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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 29, 2015

5 hours 29 min ago

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 29, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

12:52 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Happy Friday.

MR RATHKE: Thank you. And to all of you as well. I have two quick things to mention at the top. First, the United States condemns in the strongest terms the attack on a mosque today in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, which reportedly killed four people and left others wounded. This attack follows last week’s suicide bombing inside a mosque in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, which killed 21 Muslims peacefully engaging in Friday prayers. We deplore the brutality of the terrorists who perpetrated this violence at places of worship. These acts again highlight the complete disregard that terrorists have for human live. We express our deepest condolences to the families of those killed and our hopes for the rapid recovery of the wounded. The United States stands with the people of Saudi Arabia against this violence and remains committed to working with the Saudi Government and our international partners to fight violent extremism in the region.

And the second item is just to mention that the Secretary was in Abuja, Nigeria today where he attended the inauguration of Nigerian President Buhari. He also participated in a bilateral meeting with President Buhari. The Secretary is now on his way to Geneva, where he will meet tomorrow with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif.

So with that, over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, somewhat related to the trip, can you – where was the Secretary when he signed the Cuba rescission? Was he in Abuja? Was he on the plane?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a breakdown of precisely where he was when he signed the papers related to it.

QUESTION: He certainly wasn’t here, was he? He didn’t sign it until today, and they left yesterday.

MR RATHKE: Again, I don’t have a breakdown of precisely where he was when he signed the papers. But –

QUESTION: Forget about precisely where he was. He wasn’t in the United States, right?

MR RATHKE: Well –

QUESTION: I don’t think it makes any difference. I’m just curious.

MR RATHKE: I mean he left yesterday, so –

QUESTION: Exactly.

QUESTION: Can you check when he signed it and where he signed it?

MR RATHKE: I’m not sure we’re going to get into that level of detail. I mean, you’ve seen the note we put out.

QUESTION: True.

MR RATHKE: The rescission, the lifting of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror –

QUESTION: If you’re going to tell is it’s a state secret where he was when he signed, let us know, but I don’t see why it would be an issue. It’s just a detail that might be nice to have. On –

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: In terms of the rescission –

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- can you let us know – tell us where that leaves things now in terms of the normalization process and whether it has any impact on the timing of reopening of embassies or even of the next round of talks, if there needs to be one?

MR RATHKE: All right. Let me just – I’m sure many have seen, but just to point out that we’ve issued this morning a statement about the rescission of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. It takes – it is effective today, May 29, 2015. And this reflects our assessment after undertaking the review that was requested by the President our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission.

Now, Matt, your question was about the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations. I would point out first of all that the United States sees these as separate processes. The review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror was instructed by the President, and we have had a separate process of discussions with the Cuban Government about re-establishing diplomatic relations and reopening embassies. So we see these as separate.

I would also go back to last Friday’s discussions with the Cuban Government and the comments made by our assistant secretary after those were done that we are close but we have not concluded those discussions yet; we’ve gotten closer each time. With respect to whether a further round is necessary, I think the assistant secretary addressed that as well, and she said that it might be possible to deal with the remaining issues through our interest sections. So we’ll see if that’s possible or whether an additional round is necessary, but we still have some gaps that we have to close.

QUESTION: Okay. So I mean, can you say if – you say you’re close, but does that mean Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, next week? I mean are we talking about something that could conceivably be done in a couple of days, or is it going to take something – is it going to take more than that?

MR RATHKE: Well, it’s hard to put – hard to put a timeline on it. Again, we’ve gotten closer each time. I think the fact that the assistant secretary said it might be possible to deal with this through diplomatic channels also should indicate that we may be able to resolve, but I don’t want to put a timeline on it.

QUESTION: And then I’m just going to say – but you’re saying that – you’re saying you see these as separate issues, so the normalization and the list. Does that mean that it has no – that what happened today has no impact as far as you’re concerned on the discussions to normalize?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think the Cuban Government has spoken to their own view about this, and I’ll let them speak for themselves about it.

QUESTION: All right.

MR RATHKE: But again, we’ve said consistently and it remains our view that these are separate processes. This decision was based on the facts and a thorough review, which the President ordered and which the State Department carried out in consultation with others.

QUESTION: Right. But the problem is is that the President ordered the review on the same day and in the same statement, and I believe it may be in the same paragraph, possibly even in the same sentence as the statement that said that you were going to normalize relations. So I’m not sure exactly why you – why you insist that it’s a separate thing when it was announced all at the same time.

