no point, including yesterday, has he intended to engage in a blame game.

The truth is even yesterday, if you look at the full context of his comments, he went out of his way to credit Prime Minister Netanyahu for making tough choices. And you’ll remember, as you also noted, that he began his comments by very matter-of-factly referring to the unhelpful and provocative steps the Palestinians took by going on television and, of course, announcing their intention to join UN treaties.

So what he followed yesterday or what he did yesterday was simply restate the chronology of events of last week that took place, which ended, of course, with the step by the Palestinians to announce plans to join international conventions. So that was the intention of his comments, and he certainly stands by them and was surprised that there was there a view that he was one-sided.

QUESTION: Well, he was surprised by the fact that people took him at his word, because that’s what he said? If we look at the chronology going back this week – and I don’t want to belabor this, but on Saturday – Saturday was when the prisoners were supposed to be released.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: They weren’t. Saturday, Sunday – after they weren’t released, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, nothing really major happened. The Palestinians didn’t take any action.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: On Tuesday, the new Gilo announcement – settlement – or construction announcement was made.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: That is when the Secretary said the “poof” moment was. It wasn’t until the next day, Wednesday, when we were in Brussels, that President Abbas came out and said that he was going to sign onto these UN conventions.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And it wasn’t until the next day after that, Thursday, that Justice Minister Livni came out and said that the prisoner release was now officially canceled. So in retrospect, wouldn’t it have been more accurate, given the fact that you blame both sides, for the Secretary to have identified the “poof” moment not as the housing announcement but rather either the Palestinian announcement or Justice Minister Livni’s announcement that the prisoner release had been canceled entirely?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would caution you against over-emphasizing the meaning of “poof,” which we’ve now talked about a lot here. But he was – his view is that there were unhelpful steps by both sides. That’s what he was conveying yesterday. Again – again, as we look forward to the coming days, it’s clearly counterproductive when either side takes steps that aren’t conducive to an environment moving forward. So we’re not going to spend our time recounting every single step as it relates to the events of last week. We’re going to see if there’s the will and the desire to move things forward.

QUESTION: Right. But that’s what he did yesterday. In recounting the chronology, he did exactly what you say you don’t want to do.

MS. PSAKI: No --

QUESTION: And he – and because he used the “poof” comment where he did, some in Israel – many if not all in Israel – took that to be an indication that you regard them as more to blame than the other side. You’re saying that that’s wrong. So if it’s – correct? You’re saying that that is wrong?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I --

QUESTION: He wasn’t meaning to single out Israel for more blame than anyone else?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to his own comments he’s made many times over the past week about the unhelpful steps by both sides, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. And you say that he doesn’t want to get into the blame game. But is he – aren’t you, in fact, blaming both sides? Isn’t that the blame game?

MS. PSAKI: Well, often the blame game means blaming one side over the other, and that’s what I’m using it as a reference to.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Jen, can I ask – you’ve mentioned that there’s hopefully going to be or there’s possibly going to be another round of negotiations on the ground involving Ambassador Indyk. What is --

MS. PSAKI: I think Matt mentioned that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay, okay. There’s going to be – but there is another round planned, in fact?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I said I’m happy to talk to Ambassador Indyk and our team on the ground to see what the next steps are here. As you know, they’ve had two rounds of discussions, and I’m happy to discuss with them what’s up next.

QUESTION: But you said the idea was to try and get things back on track, yeah?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly that’s been our effort that’s been underway for the last several days and the purpose of those meetings, absolutely.

QUESTION: So how do you do that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think it is going to be up to the parties to determine whether they have the will and the intention to take the steps necessary for things to be back on track. So we’re having discussions with them about what’s possible.

QUESTION: But are you all looking at putting the things back on track fully so you have also another planned prisoner release and then another planned step towards – April 29th is the deadline – so another plan for an extension of the talks beyond April 29th or --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of steps that are being discussed. Obviously, both sides have indicated what’s important to them, so it’s safe to assume that all of those issues you mentioned and more are being discussed. And naturally, our goal here remains a final status agreement, and certainly that will take more than a couple of weeks to accomplish.

QUESTION: And at what point do you determine that it’s not possible to put the talks back on track?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s going to be determined by the conversations the Secretary and our negotiating team has with the parties on the ground and their willingness to engage in a constructive process moving forward. So I can’t put a specific checklist out there for you.

QUESTION: But you don’t actually know at this point that they are willing to go forward?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t know yet. That is the proposition we’re testing now.

QUESTION: Jen --

MS. PSAKI: More on Middle East peace? Go ahead Samir.

QUESTION: Yes. Did the Secretary discuss the peace process with the President yesterday, and what is the conclusion of that?

MS. PSAKI: He did, but I would remind all of you that he has a weekly meeting with the President whenever he’s in town and that was what this meeting was, and certainly they discussed the peace process and they discussed the peace process when they were on the trip traveling together over the – two weeks ago as well. So the Secretary updated him on his conversations with the negotiating team and with the parties on the ground, and we’re all going to work together to continue to test the proposition of what’s possible.

QUESTION: Will you change the approach now toward the peace process?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think it’s just as I’ve laid out to all of you. We remain engaged with the parties. As you know, the parties have met twice over the last several days. Our negotiators remain on the ground and we’re going to see what’s possible.

QUESTION: Did they make the review or not, regarding the negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Did they review the negotiations when they started to --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s an overemphasis on what that means. Just in any policy process you make decisions day by day on what’s productive and what the right steps are, and certainly the Secretary has been working in lockstep with the President and the national security team throughout this process, and so they did discuss, of course, yesterday, and those discussions will continue.

Middle East peace or another topic?

QUESTION: Please.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Palestinians have been asking for the release of Marwan Barghouti quite regularly in this process. Has that become more of a key bargaining factor in this whole process of getting things back on track? Has it taken on extra importance or can you give us an idea of where that is?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any specifics of what each side is pressing for. We certainly understand they’ll make their own public comments about what’s important to them, but I’m not going to get into any more detail on that.

QUESTION: One more. The Arab League decided today to – or refused today to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and asked the United States to continue its efforts in the negotiations. Any reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we’ve said all along, support of the Arab League and their support for a final status agreement between the parties is incredibly important and has been an important aspect of this process. It’s up to the parties to determine what their negotiating agreement would be. We know that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is important to the Israelis. We’ve seen the public comments of the Palestinians. You know where the United States stands. It’s up to them to determine that moving forward, not the United States, not the Arab League, not outside parties.

QUESTION: Can I just ask – Ambassador Indyk remains in the region?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are there any plans as yet to pull him back?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think we evaluate day by day. Obviously, at some point it may make sense to have discussions with him in person. He’s been there for some time, but I’m not aware of any plans for that at this moment.

New topic?

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let – okay. Go ahead. Syria?

QUESTION: Thank you. So yesterday was a press conference on the Hill about Syria and about the recent attack against town of Kessab. And several representatives from the Congress who were present, Brad Sherman, Jim Costa from Fresno and others, and I am quoting Brad Sherman saying, quote, “I want to join with several of my colleagues in urging that the intelligence community and the State Department provide a classified briefing on what was Turkey’s role in assisting and providing shelter to al-Qaida-linked terrorists who carried the ethnic cleansing in Kessab.” So do you have any comment on this? Are you planning to initiate any investigation about this attack?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I would say that, as the Secretary himself said yesterday, we engage with classified and unclassified briefings with the Hill on a regular basis. It’s something he feels is vitally important. I don’t have any updates on that for you or any particular reaction to the congressman’s comments.

QUESTION: You haven’t replied to Congressman Sherman and others?

MS. PSAKI: I believe they made comments in a press conference. But our Hill team is engaged closely with the Hill team and I’m sure that will continue.

Do you have any more on Syria?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: In follow-up with the same question, I mean, two weeks ago, I mean, it was almost 10 days, there was a statement came out of this podium about the same issue about the Kessab and Armenians in there. And it was said that it was – we are deeply troubled. And it was mentioned – Marie mentioned that it was ongoing and we are following. Is there any update about following or ongoing process of watching what’s going on there? Because it’s, like, lack of information is there, it’s like. Maybe he is – my colleague is asking about the political side, I am asking about the reality side.

MS. PSAKI: I understand what you’re asking. I don’t have any particular updates. I will check with our team and see if there is anything we can offer to all of you.

QUESTION: About Syria again?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, yesterday Secretary Kerry mentioned that almost 54 percent of the chemical weapons --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- are shipped outside Syria. Is there any, like, let’s just say always we said, optimistic view that this going to be continued, knowing that what’s going on now with the relation with Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And is there any kind of, like, step forward and 10 steps backward in this regard?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we have continued to press the Syrian regime and continue to ask the Russians to press the Syrian regime to ensure a successful handoff by transferring all of the declared chemicals to Latakia by April 27th in accordance with its own proposed timeline. We know they have the ability to do so. You may have seen that the – Sigrid Kaag’s briefing to the Security Council. She made clear that the Syrian Government has the resources it needs to safely remove all chemical weapons materials by June 30th, and she also urged that large volume based movement must occur right away in order for the Syrian Government to meet the approaching deadlines. So we continue to encourage that.

Yes, there has been progress made in recent weeks, but there is more that needs to be done. This is an issue that Secretary Kerry discussed with Foreign Minister Lavrov when he met with him about a week and a half ago in Paris, I believe it was, and it’s one that we’ll continue to press the Russians to work with us on.

QUESTION: There is the issue of refugees too, because it’s becoming like – I know it’s everybody is – I mean, it’s not the headlines, it’s always forgotten. I mean, it was the latest thing which was mentioned it was like 1 million people were the number of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon or entered Lebanon, recorded – I mean, according registration. Might be maybe more even. Is there anything going on regarding this location? Especially we know it’s like, okay, now we are talking about polio, too. It’s like the possibility of polio is, like, spreading among the refugees’ camps and all these things. How you are following these issues, whether with United States or with regional powers or international entities?

MS. PSAKI: Well, sure. The United States and the UN and international entities are all following this very important issue every single day, and we have very senior-level officials in the State Department who work on the issue of refugees every single day, whether it’s in the region or in our building here in Washington. And as you know, but it’s worth repeating, the United States remains the largest donor of humanitarian assistance, and that includes assistance to neighboring countries like Lebanon, like Jordan, who have taken in a countless number of refugees and continue to. So this is an issue that we remain concerned about, we remain focused on, and one that – you’re right – does deserve more attention than it receives on a daily basis.

Scott.

QUESTION: In Bahrain?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There’s more trouble for medics who helped those injured in the Arab Spring uprising, one questioned for allegedly insulting the ministry of the interior in an interview that she had on France 24 about teargas, another sentenced to a year in jail for allegedly insulting the king during remarks at a funeral. Is this in keeping with the understanding that you were given about the reforms that the government there would undertake?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Scott, we are certainly following these cases closely, and you’re referring to the cases of two doctors, just to be clear to everyone – one that was previously sentenced and one that’s a newer case. We have a regular and ongoing conversation with the Bahraini Government on human rights practices. We make our concerns known when warranted, and this is certainly an example of that. We’ve repeatedly voiced concerns about legal action against medical professionals, including in these cases, both publicly and privately, at the highest levels. And we continue to urge the Government of Bahrain to protect the universal rights of freedom of expression, just as we urge all elements of Bahraini society to engage in peaceful expressions of public opinion.

And to your point and to your question, we continue to convey that in order to have a climate conducive for reconciliation, for meaningful dialogue and reform, they need to take these necessary steps to create that climate, and that includes reforms and observations of human rights practices.

QUESTION: And so just, I think, to make sure I understand --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you said that you’re aware of these cases and you’ve expressed concerns, and this is an example of that. So these two cases that Scott mentioned --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- have been raised with the Bahrainis?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, yes. And there have been some conflicting reports about the exact situation, and I talked to our team about this before I came down, so I’ll see if there’s any update but –about the charges and what has or hasn’t been filed.

QUESTION: Can I go to Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: In the Secretary’s conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov, was the foreign minister able to answer or give any kind of assurances to the Secretary about what is going on? And presumably, the Secretary talked about what’s happening in the east and the U.S. concerns about – that have been expressed in public on the Hill --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- yesterday and today about Russia’s involvement or – in fomenting unrest in the east. Was the foreign minister able to speak to these things?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary, as I mentioned, certainly expressed his concerns, and the foreign minister expressed a willingness to take those back. It wasn’t a long phone call, and I’m not going to speak on their behalf, but certainly, we remain concerned about Russian military intervention and we remain concerned about all of the issues the Secretary talked about yesterday. And as he made clear in his testimony, we have no doubt that Russia’s hand and money are behind these actions we’ve seen in recent days.

QUESTION: Right. But previously to this – and specifically with – in relationship to Ukraine, the Secretary and you and other members of the Administration have not had a problem by – in saying – in describing the Russian response or in saying that the Russians have assured you, whether it’s Lavrov or anyone else, that they will respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Those assurances were broken, I guess, when they went in and annexed Crimea.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So is that – does that mean that the foreign minister was unable to offer any kind of assurance to the Secretary on (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not – I don’t want to characterize it further, Matt. You can certainly reach out to the Russians or they may have put out their own readout of their comments.

QUESTION: And then in line with the – your allegations that the Russians are – there is a Russian hand involved in what’s going on in eastern Ukraine --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- are these types of activities that could draw additional sanctions? Or does there have to be an actual move – a military – a formal military incursion for the sanctions – for additional sanctions to be considered?

MS. PSAKI: Well, no sanctions to announce today. Certainly, we look at a range of steps, including escalatory steps. And obviously, their involvement through financial means and through other means in the actions over the last couple of days have raised concerns and --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- they’re all factors that we look at.

QUESTION: But do you regard those as being escalatory steps?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly.

QUESTION: You do?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So in other words, they could, in themselves, draw additional sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to make a prediction of that.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not looking for a prediction.

MS. PSAKI: But I will say that we look at all of these. We don’t have a question – as was clear by the Secretary’s – the strength of the Secretary’s testimony yesterday --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- of their involvement here. So we certainly look at that as we make decisions moving forward.

QUESTION: And do you understand that the Europeans have similar concerns to you about the activities going on in the eastern part of Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: I believe some have expressed similar concerns, but I’ll let them speak for themselves.

QUESTION: And as you review your sanctions and these escalatory steps with respect to possible additional sanctions, would you been encouraging the Europeans to look the same way?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have been working in lockstep with them all along. Certainly we’ve made every effort to be coordinated and take complementary steps, and I’m sure that will continue.

QUESTION: You’ve been working with them in lockstep all – this is presumably post the – Toria’s phone call with Ambassador Pyatt? This is since then?

MS. PSAKI: You always love an opportunity to bring up the phone call, Matt. I think Toria has moved long beyond that, as have the Europeans.

QUESTION: I don’t know about the Russians, though.

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) More on Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yeah, more on Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Could you confirm that this quad or quartet or four-way meeting will take place in Vienna on the 17th of April? It’s what EU diplomats said in Brussels.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And what the point of joining, organizing this meeting when Assistant Secretary Nuland has just said on the Hill that the U.S. doesn’t have high expectations for it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of reports out there, I understand. But the date and the location and the agenda and the details haven’t been finalized yet, so when they are, I’m certain there’ll be a more formal announcement from all parties.

In terms of the purpose of this, we’ve always seen diplomacy and the opportunity to sit at a table and have discussions as being an important component of our efforts here. At the same time, as you’ve seen, we’ve also taken steps, including sanctions, in response to the unacceptable and illegal steps that the Russians have taken. But the process of discussion and diplomacy, the process of having the Ukrainians and the Russians at the same table, we think would still be a positive step.

QUESTION: Well, maybe instead of confirming the 17th, confirm the 16th.

MS. PSAKI: We’re still working through the final details and I hope we have more of a formal announcement soon.

More on Ukraine? Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There was a report that American officials, at least, are citing concern that the Ukrainians aren’t getting the full measure of U.S. intelligence on Russian troops massing at the border. So I’m wondering if you’ve – if the State Department, if the Secretary has received any of those qualms from the Ukrainians. And if so, how do you respond to the concerns that they’re not getting adequate U.S. intelligence?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve seen those comments, but I would just – I just read out at the beginning of this briefing a call the Secretary had with the prime minister just this morning where they talked about ongoing efforts, and this wasn’t an issue that was raised. I will say we’ve of course been --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, it wasn’t an issue that was raised?

MS. PSAKI: Was not, no.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: On the call this morning. We’ve been working closely – we’ve demonstrated our strong support for Ukraine throughout this crisis, including diplomatically, including economically with the package the President signed into law last week. I’m not going to comment on intel matters or intel cooperation or any issues as it relates to that.

QUESTION: Jen, can I just ask, going back to Nicolas’ question, but – I understand that you think it’s important to have the Russians and the Ukrainians talking together in the same room --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and that having EU and U.S. is – perhaps helpful as a mediator. But what would you actually concretely be hoping to see out of the meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: What would you hope would happen from it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously there are a number of days between now and any meeting next week. And as you know, this is a very fluid situation. So I don’t want to make a prediction of that. Let me just add that beyond efforts to engage the parties discussing at the same table, the Ukrainians and the Russians, and beyond sanctions, there’s also an ongoing process that the legitimate Government of Ukraine has going on the ground which we’re supporting them in, and that is leading up to an election that is the effort at constitutional reforms. So it is not as if we are all holding our breath waiting for this meeting. This meeting is a part of many steps that we are taking in working closely with the Government of Ukraine in their efforts to go through this transition period.

QUESTION: But I mean, some of the list of things that have been talked about in the past few days, such as pulling back troops, OSCE monitors, that sort of stuff – is that the sort of thing that you hope will be --

MS. PSAKI: Those have consistently been on the agenda, in terms of the need for OSCE monitors to be led into a broad swath of Ukraine, in terms of support for the constitutional reform effort already underway, in terms of de-escalating, and de-escalation is certainly a big part of our effort here. And at the end of the day, a primary focus here is also making sure that decisions about Ukraine are made only with the Government of Ukraine. They are the key deciding force here and they should be at the table.

QUESTION: But I’m interested in that you’re also giving Russia a say in decisions about the future of Ukraine. If you talk about constitutional reform, why do the Russians get a say in what – on the reform of the constitution of Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not – we’re not suggesting they do, but certainly that process has already been underway. We’ve been supporting them in that effort. There have been concerns expressed by the Russians, as you know, about issues like support for ethnic minorities in Ukraine. Well, one way to do that is to let OSCE monitors in to a broad swath of the country. So what I mean is there are a range of issues that have been part of the discussion and on the table for discussion, and certainly the Government of Ukraine needs to be the deciding force in those efforts.

More on Ukraine? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is there discussion about adding officials – Russian officials to the sanctions list in response to the provocative actions, as you define them, in eastern Ukraine? And is – because – is that something that could happen very quickly?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to make a prediction, but I will remind all of you that when the President signed the executive order just a couple of weeks ago, we gave ourself extensive flexibility to not only put in place sanctions for additional individuals, whether they’re Ukrainian or Russian officials, but also sectors, so all of those remain an option. We look at escalatory steps, whether that’s military steps or steps including the events over the last couple of days in eastern Ukraine, but I don’t have any announcements or predictions to make for all of you in terms of a next round of sanctions.

QUESTION: But can you say whether that is under discussion in response to those escalatory steps, not --

MS. PSAKI: I think I answered this a little bit before with Matt. I mean, look, I think we look at a range of steps that are taken. Certainly, what we want them, the Russians, to do is de-escalate. And when they take escalatory steps, which includes, of course, their clear involvement in the events over the last couple of days, those are all factors we look at as it relates to making decisions about putting additional sanctions in place.

QUESTION: And does it remain a State Department goal for the Russians to pull out of Crimea?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t recognize, as you know, Lucas, their illegal intervention into Crimea, and certainly that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: So you would like to see the Russians pull out their forces?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. If they could do that tomorrow, that would be great.

More on Ukraine? Ukraine or --

QUESTION: Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Egypt. Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Today you – State Department released media note regarding the terrorist designation of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The simple thing: What is the significance or the importance or the meaning or the wisdom, if I can use this word, to use this now – I mean – or to release this now? Do you have any explanation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we provide – our team does regular reviews of designations and they announce them typically when a decision is made. I know we put out an extensive media note on this. I’m not sure I have very much to add. I would point you to that. And if you have any specific questions, I can certainly connect you with our team who handles that.

QUESTION: So you want me not to ask now or --

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Go ahead? Okay. Because the reason I’m asking is that – the question I want to ask about this media note was: Do you think that this designation of this Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis help the – better understanding or the understanding or your cooperation with the Egyptian Government to combat terrorism in that region, in Sinai? One of these question is this or --

MS. PSAKI: Is it going to help with our cooperation?

QUESTION: Or help – I mean, helping more or --

MS. PSAKI: In what capacity?

QUESTION: Because it’s like – it was – this issue was raised almost – like, almost a year now, and more than a year – the presence of these terrorist entities or militias or whatever, jihadists, whatever you can call it. And the Egyptian Government was raising the issue and necessity to combat it and terrorism and even sometimes use means that it was criticized or, let’s say, by – not just by (inaudible), by international community regarding how they handle these issues and violate some of the human rights.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. And as you know and as is noted in the media note, there are a number of reasons including a recent July 2012 attack against a Sinai pipeline that have led to this designation. In terms of what it will mean, I don’t have any prediction of that. Obviously, these decisions are made for a range of reasons and based on what our team feels is necessary, and there are a range of consequences, as you know, as well.

QUESTION: The third one, maybe you have announced (inaudible) not just it’s fine that I can ask: It’s the – this issue was raised when the Secretary was on the Hill, like, three weeks ago on the House --

MS. PSAKI: During his hearings?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And it was mentioned by the members of the House Foreign Affairs Committees that in particular, the Egyptian Government – or Egyptian army, in particular, using the Apache helicopters to follow this or to combat this kind of terrorism. And it was because these Apache helicopters for a while, it’s like if they’re suspended or whatever you can call it.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How is this issue going to be reviewed on base of this media note or recognition of, designation of Ansar Bayt as a terrorist group, or --

MS. PSAKI: Apache helicopters or which piece?

QUESTION: Apache helicopters.

MS. PSAKI: They’re separate issues, and obviously, the materiels and – that we provide and sell Egypt are a separate issue. This is an issue – I think it’s pretty clearly outlined, the reasons for the designation in the media note.

QUESTION: Yeah. The reason that I’m asking, because Egyptian Government, as they said, they are using these Apache helicopters to combat this terrorist group.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Now, you are recognizing this terrorist group as a dangerous entity.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So somehow, somebody has to combat these terrorists using Apache helicopters.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of any change on our position on that issue.

QUESTION: Okay. That’s fine. Thank you.

QUESTION: To Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: This has to do with Iran, but I – and it has to do with their nominee or their proposed ambassador to the UN.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, yes.

QUESTION: And I recognize that you can’t talk about individual visa cases, so I don’t want to – but – I don’t want to ask specifically about this gentleman, but I do want to ask in general, in terms of the host country agreement --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- is it the Administration’s position that a person who – is it the Administration’s position that a person who you – who was once perhaps a threat to U.S. national security but is no more can be denied a visa under the host country agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get into that level of specificity, but I will tell you what our position is in terms of our host country obligations.

QUESTION: Well, let me refine my question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Does a person have to be a current threat to the United States to be denied a visa under the national security exemptions that are in the host country?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of exemptions, so let me just outline those a little more broadly. As you know – but worth repeating – as the host nation of the United Nations, except for limited exceptions, the United States is generally obligated under Section 11 of the United Nations Headquarters Agreement not to impede the transit to and from the UN Headquarters. And that, of course, means admitting the chosen representatives of member-states into the United Nations – into the United States, excuse me – for the purposes of representing their country at the UN.

As you also know, all visas are of course evaluated in accordance with all applicable U.S. law and procedure. But broadly speaking, among other grounds, there are – they are not exempt from inadmissibility provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act, Sections – to be specific – 212(a)(3)(A), (B), and (C) for security and related grounds. And that includes security, terrorism, and foreign policy concerns. So there are a broad range of, broadly speaking, reasons that a visa could be deemed ineligible.

QUESTION: Foreign policy concerns?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What, so if they disagreed with you on something, you could deny them a visa?

MS. PSAKI: I am not – it is not --

QUESTION: On that basis, former UN Ambassador Lavrov might not have been granted a visa to come to the United States.

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I know you know that’s not the case.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just outlining for you, broadly speaking, what the exemptions are.

QUESTION: I understand, but – and – but do they get more specific? I’m just back, so I haven’t looked at the law. Do they get more – the foreign policy --

MS. PSAKI: I would encourage you to look up those specific sections. I don’t have any other details to outline.

QUESTION: Okay. But does the person have to currently be a threat or be considered a national security concern or a foreign policy concern for them to be denied a visa? Or do past actions come into play?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any greater level of specificity on it.

QUESTION: All right. Just one more on this?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, Lucas – one, has the U.S. Government ever denied a visa for a country’s proposed ambassador to the United Nations?

MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question, Arshad. I know we were looking into it, and I believe we have an answer, so let me get back to you as soon as the briefing ends on this.

QUESTION: Okay. That would be great.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Second, is there an actual visa application that has been submitted by Mr. Aboutalebi?

MS. PSAKI: As in any case with visas, I’m not going to get into that level of specificity.

QUESTION: Okay. If it were to be – if such an application were to be turned down – in other words, the process would subsequently then be completed – would you be able to disclose the outcome of the process, or do you believe that the confidentiality of visa records prevents you from doing so?

MS. PSAKI: I believe it’s the latter, but let me check with our team and get a more concrete answer on that question.

QUESTION: And while you’re looking at the question of whether the U.S. Government has ever refused a visa, or simply not acted on a visa request by a proposed UN ambassador – by a proposed foreign government’s UN ambassador – can you also check whether the U.S. Government has ever refused a visa for a foreign head of state? I’m aware of the – I think it was in 1988 that then-PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat was denied a visa, but he was not a head of state or not treated as a head of state at the time. So I’m interested in knowing whether you’ve ever actually refused to issue such a visa for a head of state.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. We will check on the available historical information on that front.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I have another one on Iran.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: All right. The Secretary, in his testimony yesterday, was talking about – or was asked about and was talking about, the P5+1 talks in Vienna. And he talked about, at one point, Iran’s breakout capability. And this has raised some concerns among people because – the concerns are – is not the point, the whole point of the P5+1 process, to dismantle any part of Iran’s nuclear program that could be used – that could have a military application?

MS. PSAKI: There’s a range of purposes of the discussions, yes, Matt.

QUESTION: Is that – that is correct, right? I mean, what you’re going for here is the dismantlement of anything that Iran can do and it --

MS. PSAKI: Steps that would prevent them from acquiring a nuclear weapon, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. That remains the goal?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It doesn’t remain to keep them at some point where they’re only six months away from having the ability to make a weapon?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m just not going to parse it further. Obviously, these negotiations are ongoing, but --

QUESTION: It’s just – right. But I just want to make sure the goal is for them never to be able to have the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The goal is not just to keep them six months away from developing that?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just – I don’t have anything more for you on this particular question. I will check and see if there’s more.

QUESTION: A question on Blackwater? Blackwater?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There was an exceptionally harsh memorandum opinion issued yesterday by a judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in which the judge said – it essentially raised questions about the State Department’s decision to grant immunity to Blackwater contractors in the 2007 killings in Iraq.

And the judge, in addition to sort of excoriating the State Department for this decision, questioned whether the State Department had asked the Justice Department for an advisory opinion on whether it could issue – or it could grant immunity; whether the State Department, absent the permission of the attorney general, could in fact grant such immunity from criminal prosecution; and it specifically asked the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia to ask the State Department’s inspector general to investigate and report on this issue.

What is your response to the judge’s questions about the propriety of the State Department having granted immunity from criminal prosecution in the immediate aftermath of that incident to the Blackwater employees?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first I would say soon after the incident in Nisour Square, we – the Department, the State Department, moved to address concerns about the investigation into the incident immediately, including developing improved policies and procedures to investigate use of force incidents by security contractors.

Regarding the judge’s recommendation that the State Department IG should look into why the contractors were granted immunity, this issue was looked at extensively in the aftermath of the incident and addressed any improved investigative policies and procedures. And let me be a little more specific here. There has been since that time increased interagency cooperation. There’s been a standard procedure, operating procedure put in place, including forms developed in conjunction with the Department of Justice, and training on how to use these forms as it relates to contractors. These steps, as I’ve said, were taken immediately. They continue to be implemented.

As you know, this is a matter still currently in litigation, and so we’d refer you, of course, to the Department of Justice for most comments.

QUESTION: So one thing --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: First, you said “soon after” the State Department evolved new procedures, and then later you said “immediately.” Which is it? Was it --

MS. PSAKI: They seem to be synonyms, but --

QUESTION: “Soon after” and “immediately” I don’t think are necessarily synonyms. Soon after the barn door – soon after the horse ran out of the barn, I closed the barn door, right? So which was it? Was it soon after or was it immediately?

MS. PSAKI: Immediately.

QUESTION: Okay. If it was immediately, were those new procedures and the new forms designed to address the question of whether the State Department had the authority to offer immunity from criminal prosecution absent the authorization of the U.S. Justice Department which engages in such prosecutions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, given the efforts that were undertaken were to be more closely coordinated with the Department of Justice, these forms were created in cooperation with the Department of Justice, it was to address some of these concerns you express.

QUESTION: But was it to address that specific concern that the State Department should not make or purport to make grants of immunity absent the concurrence and explicit authorization of the Justice Department? I mean, I’m glad you have new forms, but if you don’t tell us what the forms say, and you don’t say what their purpose is, and if you don’t explain to us whether you’re actually addressing the specific concern that the judge raised, then you’re not explaining whether you’ve actually done anything to address this specific point.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I pretty clearly said, Arshad, that obviously, when we’re putting in place new forms that can be used with the contracting process in conjunction with the Department of Justice, that we’re addressing the concerns that have been expressed. I don’t have any other details for it – on this issue for you.

QUESTION: Can you say that that includes the immunity concerns?

MS. PSAKI: I will --

QUESTION: Because if you can’t say that, then it’s hard to say the State Department said it had addressed the immunity concerns.

MS. PSAKI: I will check with our team and the Department of Justice and see if there’s more we can specify out for you.

QUESTION: And one --

QUESTION: And can you also check --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or you can tell us now, maybe, if you’re aware, if Judge Lamberth was aware of this – of what you did immediately/soon after – I mean, did he know, or do you disagree with his rule – with his finding here?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – I’m not going to parse it further. Obviously, I would refer you to the Department of Justice for that. It’s a legal case.

QUESTION: All right. But then can you just find out, though, if the judge was aware – if you made – if either you or DOJ made Judge Lamberth aware of the changes and that – because if you have, he either thinks that they didn’t address the concerns or something else, which I don’t know, and I guess we have to ask the judge about that. But if you didn’t tell him this, then maybe he would take it back (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I would suspect that would happen through the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: Right, but --

MS. PSAKI: So I would point you to them. But I will see if there’s more we can convey.

QUESTION: One other thing on this. Regardless of whether the judge knew or didn’t know --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- if – and we don’t know if, from your comments, if the new State Department forms and procedures were indeed designed to address whether or not the State Department had the ability without reference to the Justice Department to grant immunity, then it would appear that the judge was right and you didn’t have the right to do this without Justice Department approval in the first place.

MS. PSAKI: Noted. New topic?

QUESTION: So the – well, let me ask the question in a very simple way.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. State Department believe that in 2007, it had the legal right to grant immunity to Blackwater employees in Iraq in conjunction with this incident? Do you believe you had that right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, this is an ongoing legal case. I’ve said all I can say at this point. We will circle back and see if there’s more we can add to address your question.

QUESTION: Okay. If you can try to take that one, because I think that’s the nub of the issue. You say you’ve changed your procedures. We don’t know if they address this issue, although you’re suggesting but not explicitly stating that they did. If you – if they did address the issue, the antecedent or the logical question is: Well, did you have the right to do what you did back in 2007, however wondrous your new procedures may be?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, it’s a legal case, and as you know, because you’ve been a longtime reporter, we typically don’t wax poetic on legal cases, so I’ll see if there’s more to add.

New topic?

QUESTION: But if somebody’s saying you did something wrong back in 2007, you would think you would want to say, “No, we didn’t, and here’s why.”

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to see if there’s more to add than what I’ve just conveyed.

QUESTION: Back to – thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Back to Iran’s envoy to the United Nations.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Will the State Department block his visa?

MS. PSAKI: I have nothing more to add for you, Lucas. We don’t speak to individual visa cases as a matter of policy, and so I’m not going to speculate on that.

QUESTION: Understood. And yesterday, Jay Carney said that Ambassador Aboutalebi’s nomination to be the new UN envoy is not viable. And I was wondering what exact method – if that was transmitted back to the Government of Iran.

MS. PSAKI: It certainly was. I’m not going to get into more specificity on how, though.

QUESTION: Is that just through the press?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any greater specificity.

QUESTION: And one more?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: Your counterpart in the Iranian foreign ministry --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- the spokeswoman, said that Ambassador Aboutalebi is highly qualified for this position. And I was wondering what about Ambassador Aboutalebi’s past bothers you.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any other detail in a public forum. We’ve obviously conveyed pretty clearly that this wouldn’t be a viable nomination, and I will leave it at that.

QUESTION: Would you like to see his nomination go forward?

MS. PSAKI: I think saying it’s not viable makes clear our view on that.

Go ahead, Ali.

QUESTION: Also following up on the nonviable comment, can we – is it your understanding that that is a comment that is – should be taken completely separately from the issue of a visa application or the denial of a visa application?

MS. PSAKI: Completely separately in which capacity?

QUESTION: In the sense that the – saying he’s not viable, should we take that to be an indication of what way the government would go, assuming he has submitted an application?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t take it as an indication. We obviously don’t speak to the specifics of visa cases, applications, whether we will or won’t, et cetera, but the point here is that we have sent the message very clearly that this is not a viable choice for this position.

QUESTION: And one more. Are there concrete manifestations of the belief that he’s not viable that the United States could express to the Iranians short of anything to do with a visa? Are there any other --

MS. PSAKI: You mean are there other – I’m not sure I understand your question.

QUESTION: Are there other consequences? Are there any other – what else can you do to express that you believe that he is not viable?

MS. PSAKI: I think conveying it makes it pretty clear, and our view is they understand the message we’re sending.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Iran? No more on Iran? Go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, I have one on China.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: So yesterday, Secretary Hagel wrapped up a trip in China, and he had a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart in which his Chinese counterpart said that relations between Japan and China are confronted with severe difficulties and that Japan is to blame for this. He then goes on to say that he hopes the U.S. can stay vigilant against Japan and keep it within bounds and not be permissive and supportive.

Does the State Department agree with the assessment from the Chinese defense minister that the U.S. has been permissive and supportive of Japan’s actions?

MS. PSAKI: I am certainly not going to engage that deeply in your question, other than to say that we believe good relations among China and Japan and all of their neighbors benefit everyone in the region. That’s something we’ve consistently conveyed to all parties, whether that’s the Chinese, whether that’s the Japanese. And that’s something the Secretary has done and Secretary Hagel has done as well. We regularly discuss with China and Japan and others ways to reduce tensions and build trust in the region. That will continue, and I’m certain that was a part of Secretary Hagel’s visit as well.

QUESTION: And on that note, what more could the State Department do to aid or to ease tensions between Japan and China?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we are going to continue to convey our belief that that is – that reducing the tensions is to the benefit of all parties in the region, and we’ll continue to have conversations with all countries.

QUESTION: Jen, can we come back to Iran for a moment?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Can you explain under the treaty obligations that the U.S. has for admitting diplomats who work at the UN – what are those treaty obligations? Can you spell out what the requirements are for the U.S. as a signatory?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just did, but I can repeat it again if it’s helpful.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you mind?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: One moment. So as host nation of the United Nations, except for limited exceptions, the United Nations – the United States is generally obligated under Section 11 of the United Nations Headquarters Agreement not to impede the transit to and from the UN Headquarters District, the UN Headquarters among – and – sorry, this is written in a weird way – District of, among others, representatives of UN member states, meaning that we generally obligated to admit the chosen representatives of member states into the United States for the purposes of representing their country at the UN. I mentioned some specific exemptions for that matter broadly speaking.

QUESTION: Now, obviously, this treaty was reached long before the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA, the background checks, the secret lists, no-fly lists, and that sort of thing.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there anything that precludes these U.S. agencies from putting someone on a no-fly list, a no-admit list, absent the fact that the U.S. may or may not have issued a visa to this person?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that would be under the purview of DHS. I would point you to them. I don’t have any other further details on that.

QUESTION: Is that perhaps one way that the U.S. would be able to indicate its displeasure with having this gentleman to go there?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that. I’m not going to speculate on that.

QUESTION: In addition to saying he’s not viable, don’t you have anything more from that podium to suggest why you don’t want him to be the new envoy? What troubles you about his past?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m just – I’m not going to go into further details from here.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. ever objected before to any state’s potential representative to the United Nations? And if so, when?

MS. PSAKI: Arshad asked the same question, and I will see what historical information we have available for all of you.

QUESTION: Do you think that this is an outlier?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that. We’ll see if there’s specific information historically we can provide.

Iran, or another topic?

QUESTION: No, a different topic.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: On Taiwan, President Ma this morning said that the U.S. should include Taiwan in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. What’s the Administration’s position on that request?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we welcome Taiwan’s interest in TPP, noting its ongoing domestic work to assess its readiness to take on TPP’s ambitious commitments. TPP is open to regional economies that can demonstrate this readiness and win consensus support of the current TPP members for them to join. Right now, the 12 TPP members are focused on concluding the negotiations to create the TPP. In the near term, the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement provides an opportunity for Taiwan to resolve existing U.S. trade and investment concerns, demonstrate its preparations to take on new trade commitments, and set itself on a path of new liberalization of its economic regime.

Scott.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the South Sudan question --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Yes, we can.

QUESTION: -- that I had on Monday and the Secretary’s meetings tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.

QUESTION: And the sanctions issue there?

MS. PSAKI: We certainly can. So as you noted yesterday, tomorrow, Secretary Kerry will meet with Awan Riak, the minister in the office of the president of the Republic of South Sudan, to discuss the urgent need to end the conflict in South Sudan. Secretary Kerry will emphasize the importance of ending the fighting, implementing the cessation of hostilities agreement, resolving outstanding issues through an inclusive national dialogue, ensuring humanitarian and UN access, and putting a stop to human rights abuses during this meeting. And we will venture to also have a readout, of course, following the meeting.

To answer your other question, no individuals or entities have yet been sanctioned under the new authority signed by President Obama last week. As you know, that provides us the framework in order to make those decisions, and we now have the tools to do so. But no decisions have been made yet.

QUESTION: So is there currently some review about who might be eligible for those sanctions? Or is that simply an authority that you’re holding in reserve?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t, of course, speculate or comment on that, but obviously we will look to use this broad and flexible authority as appropriate. And as was noted in the announcement last week, this is applicable to those that obstruct the peace and reconciliation process in South Sudan, as well as against those responsible for violence against civilians, human rights abuses, and the obstruction of humanitarian operations. So, as is applicable and necessary, those discussions will certainly happen internally.

QUESTION: Both Mr. Riak, who was at a think tank this morning, as well as another government minister have objected quite strongly to the President’s decision to issue this executive order. And Mr. Riak said, and I’m paraphrasing: Essentially what we in South Sudan need it not punishment but more U.S. help. Is the U.S. taking seriously the South Sudanese objections? Or is the fact that this executive order was issued a sign of deep displeasure with a government which the U.S. put a lot of time and lot of money and a lot of prestige, frankly, into trying to stand up back in 2011?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, as you know and as was noted last week, this was prompted by certainly the ongoing crisis and the failure to abide by the cessation of hostilities. And they have the power to abide by that cessation, and we certainly do have concerns, deep concerns about what’s happening on the ground. And this was an expression of that.

QUESTION: Is it too much to suggest that the South Sudanese Government of President Kiir is perhaps being self-serving by saying that the U.S. has crossed a line by taking this action?

MS. PSAKI: I am not going to speculate on that. Obviously, this was a step that the President of the United States, the Secretary, a broad scope of officials in the government felt was necessary, and that’s why it was taken.

QUESTION: But you do take the point that given that there is the ongoing IGAD process to try to resolve the civil war – let’s call it what it is – that to invoke the threat of sanctions is a pretty serious step for this government to put on the table and to do so in such a public and legal fashion?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, it provides us the tools and the framework to take those steps. Obviously, we haven’t taken that step at this point. What’s going on on the ground is very serious. It was – it’s a response to what’s happening. Obviously, the Secretary himself will have a meeting tomorrow where he’ll convey these points as well.

Go ahead, Scott.

QUESTION: Could I go to Montenegro?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Prime Minister was here this week. I believe he met with Toria and Bill Burns, and – as well as the Vice President. Do you have a readout on any of those meetings?

MS. PSAKI: The Vice President’s office put out an extensive readout I’m happy to send over to you. We didn’t have anything in addition to add. If I remember, consecutively, I think our meetings here were before that meeting. So --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: A very short one on Sudan.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the decision of Khartoum to expel an American country chief of a UN agency? They have accused her of interfering into domestic affairs. Do you have the reasons of this incident?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen those reports, and I believe it was an AFP report. When I came down here, we didn’t have any independent confirmation of that from the ground. So let me circle back with our team and see if there’s anything new, if there’s any confirmation from our end. I suspect we may have a comment on it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: New topic. It’s about international conference – NPDI, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative. It’s going to be held in Hiroshima in this weekend.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And you said that the under secretary is going to attend --

MS. PSAKI: Under Secretary --

QUESTION: Under Secretary Gottemoeller.

MS. PSAKI: -- Gottemoeller? Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Gottemoeller. Do you have some readout or could you tell me why --

MS. PSAKI: An announcement?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen a media note come across. It may have. So let me talk to her team and see if they’re going to – I’m sure they will put out more detailed plans for her travel.

QUESTION: Is it a first time to attend for the United States?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check on that question too, as well.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Great. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’ve got one more on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You mentioned that the United States is biggest donor in terms of helping the Syrian refugees, and we are aware of funds that have been allocated to Turkey, Jordan, and other countries for helping the refugees. However, as far as I’m informed, there has been no assistance, government assistance, from Washington to Armenia. And the number of Syrian Christian refugees in Armenia has close to 12,000 I believe one month ago. So could you please comment on this, why there is no official support – financial material support from Washington to Armenia?

MS. PSAKI: Let me check on the details of that. I don’t have that in front of me, but I’m happy to talk to our Syria team about that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I need to get – Cuba --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- and this whole Cuba Twitter thing, which was been discussed on the Hill over the course of the past couple days. Last week, I believe it was on Friday, Marie said that the messages that were sent on this – that none of the messages that were sent via this – I don’t know what even you call it – scheme --

MS. PSAKI: ZunZuneo?

QUESTION: Yes. No, I know that’s the name of it. I’m trying to figure out – this initiative – none of the messages that were sent by – text messages that were sent on these cell phones were political in nature, at least overtly political in nature. Over the course of the past couple days, there have been – some of my colleagues have found messages that were in fact political in nature, or at least involved political satire, and have discovered that a political satirist, a Cuban expat, was in fact hired maybe by the contractors, but as paid for by this. Are you able to say again that there was no political content involved here? Or are you now, on further review, toning that denial down?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, as Marie noted last week, the intention of the ZunZuneo program was to create a platform for Cubans to speak freely among themselves. If the intent went beyond this, that would certainly be troubling to us, and USAID is looking into that as we speak. But it is worth noting that we’re talking about reported text messages from five years ago. We – for – about a program that ended in 2012, and there are some – there’s some uncertainty about whether the timing of these text messages – whether they were drafts or actually released, whether they were linked to the program or not. So those are all questions that USAID is looking into as we speak.

QUESTION: Okay. And we will get – presumably when they discover – when they find out those answers, the answers will be made public, they’re not going to be kept secret?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, certainly.

QUESTION: Okay. And I think that the understanding that the idea was to get Cubans to talk amongst themselves here. The question is whether these messages that were political had something to do with politics or were political satire. Not – the question is not whether – if they originated from within – amongst Cubans using the system, but if they originated with the people who were --

MS. PSAKI: I understand --

QUESTION: -- contracted by USAID.

MS. PSAKI: I understand your question. I understand your --

QUESTION: I mean, one Cuban saying to another that Fidel looks like he died 10 years ago is a lot different than if the U.S. Government was paying someone who then inserted this into the system.

MS. PSAKI: I understand your question. What is unclear is whether they were drafts, what the timing was, whether they were linked to the program or not, and so that’s what they’re looking into now.

QUESTION: Well, I – but the bottom line is that last week, when Marie said definitively that there were no political messages, no overtly political messages sent out on this thing, you’re not sure that that’s correct now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that was --

QUESTION: You’re saying that if there were --

MS. PSAKI: That would be troubling.

QUESTION: -- that would be troubling.

MS. PSAKI: That was the information that was available at the time, and again --

QUESTION: I’m not saying --

MS. PSAKI: No, no, I’m just conveying that was the information that was available. This is a program that, again – and we’re talking about text messages that were from five years ago – it’s challenging to get to the bottom of the details.

QUESTION: Right. No, I understand that. So if they were in fact – and I realize this is a hypothetical, but if in fact it is discovered that there were political messages, that would be troubling you because that would be – would have been inappropriate? Why would it be troubling?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, there were specific purposes of this specific program, and that was to provide a platform for Cubans to speak freely among themselves. Obviously, we’ve conveyed what the program was and wasn’t, but we’re looking into the facts and we’ll make them available as we know them.

QUESTION: Well, I guess I’m just – what I’m wondering is why it would be troubling if in fact there were – there had been – what is the reason that it would be troubling? Because that was not the point of the program, or because – because why?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that wasn’t the purpose of this particular program, and it was to provide a platform for the Cubans themselves. And obviously, we’re looking into the details and we’ll make those available.

QUESTION: Well, so if contractors for USAID inserted messages or sent messages on this system that were political and would be troubling to you, they were acting on their own, they were rogue elements here?

MS. PSAKI: I think we have to look into what the specific details were. These were obviously – the reported text messages were from contractors, I believe. We don’t have the details at this point on the timing, so let us venture to get more and we’ll be able to better answer those questions.

QUESTION: Jen, can you please restate why it was appropriate for an agency that is known for food, water, emergency health care, emergency shelter should be in the business of providing communication platforms? Isn’t that something that’s more appropriate for the private sector?

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of programs around the world that enable people to freely communicate when that’s not an option, and that’s a tool the United States certainly supports. So I don’t think it’s out of the norm at all.

QUESTION: So just to clarify, I mean, it’s – so there is some kind of reviewing going on now to evaluate what was done?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t overstate it. Again, I think there are – these are reported text messages, a handful of them from five years ago, and there’s a question of timing and whether they were linked to the program or not, and we’re just venturing to get --

QUESTION: Because a few days --

MS. PSAKI: -- to the bottom of the facts.

QUESTION: The reason I’m asking: Few days ago, after this question was raised, some officials at AID program was saying that – I’m – I don’t know, if I’m wrong, correct me – it said that we are proud of what we did.

MS. PSAKI: That hasn’t changed. But obviously, we’re talking about a handful of reported text messages, and we just want to get to the bottom of the facts, and we’ll make those available as we know it.

QUESTION: I’m not going to belabor the (inaudible) --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Why is the timing – I don’t understand why --

MS. PSAKI: As to whether it was linked to this program or not or whether it was related to something else.

QUESTION: Well, how would they be – I don’t know how it could’ve been related to something else if the --

MS. PSAKI: There’s a question of the timing, if the program had even started or not. So we’re looking into all of that.

QUESTION: So – well, how could they be sent – I don’t get it. If you’re talking about – you say – as you said, they’re talking about text messages from five years ago.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You’re saying that the program didn’t exist five years ago?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t want to speculate too much because we’re looking to get to the bottom of the facts here, Matt, but --

QUESTION: Or that the program had ended before --

MS. PSAKI: The program ended in 2012.

QUESTION: Right, which is not five years ago, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. But these text messages, I believe, are from about five years ago, these reported text messages.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But you’re not – you’re saying you’re not certain that they were sent or they were drafted for this program?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Great. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:33 p.m.)

DPB # 62


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: April 7, 2014

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 17:57

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 7, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing
  • EGYPT
    • Court Ruling on Three Activists
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Secretary Kerry's Conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov
  • RUSSIA/UKRAINE
    • U.S. Concerned about Russia's Escalatory Steps / U.S. Monitoring Situation Closely
    • Agenda for Meetings between Russia, Ukraine, European Union, and U.S.
  • RUSSIA/SYRIA
    • Secretary Kerry's Conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov on Syria's Chemical Weapons
  • RUSSIA/UKRAINE
    • Constitutional Reform in Ukraine Underway
    • Substantive Impact of Sanctions on Russia's Economy
  • SYRIA
    • Geneva Conference on Hiatus
    • U.S. Concerned about Extremists
    • Syrian Opposition Coalition General Assembly to Convene in Turkey
    • U.S. Aware of Reports of Chemical Weapon Use
    • U.S. Condemns Violent Attacks on Christian Communities
  • MEPP
    • Continuation of Discussions between the Parties
    • Special Envoy/ Ambassador Indyk Plans to Stay in the Region
    • U.S. Focused on Moving the Process Forward
    • No Travel Announcements for Secretary Kerry in the Region
  • TURKEY
    • Local Elections
    • Twitter Unblocked
  • IRAN
    • Reports of Business Licenses for American Companies
    • Updates on P5+1
  • CYPRUS
    • Deputy Secretary Burns' Meetings on Cyprus Settlement Efforts
  • SOUTH SUDAN
    • Sanctions
  • INDIA
    • India Nuclear Policy
    • NYPD Officer Arrest
  • CUBA
    • USAID Program
  • INDIA
    • U.S. Diplomats Meet with a Range of Officials
  • NIGERIA
    • Reports of Nigerian Military and Boko Haram
  • EGYPT
    • U.S. Watching Al Jazeera Trial Closely / U.S. Calls to Release Journalists
  • JAPAN/ROK
    • Trilateral Meetings


TRANSCRIPT:

1:43 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Welcome.

MS. PSAKI: I feel like I’ve been gone for ages. (Laughter.) I’m sure your colleagues who were on the trip feel that way as well.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Oh, how nice of you, Arshad. Two things for all of you at the top. The United States is deeply troubled by the decision today of an Egyptian court to uphold an on-appeal three-year prison sentences and substantial fines for Mohamed Adel, Ahmed Douma, and Ahmed Maher – three peaceful, pro-democracy activists. Their continued imprisonment under a law that severely restricts the universal right to peaceful assembly and expression runs counter the Egyptian Government’s commitment to fostering an open electoral environment and a transition process that protects the universal rights of all Egyptians. We urge the Egyptian Government to exercise its constitutional authority to commute these excessive sentences, which are not in line with the rights guaranteed in Egypt’s new constitution, Egypt’s international obligations, or the government’s own commitment not to return to Mubarak-era practices.

Also this morning the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov. This was in part the reason for my delay; I wanted to make sure I had the details for all of you. He conveyed to Foreign Minister Lavrov that the United States is watching events over the last 24 hours in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Mariupol with great concern, and noted that these do not appear to be a spontaneous set of events. Rather, the Secretary noted the Ukrainian Government’s assertion that this appeared to be a carefully orchestrated campaign with Russian support. He noted in particular the recent arrests of Russian intelligence operatives working in Ukraine. He noted that Ukrainian Government leaders are en route to all these cities today to try to negotiate evacuation of government buildings and a de-escalation of tensions. He called on Russia to publicly disavow the activities of separatists, saboteurs, and provocateurs, calling for de-escalation and dialogue, and called on all parties to refrain from agitation in Ukraine.

He made clear that any further Russian efforts to destabilize Ukraine will incur further costs for Russia, and the ministers all discussed convening direct talks within the next 10 days between Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the EU to try to de-escalate the tensions. Discussion about the right timing and agenda for that meeting will, of course, continue.

QUESTION: He called for that, or he actually announced that that’s going to happen within the next 10 days?

MS. PSAKI: They discussed that on the call, so the details and agenda will be discussed in --

QUESTION: So it’s going to happen or are they just talking about it?

QUESTION: So can we talk about the further efforts --

QUESTION: Just so we can be clear: It’s going to happen, or they just talked about the possibility that it might happen?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, it’s going to happen in the next 10 days.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: The details and the agenda will be worked out in the coming days.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Lara.

QUESTION: Okay. So he warned Lavrov that any further efforts to destabilize would incur further costs. Could you break down how you are defining destabilize these days? I believe that President Obama a couple of weeks ago said specifically that incursion into Ukraine by Russian troops is what would trigger further costs. But now we’re talking about these coordinated efforts in eastern Ukraine, troops on the border. So are these the type of things that would incur further costs, including sanctions? Or are we still sticking to it would require troops coming in?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s never been as black and white as you laid it out. Obviously, the Administration – including the President, Secretary Kerry, and senior officials – are evaluating day by day what steps – escalatory steps is really the broad definition – would prompt responsive actions. So you’re right, yes, there are some steps taken to date in response to the illegal actions Russia’s taken in Crimea. Obviously, the steps over the last 24-48 hours are incredibly concerning to the United States, and we’ll be looking closely at those as well.

QUESTION: But you’re at this point – if some of these riots in eastern Ukraine continue, are these the type of things that would incur further sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any sanctions to announce, but I can convey to you that these are certainly escalatory steps. So we look at these steps and we take a look at these steps and discuss what steps we need to take.