MR RATHKE: Well, because the reason we see it as separate is because it’s not a subject of negotiation; it is a determination based on the facts and evidence that the State Department has carried out in conjunction with other interagency partners. And we’ve reached the conclusion which was communicated by the State Department to the White House, and the White House then to the Congress for the 45-day period that – the certification that Cuba had not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six months; that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future. And all of this meets the requirements of the law, so that’s why we see these as separate.

QUESTION: Well, are you saying that this review wouldn’t have happened or could have happened without the President’s decision to move toward normalizing relations?

MR RATHKE: Well, the President instructed us to carry out the review.

QUESTION: I understand that you’re saying that they’re separate. So this review could have happened without a decision to normalize relations, right?

MR RATHKE: Well, in principle, yes. But --

QUESTION: Okay. Yes? So why didn’t it?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think --

QUESTION: Why --

MR RATHKE: I think also, as you and I have --

QUESTION: Why did it not happen two or three years ago? Why did – the problem is you’re trying to say that this is not a political – it’s all – it’s not linked. But it clearly is linked and it clearly, at least arguably, could have been done much earlier if it is separate from the whole decision to normalize.

MR RATHKE: Well, I’d put this in a bigger context, because I remember, Matt, at the time we also had a discussion about this. I think there are a couple things that are – that matter here, too. One, first of all, I’m not going to – the President spoke as to the reasons for the new policy direction. I’m not going to analyze or parse them further. I think they’re pretty clear.

Now as to the question of why it was not done at some other time, we have had in the course of our diplomatic discussions with Cuba since both presidents announced this new policy the opportunity to talk about, separate from the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, but we have had through the intensified diplomatic exchanges the opportunity to talk about and to obtain the assurances that have gone into our ability to meet the standards in the law and certify that Cuba should not be on the list of state sponsors of terror. So that’s been an essential part of being able to do the work that’s required under the law.

QUESTION: Jeff, what – independent of the normalization, I just have a very, very quick question. What could the United States and Cuba do today as a result of this rescission that they could not do yesterday?

MR RATHKE: If I could, one – just one terminological point. The word “normalization” I think is something we see as a long-term process.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: We see normalization as a different thing than the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of embassies. Normalization is a longer-term process. It involves many other things. So I just want to say we would use the term “re-establishing diplomatic relations.”

QUESTION: Okay. So what is different today from yesterday? What can they do together that they could not do yesterday as a result of this?

MR RATHKE: Well, the law – the state sponsor of terrorism designation is part of – it springs from U.S. law and the relevant statutes govern then the effect of it. There are a number of laws, including the Export Administration Act, the Foreign Assistance Act, and the Arms Export Control Act; and when a state is designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, it triggers a range of sanctions and restrictions under those statutes. So rescinding the designation is an important step, and then it has certain – it would then involve the removal of restrictions that would come under that – under those laws.

Arshad.

QUESTION: What is the value of this designation --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Yeah, sure. Yeah, go ahead.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: So I mean, let’s – can you be more explicit, because I think there is the understanding within the U.S. Government about what this explicitly means? The four main effects of being on the state sponsors of terrorism list included a ban on U.S. arms exports, controls on dual-use items, a prohibition of U.S. economic aid, and automatic U.S. opposition to loans to Cuba by international financial organizations like the IMF or the World Bank.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Correct? Just for the transcript?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, there are four categories. Yeah, those are the four. I think we would --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- maybe use slightly different words, but --

QUESTION: Okay, yeah.

MR RATHKE: -- basically, yes.

QUESTION: Good. Okay. Second, the way it’s been explained to me, but I think it would be useful for the purposes of the briefing so other people can understand this, what I was told is that even though in theory those restrictions are lifted under the State Sponsors of Terrorism Act, because of overlapping other U.S. laws, the – and I’m going to read it so I don’t get it wrong: “As a practical matter, most restrictions related to exports and foreign aid will remain due to the comprehensive trade and arms embargo imposed by Congress.”

Can you say on the record that that is indeed the case, that most of the restrictions related to exports and foreign aid stay in place because of other law?

MR RATHKE: Okay. So your question has a few parts, and it’s similar to Said’s question, but has additional detail. So let me go through --

QUESTION: Please.

MR RATHKE: -- each of those. So rescinding of the designation against Cuba is an important step. Let me highlight, though, that the embargo, which is a separate matter and which is to a large degree a statutory matter – that is, legislation – that remains in effect. So the lifting of the state sponsor of terrorism designation does not lift the embargo, just to put that kind of bluntly. And I would also point that in addition to the state sponsor of terrorism designation, there is a web of restrictions and sanctions that have been applied over the years, and some of them are unrelated to the state sponsor of terrorism designation.

Now, in the four categories you mentioned, there is – for example, the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Department of Treasury has the Terrorism List Governments Sanctions Regulations – a long one – and that – so Cuba would be lifted from that list. That list prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in certain financial transactions with the governments of countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism. So that will no longer apply to Cuba. However, there is also separately – there are the Cuban assets control regulations. And those will continue to prohibit most transactions involving Cuba or a Cuban national, including transactions with the Government of Cuba. For more detail on that, I would refer you to the Department of Treasury since it’s the OFAC’s responsibility.

The second one, when you talk about foreign assistance, Cuba will – would no – there’s a section of the Foreign Assistance Act – Section 620A if you’re interested – so Cuba would no longer be disqualified from foreign assistance under that section of the act. However, there are numerous other restrictions in the Foreign Assistance Act and in other statutes that will continue to restrict foreign assistance to Cuba.

Third, the Export Administration Act. The State Department will no longer be required by the Export Administration Act to notify Congress 30 days before granting a license for the export of certain dual-use goods and technology. However, Cuba remains subject to a comprehensive embargo. So the export and re-export of such items to Cuba would continue to be prohibited under the export administration regulations without a license, or unless a license exception applies. I think my colleagues at the Department of Commerce would have more detail in that respect.

And you asked about the international financial --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR RATHKE: -- institutions. The restriction on U.S. – on the U.S. position on loans for international financial institutions would remain because there are still several legislative provisions beyond the state sponsor of terrorism designation governing U.S. support for Cuba’s membership in the international financial institutions and their provisions of assistance to Cuba. The Libertad Act is one example, among others, of legislative provisions that govern the IFI regulations. Again, my Department of Treasury colleagues would have more detail on that.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, that’s all very helpful, and I think it’s useful that you put that on the record. The one thing that you didn’t put on the record, but that I think would be useful to have on the record, is that as a practical matter, most of the restrictions related to exports, related to foreign aid, and as you now just confirmed, related to loans from international financial institutions to Cuba all remain in effect.

MR RATHKE: Well, as – again, I don’t want to sum those up. Those are a lot of – those are four very – four diverse aspects of the law. I’ve tried to explain the restrictions that would still apply. But again, there are other aspects, including reputational ones and so forth that – and so the listing as a state sponsor of terrorism would have implications of that sort as well.

QUESTION: Can you take that question, whether you can characterize generally whether it is indeed the case that most of the foreign aid and export restrictions remain in place because of other laws? There is a reason I’m asking this. I think people deserve to have some kind of understanding of what this means broadly. And I think this is not a question that should surprise you guys since it came up in the background briefing on April the 14th when this issue came up.

So if you would take that question about whether you can give a more general description, I think that would be useful so that people understand what are actually the implications of this decision. The way I understand it, it’s – it would seem to be mostly symbolic rather than practical, because the overlapping sanctions essentially mean that pretty much all the restrictions that would be lifted are still there under other statutes.

MR RATHKE: Well, as I said, there is a web of restrictions out there, so this is one part of that. So naturally, the others – I’m happy to look and see --

QUESTION: Will you take it?

MR RATHKE: -- if we’re able to say it in a more --

QUESTION: In simpler language.

MR RATHKE: I’m happy to --

QUESTION: Jeff.

MR RATHKE: -- ask about that. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just a couple points on Cuba here. Since obviously there were some on Capitol Hill who wanted to continue the terrorism restrictions here, but they didn’t act in 45 days – I mean, is there anything that you ascribe that to? Did they just see the light up here on Capitol Hill or what?

MR RATHKE: I’d refer you back to Congress for their – for the reasons they’ve taken actions or not taken actions. I don’t really – I think we’ve been confident in the recommendation that we as an Administration have made and that the President sent to Congress. And we feel that the facts back up that recommendation. So I would highlight that – and as we said earlier today, we still have significant disagreements with Cuba and we have concerns about a number of Cuba’s policies and actions. Those concerns remain, but they fall outside the criteria for designation as a state sponsor of terror.