QUESTION: Just to put a finer point on it, you said that the Secretary noted the comments of the Ukrainian Government about what Russia was doing to destabilize. Are you saying that because you – these do not appear to be spontaneous events, that Russia is, in fact, taking steps to foment this type of separatist activity?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there are – these groups – these individuals who went into these different areas were, of course, pro-Russia separatists. There’s strong evidence suggesting that some of them were paid and were not local residents. So all of that is – has raised significant concerns for us as well. But certainly, given this is in Ukraine, that’s why he noted the comments made by the Government of Ukraine.

QUESTION: What about reports that Russian troops are now moving into kind of – we thought maybe they had been repositioning, but now they do seem to be lining up against part of the eastern Ukraine border, and that this kind of fits into Putin’s playbook in terms of you see all this activity by pro-Russian separatists that are claiming persecution by Ukraine, that this would be an instance where he would go in to protect them?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously we’re watching this very closely. And the Government of Ukraine has made comments to your point, which you may be referring to, about how this follows a similar pattern that we’ve seen in the past. And clearly, Russian forces – if Russian forces move into eastern Ukraine either overtly or covertly, this would be a very serious escalation. I don’t have anything to confirm for all of you in terms of movements or numbers. We still are in the same place of tens of thousands. But this is something, of course, we’re watching closely, and additional intervention would result in additional costs.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, overt or covert movement would be escalatory is what you said?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So what we’re seeing now is, in the view of the Administration, already in that phase of escalatory steps, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly the fact that we see pro-Russian separatists taking these actions in a range of cities over the weekend – that is, of course, concerning. In terms of the connection to troops and troop movements, I don’t have anything – any independent confirmation of what that will mean. But certainly we’re concerned about these steps.

QUESTION: When you say that the – some of these pro-Russian separatists indications that they were paid and not local – are you insinuating that they crossed the border from Russia? Are they in fact Russian, or have they been paid by Russia? I mean, can you put a finer --

MS. PSAKI: Look, I don’t have that level of detail, but let me share with you one anecdote that I think has been in Ukrainian media but is still relevant. Some of these officials, separatists, armed separatists went and claimed they were taking over the mayor’s building, and it was actually the opera house. So clearly when you don’t know which one the mayor’s building is, you’re probably not a local. But obviously, this is something we’re watching closely, and we’ve seen patterns in the past.

QUESTION: Leaving aside insinuations, do you have any evidence to suggest that the events that you say do not appear to be spontaneous have been brought about by Russian citizens?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details than what I’ve shared with you, Arshad. Obviously, this has just happened over the course of the last 24 hours. But clearly, we’ve seen a pattern over the last couple of months. These were pro-Russian separatists. We’ve expressed our concern directly, the Secretary has, and we’ll continue to monitor it closely.

QUESTION: And so we’re clear: The reference to additional consequences – is that meant to refer to all kinds of consequences, or solely or predominantly economic consequences?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know – and our position hasn’t changed, so thank you for your question on – our approach is focused on political and economic approaches, whether that’s boosting the Government of Ukraine or putting in place strong economic sanctions. So that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: It’s not meant to suggest military consequences?

MS. PSAKI: It’s not meant to, no.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I had a quick --

MS. PSAKI: Said.

QUESTION: -- follow-up. So you are relying on the Ukrainian Government in terms of what is going on, or do you have any independent sources?

MS. PSAKI: Well, of course we remain very closely in touch with the Ukrainian Government, and that’s who we work closely with, and of course, they are on the ground, so their information is often very relevant and current.

QUESTION: Okay, so when the Secretary talks to Mr. Lavrov --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- does he tell him one, two, three, four, or does Mr. Lavrov in return say, look, the situation is not like this; this is what we have, this is not true, these are Russian – Ukrainian citizens and so on?

MS. PSAKI: Said, he told him exactly what I just conveyed to all of you, and you can certainly reach out to the Russians for any readout from their end.

Margaret?

QUESTION: I have a question about the talks you referenced happening in the next 10 days. Is that just going to be a bilateral U.S.-Russian meeting? Will the Ukrainians participate in that at all? Do you know?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, they would. They would be a part of it as well.

QUESTION: So it’s U.S.-Russia-Ukraine in that?

MS. PSAKI: And EU.

QUESTION: And EU.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And what is the purpose or the intent? I mean, obviously de-escalation more broadly, but there had been the feeling that there was some diplomatic momentum. I mean, they just met face to face, Lavrov and Kerry, a few days ago. These kinds of actions on the ground seem to contradict that. This window of diplomacy is still wide open?

MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that premise. I think clearly, when we have concerns about actions we express them. And we’ve taken very strong steps in response, as you’ve seen in the range of sanctions that we’ve taken in coordination with the international community. At the same time, we’ve consistently said that there’s always an off ramp, that we’re looking for a diplomatic approach, that Russia and Ukraine need to sit at the same table and discuss all of the myriad of issues that they’ve all raised. And so that would be the purpose of this, and we have a responsibility to continue to pursue that diplomatic path even when there are concerning steps that have been taken.

QUESTION: But the agreement to talk is not in and of itself an off ramp? The hope is that in the course of these meetings the Russians will change course?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. An off ramp requires specific actions by the Russians. It’s not just talking. But certainly talking with the Ukrainians as a part of mechanism of doing that would be a step that we think could be useful.

QUESTION: So if the Ukrainians are going to be there, can we assume that constitutional reform is going to be a large part of that conversation?

MS. PSAKI: They’re still working through, obviously, the agenda. I mean, it’s important to note that constitutional reform has been underway. It’s been something that the Ukrainians have strongly supported and they’ve been moving forward on. So – but I don’t to get too ahead of the process in terms of what will specifically be on the agenda, and we can keep talking about it day by day leading up to the meeting.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm?

QUESTION: Last week there were reports that the Russians pulled back a division. This information turned out to be wrong in terms of deescalation?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, we saw those reports, too. I don’t have any update on you for that – on that for you. Sorry, that was a tongue-twister. Do we have more on Ukraine? Ukraine?

QUESTION: No. Secretary Kerry – did Secretary Kerry talk to Minister Lavrov about Syria, about Geneva III this time?

MS. PSAKI: This meeting – this phone call, I should say, was really focused on Ukraine. But he – when he met with him last Monday – that was only a week ago – they did talk about Syria and did talk about the need to continue to move forward with the removal of chemical weapons, and the Secretary expressed his ongoing concerns about the brutality of the Assad regime. So they talked about that just a week ago.

QUESTION: And --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Sorry. The opposition is – the Syrian opposition is --

MS. PSAKI: Can we just finish Ukraine and then we can go to you on Syria next? Do we have any Ukraine? Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify one last thing.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I’m sure you said this, but just all four parties to this four-way talk have agreed to do this? This – correct?

MS. PSAKI: Let me check on that for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, it’s something that the Secretary has spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov about it. I’m fairly certain he’s spoken with the Ukrainians about it. We’ve been communicating with them constantly. But in terms of whether all are confirmed, let me check on that and just make sure.

QUESTION: And Lavrov – the Russians will be there for sure?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you feel that the Russians --

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more --

QUESTION: It’s on Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: One moment, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine, in the back? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. First of all, my name is Barbara Plett Usher. I’m just introducing myself because I haven’t been here before.

MS. PSAKI: Hi Barbara.

QUESTION: And I’m filling in for Kim Ghattas.

MS. PSAKI: Welcome. I like the red blazer.

QUESTION: Oh, thank you. There have been some reported comments from the Russian foreign ministry in response to the activity of the past 24 hours, quoting Lavrov that the need is for federalization and that Ukraine needs international assistance to help carry out such constitutional reform. Does that reinforce your concerns about this being a harbinger of Russian intervention?

MS. PSAKI: Well, federalization is an issue that Foreign Minister Lavrov has consistently raised, whether it’s publicly or privately, so it’s not a new issue.

QUESTION: No, the international assistance for carrying out constitutional – that’s – I mean, that’s what he said just a few hours ago that to carry out this constitutional reform Ukraine would need international assistance, which then makes one wonder what sort of assistance the Russians have in mind.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I’m not sure actually what that means. The constitutional reform process has been underway and the Ukrainian Government has been very supportive of it and they’ve been implementing it. So I’m not sure. I’d probably need a little more clarification on what they were referring to. In terms of their claims or their calls for federalization, this is an issue where we feel the Ukrainian Government, the legitimate Government of Ukraine needs to be at the table to discuss any issues, whether it’s autonomy or any way – any ways that the country would be governed moving forward. But I don’t have any clarity on what they mean by international assistance, so I can check with our team and see if they’ve heard that as well.

QUESTION: Do you feel that Mr. Lavrov seems to be receptive to all the meetings, but on the other hand Russia seems to be consolidating its position? Do you see like a duplicity there in their actions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, look – obviously, there are steps that Russia has taken that have raised significant concerns, which is why we have taken our own responsive steps to their actions. So that hasn’t changed on our part either. But you can have processes happening at the same time, and that’s what we’re talking about here.

QUESTION: Just my point is the following: He goes to all of these meetings, he will go to this four-party meeting and so on, and in the meantime, the Russians seem to be consolidating their position. What is hoped to achieve through these meetings?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I mean, obviously, we’d like to see an end to this conflict, and we’ve put in place a range of sanctions. At the same time, while we’ve been having these conversations, those have had a significant impact, the World Bank has warned that Russia’s economy could shrink by 1.8 percent this year even without additional economic sanctions. The Russian currency has experienced sharp volatility between March 3rd and April 7th. The Central Bank of Russia spent $25.8 billion to prop up the ruble. All of these are specific impacts that we’re seeing in the Russian economy. And whether – regardless of what they say, there’s no question that that’s having a substantive impact.

Do we have more on Ukraine or --

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I just follow up on that?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: We also saw reports over the weekend that some in key sectors of the Russian economy have taken steps to insulate themselves from transactions in foreign currencies like dollars and euros. But are you taking that as a sign that they’re somehow, like, hunkering down for a further round of sanctions that could be triggered by military action?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure why they’ve taken those specific steps and I don’t even have any confirmation of that. Obviously, we’ve been very clear that if they continue to take escalatory steps, then we are open to taking additional sanctions steps. And the executive order the President signed gives us broad authority and flexibility to sanction industries. And so again, I can’t calculate for you why they’re taking certain steps, but we haven’t made a secret about our willingness to take additional steps if they do.

More on Ukraine or Syria? You want to go to Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Syrian opposition has received confirmations that Geneva III will be convening soon. Do you have anything on this?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what that would be referring to. Obviously, we’re in – remain in close touch with the opposition. Our new envoy, of course, was meeting with them over the course of the last two weeks. I think he’s back in Washington. We’re in close touch with the opposition. We’re in close touch with Joint Special Representative Brahimi, and of course, our European and international counterparts. But again, the Geneva conference has been on hiatus. I’ve not heard anything to indicate that that has changed.

QUESTION: And how do you think Geneva III will be different than Geneva II if it would be held soon?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, the purpose of this process, I should say, has been to convene the opposition and the regime to have a discussion about creating a transitional governing body. But again, I haven’t heard reports or details of what you’re referring to.

QUESTION: What are you doing in terms of certain opposition groups that you may be working with to counterbalance, apparently, the spread of extremism and so on, to the point where Russian President Putin said today that those who are trained in Syria can find their way to Russia? And he is expressing concerns that many of your allies are --

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: -- taking arms and --

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen his specific comments, Said, but I will say that we’ve expressed the same concerns about the growth of extremism. We’ve – that’s why we’ve taken several steps to make sure assistance is provided through the moderate opposition. So we also have concerns about the growth of extremists, and that’s something that the Secretary speaks about regularly with his allies around the world.

I will note – and I can’t imagine this is what you’re referring to, but just to be clear, the SOC General Assembly is going to be taking place in Turkey soon. I’m not sure if that’s --

QUESTION: It will be done today at the meeting.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, okay. So I don’t know if that would be confused with that, but again, as Joint Special Representative Brahimi has said, they had to go on hiatus because of a lack of progress, a lack of opening to moving things forward on the decided agenda. So there’s no news that I’ve heard to reconvene at this moment.

QUESTION: So Jen, would you say that Mr. Jarba remains your primary interlocutor?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of officials, Said, that we rely on as interlocutors, and obviously, when our new special envoy was there, he met with a range of officials as well, so --

QUESTION: Okay. Because there are reports that what they call the internal opposition, like Abdul Azim and others and so on, in the capital city of Damascus, that they are completely – you are not in touch with them in any capacity. Could you confirm or – that you are or you’re not?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think the fact that our new special envoy was just on the ground in Turkey meeting with a range of officials from the opposition speaks to that.

Do we have more on Syria?

QUESTION: Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Today in Israeli press, there were reports that there were two chemical weapon attacks in – around Damascus, in Harasta and eastern Ghouta. That happened two weeks ago. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve certainly seen those reports. We’re not in a position to confirm or corroborate those reports, and we take every allegation or report seriously, and we’ll certainly look into it.

QUESTION: I’m just curious, if these allegations were to be true, was the redline or is the redline still there? I mean, would this trigger any kind of military --

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I’m not going to speculate on that, because we don’t have any information to corroborate the reports.

QUESTION: Today, or yesterday, there was an article written by Seymour Hersh, and one of the main allegations in the piece that Turkey – Turkish intelligence was behind of the 21st August of chemical attacks in Damascus. Do you have any comment on that? White House already denied that.

MS. PSAKI: I know they did, and I would just echo what they said. We stand by our own reports, our own intel gathering, the view of the international community that was widespread that this is – there’s no question that this was – these attacks last August 21st were done by the Syrian regime.

QUESTION: Israeli-Palestinian?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: One more on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Any reaction to the assassination of Father Francis Van Der Lugt in Homs today?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I do have that. One moment. We are saddened by the news that Father Francis Van Der Lugt has been killed by a gunman in Homs. We condemn this violent attack and all attacks against innocent civilians and minority communities. As we have said throughout this conflict, we deplore continued threats against Christians in Syria, and we reiterate that we stand on the side of the Syrian people, who are fighting for a Syria that is inclusive and pluralistic and respects all faiths. We commend Father Van Der Lugt for his support of the Syrian people and the Christian community throughout his life, and especially in the past three years of conflict. And for example, he repeatedly advocated for the people of Homs when they were being starved by the regime, and worked to mitigate the immense suffering in the city.

Middle East peace?

QUESTION: Yeah. So this morning in your statement you said that last night’s three-way meeting was serious and constructive.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How so?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to outline it further, but that was the evaluation of the parties and by our facilitators who participated in the meeting. They also agreed to reconvene today. So they’ll be reconvening today to continue this effort and these discussions.

QUESTION: Has that happened yet, the reconvening?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check with our team. Obviously, there’s a time change issue, so I would suspect it’s happening soon, if not already.

QUESTION: And that will be Ambassador Indyk, plus the lead negotiator Tzipi Livni and Erekat?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are there now any plans for Ambassador Indyk to return to the United States for consultations or to do briefings?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we have discussions. The Secretary has discussions with Ambassador Indyk and with the parties every single day and evaluates what is most useful and productive. At this point, he’ll still be in the region and we’ll make a decision day by day.

QUESTION: And are you giving any thought – this is something that came up last week – to mitigating the potential negative consequences of a collapse in the talks? When you’re reevaluating, as the Secretary said on Friday --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- are you looking at what you could, would, should perhaps do if your reevaluation comes to the conclusion that this is not a fruitful course to pursue?

MS. PSAKI: In what capacity do you mean?

QUESTION: Well, there are a lot of potential negative costs from a collapse in the negotiations, right? I mean, 2014 is real different from 2000, but there was a significant eruption of violence. The main negotiating partner is the Palestinian Authority, which really only controls to some degree the West Bank, but not Gaza. So there are potential negative consequences if Hamas decides to up its rocket attacks or other things. There – it would strike me that if you’re reevaluating, you’re probably thinking about what you can do to try to tamp down the effects of a collapse. But perhaps you’re not, which is why I’m asking the question.

MS. PSAKI: Well, our focus at this point, Arshad, is really on evaluating where we are and where we might go and what’s possible in that capacity. So of course, as we’ve said many times, it’s up to the parties and they need to determine whether they’re going to take steps that will allow this process to continue, so that’s really the focus of our discussions.

QUESTION: So you’re not at a point where looking at negative consequences to their collapse is something that’s high on your agenda?

MS. PSAKI: We’re focused on determining whether these – the process can move forward.

QUESTION: Are you convinced that the parties are not just kind of running out the clock and allowing – committing to talking through the end of the month, through the deadline, but not really engaging meaningfully to make progress? I mean, there have been some comments by officials on both sides saying, well, we’ve committed to the end of the month, but after that we’re free to do whatever we want.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So I mean, is – are you still at the point where you think you might be able to get some kind of extension or some kind of, if not framework agreement, then some agreement which can keep this going, or are they just kind of humoring you at this point?

MS. PSAKI: Look, the talks are ongoing. The parties have indicated themselves – the negotiators, I should say, have indicated themselves that they want them to continue. Obviously, that needs to be an agreement that the parties make, and we can’t make those decisions for them. So – because I would point you to the public statements of a number of the actual negotiators. There are certainly people on both sides who don’t support a peace effort and have never supported a peace effort. But those who have been closely engaged have not indicated to us that they want to end this process or end the negotiation, and they’ve spent several hours together over the past several days, so that’s an indication of their seriousness.

QUESTION: Jen, those who are negotiating with one another are basically at each other’s throats. I mean, Livni and Saeb Erekat are calling each other names and so on and threatening each other. So – and in fact, in response to your statement today, the Palestinians denied that it was constructive and – or serious, as you said, because it seemed that everybody was sort of entrenched in their own position.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, these are tough issues and there are tough decisions that need to be made. And again, it’s up to the parties to decide whether they want to make them. So obviously, our view is that there are many positive benefits of moving forward, continuing to move forward on a peace process, and we’re pursuing that now. But it’s going to be up to the parties to take the steps that are necessary.

QUESTION: So would you say that we are getting to a point where you’re going to say we are – we cannot want it more than the parties do. Are we at that point yet?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I would point you to what the Secretary said on Friday. We have a big agenda, whether that’s addressing the events in Ukraine, or the ongoing process with Iran and the P5+1, or the crisis in Syria, and I could go on and on. And certainly, we see incredible benefits of a positive outcome of a peace process, but the parties have to want to pursue that. They have to want to take the necessary steps and that’s what we’re discussing with them now.

QUESTION: And my last question: Tomorrow, the Israel foreign minister Mr. Lieberman will be in town visiting. Do you expect, like, a Palestinian counterpart to come also and meet with you anytime soon?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Foreign Minister Lieberman is the Secretary’s counterpart, as you know. So he’ll be here tomorrow, as you mentioned. I don’t have any meetings with the Palestinians to announce for you at this point.

Any – oh. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary discussed the peace process with the President since he came back?

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary is still in Boston, so he has been certainly in touch with the White House over the weekend and has been working closely, as we have at every point in this process. But he’s been in Boston since we ended the trip on Friday.

QUESTION: Is he planning to go back to the region, or he’s done?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any plans to announce for you at this point. We’ll certainly evaluate day by day.

QUESTION: Can we go back to that question? You said he’s been in touch with the White House, but has he talked to the President about this?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to confirm details of who he’s talked to. I can just convey that he’s communicated with the national security team, and there’s a range of officials involved in that, and I expect that will continue and has been the case for months through the course of this process.

QUESTION: Someone --

QUESTION: We’re still looking at an April 29th deadline for this process, correct?

MS. PSAKI: That hasn’t changed. Obviously, we’re discussing with the parties what’s possible at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. And you saw --

QUESTION: Possible about – sorry. Possible about an extension, you mean?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s been part of the discussion, but obviously there are a range of issues that are being discussed now, so --

QUESTION: And you saw the news out of Ramallah today, I’m sure, with one of the negotiators saying that he was preparing more steps – signing more treaties toward statehood?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How does the U.S. square those actions against the negotiator saying that they want to continue these talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, both parties have taken unhelpful steps. There’s no question about that. And there are a range of politics that are at play here as well. But both parties have also indicated that they want to see if there’s a path forward, so that’s what we’re discussing. Certainly, things have been challenging over the past several days, but we’re going to continue to discuss with the parties as long as we feel that they are interested in pursuing a path forward.

QUESTION: But how can they – how can they be – either side really – be taken credibly in saying they want to continue the talks or they’re interested in a path forward when both sides have taken these unhelpful steps?

MS. PSAKI: Well, both sides have taken unhelpful steps, yes. And both sides have indicated they don’t want to end the conversation. So all of these issues are being discussed in the meetings.

QUESTION: But I mean – but just to follow up on Lara’s point --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- it’s one thing to sit in a room and say you want to continue talking.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It’s another totally different thing, as you’ve said all along --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- that actions speak louder than words, and their actions are certainly not creating a climate that’s inducive to either (a) these talks to continue and (b) making progress on the talks.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think both parties – it’s been them. They need to determine whether they both want to pursue a longer-term path forward. So yes, there were actions that were announced last week that were unhelpful. Some of them are being implemented now. But again, both parties are meeting again this evening, and we’ll see where we land.

QUESTION: The Secretary said last week we’re not going to sit here indefinitely, like he’s not gonna continue to put all his effort in if the parties are going to continue to take steps that are antithetical to wanting to produce an agreement. So what – at what point do you take them not at their word or the fact that they’re sitting in a room with you, and you take them on their actions, which are clearly, as you say, unhelpful?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And at what point does that end? Do you just say you can’t do both, it’s either one or the other?

MS. PSAKI: Well, those are conversations we’re having with the parties, so I have nothing more to lay out for you in terms of what the details of that is. But we’re continuing to convey with them – to communicate with them about the process moving forward. And as the Secretary said, we’re not in this forever, but we certainly see a positive benefit of continuing the process if we think we have viable partners.

QUESTION: But the bottom line is they won’t be able to do both forever, right? I mean, they’re going to have to decide one avenue of action or the other. They can’t --

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, the parties would need to determine how – what the conditions would be for moving the process forward.

QUESTION: Jen, I wanted to get you to comment on an idea that is being floated around town. It’s called 431 and it’s the 30 prisoners that were supposed to be released on the 29th plus an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners that is recent, plus Jonathan Pollard. Could you comment on this idea?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to that, Said, no.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Are there immediate or measurable consequences for the expiration of the talks on the 29th? Like in other words, is there any tie to aid, any tie of sweeteners, things that change the climate beyond, of course, not having peace?

MS. PSAKI: From the United States standpoint?

QUESTION: From the United States.

MS. PSAKI: No, not that I’m aware of. No.

QUESTION: So none of the incentives or anything that was laid out at the start of the talks will fall away?

MS. PSAKI: In what capacity?

QUESTION: There were a number of goals beyond peace, things that were --

MS. PSAKI: Working with the Palestinian economy?

QUESTION: -- supposed to helpful to economic development – exactly – other things that --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, a lot of those steps were tied to a final status agreement in terms of their ability to be successful. So I can’t do an evaluation case by case. Obviously, we still want the Palestinian economy to be successful. I’m not going to get ahead of where we are because we’re working to see what the path forward is. But a lot of – some of those steps would be contingent upon a successful peace agreement where two parties are living side by side.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: But some of those – I’m using the term “sweeteners” because I don’t really know what else to call them – incentives.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Weren’t they tied to the fourth stage of prisoner release and things like that? I mean, there were actions met by incentives --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what you’re referring to specifically.

QUESTION: It wasn’t just final status, as in like peace for all eternity. It was sort of like if we get this far, there’s a reason to keep continuing to go forward, and that there might or might not be something on the table before April 29th that would keep people in the room and negotiating?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that was always going to be some steps that the parties were going to take that would create a condition and a climate for moving the peace process forward, whether that was a framework or whether that was an extension with certain conditions. But beyond that, I’m not sure what you’re referring to in terms of U.S. sweeteners.

QUESTION: So there’s no aid that no longer becomes accessible for the Israelis and the Palestinians on – by April 29th?

MS. PSAKI: No, we provide – obviously, Israel – having a secure Israel is hugely important to the United States strategically. We provide, of course, aid to the Palestinian Authority as well. Beyond that, I’m not going to speculate on what may or may not happen given our focus is on seeing if there’s a process forward.

QUESTION: Jen, during his hearing tomorrow, I guess – it is tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary’s hearing?

QUESTION: The Secretary’s on the Hill?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. And he will be meeting with Congresswoman Kay Granger, the chairman – chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. Will he advise --

MS. PSAKI: She’ll be in the hearing, I suspect.

QUESTION: Huh?

MS. PSAKI: She’ll be in the hearing, you mean? She’ll be attending the hearing?

QUESTION: I guess he’s – isn’t he meeting with them? I mean – okay, let me ask you the question: Will he raise or will he advise against cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve never advised to, so I’m – again, I’ll leave it to what the steps – what questions are raised tomorrow, and I’m not going to get ahead of that process.

Do we have more on the peace process?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: What would the U.S. role be in the upcoming days till the end of April?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Ambassador Indyk is on the ground. The parties have agreed to reconvene today, so that will be happening shortly if it’s not already happening, and we’ll continue to be in close touch with both the parties, the leaders, as well as the negotiators on the ground, and we’ll evaluate what the appropriate role is to play.

QUESTION: And one more: How does the Secretary feel about the process after months of meetings and travels, and negotiations are collapsing now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, the negotiations, the talks are ongoing. Certainly, there have been unhelpful steps taken over the past week, but we remain engaged with the parties. The Secretary is clear-eyed and focused on the path ahead and he remains in close touch with the parties, with the negotiators, with our interagency here, and we’ll make a determination about what can happen moving forward.

QUESTION: Does he consider what happened last week a personal setback?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly not. It’s never been about the Secretary. It’s been about the future of the Israeli and Palestinian people, and that’s what he’s always felt and why he remains committed to seeing if there’s a path forward.

QUESTION: Does he need to see a certain amount of progress or any – are there any benchmarks that would prompt his return, or is there something he wants to see before he wants to go back yet again?

MS. PSAKI: I mean, nothing that I’m going to outline here. Obviously, part of it is discussing with Ambassador Indyk, with the negotiators, with the parties, and seeing what would be most useful moving forward.

QUESTION: Do you think – because the Secretary has traveled there so much – that perhaps, like, the parties have gotten so used to him going that it doesn’t give them – because they know that he’ll keep returning and stuff, it doesn’t kind of give them the incentive to work hard enough to try and reach a deal, that they know that he’ll always be back? I mean, is there --

MS. PSAKI: Well, it has --

QUESTION: -- a strategy now to kind of hold back his --

MS. PSAKI: He’s only been there – he’s only --

QUESTION: -- the prestige of – he’s been there, what, like about 14 times since (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Once in the last three months, though, and --

QUESTION: Is that a conscious choice to kind of not --

MS. PSAKI: Well, it was the stage in the process we were in, and he’s been very engaged over phone, over videoconference with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, and he’ll make an evaluation, we’ll all make an evaluation together with the negotiating team on whether it makes sense for him to return to the region.

QUESTION: Did he receive an apology from the Israeli defense minister?

MS. PSAKI: Did he?