QUESTION: Was there much of an effort from the legislative affairs shop to make this case on Capitol Hill, and can you characterize what --

MR RATHKE: Well, of course, we’ve had testimony by officials from the Administration – I don’t have a complete catalog in front of me – but certainly over the last – since the announcement of the new policy direction on Cuba back December 17th. We’ve had testimony by a number of officials from the State Department and from other parts of the U.S. Government to deal with all aspects of that. So we’ve certainly considered it important and we remain engaged with Congress.

QUESTION: And finally here, I guess there was an announcement – I think made from the podium at some point here – about that ETA would not use Cuban property for their terror-related activities here. Was there a similar agreement with the FLAN?

MR RATHKE: With – I’m sorry, with which organization?

QUESTION: The Puerto – FALN.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have information with that. Of course, as a U.S. territory, that would fall under a different set of – it would be a different sort of issue. I mean, as a question between – we have, of course, consulted with the governments of Colombia and of Spain because of the history related to organizations from those countries. And so we’ve worked closely with them, and both governments have been supportive of the U.S. steps.

With regard to Puerto Rico, one of the other important things that we’ve announced is that we will have a law enforcement dialogue. The Cuban Government has agreed to a law enforcement dialogue with the United States in which we will be able to address a wide range of law enforcement issues. So that’s also an important part of the dialogue we’ve had with --

QUESTION: And is there no specificity with the FALm, because that is a domestic issue – because it is Puerto Rico – or just because you just – you don’t know?

MR RATHKE: I simply don’t have further details here with me on that.

Anything else on Cuba?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is the Administration going to notify Congress that it does intend to open an embassy in Havana as early as next week?

MR RATHKE: We have not made such a notification. I don’t have anything to preview and I don’t have a prediction about that.

QUESTION: Is there any reason why, now that the rescission from the SSOT has been done, that this notification can’t just go ahead? A senior State Department official told us last week that this notification to Congress could have been made several weeks ago. What – why not just go ahead and do it now?

MR RATHKE: Well, let’s not put the cart before the horse here. We’re involved in talks with the Cuban Government about re-establishing diplomatic relations and reopening embassies. As I said in response to Matt’s question, we have not finished those talks. We haven’t brought them to a successful conclusion yet; we’re getting closer, but we aren’t done with them yet. So I think that’s where our focus is, and I think that’s why we had a round of talks last week with Cuban officials here in Washington.

QUESTION: But the official did tell reporters last week that even though the talks are ongoing, there is no reason why a notification could not have been made before now. There just was a decision let’s just not do it, but there’s legally no reason, because the intent is there to eventually open an embassy.

MR RATHKE: Well, there – again, there might not be a legal reason, but I would go back to the answer I just gave: We are focused on concluding negotiations that are necessary for reopening embassies and to having a shared understanding of how our diplomatic missions will operate in each other’s capitals. That’s what we’re focused on. We need to sort that out, and that’s what we’re working toward.

Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: In reference to the statement issued earlier today, and you made mention of this, it indicates that the U.S. still has significant concerns and disagreements with Cuba. Being on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list had been a major sticking point for Cuba. With its removal from the list, diplomatically is there a concern that the U.S. may lose some of its leverage in addressing some of these disagreements and concerns?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, as I’ve said, we’ve – this has been a – we do not consider this to be part of the negotiations on re-establishing embassies. This has not been a topic of negotiation; it is not – also not part of the agenda for re-establishing relations. I think my answer to Matt on that stands.

QUESTION: But it had been a big issue for Cuba.

MR RATHKE: Well, that – yeah, and I’ll let them speak to that. But again, I’m just explaining how we see this.

QUESTION: Can you outline – you mentioned that there may or may not be a need for another round of talks. Can you outline in a general then what’s going to be the process going forward for normalization?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, the next thing that has to happen is a successful conclusion of those talks on re-establishing diplomatic relations. That’s – so I’m not trying to change in any way what Roberta Jacobson said, I’m simply reiterating it; that is, we had a round of talks last week. We’re not quite there yet, and we need to finalize them. And she spoke to the different ways in which we could move forward to bring those to a successful conclusion.

All right. Anything else on Cuba?

QUESTION: Well, I just --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure – make one thing clear: It is not correct that the designation of a state sponsor of terrorism is a legal impediment to diplomatic relations, correct?

MR RATHKE: Well, we have had diplomatic relations with others --

QUESTION: Sudan, you still do.

MR RATHKE: -- who have been on the – yes.

QUESTION: And it is also not the case that countries that are not so designated – or it is also not the case that you recognize or you have diplomatic relations with all countries that are not designated state sponsors of terrorism. North Korea.

MR RATHKE: I’d have to go through my catalogue of--

QUESTION: North Korea, which came off it.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. The establishment of diplomatic relations is done by mutual consent, in accordance with the Vienna Convention. So, yeah, you’re right.

Okay. Nothing else on that? Let’s move along to a new topic.

Pam.

QUESTION: Spain is saying that the U.S. is going to set up a force of about 2,200 Marines for deployment on an Africa mission. And this is something that will be discussed when Secretary Kerry arrives there. Can you confirm this?

MR RATHKE: What sort of a mission? Can you – do you have – I’m not familiar with those reports.

QUESTION: A permanent force of about 2,200 Marines for deployment to Africa, but they’ll be based in Spain.

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not familiar with that report. I’m happy to check with my Department of Defense colleagues to see if – but I don’t have any detail to offer on that.

Yes, Arshad.

QUESTION: As you’re aware, the IAEA’s latest confidential quarterly report says that Iran has provided some information about two open issues in its – in the possible or potential military dimensions of its nuclear program, that they provided some information related to one of the issues but not the other. Is that a good sign, a step in the right direction? Does it suggest that they are finally getting ready to address all the questions on PMD?

MR RATHKE: Well, it won’t surprise you to hear that I’m not going to comment on IAEA reports that have not yet been publicly released by that agency. So I don’t have a substantive response.

QUESTION: Happy to send you a copy if you’d like.

MR RATHKE: Well, it’s been our practice not to comment on those when they are not publicly released. As a more general matter, we continue to call on Iran to cooperate fully and without delay with the IAEA to resolve all the outstanding issues, in particular those that give rise to concerns about possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. This is, of course, one of the issues that we are working to resolve in the nuclear negotiations, so it’s certainly something we take seriously.

QUESTION: One – sure. One other thing: The Secretary, as you’ve announced, is now only a matter of hours from meeting his Iranian counterpart in Geneva. And as has also been put out, that Secretary Moniz will be there too. What do you expect out of tomorrow’s talks, if anything?

MR RATHKE: Well, we are in the last month, or soon to be in the last month before the June 30th deadline, so of course this is an opportunity for the Secretary, along with Secretary Moniz, to take stock of where things stand as we are working to finalize the technical details and reach a comprehensive deal. So I’m not going to preview the substance of their discussion, but of course this is an important part – the senior level, political level engagement – to keep the talks moving forward. We’ve had expert-level and political director-level discussions. In fact, Under Secretary Sherman was in Vienna yesterday. And so it’s important that these continue moving forward; that’s – I don’t have further to preview beyond that.

QUESTION: Do you see any breakthroughs coming out of this meeting, or do you expect things to unspool more slowly over the next month or so?

MR RATHKE: Again, on that, I think I’ll refrain from a prediction about the pace. We believe it’s possible to achieve a comprehensive deal by the end of June, and Secretary Kerry is engaging with Foreign Minister Zarif to help move things forward to that end.

QUESTION: In terms of the IAEA report, let’s talk about the last report, not this one that came out today. Whether it was publicly released or not, you have seen it – “you” meaning this Administration has seen it?

MR RATHKE: The collective, yes.

QUESTION: But let’s talk about the last one, the one before this one, which said almost essentially – it said essentially the same thing as this one, which is that Iran, although there has been some movement in terms of communication on one of the issues, has still not addressed the whole question of PMDs. Is it – does it remain the AdminiGstration’s position that the issue of PMDs, which, according to not just the IAEA report that came out today that you won’t comment on, but the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that, going back several years, that that – that the PMD issue – is it still the position that the PMD issue must be addressed as part of a comprehensive deal?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. This is – as I said also to Arshad, this is an important issue. We continue to call on Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA about the possible military dimensions and those concerns.

QUESTION: That’s not quite the --

MR RATHKE: And this is one of the issues that we’re working to resolve in the nuclear negotiations. And in fact, Iran has committed in the context of those negotiations to address those concerns. They’ve committed in the JPOA and in the framework agreement.

QUESTION: But that’s not quite the same as saying the Administration’s position is that Iran must address and satisfy the concerns of the IAEA on the PMD issue as part of a comprehensive agreement.