QUESTION: Yeah, receive any apology?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that. That seems like it’s very old at this point, but --

QUESTION: One last question --

QUESTION: You forgot about it? That means you forgot about --

MS. PSAKI: No, I don’t have any update for you on that.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you whether you feel that perhaps, like Lara was – or Elise was saying, that both sides, in essence, take it for granted and they’re just running out the clock? I mean, they don’t want to get on your bad side, so they keep meeting with each other, and then when the time comes, it’s over.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, look, I think there are a lot of discussions that happen behind the scenes that we’re not going to talk about publicly, and that will continue. We’ll make an evaluation as to what our level of engagement should be moving forward, but I don’t have anything to lay out for you today.

QUESTION: Will you take them to the woodshed at one point?

MS. PSAKI: To the what?

QUESTION: I mean, will you sort of chastise --

MS. PSAKI: To the orchard?

QUESTION: Woodshed, I said.

MS. PSAKI: Woodshed. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Woodshed, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I thought he said the orchard. I don't know. That would be odd. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I mean, it’s an old term. I mean, would you chastise them or – publicly at one point?

MS. PSAKI: Look, this is not about blame. This has been about what’s in the best interests of the Israeli and Palestinian people, and that’s why we’ve been hopeful about both parties making tough choices. So we’ll keep working on it day to day.

Any more on this topic, or – Middle East peace?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: As the 29 approaching, do you or – do you intend to convey a message to the party like, hey guys, we’re here now, we did our best, if you need us you know our number – as Jim Baker said one time, you can call us? Are you going this way?

MS. PSAKI: I’m familiar with that anecdote, but look, I would point you to what the Secretary said on Friday. I think he was pretty clear. We remain engaged with the parties every single day. Our negotiators are on the ground. But beyond that, I don’t have any predictions for you.

QUESTION: After 29, even after 29?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have any predictions for you.

QUESTION: If I – can we move on?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Or do we have any more on Middle East peace? No? Okay, go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I want to ask you, on Secretary Kerry’s upcoming visit to Azerbaijan and Georgia, what can you tell us? When is it happening?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any trip or schedule to announce for you, so I’m not aware that that trip has been planned in any capacity.

QUESTION: It’s been announced in Azerbaijan by U.S. Ambassador Morningstar that Secretary Kerry will be traveling to Azerbaijan and Georgia. (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m sure he would like to go, but I don’t have any details for you on when or if that trip will happen.

QUESTION: But it will – he will be traveling just to Azerbaijan and Georgia, but not Armenia?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details about any trip to Azerbaijan or Georgia to outline for you.

QUESTION: All right, but is it happening – is it something that’s been planned, or is it happening because of Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. Again, there’s many places that he would like to visit, including Azerbaijan and Georgia, but I don’t have any details or trip plans to announce for all of you.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Turkey, okay.

QUESTION: It has been over a week that local elections conducted in Turkey. Is there any way you can tell us that – whether you find the elections done in a transparent and fair and free conditions, circumstances?

MS. PSAKI: I’m certainly aware, we are certainly aware, of the elections that have taken place. I don’t have any particular analysis for you about the outcome of the elections.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Afghanistan election?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary provided – put out a statement over the weekend, so I’d point you to that.

QUESTION: I have just one more question on Turkey.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So the Twitter ban was lifted by the Constitutional Court, and today a deputy prime minister said that the decision was wrong by the Constitutional Court and it was supposed to respect other local Turkish courts’ decisions about the privacy and individual rights. I was wondering whether you think the Constitutional Court didn’t respect the privacy and --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to engage in Turkish politics, but I will say we welcome, of course, the recent Constitutional Court decision in support of freedom of expression in Turkey. We note the Turkish Government implemented the ruling to unblock Twitter yesterday. We are also following the Ankara court’s decision that the government should unblock access to YouTube, and we continue to urge the Turkish Government to ensure all open access to all social media.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Licenses to Boeing and GE to sell engines and things to Iran – are those the types of deals that you envisioned when the agreement went into effect in January?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what you’re referring to.

QUESTION: The – on Friday, I guess, it was announced by Treasury that they had granted these licenses to GE and to Boeing. Is that the – are those the types of economic things that the State Department would consider a good thing? Boeing makes a sale; Iranian plane travelers are safer. Is that the type of thing that you envisioned?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any particular comment on this. Obviously, we work closely with the Treasury Department, but I would point you to them for any analysis.

QUESTION: It was specifically contemplated in the Joint Plan of Action --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the sale of spare parts and other aircraft materials. So --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- it was there from the beginning.

MS. PSAKI: So there you go.

QUESTION: Isn’t it something that State should crow about, though? It’s a deal for American companies. It’s safer train – or plane travelers and --

MS. PSAKI: I’ll see if there’s anything else we’d like to provide.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Okay? Scott.

QUESTION: Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Okay, Iran. Go ahead. And then we’ll go to Scott.

QUESTION: Any update on Vienna negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that an extensive background briefing was done in advance of the trip, so I would point you to that, which I believe we sent out. Broadly, let me just give you a few logistical updates.

There is an internal P5+1 meeting tonight. Foreign Minister Zarif and EU High Representative Ashton have their typical dinner that they do around every set of meetings. There will be plenary sessions tomorrow. As was stated in the briefing but let me reiterate, we are certainly clear-eyed about the challenges ahead and determined to keep making progress on different issues. As you all know, the experts have been meeting over recent weeks in Vienna, and we know we’re starting – we know where we can see points of agreement and we know where gaps have to be bridged. So our team will be on the ground for the next couple of days, and I expect they’ll do another briefing as it concludes.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied so far?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve spoken to – and not just us but others have spoken to the fact that Iran has abided by the JPOA. Obviously, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Our technical experts and our negotiating team are on the ground doing that.


Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: On Cyprus.

MS. PSAKI: Cyprus. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Greek Cypriot negotiator was in town last week. Do you have a readout of his meetings at the State Department?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, I believe I do. Deputy Secretary Burns met with Greek Cypriot negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis on April 3rd to discuss Cyprus settlement efforts. The meeting is part of periodic consultations the Department conducts with all parties involved in the Cyprus talks. We reaffirm our full support for the Cypriot-led process under the auspices of the United Nations Good Offices Mission to reach a comprehensive statement. We continue to urge both sides to make real and substantial progress toward reunifying the island as a bizonal, bicommunal federation.

QUESTION: Do you believe both sides are showing the flexibility that’s necessary to move the process forward?

MS. PSAKI: We do. We’ve met with both parties. We’re continuing to urge both parties to seize the timely opportunity to make real and substantial progress. And this is, again, an ongoing process.

QUESTION: Just --

QUESTION: On the same issue?

MS. PSAKI: Same issue. Okay.

QUESTION: The last week the Secretary met with the foreign minister of Turkey, as you know.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You were there. They discussed Cyprus, according to the Turkish foreign minister. Can you give us a readout of this meeting?

MS. PSAKI: I really don’t have any additional readout. Obviously, it’s an issue that’s on the Secretary’s mind and on the foreign minister’s mind, and certainly they discussed ongoing efforts.

QUESTION: And I think also Eric Rubin, assistant secretary, is going to go to the region next week. Do you have any readout on --

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check on that. He’s going to where? He’s going to Cyprus?

QUESTION: I believe so, yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, let me check on that. I’m seeing a nod behind you, so I’ll take that as a likely yes. But we can get that around. There’s a lot of phone-a-friends going on here today. It’s good.

Go ahead, Scott.

QUESTION: The Secretary meets with the South Sudanese foreign minister this week. While you were traveling, there was an announcement of sanctions in South Sudan. Have there been any individuals associated with those sanctions, and is the message – that part of the message to the South Sudanese foreign minister this week?

MS. PSAKI: I’m certain that will be part of the discussion. I’m not aware of individuals tied to it but – yet. But let me talk to our team and see if there’s an update. I know that was last week, if I remember correctly.


Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: And I apologize if you were asked this while I was not around.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you been asked about the BJP’s political platform?

MS. PSAKI: I have not been.

QUESTION: Okay. So as you I’m sure know, the BJP Party in India in its political platform says that they’re going to study, revise, and update their nuclear policy. I realize that’s an internal political document by one party in an election, but it’s a comment that also raises questions about whether they may abandon their no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons should they come to power. Does the U.S. Government believe that it is better for the Government of India to maintain its current no-first-use pledge on nuclear weapons?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our position on this hasn’t changed. We, of course, as you laid out there for us, are not going to comment on a platform of a party running for office on ongoing elections. But nothing has changed about our view.

QUESTION: And – but is it indeed your view that you think it’s better for the Indian Government to have a no-first-use policy?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more specific for you, Arshad. I can check with our team and see if there’s more we want to lay out on this.

QUESTION: Can you tell us one more time what’s your view on this?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to outline it further. Obviously, these are discussions we have with the Indian Government. I will check and see if there’s more our team would like to say.

QUESTION: Also on India?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I understand that Representative Peter King and Chuck Schumer both reached out to the Secretary about the arrest of a New York police – off-duty police officer who had some stray bullets. And I know you last week have acknowledged the arrest, but now the NYPD says it’s working with the State Department. And if you can bring us up to date on --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have much more to offer you. We don’t have a Privacy Act waiver. We are aware, of course, of reports of the citizen you mentioned who has been arrested in New Delhi, India. We take our obligations, of course, to assist U.S. citizens overseas very seriously, but we don’t have any other additional update at this point.

QUESTION: When – but you confirmed the arrest of a citizen last week and now you’re saying – are you saying that that citizen is one and the same of the citizen that was arrested? And can you confirm that Representative King, who has published the letter, that you’ve received the letter?

MS. PSAKI: I can check on the letter. I didn’t receive an update on that internally. I know we were looking into it. But beyond that, I just don’t have any more updates for all of you since last week.

QUESTION: Do you agree with the assessment of Congressman King that arrest of this particular New York police official was in retaliation of the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to speculate on it, given I can’t even speak to the identity of the individual.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) telling you the same thing.

MS. PSAKI: Understood. I can’t speak to the identity of the individual, so I’m not going to speculate on that.

Lara.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: On Cuba, the USAID program to create a Twitter feed for Cubans, it was said last week that the program was not covert or classified.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you know if any parts of it were classified that would require members of Congress to be briefed in a SCIF about it?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of it being classified in any capacity, but I’m happy to check with our team and see. Obviously, there were briefings, as Marie mentioned, with Congress that were offered.

QUESTION: Okay. And on those briefings – I would appreciate if you could take it.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: But on those briefings, I think the White House said that this was – the program was fully debated by Congress. It was said last week that briefings were offered to members of Congress --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- two different things. I think it was said last week at this podium that if members of Congress didn’t take advantage of the briefing, then hey, that’s not anything you all can do about it.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But the White House indicated that everybody was briefed on it. So do you know which it is?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure there’s a difference. I mean, it’s rare that any briefing everybody participates in, right? So I’m not sure. I would ask, of course, my former colleagues if they meant every person attended and they checked the box on attendance. I think they meant the same thing we did over here, which was that briefings were offered to a broad array of members, and obviously, all of them rarely participate in every briefing offered.

QUESTION: Or debated? I mean, I think the words Carney used were “fully debated in Congress.” I mean, what does that mean to you?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I know this was discussed. I don’t have any other detail, really, for you. I would also point you to USAID posted a blog post that just went up, I think, right before we came out here, so – that goes through point by point. That may be useful to some of you who are following this story.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Can we go back to India for a minute?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, and then we’ll go to Scott.

QUESTION: I know several State Department officials have met senior BJP leaders in the last six months. Was this issue of nuclear policy that BJP is putting up in its platform right now was discussed with them? Ambassador met – Deputy Secretary Burns met with BJP president --

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more details about those meetings. Obviously, we meet with a range of officials. That should come as no surprise. That’s part of the job of any diplomat. But I don’t have any more details about --

QUESTION: But you always discuss issues with them. Was this an issue when you discussed --

MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have any more details for you.

QUESTION: Can you check out?

MS. PSAKI: I will, but I will probably have nothing to offer you, so I will leave you with that expectation.

Let’s go to the back to Scott. Go ahead, Scott.

QUESTION: In Nigeria, there are members of the military who have come forward with evidence that the Nigerian military itself is coordinating attacks with Boko Haram.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is the United States aware of these reports? Does the United States have any independent analysis of collusion between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram? How does that affect your helping the Nigerian military with what you thought was a fight against Boko Haram?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me check, Scott, with our team. I haven’t had a chance to talk with them about this issue this morning – or this afternoon.

QUESTION: I have a quick one on Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: You started at the very top. How did you make your displeasure known about – to the Egyptians about Mohammed Adel and Ahmed Maher? Did you – did anyone speak with anyone there, or just that they --

MS. PSAKI: We have an expansive team on the ground --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- so they certainly make their – our concerns known when that is relevant.

QUESTION: Same topic, sort of?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Today is 100 days since the Al Jazeera English journalists --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- have been in captivity. I’m just wondering if you guys are --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- in touch at all with the Egyptians on that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are, of course, watching closely the trial and continue to convey our deep concerns directly to the Government of Egypt. We urge the government to drop these charges and release these journalists who have been detained. We remain deeply concerned about the restrictions of freedom of expression in Egypt, including the targeting of Egyptian and foreign journalists simply for expressing their views. Journalists, regardless of affiliation, should be protected and permitted to do their jobs free from intimidation or fear of retribution. Egypt’s constitution upholds these basic rights and freedoms, and Egypt’s interim government has a responsibility to ensure that they are protected.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you.

QUESTION: One more on the Egypt thing.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Had you – I know you had previously urged the Egyptian authorities to reconsider the sentences on those three.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Had you previously urged them to commute them?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that, Arshad, and see what language we’d used previously.

QUESTION: Because the – I mean, I can check too, but the reason I ask is I think there’s one more legal appeal that is still possible.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

QUESTION: And if you didn’t ask them to commute it before, it suggests you’ve just given up on the legal process entirely, or on the court process.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Let me check with our team and see on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Oh, actually, can I ask about North Korea --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: There was a trilat.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, there was.

QUESTION: So I was just wondering if, during this meeting, the issue of a UN inquiry that concluded that North Korea had committed crimes against humanity, did that come up?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the trilat was happening this afternoon, and there were going to be follow-up meetings with Glyn Davies immediately following it, so we’re planning to release a readout later this afternoon that will have more details. But it didn’t start until after I was coming down here.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:38 p.m.)

DPB # 61

   


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: April 4, 2014

Fri, 04/04/2014 - 14:47

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 4, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Secretary Kerry's Travel
    • Undersecretary Sherman's Meetings with Ukrainian Member of Parliament
    • Remembrance of Anne Smedinghoff
  • MEPP
    • Evaluation of Next Steps / U.S. Still Committed to the Process
    • White House and Department Working Closely Together
    • Both Sides Have Taken Unhelpful Steps
    • Talking To Congress about Aid to Palestinians
  • TURKEY
    • Local Elections
  • RUSSIA/UKRAINE
    • Agenda of Geneva Talks
    • Conversation between Russian Diplomats
    • Russian Troops at Ukraine Border
    • Russia Continues to Violate International Law
  • TURKEY
    • Constitutional Court Unblocks Twitter
  • DPRK/CHINA
    • China Has a Special Role to Play
  • HONG KONG
    • Deputy Secretary Burns' Meetings with Former Hong Kong Officials
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Reports of $6 Billion Unaccounted Inaccurate
  • MEPP
    • No Plans for Special Envoy Indyk's Return
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Eligibility Requirements for a UN Representative Visa
  • INDIA
    • Arrest of NYPD Officer
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Senate Intelligence Committee Votes to Declassify Portions of CIA's Interrogation Report


TRANSCRIPT:

12:18 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to a Friday daily press briefing. I have a couple items at the top, and then I’m happy to open it up for questions.

First, a travel update: Today in Rabat Secretary Kerry met with the Moroccan foreign minister and King Mohammed VI. He also participated in the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue. During his visit to Rabat, the Secretary also swore in a group of U.S. Peace Corps volunteers. And I know this will be music to everyone’s ears: Rabat is the last leg of his trip to Europe and the Middle East, and they will be on their way home.

Item number two: On April 3rd, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman met with former chairman of the Mejilis of the Crimean Tatars, and a member of parliament as well, Mustafa Dzhemilev at the State Department. Under Secretary Sherman noted our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and our commitment to the protection of human rights in Ukraine, including those of the Crimean Tatars – excuse me. She emphasized that the United States will never recognize Russia’s attempt to annex Crimea.

Mr. Dzhemilev appreciated the support of the United States for the plight of ethnic Tatars in Crimea, many of whom are now being forced to choose between accepting Russian citizenship or losing prospects for employment, education, or even the right to vote. Mr. Dzhemilev noted the appreciation of the Crimean Tatar community for strong U.S. support and urged further international attention and engagement in Crimea, including international monitors. He also urged strengthening cultural and other ties with the rest of Europe and the United States, including through media support and student exchanges. Under Secretary Sherman also told Mr. Dzhemilev that the United States would continue to support the reform efforts of the interim Ukrainian Government, including the very important step of holding early presidential elections on May 25th.

And finally, the third item at the top, ending here at the top on a bit of a more reflective note: This weekend, all of us in the State Department family are taking a moment to remember and to mark the one-year anniversary of the attack in Zabul Province in Afghanistan that took the lives of a bright young Foreign Service officer named Anne Smedinghoff, three United States soldiers, an Afghan American translator, and an Afghan doctor. A year later, those injured in that attack continue to heal and our hearts remain with the families of those we lost. As Secretary Kerry himself wrote in a note to all State Department employees shortly after that tragic day – and I’m quoting now – “We never forget and certainly no one anywhere should forget for a minute that the work of our diplomats is hard and hazardous or that as you serve on the frontlines in the world’s most dangerous places, you put the interests of our country and those of our allies and partners ahead of your own safety.”

That’s exactly what Anne was doing. She was 25 years old and had worked on Secretary Kerry’s trip to Afghanistan just a few weeks before she was killed. She was a press officer in Kabul where she worked to support the Afghan media as they told the story of their country. Sadly, today we were reminded yet again of how dangerous that work can be. Today, the Associated Press lost one of its own: Anja Niedringhaus, an internationally-acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize-winning German photographer. She was shot in Afghanistan’s Khost province. A second Canadian journalist who worked for the AP, Kathy Gannon, was also wounded.

What Anne was in Afghanistan to do was work with the Afghan people. This weekend, millions of them will go to the polls to cast a ballot. The United States has proudly supported this process through the hard work of people just like Anne. And as the Afghans stand up, speak out, and exercise their right to vote, the United States will continue to stand side by side with them. As President Obama said in an address to the nation from Kabul in 2012 – and I’m quoting now – “Here in Afghanistan, Americans answered the call to defend their fellow citizens and uphold human dignity. Today, we recall the fallen and those who suffered wounds, both seen and unseen. But through dark days, we have drawn strength from their example and the ideals that have guided our nation and led the world, a belief that all people are treated equal and deserve the freedom to determine their destiny. That is the light that guides us still.”

So this Sunday, even as we mark the tragic events of a year ago, we do so drawing strength from Anne and Anja and all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, especially the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces and the Afghan people themselves. And we pledge to continue the work of building a safe, stable, secure, and free Afghanistan.

With that, I’m happy to open it up for questions. Arshad, do you want to get us started?

QUESTION: Sure. The Secretary, in his news conference in Rabat, said that it was time for a reality check and to make a decision on whether to go forward on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it your intent to continue trying to make progress on this through April 29th, or rather, is this wholly in question now whether the United States will continue its efforts, and that you may, in effect, pull the plug now?

MS. HARF: Well, no. I think the Secretary said a few things. We are still at the negotiating table. In the last few days, regrettably, both sides have taken steps that are not helpful. We’re going to evaluate very carefully exactly where the process is and where it might possibly be able to go. And as the Secretary said, there are limits to the amount of time and effort the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps.

So the parties have said they want to continue. We are focused on continuing. But again, quoting the Secretary, it’s reality check time. We intend to evaluate precisely what the next steps will be, and see if we can keep making progress here. We are still committed to the process, but as we’ve said many times, we can’t make tough decisions for them.

QUESTION: But you’re not saying that you’re committed to keep trying for the next three weeks? In other words, you’re going to decide now whether it’s worth continuing or not?

MS. HARF: Oh, no. We still believe it’s worth continuing. The question is where the process goes from here.

QUESTION: So you said we are still at the negotiating table. Is that a literal statement or is that a figurative statement? In other words, have there been any direct Israeli-Palestinian talks since the meeting of the other night/day?

MS. HARF: Between each other. Let me check and see if there were any direct talks. We’ve remained engaged with both of the parties.

QUESTION: Okay. And what is the – what, if any – since you’re clearly internally debating whether to continue with this process, absent what I think the Secretary said, the willingness of the parties to make difficult decisions, what, if anything, are you doing to try to mitigate against the negative repercussions if the process falls apart, if it ends? How, if at all, are you going to try to prevent the kind of explosion of violence that there was after the collapse of the 2000 talks?

What are you – what, if anything, are you going to do to try to forestall a more direct Palestinian appeal to join actual UN agencies?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any specifics for you on that. Obviously, we have said many times – the President and the Secretary have said many times – that the reason we pursue Middle East peace is because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s good for both sides. And there are benefits to both sides if they can make these tough decisions.

I’m happy to check with our folks and see if people are looking at that. I know our team isn’t focusing on what might happen in a hypothetical if we can’t get this done. Our team is very much focused on actually getting it done. But let me see if there’s a little more to share on that.

QUESTION: But – okay, thank you. I mean, but it sounded like, from what the Secretary said, that your team is really focused on whether anything can get done --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- not on how to move forward, but just --

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: So if that’s the case, then it would seem to me that you probably are or should already be thinking about mitigating the negative consequences that could flow from a breakdown which you yourselves acknowledge is a possibility.

MS. HARF: Yeah. No, it’s a good question, and an important one, so let me see if I can get some more on that.

Anything else on Middle East peace?

QUESTION: Marie --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Or – Lara, uh-huh.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: No, please.

MS. HARF: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: This reassessment that’s going to happen, is that by the decision of the Secretary or of the White House?

MS. HARF: Reassessment in terms of what?

QUESTION: Well, he said that we’re – reality check time, we’re going to reevaluate precisely what steps will be taken.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Is that something that the Secretary decided, or is that something that the White House asked him to do?

MS. HARF: They’re working – I mean, obviously, the Secretary has the lead for this issue, but he’s been in constant communication with the White House throughout this whole process. And quite frankly, our whole team – the Secretary, Ambassador Indyk, and the folks at the White House who focus on this – are all working together very closely on the same page in trying to figure out where we go from here.

QUESTION: Did something change over the last 24 hours? I mean, yesterday at the podium you noted that both sides had taken unhelpful steps – I think yesterday or the day before. Anything happen that would make him sound so pessimistic today?

MS. HARF: Not – I mean, not to my knowledge, no. What I said is there have been unhelpful steps. He also noted, I would say, that he said both sides want to continue. So that’s where we’ve – we’re in the same place we’ve been over the last 24 hours: that there have been unhelpful steps on both sides, our team remains on the ground, but we really need to see them make some tough decisions, which we haven’t seen.

QUESTION: Well, just to put a finer point on it, I mean, he sounds like he’s pretty exasperated. And I mean, the – for him to say we’re not going to sit here indefinitely --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and, I mean, beyond the pessimism of it all, it sounds like he’s fed up. And he – while he says that this wasn’t a waste of time --

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- because he did give it a try, he is not going to do this forever, and it sounds like he is starting to come around to the realization or to the belief that he wants it more than the parties want it.

MS. HARF: No, I would – that last point I would not say at all. I think a couple points. He has been, in his own mind certainly, and with the team and everyone else, very clear about the reality of how hard this would be. He has never, I think contrary probably to some reports out there – or commentary, I should say – has never been naive or wide-eyed about what we could get done here. He’s always been very realistic about how hard this would be.

But the fact is we have seen steps taken that are not helpful. He still has said that we believe there’s a path forward here, but we have to find that path. And more importantly than us finding it, the two parties have to find it, and we haven’t seen that yet.

QUESTION: So, I mean, what is – like at what point do you stop looking for signs that they’re going to do it, they’re going to take that path or whatever and come to the realization that they just don’t want it?

MS. HARF: Well, they’ve both said they want the process to continue, and what they have to do now is back up those words with actions. So we’re waiting for some actions. And you’re right though, as the Secretary said – this, I think, probably is a common sense statement – but there are limits to the time and amount of energy we can continue spending on this.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: So when you say that there – excuse me. So they – when you say that there are limits, I mean, what is the limit? Like, and does he – has he, whether you want to say it right here or not, but has he given the party what his limits are? As if, “If I don’t see some kind of movement by X-time or if I don’t see X amount of things, I’ve reached my limit?”

MS. HARF: Well, I think we’re not going to outline what he said to the parties.

QUESTION: I didn’t ask you to say what he – specifically what he said, but has he given the parties a benchmark by which he would see that they’re ready to take this way forward?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to describe it that way. We have certainly – he and Ambassador Indyk and the team have certainly made clear to the parties that there need to be steps taken. Now, what that path forward looks like can take a couple different – it can look a couple different ways, I should say. But we have said that if we can’t take steps forward, then yes, this unfortunately will come to an end. But we’re not there yet.

And I think that – I know a lot of people try to read the Secretary’s language – which is important, right? – and the tone. And he really, I think, has throughout this process maintained, at least with us and with the team, a realistic assessment of how hard it will be: Optimism that we did get them back to the table and there had been some progress, but he does know right now that this is a turning point, and we hope that we can move the process forward.

QUESTION: He sounds pretty exasperated. He actually says --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: He’s also at the end of a two-week trip, guys. I mean, I wouldn’t try and read too much into his tone about Middle East peace.

QUESTION: Well, he uses the word, “indefinitely,” or, “We’re not going to sit here indefinitely.”

MS. HARF: True.

QUESTION: So it’s pretty clear that he’s making – he’s telling the parties --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- that time is limited here, right?

MS. HARF: Time isn’t on anyone’s side. It’s not on the parties’ side either, to be clear. But yes, he is. That’s – he is. He made it very clear today. Yes.

QUESTION: Do you think that that time will be – I mean, I don’t want to use the word, “deadline,” but, I mean, are we still looking at kind of April 29th?

MS. HARF: I’m not sure if he was referring to a specific date, but I think the concept is absolutely correct. And you are right to note that we haven’t said that before.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: So what is Ambassador Indyk’s mission at the moment? Is he supposed to stay in the region and meet with both sides to see what they are trying to do to keep this from falling apart?

MS. HARF: Well, he’s on the ground working with both sides. Onto Arshad’s question, I’ll check and see if they’ve met directly since the one we talked about yesterday. But yes, there are things that they are talking about, elements that could go into a path forward. He’s working with both sides to see if we can get a path forward agreed to.

QUESTION: What’s the minimum that Indyk has to try to achieve in order to keep this process going?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into those kind of details.

QUESTION: Marie.