MR RATHKE: Resolving the PMD issue has always been a part of our negotiations, yeah.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure that it hasn’t changed.

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t have anything – I don’t have any changes to our policy to announce.

Okay, new topic? Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have another topic about the Chinese fugitive, so – and several question about cooperation between China and the United States. According to media, China’s most wanted fugitive, Yang Xiuzhu, is accused of embezzling over $40 million, may be departed on visa-related violations. So can we have more information about that, because we know there’s a person having the same name in custody in Hudson County correctional facility. What is next step?

MR RATHKE: Well, on those kinds of matters it’s not the State Department that’s in the lead. That’s – that would be my colleagues over at the Department of Homeland Security, so I would refer you to them for any questions that relate to possible deportation of anybody.

QUESTION: As we know, recently China released a list of 100 alleged economic fugitive, which aimed to bring them back to the country. About 40 of them were suspected in United States. Do you think this case is the latest sign of the – I mean cooperation between China and United States from law enforcement authorities? I mean, do you think – how positive or how optimistic of United States in solving this kind of problem with China?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not in a position to confirm that – the particular case to which you’ve referred, so I’m not going to comment on that. But certainly we’ve discussed with our Chinese counterparts, we’ve had discussions on these sorts of issues. Those are diplomatic discussions. I’m not going to read those out. We understand these are important to China. We also consider law enforcement issues important, but I think I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: So there is ongoing dialogues or discussion with China regarding fugitives, right?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve certainly discussed them. I don’t want to convey – I mean, when you say an ongoing – “ongoing dialogues,” I’m not sure how you mean that. Certainly, it’s something we’ve discussed with China and it’s something that we will – I’m sure we will discuss again in the future. So it’s a matter for diplomatic discussion.

Did you have something on this?

QUESTION: Yeah. Just – this just happened, but since the Administration writ large, broadly, at least another branch of the government, has shown such an intense interest in the workings of FIFA, I’m wondering if you would care to congratulate Sepp Blatter on his re-election as president of that organization.

MR RATHKE: Well, I haven’t – you’ve been – I’m sorry you haven’t been paying attention to the briefing. You’ve had time to check your phone and find out information I don’t have. But we don’t have a --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) might be able to walk and chew gum at the same time?

MR RATHKE: I’m sure of that. We don’t have a position on who’s elected president of FIFA, so I don’t have any special comment on that, but thanks for the update. So --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) perhaps as soon --

MR RATHKE: We don’t have a position on who should be president of FIFA.

Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: One question on Russia and – so are you aware about reports quoting prime minister of Netherlands that Russia yesterday issued a blacklist of European politicians – they – who may no longer enter Russian – do you know something about it?

MR RATHKE: I don’t. I had not heard about that, so no, I’m not familiar with those reports.

QUESTION: Yeah. And the second topic about a letter, a letter which was published by American historian Eric Zuesse – a letter from chairman of Ukrainian parliament to U.S. Embassy in Oslo. So he wrote that chairman thanks embassy for efforts to have Ukrainian President Poroshenko nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Can you confirm this information?

MR RATHKE: I’m not at all familiar with that exchange or with this correspondence that you’re referring to, so --

QUESTION: Excuse me. Does U.S. embassy have any communications with Nobel committee about it?

MR RATHKE: Again, I’m not familiar with these communications so I simply have nothing to say about it.

QUESTION: So last question is about – I read about some problems in Department of State in issuing visas in several countries. Is it true or not?

MR RATHKE: In which countries?

QUESTION: The problems are regarding issuing visas in different countries.

MR RATHKE: I have not heard about any disruptions to – are you saying technical difficulties?

QUESTION: Technical, I suppose, yes.

MR RATHKE: I’m not familiar with any, but I’m happy to check and see if there’s anything. I hadn’t heard anything today about that.

Elliot, go ahead.

QUESTION: Last week –

MR RATHKE: Oh, sorry. Do you want to stay on the same topic? Yeah, please.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on my question from yesterday about this opposition figure who’s been hospitalized. Do you have answers to my questions?

MR RATHKE: So your questions, if I recall correctly –

QUESTION: My question was –

MR RATHKE: -- were about –

QUESTION: Right, is he –

MR RATHKE: -- whether we had had any contact and things of that nature.

QUESTION: Considering that members of his family are U.S. citizens and also that apparently he and his wife are both permanent residents of the U.S. or have green cards --

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- what’s the role the U.S. is playing, if anything?