MS. HARF: Said. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Lara’s point, now when he says the limited time, so to speak, on the limit of time, he is not suggesting that we might meet that point before the end of the month, before the 29th?

MS. HARF: I don’t think he was referring to a specific date when he says --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: -- this won’t go on indefinitely.

QUESTION: So we are likely to continue to have this – some sort of engagement over the next three weeks?

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly hope so. But again, we’re focused right now on the immediate task at hand.

QUESTION: Okay, let me ask you on the – we know that the Secretary is enthusiastic. He’s put forth an incredible effort and so on, so he doesn’t lack enthusiasm. What about other senior members of the Obama Administration? Is there like a – are they resigned to the fact that this whole episode might be coming to a close?

MS. HARF: No. I mean, Said, look, everyone in this Administration from the President on down knows how hard this is. But I think you heard, starting with the President when he went to Israel at the beginning of the second term, and then the Secretary, the President at UNGA, you’ve heard everybody speak out very forcefully about our commitment to pursuing Middle East peace. So just because we’re getting to a tough point in the negotiations doesn’t suddenly mean that people think it’s a bad idea.

QUESTION: I guess my question is, let’s say people in the White House, for instance, whether --

MS. HARF: People in the White House.

QUESTION: Well, okay. Officials in the White House, okay? Do they feel that maybe the Secretary of State invested a great deal of time and effort for something that was a losing proposition to begin with, losing that prize?

MS. HARF: No, that’s not how I would describe it at all. The folks – the people, to use your term, that I’ve spoken to in the White House understand that everybody there is very supportive of the Secretary’s efforts. They’ve been in very close contact with the Secretary. They weren’t naive either about how hard this was going to be, and about the fact that success was going to be a challenge to get. And again, I think everyone’s writing it off now like we’re at the end of this process when that’s just not the case.

QUESTION: We’re not writing it off. We’re not writing it off.

QUESTION: Because you know we have been there before --

MS. HARF: Well, I think Said’s question a little bit goes to losing prospect that this is not going to happen, and we’re not there yet.

QUESTION: Well, he sounds – I mean, we’re just taking it on what he said and his tone. And he is the one that is pretty much saying, if not the exact words, saying: I’m close to reaching my limit with you people.

MS. HARF: But he didn’t say that. And he said they both wanted to continue. They’ve both said they wanted to continue, but they have to make tough choices. The words may have been a little different than we’ve used in the past. The tone may have been, I think, indicative of the fact that we are at a very important point in the negotiations. But I wouldn’t read into it, certainly, that we’re at the end of this process because that’s just not the case on the ground.

QUESTION: Can I follow up quickly?

QUESTION: We already have --

MS. HARF: Wait, let me have Said – let me let Said follow up and then we’ll go around.

QUESTION: To follow up very quickly, if we are to have a reassessment, what shape would this reassessment be?

MS. HARF: He actually said we intend to evaluate precisely what the next steps will be, which --

QUESTION: Okay, evaluate. So what does that mean?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been evaluating what the next steps will be all along. But where we are now, as we’ve said, unhelpful steps on both sides. We know what those are.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: So is there a path forward that both sides can agree to where we can go from here? We are evaluating that right now, whether there is; if we can’t get there, what else we can do; all of the different, if you looked at a decision diagram about where we go from here, that’s the evaluation that’s going on right now.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. After – the reason I’m asking this is after the debacle of, let’s say, 2010, I mean, his predecessor, Secretary Clinton reached a point where she could not do anything, and in fact, the whole thing was on hold for the remainder of the term, as you know, at that time.

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to compare this to any previous negotiation, and I don’t want to venture to guess what will happen if we get to the end here and we don’t get an agreement.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I just --

MS. HARF: Ali, Ali. Wait – Ali.

QUESTION: How do you reconcile what you said a minute ago about the commitment broadly among the White House with the statements we have seen over the past 24 hours along with –

MS. HARF: Anonymous quotes that are blind-quoted in stories. I’m sure people can find one person to say one thing. But I will tell you, the people I have spoken to, people the Secretary’s spoken to at the White House – we’ve had many conversations about this – are fully supportive of his efforts from the President on down, and think that we – but also agree with him that we are at a point where we can’t do this indefinitely and where they need to make some tough decisions.

QUESTION: But I mean, they may be supportive of his mission, but when you get folks saying they want him to lower the volume, that doesn’t sound like it’s --

MS. HARF: I don’t even know what that means. That’s like a word – that’s something people throw out on background – I’ve probably done it – that is probably meaningless. And I don’t know what that means when it comes to the negotiations. What I know is that when the Secretary talks to Susan Rice, talks to the President, talks to the whole other range of people that are working on it, that they are in lockstep about trying to move this forward, but about not being able to make decisions for the two parties themselves.

QUESTION: Was it a mistake for Israel to insist upon an extension of this time period for negotiations in the first place?

MS. HARF: What are you referring to?

QUESTION: The insisting upon an extension of the time to negotiate in exchange for deciding to release the fourth tranche of prisoners. Was it a mistake for Israel to insist upon that when that had not been part of the original agreement to start these talks last July?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to get into the details of what the two parties may or may have discussed around the prisoner release, around how we move the process forward. I think some reports out there are accurate and some just aren’t.

QUESTION: Well, the Palestinians are saying: Look, this is not something that was part of the original agreement when we said we would hold off on our actions to try to be recognized by a number of UN bodies. We went into these talks in good faith, and from our perspective, the Israelis have tried to change the terms of the negotiation and essentially our hand has been forced.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I know a couple of days ago – I know that yesterday you said this Administration is not interested in ascribing blame.

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: But is there not any consideration for the Palestinians’ view of where they are? They say they have had to tolerate new announcements of settlements in the occupied West Bank, that they’ve had to deal with ongoing arrests and harassment of Palestinian citizens. They feel as if the U.S. is picking sides here.

MS. HARF: Well, we’re not. And we’ve been very clear that we’re not playing the blame game here. Both sides have taken unhelpful steps. That’s why we are where we are today. And also what we would say is that a tit-for-tat like we’ve seen over this past week isn’t conducive to moving the process forward and isn’t helpful. So we’re not going to put blame on anyone. These are complicated issues. There’s a lot at stake, and I don’t think there’s any upside to trying to play some sort of blame game here.

QUESTION: Do you expect that this process that is supposed to end on the 29th of this month – an abrupt end to it or an announcement that this – we have – this is no longer ongoing and it’s null and void, or whatever language that you might --

MS. HARF: Said, if I could look into a crystal ball and tell you how this process ends, I would love to be able to do that. But I have no predictions to make about that.

QUESTION: When you say that the parties are committed to continuing the talks, do you mean till the end of April?

MS. HARF: What the Secretary said is they say they want to continue. I don’t think he specified a specific date. They have throughout this process said they were committed to talking for nine months. But what he is focused on right now is that they’re at the table saying they’ll continue talking.

Middle East peace?

QUESTION: So no time period specified? There’s still this overarching desire to find some sort of peace deal?

MS. HARF: In general, is that still our position that we want to get a peace deal?

QUESTION: No, that – is that what both sides have expressed to the U.S.?

MS. HARF: They have expressed that they want to keep talking, yes.

QUESTION: Marie?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Middle East peace?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. When the Secretary said we’re going to reevaluate, is that imply – does that imply in any way, shape, or form that the Administration may change the approach? In other word, of instead of being facilitator it could be an initiator of laying down a plan and say, “Hey guys, this is it,” because it’s not – it’s not working. You say that the two --

MS. HARF: Well, it hasn’t worked yet.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, but they want to continue. Continue for what? On what?

MS. HARF: We need to see if there’s a path forward here to keep the two parties at the table to see if we can make progress towards a comprehensive peace agreement here, and there are steps along the way that we would have to take to get there. And so we need to see if there is a way to do that.

QUESTION: So as far as you’re concerned, there is no change of – in terms of approach?

MS. HARF: In terms of the role that we’re playing?

QUESTION: Being facilitator and that’s it.

MS. HARF: There’s no – no, there’s no change in terms of the role we’re playing. Obviously, our approach to the discussions --

QUESTION: Although it’s not working.

MS. HARF: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Although it’s not working.

MS. HARF: It hasn’t worked yet. You’re writing this off like it’s not going to work. We’re still negotiating. It may not work. But I think we need to all – it’s really easy to write the story that Middle East peace is dead. That’s not a hard story to write, because what’s true in the past statistically tends to continue being true in the future. But what we’re trying to do is make sure that’s not the case. So I think until we get to the end of this process, we should all be cautious about making predictions about what will come next. And look, this may not work, but the parties have said they want to continue. Our team is continuing, and we’ll see if we can make some more progress.

Middle East peace.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Are we likely to see unveiling of this secrecy over the negotiating of the framework agreement that the United States can say – I mean, because the Secretary has really invested a great deal. He made 11 trips. He met, like, untold god-awful hours until one and two in the morning.

MS. HARF: A lot, yeah.

QUESTION: And are we likely to --

MS. HARF: Who’s going to write the book? Is that what you’re asking?

QUESTION: Exactly. Okay. Well, we might wait for the book.

MS. HARF: Maybe that’s what I’ll do when I leave here.

QUESTION: Okay. But are we likely to see – this what we proposed? I mean, because nobody is talking about any --

MS. HARF: No, it’s a good question, Said. And quite frankly, I don’t know. I don’t know what will happen if we can get movement, can’t get movement. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: What does it look like from here? Like, how does this either go forward or end at this point?

MS. HARF: What does it look like from here? Honestly, it looks like constant communication and talking on the ground. Ambassador Indyk, I think, has probably slept less than any other person besides Secretary Kerry that works for the State Department. Really intense negotiations. Really intense. But that everybody, including the Secretary – and I wasn’t trying to downplay his tone in the press avail. I do think you see from him and from our team that we are getting toward – very close to a point where, if we don’t see tough decisions made, there’s going to have – there really needs to be some soul searching here among the two parties to see whether they can move forward.

QUESTION: And so what does that look like? I mean if – would there be an announcement --

MS. HARF: I don’t know.

QUESTION: -- or would all three parties come out, or would the Secretary say it at a press conference, or --

MS. HARF: It’s a really good question, and honestly, I have no idea.

QUESTION: But in terms of the negotiations, I mean, what are you – are you still working – I mean, you have this kind of snag with the prisoners and the extension and all that stuff that kind of hit – put you through this latest snag. Are you trying to negotiate to get over this hump, or are you still negotiating on your frame – on the kind of larger issues --

MS. HARF: Right. We’re --

QUESTION: -- and putting this aside for now?

MS. HARF: We’re doing both, really, and – but we can’t negotiate on larger issues if we can’t get over this hump, so – if that makes any sense.

QUESTION: I have a final question regarding aid to the Palestinians.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Are you doing anything on Capitol Hill to sort of ensure that aid to the Palestinian Authority at least continues for the time being?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re going to keep talking with the parties, see if the process can move forward, and talk with the folks on the Hill. I don’t have anything more for you on the aid piece on the Hill.

QUESTION: Has there been any call from members on the Hill to suspend the aid, to follow the law?

MS. HARF: Well, I know there’s been calls from Hill members on quite a few things. In terms of the 15 conventions the Palestinians signed, it’s our understanding that they don’t – they wouldn’t trigger the cutoffs because they’re not agencies. But again, we’re talking to the folks on the Hill.

QUESTION: On that (inaudible), I think I had asked you about that yesterday --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- and you had said that the lawyers were reviewing it. They have now reviewed it, and that is indeed the answer?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Good. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yeah. Yes.

QUESTION: Change to Turkey?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: It has been five or six days since the local elections conducted. You haven’t issued any statement so far. Is there --

MS. HARF: And I don’t think we’re going to.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: They’re local elections. Probably won’t weigh in any further than we already have.

QUESTION: Do you have any kind of – would you be able to define the elections in terms of its fairness or transparency? Do you have any assessment on that?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen one. I’m happy to see if there is one.

QUESTION: On Monday, you stated that if there are credible allegations of fraud, they should be investigated.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you a follow-up on those allegations, whether they have been --

MS. HARF: It wouldn’t – whether they’re being investigated? I don’t know. I can check with our folks.

QUESTION: So as of now, you don’t have any kind of comments regarding --

MS. HARF: I just don’t have any update from what I said a few days ago.

Uh-huh. Turkey – anything else on Turkey?

QUESTION: The Russian foreign minister announced today that they reached an agreement at the UN for the agenda of a next round for the Geneva talks, the – Syria. Are you aware of that?

MS. HARF: I wasn’t aware of that, but I’m happy to check into it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Another Russian question?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: The U.S. has been very critical of the leaks of intercepted conversations between diplomats Victoria Nuland, Cathy Ashton. I wondered whether you had any comment on the apparent leak of a conversation between two Russian diplomats, whether you’d be equally worried about the prospects for diplomacy when these things are routinely leaked and whether you could say whether the U.S. had any involvement in the --

MS. HARF: I actually have no idea what conversation you’re referring to. I’m happy to --

QUESTION: Two Russian diplomats were caught on tape discussing the Crimea in very colorful language, much a copycat of the Nuland --

MS. HARF: Oh, really? Okay. Well, I’m happy to check on it. I’m pretty sure we had nothing to do with it, but I’m happy to check on it.

QUESTION: Can we talk about Ukraine --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- since we’ve now had two questions in a row on Russia?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: First, is there any sense from the Administration or from this building in particular about the posture of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine?

MS. HARF: To my knowledge, I don’t think anything’s changed on that, that there’s still tens of thousands on the border with Ukraine. We cannot – last I heard, last I checked with our folks – independently confirm there had been some troops moved off of it. Obviously, we hope they will, but no update on that.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary had any conversations either with Foreign Minister Lavrov or with anyone in the interim Ukrainian government about the crisis?

MS. HARF: No, not – well, not – Foreign Minister Lavrov, the last call was on Wednesday, and to my knowledge, no conversation since then.

QUESTION: And Marie, the sanctions that the President discussed with Congress, do they curtail the Secretary’s activities or efforts or meetings with his Russian counterpart?

MS. HARF: No, not at all. Last I checked, Sergey Lavrov had not been sanctioned.

QUESTION: The legal issue regarding the Black Sea: The – Lavrov also blamed the U.S. side for violating the international laws for staying more than three weeks in Black Sea. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: I really don’t think that the Russians are experts on international law right now when they’ve continually violated it for the last – how many weeks? So, I think that’s probably my comment on that.

QUESTION: Just one more on Turkey.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Twitter ban was lifted --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- by the order of constitutional court.

MS. HARF: It was.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on that?

MS. HARF: Yes. Well, obviously, we welcome the recent Constitutional Court decision in support of freedom of expression in Turkey. We also note that the Turkish Government implemented the ruling yesterday to unblock Twitter, also following an Ankara court’s decision that the government should unblock access to YouTube. Obviously continue to urge the government to open all social media space in Turkey.

What else? Yes, in the back.

Qdprk">UESTION: Okay. A question on Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel’s comment recently on North Korea and China. He said the most direct way for China to affect the U.S. military deployments and those strategic alliance plans is by applying China’s leverage on North Korea. Is this some new thing the U.S. is offering China?

MS. HARF: No. This isn’t a new thing at all. I mean, I think you heard – have certainly heard us say, have heard the Secretary and Assistant Secretary Russel say, that China is on the same page with us in terms of needing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and that because China has a relationship with North Korea, unlike other countries, that it does have a special role to play in terms of pushing the North Koreans to do things we’d like them to do. So this is in no way a new position.

QUESTION: But it sounds like he’s indicating that the U.S. is willing to make concession if China is willing to put more pressure on North Korea.

MS. HARF: I don’t think he was indicating anything like that, anything new. I think he was responding to a question on the Hill.

QUESTION: So can you confirm that if China is going to put more pressure on North Korea, the U.S. is going to decrease your military posture on Korean Peninsula?

MS. HARF: Well, a couple – well, no, I can’t, because as I’ve said, we’ve repeatedly worked with China on this issue because they do have a special role to play. And I don’t think that he was indicating anything new. In terms of our military posture, I’m happy to check with our Defense Department colleagues, but it’s my understanding that the Assistant Secretary was not in any way indicating something like that. But I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: So you are denying – basically you’re denying that the U.S. is going to make a concession?

MS. HARF: I’m saying I can’t confirm that. I can’t confirm that. I’m happy to check with our DOD colleagues. But again, this isn’t about the U.S. making concessions. This is about us working with our international partners to see if we can get North Korea to take some steps to come back in line with their obligations. China has a special and unique role to play in that. That’s my understanding that’s all he was saying. Again, I’m happy to check and see if there was more that people should be reading into it.

Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I have one about Hong Kong.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have one from Deputy Secretary Burns’s meeting today with Martin Lee and Anson Chan?

MS. HARF: I do. Just give me one second. Yes. During their April 4th meeting, Deputy Secretary Burns, Martin Lee, and Anson Chan discussed a number of issues, including universal suffrage in Hong Kong’s development under one country, two systems. As you know, State Department officials regularly meet with a broad cross-section of Hong Kong society, both in Hong Kong and in Washington. Both of these folks are well-known and highly regarded figures, and on their visits to the U.S. they regularly meet with senior officials.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Marie, do you have any comment on the OIG report that was made public today on the $6 billion?

MS. HARF: I do. Just give me one second. Well, reports that there is a $6 billion that can’t be accounted for are grossly inaccurate. The OIG’s report noted that there were a number of incomplete files for our contracts and that these contracts’ cumulative value was about 6 billion. As highlighted in our response to the OIG, this is an issue of which the Department is aware and is taking steps to remedy. It’s not an accounting issue. I think it’s more like a bureaucratic issue. But it’s not that we’ve lost $6 billion, basically.

On March 20th, our new Inspector General did issue a management alert on contract file management deficiencies. The Bureau of Administration responded with a plan to address their three recommendation. Those are all posted on the IG’s web page now.

QUESTION: So how much money can you not account for if it’s not 6 billion?

MS. HARF: I have no idea.

QUESTION: But whatever amount it is, it’s --

MS. HARF: I think we try to account for all of our money.

QUESTION: But it’s way less than 6 billion? I mean, you said it was grossly inflated.

MS. HARF: Grossly inaccurate. Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Okay. So do – you must have --

QUESTION: What’s a rounded-up figure --

MS. HARF: I’m not – no --

QUESTION: You must have an estimate of what it is if you have an understanding --

MS. HARF: It’s my understanding that it’s not an accounting issue. It’s not that we can’t account for money. So I don’t – I’m not sure that there’s any money that we can’t account for.

QUESTION: So how is it grossly inaccurate, then?

MS. HARF: Because it’s not that there’s $6 billion we can’t account for. They said there were incomplete files --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: -- and that the files were – their cumulative value for those contracts was about $6 billion. So it’s a filing issue. It’s not a “we lost money” issue.

QUESTION: So you’re sure that you know where all that money is even though you acknowledge that the files are not complete?

MS. HARF: I – that’s my understanding, yes. But again, all of this is posted on the IG’s website in much more detail.

QUESTION: But --

MS. HARF: I don’t have the $6 billion.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, I just – (laughter) – it sounds like it may be more of a distinction without a difference, saying it’s an accounting error, like maybe --

MS. HARF: No, because the notion that we can’t find $6 billion, right, would mean that it’s an accounting issue, that somehow we lost money that – you can understand why when people hear that they think that it means we’ve lost $6 billion. That’s my understanding that that’s not the case.

QUESTION: Yes, please. I mean, regarding this IG issue, it’s like every other day something is coming out of --

MS. HARF: IG’s been very busy, apparently.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, because there was no IG before, no five years.

MS. HARF: We have a new IG, yep.

QUESTION: Yeah, it came on September. Yeah. I mean, I’m trying to figure out – I mean, when he’s like – when you say grossly and inaccurate, does he presenting these things with information or just like a number?

MS. HARF: Yeah. So the way the IG works in general – and I don’t have the details about their methodology here – is they are independent and they undertake independent reviews, some I understand that are done just routinely, some I think are in response to people submitting things to them. And in general, after the IG does a draft report they submit it to either the post overseas or the office here or the bureau that deals with it so they can have a chance to review it and comment on it and to begin implementing recommendations, if there are any that they think are helpful. So there’s a process here. Then they eventually release the final report that sometimes takes into account comments, sometimes they disagree. We have a variety of ways to respond.

QUESTION: The reason I am asking because these things are related more about overseas activities and contracts. Does the State Department officially – when you say grossly inaccurate, are you going to say what is accurate?

MS. HARF: Yes. And as I said, our response and the entire report is up on the IG’s website. I’m happy to dig into it a little bit more. But yes, we do. I mean, that’s why we give responses and they’re published.

Arshad.

QUESTION: Two small things. One, are there any plans for Ambassador Indyk to return to Washington, for example, to brief the President or --

MS. HARF: Not that I’ve heard of.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: We’ll keep folks posted.

QUESTION: And other one: Yesterday I had asked if you would tell us what are the limited exceptions --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- under which – yeah.

MS. HARF: Iran.

QUESTION: Yes. Under which you would --

MS. HARF: On – well, on our --

QUESTION: Well, just generally under which you can deny visas to diplomats who countries wish to send to the United Nations in New York.

MS. HARF: Yep. So as a matter of U.S. immigration law, foreign government officials, including representatives of the member-states of the UN, are exempted from most visa ineligibilities; however, they are subject to ineligibilities under several INA sections. Those are related to security, terrorism, and foreign policy. Those are the three exceptions. Obviously, those can be interpreted more broadly, but those are the three exceptions.

QUESTION: When you say security, it means if they’re deemed to be a security threat?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Terrorism if it means that they’re deemed to be terrorists?

MS. HARF: Or – I don’t know if – I don’t know, but it could include if they financed – I don’t know how broad it is defined.

QUESTION: Okay. And foreign policy, do you know how that’s defined because --

MS. HARF: I don’t. But I think that’s probably one that’s fairly --

QUESTION: Elastic?

MS. HARF: -- fairly broadly defined. But I actually don’t know what the code reads, so I’m happy to --

QUESTION: Right. That’s okay.

MS. HARF: I’ve been doing a lot of reading of U.S. code lately. Yes.

QUESTION: In any – it’s any of these three --

MS. HARF: Any of. It doesn’t have to be all of – yeah.

QUESTION: All of them they have to --

MS. HARF: No. Any. Any. Any. Not all.

QUESTION: It’s any of these --

MS. HARF: These are the three exceptions.

QUESTION: -- applied on this candidate, or not?

MS. HARF: Oh no, I’m not talking about this specific individual’s case at all. We don’t talk about cases while they’re being adjudicated.

Lara.

QUESTION: India?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you aware that a New York City police officer is being held in India --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- on a weapons charge? And what’s the State Department’s role in doing something to get him freed?

MS. HARF: We are aware of the reports, obviously, that a U.S. citizen has been arrested. We, because of privacy considerations, don’t have further comment. Obviously, we provide consular service to any American citizen overseas –

QUESTION: Is there any reason to believe that the way that this – the person is being treated by Indian authorities is not consistent with the way an American should be – any U.S. – like according to Geneva Conventions, I mean, meaning that – are you afraid that this person will face any kind of retribution from the way that the Indian diplomat was treated in this country?

MS. HARF: Well, again, I can’t get into the specific case because of privacy considerations. But obviously, we’ve said we want to get past some of the tensions that have been there over the past several months and move on. I just can’t speak to this specific case.

QUESTION: How worried is the U.S. that there could be retribution against any U.S. citizen in general who’s picked up by the Indian authorities?

MS. HARF: I mean, I think we feel like we’ve moved past this and hope the Indians have as well.

QUESTION: Have they shown that they can be trusted?

MS. HARF: That the Indians can be trusted? India is a very close partner. Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: Is his detention consistent with prior detentions of U.S. citizens on these charges?

MS. HARF: I can’t share any more about this individual because of the privacy concerns – or considerations, not concerns.

Yeah. Happy Friday, guys.

QUESTION: Oh, can I ask one more question?

MS. HARF: Oh yeah, sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, it’s okay. As you know, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify the executive summary findings --

MS. HARF: Portions of it, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah – of the CIA interrogation report. Two senators said that they voted against it because of, “warnings from the State Department and our allies indicating that the declassification of this report would endanger the lives of American diplomats and citizens overseas, and jeopardize U.S. relations with other countries.” Is that consistent with the State Department’s decision?

MS. HARF: I did see that comment. I don’t know the answer. I’m going to dig into this one a little more this afternoon.

QUESTION: Okay. If – could you put it out?

MS. HARF: Yeah, I’ll see what I can do.

QUESTION: Yeah. And I’m wondering also who at State --

MS. HARF: -- would have been involved --

QUESTION: -- like what part of the State Department would have advised them if that’s the case.

MS. HARF: Yeah. I’m happy to – I did see that. I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:59 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: April 3, 2014

Fri, 04/04/2014 - 07:53

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 3, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Secretary Kerry's Travel
  • CUBA
    • USAID Social Media Program to Advance Freedom of Expression
    • Congressional Notification of Program / Congressional Support of Programs in Cuba
    • Continued Call to Release Alan Gross
    • Government Accountability Office Review of USAID Program
    • U.S. Policy on Democracy Promotion Around the World
    • Purpose of Program to Create a Platform for Cubans to Express Themselves
    • Program not Renewed
    • U.S. Government Provided Non-Political Content
  • MEPP
    • Delay of Prisoner Release / No Information on Other Decisions
    • Special Envoy Indyk's Meetings with Parties to Find a Path Forward
    • Foreign Operations Bill
    • Both Parties Have To Make Tough Choices and Decide on a Path Forward During Negotiations
    • Secretary Kerry's Conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas
  • IRAN
    • Iran Will Need to Make Tough Choices During Negotiations
    • President is Fully Engaged in Foreign Policy
    • U.S. Focused on Seeing Concrete Actions During the Negotiation
    • Vienna Talks Will Focus on Putting Issues on the Table
  • SYRIA
    • Any Decision to Hold Presidential Elections is Inconsistent with Geneva Communique's Stated Goals
    • Trying to Bring Parties Back to the Table for Geneva Talks
    • Working with Russians on Syria
  • RUSSIA
    • NASA Suspension of Certain Cooperations with Russia
  • SYRIA
    • Global Counterterrorism Forum Announcement
    • Influx of Refugees a Strain on Countries
    • U.S. Provides Humanitarian Assistance to Help Relieve the Refugee Crisis
  • UKRAINE/RUSSIA
    • Former Ukrainian President's Comments on Crimea
    • Call for Russia to De-Escalate and Pull Back Troops from Borders
  • LIBYA
    • Report of Audit of Security at the U.S. Embassy in Libya
    • Implementation of Report's Recommendations
    • Inspector General Report Focuses on Embassy Issues
    • Diplomatic Security and Overseas Building Operations Plan to Implement Recommendations
  • ROK/JAPAN
    • Follow-up on Trilateral Meetings Between U.S., Japan, And Republic of Korea
  • UNITED KINGDOM
    • Muslim Brotherhood Designation
  • IRAN
    • Iranian Nominee for Representative to United Nations


TRANSCRIPT:

2:48 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Let’s get started. I’m sorry for the wait, guys.

Update on the Secretary’s travel at the top: Today, Secretary Kerry was in Algiers. He just landed in Rabat. While he was in Algiers, he met with the Algerian foreign minister, participated in the U.S.-Algeria Strategic Dialogue, and had lunch with Acting Prime Minister Yousfi. He then hosted a U.S.-Algeria soccer event for Algerian youth. He also met with the Qatari emir, and before departing Algiers met with Algerian President Bouteflika. He again lands – he just landed in Rabat, which is the final stop on his trip to Europe and the Middle East and North Africa. He will be home after Rabat. Tonight, he will meet with the Moroccan prime minister.

And with that, Lara.

QUESTION: Thanks. We’d like to ask some questions about --

MS. HARF: Let me guess.

QUESTION: -- about a certain USAID program run in Cuba.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And my colleague, Jack Gillum, is going to start off the questioning.

MS. HARF: Oh, hello.

QUESTION: Hello. How are you?

MS. HARF: Welcome to the briefing.

QUESTION: It’s good to be here.

MS. HARF: Is it? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I think so.

MS. HARF: Go ahead.

QUESTION: So was Secretary Clinton aware of this program and did she authorize it?

MS. HARF: Well, first, why don’t I make some comments about the overall story and then I’ll get into your specific question.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: The first is that I do think that there – in this, I think, rather – no offense – breathlessly written story, there were a number of misconceptions in this story about what this program was and what it was not. I’m happy to go through those in detail today.

The first being, of course, the most important: that there was nothing classified or covert about this program. Discreet does not equal covert. Having worked for almost six years at the CIA and now here, I know the difference. So I’m happy to go into that in a little more detail as well.

In terms of why we undertake these programs, because we have been very clear, as has Congress, that it is important to support the Cuban people, to provide them with platforms for expression. That’s what we were doing. This was a platform. We were not generating political content of any kind on this platform. We were letting the Cuban people do that themselves. In these kind of hostile environments, for the safety of the people working on these programs, indeed for them to be effective, we believe we must be discreet in doing so.

In terms of your specific question, it is my understanding that this did not reach the Secretary’s office, either the previous Secretary of State. Obviously this ended before Secretary Kerry came in. He also was unaware of this program. It went through the normal USAID chain in terms of approval as well.

So I’m happy to dig into some of the details here if you’d like to ask them.

QUESTION: Sure. Well, I just want to say if you could first start out by characterizing what you say are some of the inaccuracies in the report.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, the notion that this is covert or secret. I think you’ve seen a lot of reports picking up on your story today that say secret, covert action that we were running in Cuba. That is by far not the case.

Covert action, which you can find defined in Title 50 of the U.S. Code, includes among other things the fact that you can legally and you do legally deny it. That was not the case here. The documents associated with the contracting companies were not classified. If you asked directly the contractors or the people who were aware that we were funding it if they were working for the United States Government, they would have said yes. They would not deny it. Covert action by definition includes the ability and the need to legally deny it.

So I think the tone of this story that this was somehow secret, that this was somehow covert, is just not correct.

QUESTION: There’s a difference between secret and covert, correct?

MS. HARF: Well, secret is – it wasn’t classified. It – yes, there is, but it wasn’t either. And I think the article makes a nod to it being one of the two.

In terms of the funding here – you asked me about inaccuracies, let me keep going here. In terms of the funding here, I think that your report – and let me just get this funding part here – talked about money coming possibly from funding that had been earmarked for Pakistan. It’s my understanding – and we can double-check with AID – that this was all ESF funding that was directed to Cuba. It was notified to Congress in a 2008 congressional notification titled “Outreach to New Sectors of Cuba Society” for the amount of $6,850,000 for a number of programs, including this one.

We also offered to brief our appropriators and our authorizers, which is HACFO, SACFO, SFRC, and HFAC, about our Cuban outreach programs. And again, you hear on the Hill from many people that they support these kinds of democracy promotion programs.

Another item was the notion that we were somehow trying to foment unrest, that we were trying to advance a specific political agenda or point of view. That – nothing could be further from the truth. We believe that the Cuban people need platforms like this to use themselves to decide what their future will look like, and that’s certainly what we did here.

We were trying to expand the space for Cubans to express themselves to – they could have expressed – excuse me – anti-American views on it. We didn’t monitor or we weren’t able to choose what they say on these platforms. That’s up to them. So this was, like other programs – sorry, I’m choking here – a program that, because of the hostile operating environment in Cuba, it was done discreetly. And --

QUESTION: I just had a quick question for you.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: So you say that this is not covert.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: But I’m just – help me draw the line here, because this is a program that was set up that was so secret that it --

MS. HARF: It wasn’t secret. Secret is a technical term, and it was not classified.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, it was obfuscated in the sense that it was set up with foreign bank accounts --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- it was set up with foreign companies overseas. The CEOs who were interviewed this were not told it was a U.S.-backed project. So help me understand how that is not covert.

MS. HARF: Well, a bank overseas doesn’t equal covert action. It just doesn’t. It’s a fact. What I would say is that you have to – when we talk about discretion, it’s not just discretion with the people on the ground. It’s discretion about where the funding is coming from, so the Cuban Government won’t shut it down, they won’t clamp down on average Cubans trying to talk to one another on this. Again, having a bank account overseas doesn’t equal, anywhere I’ve read in any kind of covert action definition, covert action.

QUESTION: Right. Well --

MS. HARF: The documents weren’t classified and the contracts weren’t classified. When companies do covert action or classified undertakings with the United States Government, the contracts are classified. That was not the case here. By definition, this does not meet the covert action definition.

QUESTION: Well, when you mention the documents, they specifically talk about keeping this an under-the-radar strategy and keeping the --

MS. HARF: Discretion, absolutely.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: We know the operating environment in Cuba. We know it requires discretion.

QUESTION: So you talk about saying that the appropriate members of Congress were briefed on this.

MS. HARF: I said Congress because there was a congressional notification --

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: -- and that key staffers on these committees were – had – we had consultations with them regularly on all of our programs, and obviously, we offer briefings to these four committees when they ask for them. And they’re very supportive of our efforts in Cuba.

QUESTION: So the senator who oversees funding for the State Department says that he didn’t know about the program, called it, quote, “dumb,” and said he wouldn’t have supported it. So how is there support on it?

MS. HARF: Oh, I’m not going to speak for the senator. But again, we submitted a congressional notification in 2008 outlining what we were doing in Cuba. I can’t speak to why he knows certain things or doesn’t know certain things.

QUESTION: But is he one of the senators who would have had to approve this report? I mean, you just mentioned, what, four committees?

MS. HARF: Approve what report?

QUESTION: Or, I’m sorry, approve this program, or at least be notified of this program.

MS. HARF: Well – right. So we have authorizers and overseers here. We have, obviously, on the House and the Senate side, Foreign Ops, and on the House and the Senate side, Foreign Relations and Foreign Affairs. So in terms of this specific funding, these are the folks that sign off on it. Funding got signed off on for it --

QUESTION: So it never went through the Appropriations Committee, it only went through --

MS. HARF: That’s what I said, HACFO and SACFO, uh-huh. That’s how we get appropriated. Uh-huh.

QUESTION: That’s interesting.

QUESTION: In the --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: In the wake of the arrest of Alan Gross, were you concerned that the covered-up nature of the U.S. Government involvement could have endangered him or endangered other Cubans using the service?

MS. HARF: Well, I think two points. The first is you use – you keep using terms that have some nefarious tone to them – covered up. This was discreet.

QUESTION: What term would you use?

MS. HARF: I would just say it was discreet, because – exactly because we know the --

QUESTION: Okay. So would the discreet nature of the U.S. Government do that?

MS. HARF: Well, we operate discreetly exactly because the Cuban Government has put dissidents in jail.

And look, on Alan Gross, we have been very clear. The Cuban Government needs to release him on humanitarian grounds as soon as possible. That has not changed. This does not change that in any way.

QUESTION: Why not? Doesn’t it put him more at risk?

MS. HARF: No. We think they should release him on humanitarian grounds. Look, we’ve been very clear that we promote freedom of expression in Cuba. That’s not a secret. If anyone thinks that’s a secret, then they haven’t been paying attention to what we’ve been talking about with Cuba over the past decades.

QUESTION: On USAID’s website --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- it says, “We partner to end extreme poverty and promote resilient democratic societies.”

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is this just another example of USAID doing its mission?

MS. HARF: Well, absolutely. Resilient democratic societies – part of that is freedom of expression and allowing the Cuban people to have platforms. Again, this was a platform where the Cuban people were allowed to create the content. When it started, the folks who operated it put weather content on it, sports content on it, to get it up and running. But no political content was ever supplied by anyone working on this project or running it. It was the people – the Cuban people on the ground who were doing so.

QUESTION: Marie, what did the program accomplish? Because it looks like it was ended in 2012.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. It ended when its normal contract ran out. It just wasn’t renewed. It wasn’t ended for any specific purpose. Look, we’ve seen – we have seen space increasing for Cubans on the internet. We’ve hoped that they will be able to do more of that, right? So I don’t know if there’s a specific – what this program itself did, but overall – excuse me – our programs are designed, again, to increase this space.

I would also note that the GAO did an extensive look into all of USAID’s programs on Cuba; as part of their inquiry, had extended telephone conversations with the two contractors running this program, had access to all of the documents about this program, and determined that everything was going fine.

QUESTION: Why was the contract not renewed? You said it ran out --

MS. HARF: Yeah, just --

QUESTION: -- I mean, the money ran out. So why – I mean, if the government had put so much interest, or USAID had put so much interest into this platform --

MS. HARF: Well, I wouldn’t say so much interest. Obviously, overall we care about --

QUESTION: Six point eight – how much was it?

MS. HARF: This was a three-year grant totaling 1.2 million. The – what I read for you was for Cuban programs writ large --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: -- that year in that congressional notification.

QUESTION: Okay. So to go off on Margaret’s question, you said that it accomplished a lot. So --

MS. HARF: No, I didn’t say it accomplished a lot. I said our overall policy towards increasing freedom of expression in Cuba, we think, has made some progress there, but there’s obviously a lot more work to do.

QUESTION: As a result of this platform?

MS. HARF: As a result of our programs in general. I don’t know specifically what the outcome was from this platform.

QUESTION: So you specifically say that this was not to foment unrest, yet specific objectives of this program was to – one of them was to organize, quote, “smart mobs” for demonstrations to meet at a moment’s notice. Can you explain that discrepancy?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Well, the documents referenced in terms of smart mobs were not USAID documents. They were meeting notes between the grantee and the contractor. There was a USAID staff member present during this brainstorming session, but the documents in your story are not USAID documents. The purpose of this project was to create a platform for Cubans to speak freely among themselves. Brainstorming – the meeting notes come from brainstorms between grantees and contractors. In no way is U.S. policy – those statements, obviously, were inconsistent with the purpose of the program. Nothing like that was ever requested of USAID. So random meeting notes that were provided to you of one brainstorming session in no way indicate what the overall purpose was of this $1.2 million project.

QUESTION: Can you explain the date of those meeting notes? The nature of that document that you’re quoting from that I can’t see?

MS. HARF: Like the documents you reported on that we didn’t see?

QUESTION: Sure. Can you describe when that – when those (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: I can get the date of it, but it’s the one that’s referenced in your story.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Marie, is the State Department concerned that disclosure of this program puts USAID workers abroad at risk?

MS. HARF: Well, I think what you see today is me being very clear about the nature of this program and that USAID does not do covert action overseas, because they do a lot of very good work in a lot of very tough places, and we don’t want misperceptions based on facts that aren’t entirely true to cloud people’s judgment about what USAID does overseas. So we don’t want it to. We certainly hope that this article doesn’t. That’s why I’m being very clear and standing up here and saying this.

QUESTION: Is this one of the reasons, though, that Dr. Afridi remains in jail in Pakistan?

MS. HARF: Not at all. Not at all.

QUESTION: Yes, please. I mean, I’m trying to connect this event or this – what, call it discreet or secret operation, with similar things were done and then people will start to – some governments complain about it when – with the start of the Arab Spring. Is similar actions, or is this something different as a policy, doing these similar things which is, like, it was said that was giving – whether it’s Egypt, whether in Syria, whether in Libya, whether other places, they were talking about giving a platform.

MS. HARF: Right. Well, to be clear, this program with this specific online platform was just in Cuba. I don’t know, quite frankly, of all of the different platforms we have all over the world. We generally do promote freedom of expression and in hostile environments like this one take – go to great lengths to make sure they are done discreetly. In other places, the operating environment isn’t as difficult --

QUESTION: Because --

MS. HARF: -- so we do very openly encourage freedom of expression very, very openly.

QUESTION: Because it was raised, this issue, in 2012 and 2013 especially --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- last year and the year before that, regarding the issue of some equipments and how they are avoiding to be jammed or – as a platform.

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: But then after that, realized that some people were trained under some aid programs in places like Belgrade and other – Sarajevo and other places. Is this a policy, or it’s just (inaudible) in the issue that he – my fellow, raise it now, just Cuba? Or it’s a policy it can be applied any place?

MS. HARF: Well, the policy of supporting freedom of expression, particularly in authoritarian – under authoritarian regimes where there’s not a lot of freedom of expression is of course our policy. How we do that is tailored to each country. So this program was specific to Cuba. Other places around the world, we do democracy promotion in different ways.

What I will say is one of the reasons I think it’s dangerous to mischaracterize these programs as covert, as classified, as secret – because this was not – is because, as you point out, in many places around the world, there are many misperceptions out there and conspiracy theories about what the United States is or isn’t doing. So we don’t want that kind of misperception to play into what we know are just falsehoods being perpetrated in other parts of the world.

QUESTION: To avoid this perception, or whatever you can call it --

MS. HARF: What?

QUESTION: -- misperception, how you explain to me that it’s like – or to anybody that how it is – there is a big difference that you are giving a tool or a platform --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and you are not shaping the message?

MS. HARF: Exactly, which is I think the key point here.

QUESTION: I mean, you are saying it, but how you can control the – I mean --

MS. HARF: Well, what I’m telling you is we, through subcontracting partners, some companies, created a platform that’s similar to Twitter, where Cubans could freely express themselves. We did not supply political content. We did not drive the political content. We just – our sole purpose here was to open the space so they could supply their own political content or talk about anything else they wanted. And quite frankly, they could have said terrible things about the United States and we would have no way of controlling that. So this is solely for the purpose of creating a platform for Cubans to express themselves, which has long been the policy of the United States, the United States Congress, and many other people in this country.

QUESTION: The other thing which is like when a project like ended, how you make an evaluation it is successful or a failure?

MS. HARF: And that’s a good question. I think it speaks to Margaret and Lara’s question. I’m happy to check with our team at USAID and see if they’ve done any kind of analysis of how successful or what impact it had. I don’t know sort of – for example, I don’t know what the user numbers were. I don’t know how many people it reached. I’m happy to check with them and see if I can get some more information.

Yeah, Ali.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any changes that the congressional staffers who were briefed on this or had an opportunity to learn about it, any changes or complaints about the program or qualms about it that they raised?

MS. HARF: Yeah. Not to my knowledge, but I’m trying to get a little more from our USAID congressional folks, who obviously have the lead on this, because I do want to be able to provide as much detail to you as possible. Obviously, we provide general congressional notification on Cuban programs and talk all the time with members of Congress and their staff about our programs in Cuba, which, again, are widely, widely supported on the Hill. So I’m trying to get a little more on that. I haven’t heard of any. But again, we saw some comments today, so I’m sure next week when Administrator Shah and others are up on the Hill they’ll have a chance to address this directly with Congress.

QUESTION: Have you heard from the Cuban Government about this today?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, no. But I – I’m happy to check, but not to my knowledge. Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Senator Leahy said this is counterproductive and puts Cubans at risk. So if that’s how he sees it, how do you respond to that?

MS. HARF: Well, again, I don’t want to speak for the senator.

QUESTION: No, I --

MS. HARF: Of course, I have great respect for him. But we believe that democracy promotion programs that increase space for freedom of expression in Cuba are very good for the Cuban people, that they don’t put Cuban people at risk because of the discreet nature in which they do them. That’s exactly why we do them in a discreet nature, so they don’t put users at risk and they’re not shut down, which would be limiting space for freedom of expression. So again, I don’t want to speak for him. I am sure we’ll have conversations with him or his staff. I know he has some questions about it. We’re happy to talk to him about those questions.

QUESTION: Do you believe the fact of its exposure may put Cuban people who express themselves on this platform at risk?

MS. HARF: That’s a good question. I can check with our folks and see if they’re doing any kind of damage assessment about that right now. I don’t know. Obviously, one of the reasons we kept our involvement discreet was so people who used it at the time, before it was shut down, that they wouldn’t be at risk. So certainly, we hope they wouldn’t be, but let me check with our folks.

QUESTION: But that then leads back to the question about Senator Leahy’s comments, which is to say that, I mean, he said it was counterproductive. If you do something that is discreet but not classified, that is subsequently exposed, as it can be because you say the documents were public and so on, you then could be doing something that could harm those people who availed themselves of this opportunity to express political views in a context in which the expression of views critical of the government can and does routinely expose people to risk.

MS. HARF: No, and it’s a good question. I would, I think, make two points on that. The first is when you say it gets exposed, obviously, again, not to be too critical of this story, but the tone that it was classified, covert, secret --

QUESTION: I’m not addressing that at all.

MS. HARF: No, no, but that actually – I am addressing your question – in that when these discreet programs become public, I think mischaracterizing them increases the chances that people will be put at risk. That’s where I was going with that.

QUESTION: Right. But --

MS. HARF: And secondly, I don’t think it’s any surprise to the Cuban Government, quite frankly, that we are trying to increase freedom of expression in Cuba. I don’t think that’s a surprise to them. I also think that we have repeatedly called on them not to crack down on these people. We have very clearly said that they should not – not these folks but other people expressing themselves freely, so they have a choice to make here and we hope they will make the right decision. Obviously, the people that were using it did not know it was U.S. Government-backed, so I think that also should probably play into their calculations.

QUESTION: Will you take that question of whether you think the exposure of a previously discreet program puts people in--

MS. HARF: At risk? Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- at risk and therefore whether you perhaps should rethink the use of such discreet programs because their public airing could, in fact, harm the people you say you are trying to help?

MS. HARF: So would you argue maybe covert or we not do them, or we make them public?

QUESTION: I’m not arguing anything.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m asking you if you are looking at this again in the light of the fact that it is now public, whether this might, as Senator Leahy suggests, be counterproductive --

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: -- because its exposure could harm the people whose freedom of expression you say you are trying to defend?

MS. HARF: Exactly. And I think I would, just to follow up on the question I asked you, I think we would say certainly we hope this kind of exposure doesn’t put people at risk. When you look at the ways you can promote freedom of expression in Cuba – this is what I was getting at with my question back to you – you can either do it openly, which we think is very counterproductive because it would not work – the Cuban Government wouldn’t allow the U.S. Government to come in and do this, probably. And so we do think that the best option is to do it discreetly, but it’s a good question and I will take it.

QUESTION: Can we move on to Israeli-Palestinian talks?

MS. HARF: Do you have any more?

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m just curious about the time – I mean, you say that, I mean, the government is obviously supportive of programs like this. AID, I believe, said that they are proud of the Cuba work that they did.

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Rewinding back to September 2012 when this ended, if this was so successful and good – I know you said the money stopped, but can you sort of help illuminate why there wasn’t (a) another funding source; and if there was, or there wasn’t, why it stopped, why it didn’t keep going?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, it – the program wasn’t shut down. It just ended when the funding ended because we are constant – and again, I will take the question about if we can get numbers of users and things like that. We are constantly reevaluating our Cuba programs writ large, determining where the best use of our money, our taxpayer – all of your taxpayer money goes, and where we can be most effective. And so for one reason or another, this was not renewed. Not every program is meant to last forever. So again, I don’t think there was anything wrong with it. I think we just decided not to renew the contract. I am happy to check with the folks who were around then to see if there’s any more light they can shine on that for you.

QUESTION: Right. But you did spend a couple of million dollars on this program over the course of --

MS. HARF: 1.2.

QUESTION: 1.2.

MS. HARF: It’s not that much, actually, in the grand scheme of what we spend here.

QUESTION: Okay. But if it’s not much, I’m curious why it didn’t – why it wasn’t continued to be extended, particularly when these social media platforms take years to develop.

MS. HARF: Well, I think I just answered that we thought it had been useful but the money was going to be – our priorities were going to be used in different ways. I’m happy to see if there’s a more specific reason. I just do not know. I wasn’t here then. I will check. I’ve been trying to get lots of answers on this today, and that’s one I don’t have.

QUESTION: Israeli-Palestinian?

QUESTION: Do you have any – did you have any chance to know what happened to those people who were using those platform?

MS. HARF: It’s a good question. Let me see if I can find out some more. I think that speaks a little bit to Arshad’s question as well.

So we’ll move --

QUESTION: I just want to actually clarify one last thing.

MS. HARF: Oh. Okay. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You said that it’s just now been made public, but in fact it was never secret, it was never covert --

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: -- so the information was out there if anybody went looking for it as we did. Right? I mean --

MS. HARF: Right. I mean, right. There’s levels here, right? There’s something that we announced with a press release and put on our website. There’s something that is, by definition in the U.S. code, covert or classified. And then there are things in the middle that for a variety of reasons, mainly security, we keep discreet. This was in the middle. So we weren’t send – we weren’t putting a press release out, but we also weren’t – these document – this contract wasn’t classified. And if someone had pressed the folks working on it, they would have said they worked for the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: So if I were to file a FOIA request, could I have gotten documents about this?

MS. HARF: I – a FOIA request is a very specific legal progress. I do not make any predictions about how any FOIA request would turn out.

QUESTION: And one last thing: You say that this wasn’t classified, but you’re – the nature in which you’re describing it, is it – you say that it may have put people at risk. Why wasn’t it classified, if that’s the case?

MS. HARF: Because there are certain conditions you have to meet for something to be classified. Look, work we do with certain communities all over the world can put people at risk. There are dangerous places we work in because we think it’s important. People volunteer to work with the United States in many dangerous places. That does put them at risk because they think it’s important. That doesn’t make something classified. There are very specific – and I don’t know if you’re familiar with these – but there are very specific requirements to meet any one of the classification justifications that you can use to classify something. That’s not necessarily always one of them. So clearly this didn’t meet that.

QUESTION: Aside from the GAO report – I swear this is my last one --

MS. HARF: It’s okay.

QUESTION: -- have there been other audits of this platform, inspectors general or anything like that? Any --

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. No.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Again, the GAO report spoke to people involved, took a look at all of our Cuba programs, found out everything was working as it should.

QUESTION: And this is my last question, I swear, too.

MS. HARF: It’s okay.

QUESTION: If --

MS. HARF: You’re turning into Matt territory today, so promise me it’s your last question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That’s right, so --

MS. HARF: Between the two of you you’re asking as many. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Two of us is one Matt.

QUESTION: So that GAO report, which actually I’m familiar with and went back and read this morning before coming over here – on – when I think it’s page 9 that says that AID – and the quote here – there was “support for development of an independent social networking platform as part of this review.” I’m just try – curious how a program that’s discreetly funded, organized and operated by the U.S. Government, without telling the operators involved, how that’s independent.

MS. HARF: Because we weren’t exercising any kind of content control over it. The content was all independent. I haven’t seen that specific report you’re referring to, so I don’t want to speak for the GAO.

QUESTION: This is the only part where this –

MS. HARF: I would check in with --

QUESTION: -- there’s anything like this is referenced --

MS. HARF: I would check in with the GAO. But obviously, you’re right; we were the funding source. But the content – everything that ended up on it after, again, this initial phase where we were tweeting about things like the weather and sports, was content that was not U.S. Government content.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. Government ever have an aim of providing content to the service?

MS. HARF: Political content?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: No. Not at all.

QUESTION: When you said we were tweeting about the weather and so on, was – were people paid directly or indirectly by the U.S. Government tweeting on – or on this service?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t know what the word is. So at the beginning of the service, we provided content – and I can find out exactly how we did that – to get it up and running, about things like sports and the weather. Nonpolitical. Nothing political at all. Just to get it up and running.

QUESTION: This remained in Havana, right?

MS. HARF: I don’t know where we were doing it.

QUESTION: Some guy --

MS. HARF: Yeah, I don’t know if it was the person – I’m assuming it was, but I can – I don’t know the details on that.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

QUESTION: So this was – wait, just one – sorry. So you did --

MS. HARF: Now you want to stay on the topic.

QUESTION: No, no. You did provide content, though, even if it was nonpolitical content.

MS. HARF: That’s what I said. We did never – and I said that earlier. I was very careful to say we did not in any way provide political content, and we only provided that weather, sports content at the very beginning, and then we stopped. Once it was off the ground, we stopped.

QUESTION: Okay. Just – Israeli-Palestinian.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: I have two things I want to ask about here. One, an official familiar with the talks and who is quoting things that Tzipi Livni is alleged to have said during the talks said that Livni told the Palestinians that they were scrapping any plans to make the fourth prisoner release – although, given that they didn’t do it on time, that seems water under the bridge – but it sounds like they are not now --

MS. HARF: Well, we haven’t actually been informed. I’ve seen those reports.

QUESTION: Yes. Okay.

MS. HARF: We haven’t been informed of any such decision like that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: We know, obviously, there’s been a delay. That’s, I think, self-evident.

QUESTION: But as far as you are concerned, it is still possible that the Israelis will release them?

MS. HARF: We have not been informed of any decision like the one you referenced – a total --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: -- that they will not do so.

QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, Livni is quoted as having said that both sides should review the talks – in other words, whether it’s worth continuing them. Is it your understanding that that’s where both sides now are, that they’re not at all sure that they want to continue talking?

MS. HARF: Well, both sides have indicated to our negotiating team that they are still at the table and are continuing to talk.

QUESTION: So you expect them to meet again?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any predictions to make for you, but certainly we think the process is still happening and ongoing. I will note – and let me see if I have this in here – last night Ambassador Indyk met with Ms. Livni and Dr. Erekat together. The meeting took place. At that meeting, again, neither side, throughout this process recently, has indicated they want to walk away from the talks. They both indicated they want to find a path forward.

QUESTION: And can I – last one on this, please?

QUESTION: Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Secretary described in his news conference in Algiers – said that some progress was made.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The report in Maan, the Palestinian news agency, described it as a nine-hour inconclusive and contentious meeting. And the report that quotes Minister Livni also has a rather negative tone in terms of talking about not releasing the fourth round of prisoners and reviewing whether they should actually talk at all. Where was – given the three different ways this has been described --

MS. HARF: At least.

QUESTION: -- two of them rather negative, where was the progress?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re not obviously going to get into specifics about what progress may have been made substantively during these talks. I think the fact that the talks continue, that they’re intense, even if they’re contentious – we know these are contentious issues – that they continue, that they’re in depth, and that they are actually lasting so long, that both parties are still there talking, I think is a sign that we have continued to move the ball forward.

I mean, the question really is, as you heard the Secretary say today, it’s their decision to make now.

QUESTION: So they’re talking today? There is, as far as you know, there’s – I mean, you said they’re continuing but --

MS. HARF: Well, they continued till late last night. I can see if there have been meetings today. I don’t know. But the meeting with Ambassador Indyk was last night.

QUESTION: Marie, just --

MS. HARF: Yes. Welcome back.

QUESTION: Thank you. I didn’t go anywhere.

MS. HARF: I know, but you haven’t been here for a while. (Laughter.) I miss you. I know you didn’t go anywhere, unfortunately.

QUESTION: That’s right.

MS. HARF: But you haven’t been here for a while, so welcome back.

QUESTION: Thank you, thank you. Just to clarify, Livni’s spokesperson, your counterpart, actually said publicly just a few minutes ago that new conditions were established and Israel cannot release the fourth batch of prisoners. So that’s on record now. Since it’s your counterpart, do you care to --

MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, I haven’t seen those specific comments. Again, the last time I talked to the team on the ground, which was admittedly before I came out here, was that we hadn’t been informed of any such decision yet. So I can check in with them again when I’m off the podium and see what the latest is.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: As you know, it’s moving very fluidly and sometimes things change when I’m out here.

QUESTION: Right. The – now, the Foreign Ops bill of this year cuts off economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority if its leadership obtains “membership in UN agencies.” It also restricts aid if they try to pursue action against Israel at the ICC. Do you encourage folks on the Hill to restrain (inaudible) actions or --

MS. HARF: Do we have a position on the bill? I don’t know if we have a position on the bill, and I don’t know what our conversations have looked like with the Hill on that, so let me take that question and see if I can get you an answer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you envision a way for the talks to continue if the prisoners are not released?

MS. HARF: I don’t want to get into predictions or hypotheticals here. We think there is a path forward. We have said that very clearly. What that looks like, the two parties have to decide.

QUESTION: With regard to the 15 conventions that the Palestinians have signed, is it your understanding that not – that in signing those, they have not met the thresholds of – that would require the United States to cut off assistance to any agency – UN agencies associated with those protocols?

MS. HARF: I think that’s been a little bit of a complicated question that our folks are looking at.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: I don’t have an answer for you yet on that.

QUESTION: Can – okay.

MS. HARF: Yep, I will take it.

QUESTION: Can you keep on top of that? Yeah.

MS. HARF: Yeah, I will. And I have been – I know there was some confusion about this, and the Secretary referenced it but let me check on that for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. Just --

MS. HARF: Oh, wait. Go – wait. We’ll go to Michael.

QUESTION: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just two more.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: The April 29th deadline for talks, do you consider that a hard deadline still?

MS. HARF: Well, that has never – that’s always been how long they decided to negotiate for, right? We know this will take time. We’re not actually focused right now on April 29th. We’re focused on what we need to do right now, but more importantly what the two parties need to do right now, and that they have to, right now, make tough choices. We’ll have to make more tough choices the closer we get to April 29th and beyond. But again, right now nobody’s looking at a calendar and worrying. What we’re doing is trying to make some progress in the place we are right now after we’ve seen, as we talked about yesterday, some unhelpful actions, and see if we can get some more helpful ones out there.

QUESTION: And the last one is there’s a code red alert in the south in the past hour in Israel from rocket fire from Gaza.

MS. HARF: Oh, I hadn’t seen that.

QUESTION: Are you aware? Okay.

MS. HARF: I – sorry. I’ve been immersed in getting ready to come out here. I’m sorry, I hadn’t seen that. I’ll check on it, though. Obviously we know it’s a huge security concern. Let me check on it.

QUESTION: Do you still – you don’t want to blame any of the parties?

MS. HARF: Well, we --

QUESTION: Because the White House said today that the decision by Israel not to release the prisoners complicates the issues.

MS. HARF: Well, I said that both sides took unhelpful steps. The Israelis certainly did, as did the Palestinians, so I don’t think the White House was just blaming one side. I think they were responding to a question about the prisoner release. But we are not putting the blame on any one side here. Both sides have done some unhelpful things and we think both sides need to make some tough choices.

QUESTION: But the Palestinians took their actions in reaction to the – not releasing of the prisoners.

MS. HARF: Well, we don’t think this kind of tit-for-tat is helpful to the process or will move it forward at all.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Yet it seems that both sides, according to what was said yesterday, both sides are looking for – they said that they need some kind of reviewing of what’s happening, which means some kind of stepping back and – do you agree with that stage?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think “stepping back” is the right term. I do think they are at a very critical point where they – both sides need to take a really hard look in the mirror and they need to determine what choices they’re willing to make going forward. I think this is a point for reflection. I think this is a time to really think very hard about how important this process is for both of their peoples and figure out if there is a way to get this moving forward.

QUESTION: So yesterday, you mentioned that Ambassador Indyk met Livni and – right?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, last night.

QUESTION: Last night --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- and Erekat. And simply, you said that both sides agreed to continue?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. And they agreed there was still a path forward.

QUESTION: So what’s next?

MS. HARF: The devil’s in the details, right?

QUESTION: What’s next, from your point of view?

MS. HARF: Let me check and see if there are more meetings we have on the schedule. Obviously, Ambassador Indyk and the team remains on the ground, is in constant contact individually or, I guess, bilaterally – that’s the right word – with both sides, not together. Let me see if there are more meetings.

QUESTION: So when you said that both sides has to – they need to make tough choices, can you remind us what are the tough choices for each side?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to outline all of them for you. I think we know what a lot of those are. We know how contentious these issues are. They have to, as I said, take a look in the mirror. We understand their own limits and their own dynamics. They know what those are, we know what those are. Making peace is really hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something we aren’t committed to 100 percent, and certainly want the parties to be able to try and make some tough choices in pursuit of that, really, at this point.

QUESTION: Marie, today in Algiers, Secretary Kerry mentioned that he’d be speaking to both Netanyahu and Abbas --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- sometime this afternoon. I don’t know where that falls in the time change.

MS. HARF: He has spoken to both of them.

QUESTION: Do you have a --

MS. HARF: I don’t –

QUESTION: -- readout of those at all by chance?

MS. HARF: -- and probably won’t.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yeah. I tend not --

QUESTION: But it’s worth a shot.

MS. HARF: It is worth a shot. He has spoken to both today on the phone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Were there – to your knowledge, were there any Israeli-Palestinian meetings just with the two sides and not with Ambassador Indyk, or was the meeting just the one meeting with all three sides present?

MS. HARF: I do not know. I will check.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Sorry. I’ll check.

QUESTION: Iran?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Last month, Secretary Kerry in testimony on Capitol Hill said, “President Obama and I share serious reservations about whether or not they will in fact make the hard choice that they need.” Does Secretary Kerry still feel that way?

MS. HARF: Absolutely, because, look, we’re all talking about tough choices today, but we know, we have seen through Iranian actions that they are at the table negotiating seriously, substantively, at a level we never saw before this Administration came in. To date, as I noted yesterday, the IAEA has reported that they fulfilled all their commitments under the Joint Plan of Action. But they will have to make some tough choices if we are to get to a comprehensive agreement. We will too, but they will as well. We don’t yet know if they’ll be able to.

QUESTION: And does Secretary Kerry believe that President Obama is as animated about foreign policy as he is domestic policy?

MS. HARF: I think most people would argue – often argue the opposite. The President is deeply engaged in foreign policy, animated on foreign policy. As someone who worked on his reelection campaign on foreign policy, I know how important it is to him. You see – I think you’ve seen already in the second term some very important overseas trips. We’ve had a very robust second term – and first term, quite frankly – agenda that the President has driven, even when there’s a lot of work we need to do here at home when he’s been focused on other issues as well.

So clearly, he’s very focused on foreign policy, in the weeds on it, and again, looking forward to having a few more years to get some more stuff done.

QUESTION: Just one more on Iran: The Secretary has repeatedly, as has the President, cited this fatwa against nuclear weapons.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: On the supreme leader’s website, he lists all of his fatwas, and this is not among those.

MS. HARF: Oh, really?

QUESTION: Yeah. And questions have been raised as to why.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Folks in the Iranian Government have said that an oral fatwa is equivalent to a written one. But that hasn’t been the case for quite a long time, so if you could take that question.

MS. HARF: I will take it. I will say, just in general, I’m not an expert on the fatwa process --

QUESTION: Nor am I.

MS. HARF: -- certainly, or on the supreme leader’s website. But what I will say, and I think what people have said, is we have referenced the fatwa. We’ve said it’s clearly significant, both to the supreme leader and to the people of Iran. And that’s important. But what we’re focused on in the negotiations is seeing concrete actions, and that words are – including this – are very important, as we know. They set a tone. They help drive the conversation. But again, what we’re focused on is actions.

I’m happy to take the technical part of your question, though, for our fatwa expert here.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Is there a midterm kind of goal that you all are hoping to reach as a result of this round of talks? I mean, obviously, it would be great if everything was solved at the end of it, but are there certain benchmarks that you’re trying to reach specific to this round?

MS. HARF: Well, in general, what we’ve been doing these first three rounds is doing some very intensive – for lack of a better term – brainstorming, although that makes it sound a little more informal.

As you saw after the last round, High Representative Ashton came out and said we discussed enrichment, Iraq, sanctions, and civil nuke cooperation. We’ll discuss the rest of the issues at the upcoming round. We discussed the – we put ideas on the table. We find out very quickly where there are already places we know we can agree, and very quickly identify the places where there is going to be a tougher conversation.

So the first three – well, the first round was really setting the agenda and setting the framework for the talks. Second round and then the round next week are really to put the issues on the table, dig into them very deeply. Our experts are heading out there, actually, to Vienna before we go for the political directors meeting. We’ve been in constant contact at the expert level to work through all of the very technical issues.

So we are identifying where we’re really going to have some issues, where we already know we agree, and then after this round, I think, we’ll probably get closer to when we all start drafting exact language and really getting down into the nitty-gritty of what everyone can accept. So I think that’s what we’re looking forward to in lovely Vienna in the spring next week.

QUESTION: On Syria --

MS. HARF: Anything else on Iran? No, okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: There are reports, rumors, of some form of a gas being used by the Syrian military today. I’m wondering if there is any credibility to these things. Is it something you’ve looked into?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those. Let me check on that. Do you know where? I can check.

QUESTION: I think it’s Jobar.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: That’s – again, it’s reports. So – wanted to see if it’s something you’ve looked at.

Also, on the statement that came out earlier from the London 11 Friends of Syria --

MS. HARF: Yeah, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that your office put out, to understand it to say that should elections be held, that that signals, in this building’s view, that the Geneva process is over? Because it says it’s specifically a violation of the terms of Geneva II --

MS. HARF: I don’t --

QUESTION: -- to move ahead with this.

MS. HARF: Right. And I had the communique in here and took it out, because I was actually trying to skinny this book down. But I think what we’re referring to is there are – there is no way there can credibly be elections in Syria. It would just be a total farce of the word democracy for President Assad to hold elections in the middle of a civil war when he is killing his people. So that’s not what we think is acceptable. But we still think the Geneva process writ large is important, and that a diplomatic process is important moving forward.

So I’ll take a look at the exact language, but we weren’t meaning to say the diplomatic process would somehow be over.

QUESTION: Is a --

MS. HARF: But I can check.

QUESTION: Is – was there a London 11 meeting today? If so, at what level, and where?

MS. HARF: I can – I’m not sure there was. I think we may have just put out a communique, but let me check on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And --

MS. HARF: I don’t have details on that.

QUESTION: And can you explain why you felt the need to put out the communique, because --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- I have not seen a whole lot of reporting of late about the proposed Syrian elections.

MS. HARF: Well, actually, the regime has really upped their propaganda in terms of elections. I don’t know if it’s sort of filtered out into reporting here, but they’ve really started talking much more frequently. Every few days or so, they talk about elections and how they want to hold them. So we wanted to make very clear that this would not be acceptable.

QUESTION: Okay. And they’re doing that, like, on television --

MS. HARF: Yeah. I’m not sure if it’s – I mean, any Syrian state media, I don’t know what it looks like, exactly --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: -- but yeah, they’ve been putting it out.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Okay.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. HARF: Oh, wait. Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah --

MS. HARF: Sorry. Then we will go to Ukraine, I promise.

QUESTION: So this statement simply to say that the idea of elections is not acceptable, right?

MS. HARF: Right. And that any – and look, to be clear that any decision to hold presidential elections is inconsistent with the Geneva communique’s stated goals. So, clearly, that would make the process much harder as we’re trying to get the parties back to the table.

QUESTION: So other thing, which is like – because I was surprised to see this statement, and nobody is now talking about any political process.

MS. HARF: Well, that’s not true entirely. I said yesterday that our special envoy was meeting with Joint Special Representative Brahimi to talk exactly about how to move the political, diplomatic process forward. So we’re talking about it. We’re trying to get everybody back to the table. Haven’t had success at it yet.

QUESTION: So you – because when you say how we make a process, it’s different from a process which was going on and it seems that --

MS. HARF: Well, there is a process that’s been going on, as you know, with the Geneva talks. And what, I think, Mr. Brahimi’s trying to determine right now is if there’s a way forward with that process at it stands with them, us, the Russians – if there’s a way to get everybody back to the table. But we need the regime, quite frankly, to agree to discuss a range of issues, not just terrorism.

QUESTION: Just a technical question --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I mean, when you say Russian – still you are in touch with Russian about Syria?

MS. HARF: Still we are in touch with Russia about Syria. It doesn’t mean we agree on Syria – still in touch with Russia – and look, on things like chemical weapons, working with the Russians.

QUESTION: One more on Russia.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Now that NASA’s suspended certain contracts with the Russian Government, excluding, I believe, the International Space Station --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yeah, that’s right.

QUESTION: -- mission, what is the day-to-day impact of this? Is it mere symbolic, or is there some more substance to it?

MS. HARF: For NASA?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. NASA --

MS. HARF: I’m not sure. You’d have to check with them. I know there were some erroneous reports yesterday that the State Department had told them to do so. As much as I would love to give direction to NASA, we don’t do that.

QUESTION: But can you confirm that NASA has canceled some --

MS. HARF: Yes, I can. I can. I was just saying some people yesterday thought we had told them to do that. But I would check with them in terms of what that actually means for their operations. I quite frankly just don’t know. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Just one more on Syria.

MS. HARF: Oh, wait. Oh, wait. Actually – hold on – I do know. Well, I know that the Space Cooperation Working Group, which is what supports the International Space Station, will continue. So I do know that that is continuing, but I think – it’s my understanding that the other cooperation has been suspended.

QUESTION: And is there much into “other cooperation”? I’m not even sure --

MS. HARF: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Check with NASA. I’ll bring them up here.

Yeah.

QUESTION: A Global Counterterrorism Forum created a subcommittee about foreign fighters recently, last week --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- which will be co-chaired by Dutch and Moroccan Governments. Is there anything that you can elaborate on this? It’s – of course, is global working area, but is there anything that you can share with us in terms of the Syria – in the situation in Syria?

MS. HARF: I can check on the GCTF’s latest announcement. Obviously, we know that they’ve done quite a bit of good work in this area on these issues. But I don’t have anything specific on that. Let me check.

QUESTION: One more on Syria real quick?

MS. HARF: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the UNHCR report that came out that said the millionth Syrian refugee has entered Lebanon?

MS. HARF: Yes, I do. Just give me one second. I’m trying to put my book back together.

We obviously have seen the report. It’s just one more announcement in a long line of very sad announcements, I think, about what’s going on with the Syrian people. We know this influx of refugees has put an incredible strain on countries like Lebanon. We are the largest donor, still, to the international humanitarian response for Syria. We’ve provided more than 340 million of that to humanitarian partners in Lebanon to help in part with the refugee problem.

So, again, we need this conflict to come to an end, most importantly for the Syrian people, and we’ll stand by Lebanon and other partners like Jordan and others who really have borne the brunt of the refugee crisis.

Anything else? Yes? Ukraine?

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. First of all, let me confirm that Secretary Kerry had a phone meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov in the past 24 hours.

MS. HARF: Yesterday, he did. Yes.

QUESTION: Yes. Yesterday morning. But after that?

MS. HARF: I don’t have the time, but I – yesterday, yes. And I think this was the one I read out in the briefing? Maybe not. No, I read out their meeting in person. That’s right.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I did not read out the phone call, I don’t think, but it was yesterday, and I think it was yesterday morning.

QUESTION: Let me clarify about --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- the federalization of the Ukraine. The President Putin and the Foreign Minister Lavrov asked the Ukraine and the United States federalization of the Ukraine. But the Ukraine Government disagreed.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. With federalization?

QUESTION: Yeah, federalization, yes.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Again, let me confirm the – what is the U.S. position? Is it the same as the Ukraine Government?

MS. HARF: Well, I would note that the Government of Ukraine has made it clear they’re ready to work towards constitutional reform, to grant greater autonomy for Crimea, and take other steps to address minorities in Ukraine. So part of that plays into the federalism discussion, right? So our point from the beginning has been any decisions about the future of Ukraine need to be made by the Ukrainian people. If they want to undertake constitutional reforms, if they want to do – give Crimea more autonomy, they need to make those decisions themselves. Russia doesn’t get to make those decisions for them.

QUESTION: Do you think this issue is critical for both governments?

MS. HARF: The federalism issue?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s a place where they can engage, but obviously, this needs to be made by the Ukrainians themselves, these decisions.

Yes, Ali, and then we’ll go around.

QUESTION: The former President Yanukovych did an interview where he said he regrets allowing Crimea to be taken over by the Russians. I’m just wondering if you have any response to that or any other aspects of his interview.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: He made a huge mistake.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: Look, he stopped being president when he chose to leave Ukraine, when he chose to flee amidst overwhelming opposition to him, including from his own party in the Rada. So while his comments are interesting, I think that the only thing he probably said in that conversation that’s correct is that Crimea is part of Ukraine, and maybe he should’ve done things differently when he was leader of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Anything else?

QUESTION: Yeah. Are you concerned that Russians are – Russians have, I mean, almost 60,000 troops in Crimea right now? And are you --

MS. HARF: On the border?

QUESTION: Yeah, on --

MS. HARF: I think your numbers sound a little high. I mean, we’ve said tens of thousands. I don’t want to give you a specific number, but --

QUESTION: All the Ukraine and Crimea border, actually – not only Crimea, but all of the border, according to the news report. Are you concerned that they can proceed in Ukraine, I mean, from Crimea or other – I mean, they – because Russian-speaking --

MS. HARF: We’ve been concerned for weeks that they could, absolutely. That’s why we’ve told them not to. We’ve told them to pull their troops back from the border. We want to see that happen as soon as possible. That’s exactly why Secretary Kerry is working with the Ukrainian Government to get their ideas so he can work with Foreign Minister Lavrov to see if we can get a de-escalation plan in place here.

Yes, Lucas, and then Samir.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on some of my questioning yesterday --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- about the State Department IG report.

MS. HARF: I’m sorry I hadn’t seen the IG report.

QUESTION: It’s okay. There’s a lot of reports out there. I understand.

MS. HARF: They are independent and we do often get a heads-up, but I’m sorry I had not seen it yesterday.

QUESTION: There’s a lot in the world to cover. I understand. Did you have any kind of reaction that this State Department IG report --

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: -- was critical of the implementation on the recommendations from the Accountability Review Board?

MS. HARF: Well, let me see if – just a few points about the IG report, and then we can dig into some of your specifics. So obviously, this was a normal audit done through the normal audit process by the Inspector General of the process to request and prioritize physical security-related activities at overseas posts. This was in no way a reaction to Benghazi, was completed in March 2014. The field work for it started only a few months after the ARB was completed. The field work started, again, just a few months. So it wasn’t in any way a failure to implement the ARB. The ARB had just been completed.

I would note a few other points as well. We did concur with all but one of the recommendations they made for us to take actions, and I would note that on page two of the report it actually states that most of the recommendations have already been resolved prior to the report’s release. So how the process works is they do a draft, they send it to the relevant bureau or posts – obviously to give them a chance to comment on it. By the time the report was released, we had implemented most of the recommendations – I think six of the ten recommendations had been resolved.

QUESTION: Is that --

MS. HARF: So clearly we took action based on what they said.

QUESTION: Is that a passing score – six out of ten?

MS. HARF: Well, that was just what we had done by the time the report itself was released.

QUESTION: So is that --

MS. HARF: But we concur with all of the recommendations but one. In terms of a question you asked yesterday on the process, we did disagree with some of their findings, and specifically that we don’t have a process. According to the IG report, the majority of post security officials believed that the process to request funds for physical security related needs were clear and easy to use. I’m reading directly here.

So we believe there is a process in place that is clear and easy to use as, again, the majority of our posts’ security officials themselves said in response to this survey.

QUESTION: So is this a coordination issue? I mean, if they’re doing a follow-up to a report that was just issued three months – and I understand that --

MS. HARF: Well, it’s – it wasn’t a follow-up to the ARB. It was not a follow-up to the ARB. This was an audit done in the normal audit process, of the process to request and prioritize physical security related activities. It was not a specific response to the ARB.

QUESTION: So just bureaucratic issues, it sounds like.

MS. HARF: This was a bureaucratic audit. Absolutely.

QUESTION: One of the --

MS. HARF: We take it very seriously, but it wasn’t in response to that.

QUESTION: One of the recommendations in the report said that the OBO better coordinate with Diplomatic Security to develop a long range security plan. I found that a bit odd.

MS. HARF: Why?

QUESTION: Because the IG says that a long-range security plan had not been implemented from the office of bureaus and to the Diplomatic Security.

MS. HARF: I can check on that – I’m seeing if I have something on that here. I can check on that specifically. I’m not familiar with that one.

I would also note, just because you asked about the ARB which was obviously specific to Benghazi, that Benghazi in the 72 pages is only mentioned, I think, four or five times. So clearly this was not a report about Benghazi.

QUESTION: Which one did you reject?

MS. HARF: Which of the recommendations?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. HARF: That is a very good question. I will find out. For the ones that we haven’t put into place, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and OBO have provided responses to the OIG and expressed plans to implement them.

Yes.

QUESTION: North Korea.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Special Representative for North Korea Glyn Davies will host a trilateral meeting – U.S. and South Korea, Japan – in Washington next week, April 7th.

MS. HARF: Oh, did you say Davies? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Glyn Davies.

MS. HARF: Okay. Sorry. Yes.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Why does this meeting --

MS. HARF: Because Ambassador King is in Japan right now.

QUESTION: No, yeah, not King – Mr. Davies.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh, I got you.

QUESTION: Why do this meeting take place in Washington, D.C.?

MS. HARF: Why in Washington?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Why in Tokyo and Seoul?

MS. HARF: Because Washington is lovely in spring. It’s cherry blossom time. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: They have cherry blossoms in Japan.

MS. HARF: They actually do have cherry blossoms in Japan. You’re right. I don’t know why Washington. I’ll try to find out.

QUESTION: Okay. Why do – does the U.S. want a normalized relationship between South Korea and Japan? This meeting --

MS. HARF: Between South Korea?

QUESTION: Yeah, South Korea and Japan.

MS. HARF: Well, what I thought you were actually asking about – between South Korea and Japan, you saw the President have the trilateral meeting. We’re doing follow-ups to that trilateral meeting that we will be having very shortly. I think we put out a Media Note on this – we did, actually, on Glyn Davies travel. So this is following up on the President’s meeting. We think it’s important for two of our very close allies to keep talking.

QUESTION: So you guys – I mean, U.S. are not like the match maker between South Korea and Japan, make don’t fighting --

MS. HARF: (Laughter.) I don’t think I would use that term, but we think it’s important to have these trilateral conversations.

Yes. One more.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: One more. Well, then you get the last one if they’re not paying attention. So.

QUESTION: He’s not paying attention. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: And then Lara has a follow – yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: About Egypt.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Yesterday, I ask a question regarding the Muslim Brotherhood and the --

MS. HARF: Yeah, and the UK.

QUESTION: UK.

MS. HARF: Yes. So for anything on that, I’d refer you to the UK. We don’t designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. I know someone had asked me that the other day.

QUESTION: Is there any update about the – Tehran’s selection for their permanent rep?

MS. HARF: No update. Not anything from what I said yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay. A bunch of senators – 30 senators or so just put out a letter saying that they want Ambassador Power to work closely with the UN Sec-Gen to ensure that he’s never received as a representative to the U.S. Is there anything that Ambassador Power can do? I mean --

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: I mean, I’m not sure what that would legally entail.

MS. HARF: I’ve said that the U.S. has raised it with the Iranian Government, our concerns about this. I don’t have specifics on who or where that was raised. But I don’t want to get into the specifics of those conversations.

QUESTION: But more than that. I mean, more than raising concerns. I mean, there’s just nothing that one member of the P5 can --

MS. HARF: Well, so we have as the visa --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: -- responsibility country, as host of the UN, we have our own responsibilities here, which under certain circumstances we can work on. But in terms of the UN, I don’t know if they have process to not accept someone as a permanent representative.

QUESTION: Marie, can you – I actually went back and read the host country agreement yesterday, and I couldn’t find the specific portions of it explaining what are the circumstances under which the U.S. Government could refuse to grant a visa.

MS. HARF: The limited exceptions?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: I’m not sure that they’re spelled out in the host agreement.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what they are?

MS. HARF: I’ll check. Yeah. I don’t know.

QUESTION: And they’d – it surely it shouldn’t be a secret, right? I think it has to do with safety and national security, but --

MS. HARF: I think there are a couple.

QUESTION: Can – if you could put those out in a Note, I’d be grateful.

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: There’s two more. Arshad keeps wanting to end. You can leave, sorry. (Laughter.) I won’t be offended. Yes, two more.

QUESTION: I ask you yesterday about the meeting between the Secretary --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- and the foreign minister of Turkey – if you have a readout --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and you promised to give us a little today.

MS. HARF: I promised to see if I could give you a readout.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: And we’re not going to have a readout for you. Yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: To make it clear, yesterday when I ask about the UK and the Muslim Brotherhood, I’m – was not asking about the report itself or what if they are trying to do in UK. I’m trying to figure out what is your point of you in --

MS. HARF: Yeah. We’re --

QUESTION: -- regarding something like this similar happened. Is it helpful or hurtful to the political process in Egypt?

MS. HARF: Yeah. No, I heard your question, and we’re just not going to take a position on it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:47 p.m.)

DPB # 59


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: April 2, 2014

Wed, 04/02/2014 - 18:47

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 2, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Secretary Kerry's Travel Schedule
    • U.S.-EU Energy Council Meeting / U.S. Middle East Negotiating Team
  • EGYPT
    • Terrorist Attacks Near Cairo University / U.S. Condemns Terrorist Attacks / Condolences to Families / Encourage Government and Opposition to Work Together
  • RUSSIA/UKRAINE
    • Readout of Secretary Kerry's Phone Call with Foreign Minister Lavrov
    • Russian Troops Amassed on the Border /
    • NATO Suspension of Civilian - Military Cooperation with Russia
    • NATO Augmentation of Baltic Air Policing Mission
  • MOLDOVA
    • Additional U.S. Assistance to Moldova / U.S. Working Closely with Moldovan Government
  • UKRAINE/RUSSIA
    • Russia's Escalatory Action / NATO Alliance
    • Price of Natural Gas in Ukraine / Energy Security
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Update on Talks / Focus on Progress
    • Secretary Kerry's Engagement with Parties
    • Secretary Kerry's Travel in the Region
  • JAPAN
    • Second Thomas Shoal / Revision of Japanese Policy on Defense Equipment Exports
  • CHINA/PHILIPPINES
    • Issues Should be Resolved with International Resolution
  • R.O.K./D.P.R.K.
    • Reports of South Korean Discovery of North Korea Drones
  • IRAN
    • Iranian Nominee for Representative to United Nations
    • Nuclear Agreement
  • SYRIA
    • Status of Syrian Embassy in Washington, DC
    • Special Envoy to Syria Rubenstein's Travel Readout
  • IRAN/RUSSIA
    • Reported Transactional Agreement Between Russia and Iran
  • EGYPT
    • Terrorist Attack / Troubling Developments
    • U.S. Delegation in Egypt
  • UNITED KINGDOM
    • Inquiry into Muslim Brotherhood
  • LIBYA
    • ARB implementation / Security of U.S. Posts abroad
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Letter Regarding Bagram Prison
  • TURKEY
    • Secretary Kerry's conversation with Foreign Minister Davutoglu
    • Twitter Ban / YouTube Ban
  • IRAQ
    • Elections are an Important Step Forward for People of Iraq
    • Escalating Violence
    • U.S. Security Assistance to Iraq
  • PAKISTAN
    • Construction of New U.S. Embassy in Islamabad / Embassy Art


TRANSCRIPT:

1:15 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have a few items at the top, and then I am happy to open it up for questions.

A travel update: Secretary Kerry is currently en route to Algiers, Algeria, where he will resume his trip schedule as planned. Today, the Secretary co-chaired the U.S.-EU Energy Council meeting this morning. On the margins of this meeting, he met with German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, U.K. Foreign Secretary Hague, Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski, and Norway’s Foreign Minister Brende. Those all happened on the sidelines of the U.S.-EU meetings. He remains in touch with the U.S. Middle East negotiating team on the ground, and today has spoken over the phone to both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas. Finally, he’s conducted several other calls with foreign counterparts, including with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov.

Second item at the top: In terms of Egypt, you may have seen a statement released by our Embassy in Cairo earlier today, but I’d like to reiterate here that the United States condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks that took place near Cairo University earlier today, which killed at least one individual and injured many more. I believe it was two or three bombs that went off near the university. As we have said before, there is absolutely no justification for such attacks. We extend our condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed and our hopes for the swift and full recovery of those who were injured.

With that, Lara, kick us off.

QUESTION: Can I follow-up on that, on Egypt, just to get this thing out of the way?

QUESTION: Well –

MS. HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: -- I was just going to start off actually with Lavrov.

MS. HARF: Do you have a quick follow-up on Egypt? And then we’ll do Lavrov and then we’ll go in.

QUESTION: Just real simple on Egypt.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I believe – according to our reports, it’s a brigadier, a police brigadier general who was killed in this this morning. You may not have that confirmed.

MS. HARF: I don’t have that confirmed.

QUESTION: The simple question I wanted to ask is, even though I understand your condemnation of it, do you have any belief that such violence – reprehensible as it may be – simply reflects the failure of the Egyptian governing authorities to reach any kind of a political accommodation with large parts of their society? I mean, is it – are – is there not some responsibility on the other – on their side to try to reach out to their opponents?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to venture to guess why terrorists would undertake these kinds of attacks near a university. I don’t believe anyone’s claimed responsibility, but let me be clear that under no circumstances is this kind of terrorism acceptable. What we’ve encouraged both the government and the opposition to do is work together without violence to forge a path forward for Egypt. And I don’t have the detail about the person who was killed.

Lavrov.

QUESTION: Do you have some details on the --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- or readout on the call?

MS. HARF: I do. During a brief phone call with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning, Secretary Kerry conveyed the strong support he was hearing for the people of Ukraine and the legitimate Government of Ukraine from his counterparts during his NATO meetings in Brussels. Secretary Kerry reiterated the objective of de-escalating the crisis in Ukraine, including through engagement – direct engagement between Ukrainian and Russian officials and the return of Russian troops to their barracks. And he once again conveyed the importance of Russia sitting down at the table with the Government of Ukraine. Again, it was a brief call.

QUESTION: Did he initiate the call or did Foreign Minister --

MS. HARF: I’m not sure who initiated the call.

QUESTION: Did you see the reports by General Breedlove yesterday regarding the capabilities of the Russian forces amassing on the Ukraine border?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: His assessment was that there were enough forces, and they brought the whole kit, that they could go in, invade, overtake things in a matter of days. Does the State Department agree with that assessment?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m certainly not going to disagree with the military assessment of one of our top commanders. As we’ve said throughout this entire situation, we are very concerned about the Russian troops amassed on the border. We’ve said that we can’t confirm independently reports that even a small number have been pulled back. That still remains the case. And they are sitting on the border, where we’ve said they should not be anymore.

QUESTION: And maybe the better question is: What is the United States prepared to do about this?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t know if you’re specifically asking about something concrete or specific. I don’t know exactly what you’re referring to, but I would make a few points about what we did at NATO yesterday. As a direct result of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, yesterday NATO decided to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia. Political dialogue will continue as necessary at the ambassadorial level and above. I think I also have a few points on some other reassurance we’ve done.

In recent weeks, we’ve augmented NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission with six additional F-15s. We’ve deployed 12 F-16s to Poland to train with the Polish air force. We’ve extended the deployment of the USS Truxtun in the Black Sea, and now that it has departed, another naval vessel is on its way to the Black Sea. And again, yesterday NATO members pledged their support to help as we do this, so other NATO members to do so as well.

QUESTION: And do you have any idea how many U.S. forces or troops might be sent in for NATO exercises in Ukraine?

MS. HARF: I don’t. In response, obviously, to the concerns raised by NATO allies, we have tasked the Supreme Allied Commander – obviously General Breedlove – to develop recommendations for additional reassurance measures for our Baltic and Central European allies, as Secretary said yesterday, to make clear that our commitment to Article 5 is unwavering. I don’t have a prediction for what those recommendations might look like.

QUESTION: Can I – just one quick one on that?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: You reiterated all the points that I think were being made before I went on vacation, which was his support for the people of Ukraine, desire --

MS. HARF: Our support for the people has not changed since you’ve been on vacation.

QUESTION: Yes, yes, yes.

MS. HARF: That is true.

QUESTION: No, that’s good – nor has the crisis, though – de-escalating the crisis, Ukrainian-Russian talks, Russian troops returning to their barracks. Have you made any progress, do you think, in achieving any of those ends?

MS. HARF: Well first, we haven’t seen further escalation by Russia, which I do think is a good thing. Obviously, we want to see de-escalation now. So I know there was a lot of talk about what the Russians might do, and we haven’t seen them take further steps.

In terms of some of the augmenting in terms of NATO, I think some of that is new in terms of what we’ve sent to the region, to the Baltic States, and our other NATO allies, to reassure them. We’ve also had yesterday Congress finally pass a monetary assistance package that provides loan guarantees to Ukraine and also further sanctions some Russians – officials I believe. So on the support on the economic side, we’ve moved forward with that as well. We’ve moved forward with two rounds of sanctions, I think probably since you’ve been on vacation.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: I can’t remember when you left, Arshad. But look, we’ve been working very closely directly with Foreign Minister Lavrov to see if there’s a diplomatic path forward here. So that process continues. It’s a difficult one, but it does continue.

QUESTION: Are there any plans for them to meet again, the Secretary and Lavrov?

MS. HARF: I don’t know of any plans specifically to meet in person. But we’ve said, after their meeting in Paris, that they will continue to be in consultation with each other, and if they need to meet again somewhere, they will.

QUESTION: Marie, you did confirm that a U.S. vessel is going to the Black Sea?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you know what kind of vessel? Is it a --

MS. HARF: Let me see.

QUESTION: -- like a destroyer? Is it --

MS. HARF: I don’t know. I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: -- or is a task force? What is it?

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. And our – my colleagues at the Defense Department probably have more details.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you have an assessment of the size of the Russian military that is deployed on the border?

MS. HARF: Well, what we’ve said is there are tens of thousands of Russian troops there. We haven’t gotten into specifics here. I know there are a wide range of reports, but the bottom line is there are too many and they need to not be on the border anymore and they need to pull back. As I said at the beginning, we can’t independently confirm that even a small number has been pulled back from the border. Obviously, we need to see much more movement there.

QUESTION: Are they on their side of the border?

MS. HARF: It’s my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Can we change topics?

MS. HARF: We can – anything else on Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. HARF: Okay. One more on Ukraine.

QUESTION: First, you mentioned many times and it was mentioned that the de-escalation of the crisis. In meantime, there is a movement of more troops or more equipment, military equipment, in the Eastern Europe. How you justify or how you explain to regular people what that’s – that’s not a de-escalation or escalation?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s a response to escalatory moves that Russia has already taken, and a response to the fact that they haven’t taken moves to de-escalate. So obviously one of the cornerstones of our NATO alliance is the goal of a Euro-Atlantic region whole, free, and at peace. And what the Russians have done with their actions is threaten that. And we have been very clear that if the Russians don’t de-escalate, we will take steps in response to their escalation. So that’s what we’ve done. They’re the ones who sent troops into another country and attempted to annex it. They’re the ones who’ve undertaken actions that are in contravention of international law. The actions we’ve taken are fully consistent with our NATO alliance and partnerships.

QUESTION: There is another question related to the – raised in Eastern Europe in particular, and some other places, related to the Ukrainian – and related to the American role. Is – United States is transferring what the Ukrainians are demanding or trying to do, or it’s proposing its own suggestions?

MS. HARF: Well, obviously our goal throughout this process has been for the Ukrainians to decide their future. So while we are, yes, in talks with Foreign Minister Lavrov, all of the topics for discussion on the table are fully, 100 percent coordinated with the Ukrainians. These are ideas the Ukrainians themselves have talked to us about and now the Russians about directly and also very publicly – monitors, de-escalation, returning to their barracks. These are all things the Ukrainians themselves are putting on the table. We are playing a role obviously in these discussions, but any discussions we’re having back and forth with the Russians are ideas that the Ukrainians are really feeding into.

QUESTION: So in --

MS. HARF: But that’s why we’ve also said there needs to be direct dialogue between Ukraine and Russia.

QUESTION: Just to follow up to what you said: There are two issues, which is, like, first some changes in the constitution of the Ukraine in order to give some more rights to the Crimean and Russians or all these thing. And the other concept is the concept of federation.

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: And another issue was raised last week. It was the possibility or the necessity of putting international monitors. Are these issues are still on the table?

MS. HARF: So a couple points on that. On federalism, obviously as I’ve said, any decisions about the future of Ukraine need to be made by the Ukrainians themselves. And I do believe the Government of Ukraine has made it clear that they’re willing to work towards constitutional reform and ready to do so, that they’re ready to grant greater autonomy for Crimea, and to take other steps to address legitimate issues regarding minorities in Ukraine. So the government said they’re willing to, but on any issue, whether it’s federalism or any other issue, the Russians don’t get to decide that, the Ukrainians need to.

On the issue of monitors, absolutely yes, that is certainly part of what we need to see in terms of de-escalation. There are a number of monitors from the OSCE and elsewhere who are ready to go into Crimea. Some of them are in Ukraine, but we believe they need to be able to go to all parts of Ukraine, including Crimea. To my knowledge, they haven’t gotten in yet, but I’m happy to check on it.

QUESTION: So just last one. I mean, when the issue of Crimea was raised, there was always this fear, or whatever you can call it, or expectation that a similar thing may happen in Moldova. Are still – this fear, it’s there? Or it’s gone?

MS. HARF: Well, we remain concerned about any possible Russian escalation anywhere, including in Moldova. And I don’t know if you saw the announcement this week that we are providing an addition $10 million in assistance to Moldova – Assistant Secretary Nuland announced it during her trip there earlier this week – and we’ll provide equipment and training to the Moldovan border police and customs service. I would note that over the last 20 years, our assistance to Moldova has totaled approximately 1.2 billion, including over 22 million just in Fiscal Year 2013 alone.

So obviously, we are working very closely with the Moldovan Government on a range of issues and are concerned, of course, about Russian escalatory moves anywhere in the region.

Anything else on Ukraine?

QUESTION: One more on Ukraine.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Is sending a warship to the Black Sea escalating the force in the area?

MS. HARF: Well, I think I just addressed that. It’s not. It’s a response to Russia’s escalatory action. We said we would take steps to respond to the escalatory action, and alternatively, if they de-escalated, we would take steps in response to that as well. So this is fully in line with our commitment to defend our NATO allies, fully in line with those commitments we all signed up for, and Russia’s the one who has taken steps that are not in line with their international obligations.

QUESTION: Because yesterday in Brussels, the Secretary said the USS Truxtun would remain in the Black Sea --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and now we hear reports that Truxtun was not in the Black Sea and is returning.

MS. HARF: Yeah. We extended the deployment of the Truxtun and now it’s departed, we are sending another U.S. naval vessel to the Black Sea to replace it.

QUESTION: Would it have the same offensive capabilities as a guided-missile destroyer?

MS. HARF: I’m going to check on what kind of vessel is – I know you’re the expert on this, but let me check on that, and I’ll check with my colleagues at DOD and see what they have. You’re welcome.

QUESTION: It’s a destroyer probably, because – according to DOD officials. But --

MS. HARF: Tolga’s filled us in from DOD.

QUESTION: Yeah. What is the reason that you submitted to Turkish Government to use the Turkish straits for access of this warship to the Black Sea? What is the reason that you sent? What --

MS. HARF: What’s the reason we’re working with a NATO ally to reassure our NATO allies on this issue?

QUESTION: No. According to the international law, you have to submit a reason to Turkish Government to use the Turkish straits.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: So again --

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check and see what the reason was, if there’s officially a reason submitted. Obviously, Turkey’s a NATO ally --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: -- and this is all about our NATO alliance and how we reassure our NATO partners that we will stand by them.

QUESTION: So you are sending this warship --

MS. HARF: That’s my reason. Let me see if there’s an official reason given.

QUESTION: Yeah, you – actually – so, you mean Turkey when you are talking about to defend the NATO allies?

MS. HARF: I’m talking about the Baltic States, I’m talking about a whole number of folks in the region.

QUESTION: The Black Sea?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. This is – yep, this naval vessel’s currently on its way to the Black Sea, yes.

QUESTION: Yes. And so you are talking about Turkey when --

MS. HARF: I just said I’m talking about a number of NATO allies in terms of how we want to bolster our defenses there, not just Turkey. We care about all of them.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: No, but I’m – Black – I mean --

MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into a geography lesson with you here. Let’s move on.

QUESTION: So we are bolstering our defense because – the United States is bolstering its defense because diplomacy is not working?

MS. HARF: No, because it’s the prudent thing to do, because the Secretary just had conversations with our NATO allies following Russia’s military intervention and they asked for General Breedlove to look into how we could further do this. We can do two things at once. Obviously, we’re working a diplomatic track, but we need to have things in place that do reassure our allies in case the diplomatic track takes longer than we want or while we try to make progress on it.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. HARF: On Ukraine?

QUESTION: Ukraine, yeah.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Because I just remembered this. Related to the energy, I mean, it was – some steps have taken already to raise the price that – of the gas that’s passing through Ukraine.

MS. HARF: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: So do you have anything about that?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Especially that you mentioned at the beginning there was a meeting today with EU and --

MS. HARF: We do. I have a little bit on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: So we very strongly believe that countries should not use supply or pricing terms as tools of coercion to interfere in other countries’ affairs in Ukraine or anywhere else. So yesterday, Russia did raise the price of natural gas for Ukraine by more than 40 percent. Today, President Putin signed into law to abrogate the 2010 agreement between Ukraine and Russia in which Russia pays rent and provides a 30 percent reduction in gas prices. So it looks like Ukraine’s gas prices will be going up even further.

I would note that the average price EU members pay for natural gas, despite the greater distance to ship it from Russia to these countries, is about $370 per thousand cubic meters. Ukraine is now paying 385, a price which is going to go up, despite the shorter distance it has to travel. So we are taking immediate steps to assist Ukraine. Today, Secretary Kerry and Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Poneman were in Brussels, as I said, for the Energy Council meeting. They talked to our EU partners about energy security specifically – not just for Ukraine, but for all of Europe. And we are taking some steps, including providing emergency finance and technical assistance in energy security and energy sector reform.

So we’ll keep working with them on it. Obviously, it’s something we’re concerned about.

QUESTION: The issue with the EU – for a while it was raised after this crisis --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that at least most of them, if not Germany in particular, between 30 to 40 percent of their needs are coming from the Russian gas and the oil. So how was this issue discussed, too little by little replace it, or it’s like it’s too far to do it?

MS. HARF: Well, we have worked with Ukraine and other allies on its western borders to encourage them to prepare to reverse natural gas flows in some of their pipelines currently so that Ukraine can access additional gas supplies if needed.

We’ve made the point, certainly, to Russia but with our partners as well that if Russia – any disruptment of Russia shipments to Ukraine and the rest of Europe is actually a losing situation for Russia, who needs to sell this and would lose out the most from this. So we are obviously working with our European partners on this and believe energy security is an incredibly important issue. We’ll continue the conversations.

QUESTION: Can I change topics --

MS. HARF: We --

QUESTION: -- on Palestinian (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: One more. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Justice Department today announced that a Ukrainian industrialist, Dmytro Firtash, as well as a member of India’s parliament and four other people have been indicted for being involved in a suspected corruption scheme of trying to bribe Indian officials. Do you have anything on that?

MS. HARF: I don’t, and not anything beyond the release they put out at the Justice Department.

QUESTION: Okay. And you – have you – you haven’t gotten any protests from the Indians about this or --

MS. HARF: I’ll check. I know the indictment just came out.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: The Palestinian --

QUESTION: Marie, just one.

MS. HARF: Just one.

QUESTION: Last one, to clarify.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: There are three countries who are close to Black Sea in the area: Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: It’s safe to assume that U.S. is sending this warship to defend those three NATO allies in the area?

MS. HARF: We are sending warships, F-16s, F-15s, a whole host of items to the region to defend our NATO allies writ large. I’m not going to get in what specifically is used to defend what country. Obviously, it’s just a show of support, a show or force that we are doing right now.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Can we move to Palestinian-Israeli --

MS. HARF: Yes, we can.

QUESTION: -- non-talks, talks. Could you update us on what has transpired since last night’s – since the Secretary announced he was not going to Ramallah?

MS. HARF: I can. Well, our team remains on the ground. Ambassador Indyk and the team remains on the ground, in touch with both parties. As I said, the Secretary spoke today with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.

What we’ve said is this is one of those points in the negotiations where each side has to make tough choices. We’ve been clear that they’ve made courageous decisions throughout this process, but we can’t make the hard choices for them. And throughout this process, we have been engaged with both sides because it has been, it continues to be, and it will in the future be the right thing for the United States to do. I think it’s an easy story to write – to say that making Middle East peace is hard. That’s not a tough story to write. But what we’re focused on right now is working with the two sides, again, because it’s the right thing to do, to see if they can make some more tough choices and to see if we can make some progress here going forward.

And again, the team remains on the ground. The Secretary is in touch with the team.

QUESTION: So the talks are not at a dead end at this point?

MS. HARF: Not at all.

QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware of any meetings between Palestinian negotiator Erekat and Israeli negotiator Livni today, this evening?

MS. HARF: I can check on that. I can get the latest update from our team on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. And as far as you’re concerned, you’re not assigning – since you are not calling the talks to be over, you are not assigning any blame to any one particular party?

MS. HARF: Absolutely not. Look, to be clear, over the last 24 hours, there have been unhelpful actions taken on both sides here. And we didn’t think it was a productive time for the Secretary to return to the region. That’s why he didn’t go today.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MS. HARF: But we’re not playing the blame game.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: Again, what we’re focused on is seeing if we can make progress. There is a chance to move this process forward. There is still a chance for this. That will require tough decisions by both of the parties. They’ve made tough decisions up until this point, but we can’t make them for them. They need to make them now.

QUESTION: Now, the agencies, the type of agencies that Abbas announced and so on were, in fact, as articulated by the Secretary himself, they are not really that important in terms of shifting or doing any --

MS. HARF: I don’t think he said they were unimportant.

QUESTION: Well, they’re important, but they’re not the kind of agencies that would threaten or would actually go contrary to Palestinian promises. He said that the Palestinians adhered to their promises, didn’t he?

MS. HARF: Well, what I just said, without going into more details, is that we’ve seen both sides take some unhelpful actions over the past 24 hours and didn’t think it was a conducive environment in which the Secretary should travel there right now. But again, what we’re focused on is how to move this process forward. It’s up to the two parties to determine what the path forward looks like. As we go forward, obviously, our team will continue working with them. I don’t have anything to add to what the Secretary said yesterday in terms of the specific announcements yesterday.

QUESTION: Would the path forward include, let’s say, Israeli pullback from Area C, so to speak, and allow more movement for the Palestinian Authority? And would it include also the release of more prisoners?

MS. HARF: I’m just not going to get into specifics about what that path forward might look like. I will reiterate again that both parties have to make tough decisions. We can’t make them for them. It’s up to them. We will play a role, as we have. The Secretary has worked, I think, as hard as humanly possible on this issue because it’s the right thing to do. Everywhere he goes around the world, people want to ask him about Middle East peace. People talk a lot about U.S. leadership in the world, whether we’ve disengaged. The fact that we are heavily engaged in trying to solve one of the toughest challenges in the world right now, I think, flies in the face of that false notion that some people have put out there. So again, it’s not a hard story to write that it’s hard, that it’s tough, but that’s exactly why we think it’s so important to make progress here.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the Jewish Republican Coalition meeting that took place in Las Vegas and was attended by prominent Republicans, including former Vice President Cheney, who basically called Secretary – the Administration’s and Secretary of State in particular – policies in the Middle East a total failure, from one failure to another? Are you aware of that?

MS. HARF: I’m aware of the meeting. I haven’t seen, quite frankly, or had time to look at any of those specific comments. What I’ve been focused on, what our team has been focused on, is the work at hand --

QUESTION: Uh-huh.

MS. HARF: -- and making progress, working with the parties, and figuring out where this all goes from here if they’re willing to make tough choices. I, quite frankly, don’t have time to read what former officials say at some meeting in Las Vegas.

QUESTION: But you certainly disagree with Mr. Cheney that your policies in the Middle East peace process has failed, and Iran – and with Iran has failed, and Syria has failed, all over.

MS. HARF: Absolutely. Again, I didn’t see his specific comments, but when you look at Middle East peace, we’ve made a lot of progress here, quite frankly. There’s much more work to be done, and there’s still room to make more progress, but certainly, we’ve made progress with the two parties.

On Iran, we have them at the negotiating table today with our P5+1 partners. Their nuclear program is, for the first time in almost a decade, halted. I don’t think that ever occurred when the former official you were referring to was in office. So I think that right now what we’re seeing is a diplomatic opportunity we’ve never had before.

On Syria, it’s a tough challenge. Nobody is naive about that. We are continuing to try to move the ball forward on that as well.

QUESTION: Marie, what’s the progress that you’ve made on the peace process?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve seen eight months of very intense negotiations where both parties have made courageous decisions. Not only through the decisions of both parties but through the Secretary’s direct involvement did we get the talks restarted, which was a very important milestone. We’ve had eight months of negotiations where we’ve narrowed gaps, they’ve made tough decisions, and where we still – we know we still have more work to do, but that’s certainly been moving the ball forward. The question now is whether the two parties can make the tough decisions to keep moving the ball down the field.

QUESTION: You’re running out of time, and you still have around 28 days to achieve an agreement. Do you still consider that you are able to achieve an agreement in this upcoming weeks?

MS. HARF: Look, we know this process is going to be very difficult. What we’re focused on now isn’t a timeframe. It’s not a date on a calendar. It’s whether – again, I know I sound a little bit like a broken record today – but whether the two parties can take this moment, which is a tough moment – we’ve seen tough moments before – but take this tough moment, make tough decisions, and move the process forward.

But as I said very clearly, we still do believe there is a path forward here. Our team remains on the ground. The Secretary just today has had conversations with both leaders and is trying to move the ball forward, so that’s what we’re focused on right now.

QUESTION: In his conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, did the Secretary discuss the issue of Israel moving forward on another 700 homes in East Jerusalem?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any details to read out from their conversations.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. HARF: Middle East peace?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Because you mentioned that we don’t want to play the blame game --

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. But it seems that the two sides are blaming you, that you are not coming to conclusion. I mean, how you cannot blame them, at least explain to them what’s going on?

MS. HARF: Well, I said that both sides did take some unhelpful actions over the past 24 hours, so I did say that there were some things done on both sides that we didn’t think were particularly conducive to moving the process forward. But again, this is not about the United States.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: We engage in this because it’s the right thing to do, for the Palestinians and for the Israelis. We’ve been very clear about that, even though it’s tough. But again, this is up to them to make these tough decisions. We believe they can, but it is up to them.

QUESTION: There is another question, probably Said asked – you mentioned in the different times the issue of the cancellation – or maybe you don’t like that term, which was used yesterday of the trip of the Secretary --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- trip to Israel. Still it’s not clear why. The reason I’m asking, because always when there was any problem, you said engagement is necessity --

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- to make it. But this time, there’s – it was disengagement, not engagement.

MS. HARF: No, I wouldn’t say that. It’s a different kind of engagement. So first, we didn’t think that in this environment, after some of the actions we’ve seen over the past 24 hours, not in response to any one thing but the totality of the actions on both sides, that it was conducive for the Secretary to travel back to the region right now. But that doesn’t mean we disengaged. The team remains on the ground deeply engaged with both sides, and again, as I just said, the Secretary’s had phone conversations with both parties today.

So again, in Brussels, he had five bilats about really important issues today, including Ukraine. So it’s not that he just decided not to go and just took a 24-hour vacation. He has other things he’s focused on. He’s had important phone calls with both parties today. We will remain engaged, we will remain in contact with both parties, and our team will remain on the ground to see if we can get the two parties to move this process forward.

QUESTION: But whose side (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to play the blame game. I’m really not. I know it’s a tempting question to ask.

QUESTION: Picking favorites.

MS. HARF: We’ve seen unhelpful actions on both sides, but I would also reiterate that both sides have made courageous decisions throughout this process, and we believe there’s still room and time for the two parties to keep doing so.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Anything else on Middle East peace?

QUESTION: I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about when you became aware of the unhelpful actions. Because it seemed with some of the conflicting statements, as the news was coming out of the Middle East, that it would have come as a surprise or that the U.S. side was cau