MR RATHKE: Well, as a general matter, we don’t confirm citizenship statuses of individuals and for the permanent resident status, the Department of Homeland Security, I believe, has a similar policy not to confirm such things. So on that, I don’t have anything to share. Your – with regard to your question about any contacts between the State Department and the family, also for privacy considerations we would have nothing to add about that.

Now the – getting to the question, though, of Vladimir Kara-Murza, it – as we discussed yesterday, we of course are concerned about his health. I think you may have seen there was a tweet from Ambassador Tefft at Embassy Moscow in which he also mentioned that. So that concern remains. We take an interest in it, but I would also say we’re aware of some public comments today by some family members about his situation. And we don’t have anything further to add to them.

QUESTION: Do – you said that you couldn’t talk about any contacts due to privacy concerns. Do privacy concerns extend to non-American citizens or non-Green Card holders?

MR RATHKE: Well, it’s my understanding that privacy – the Privacy Act applies to U.S. citizens and to lawful permanent residents.

QUESTION: Okay. So why don’t we drop this ridiculousness? Because you basically just confirmed that they are –

MR RATHKE: No, I haven’t.

QUESTION: -- either U.S. –

MR RATHKE: You’ve asked –

QUESTION: Well, you said that you can’t –

MR RATHKE: -- me as a general matter whether –

QUESTION: -- talk –

MR RATHKE: -- the – to whom the Privacy Act applies.

QUESTION: Right. So if it doesn’t apply to them, you would be able to talk.

MR RATHKE: I’m sorry, Matt. I think we’re going around in circles here. I don’t have – I don’t think –

QUESTION: Well, no, but I mean it’s ridiculous. You say that they’re covered – you can’t talk about their case because of privacy concerns, and at the same time you say that – or you can’t talk about their citizenship or whatever because of privacy concerns, but then you say the privacy concerns don’t apply to non-Americans or non-permanent residents. So why not just drop this pretense and come out and say that –

MR RATHKE: Well, no, but you’re sort of presupposing, Matt, that we would, as a matter of course, talk about any contact we had with any non-U.S. citizen and non-U.S. permanent resident. And that’s not the case.

QUESTION: Well, if asked and you knew the answer to it, I would hope you would if you were asked.

MR RATHKE: Well, we won’t talk – we don’t talk about every private conversation we have. So that’s –

QUESTION: Yeah, but can do something about that? (Laughter.)

MR RATHKE: Well, I think we’ve got – I think you’ve got a longer-term project ahead of you there.

So Elliot, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Last week, I asked Marie about this Amnesty report on alleging a dearth of progress in Qatar to address labor abuses. I was – she said you guys were reviewing it. I was wondering if there’s been any progress on that.

MR RATHKE: I thought that I was asked about this later in the week and I’d responded to it.

QUESTION: Did you? Okay. I might have missed that.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. If –

QUESTION: I can go back and check.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. And if not, we’ll get you the answer.

QUESTION: Sure.

MR RATHKE: Pam.

QUESTION: Can we follow up on Amnesty?

MR RATHKE: On the same –

QUESTION: Not the same topic, but Amnesty –

MR RATHKE: Well, Pam’s been waiting patiently. We’ll come back to you, Said.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout from the Secretary’s bilat in Nigeria, in particular would be interested in anything that might have been said about efforts to find Boko Haram.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have further detail. The meeting happened just before departure, so I think we may have more to say in – after we get more feedback from the traveling party.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up very quickly. Amnesty issued a report today saying that Saudi Arabia executed 90 people since the beginning of the year and called this shocking. Many of them, I guess – maybe all – were beheaded. Do you have any comment on that?

MR RATHKE: I haven’t seen that report, so no, I don’t have a specific comment on it.

QUESTION: But if the figures are true and we have no reason to doubt Amnesty’s figures, would that – is that also shocking to you guys as well.

MR RATHKE: Again, I’d want to take a look at the report and the particulars of it before offering a comment.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Can we go back to ISIS?

MR RATHKE: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Okay. There are reports that ISIL has taken over an airbase in Libya. Do you have any comment on that? The Sirte airbase.

MR RATHKE: So with respect to Libya, we’re certainly aware that Libyan forces have been confronting groups that have pledged allegiance to ISIL in the Sirte area for a number of weeks. I’m not in a position to confirm the specific report.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: But certainly we’re aware that Libyan forces have been fighting again --

QUESTION: So you don’t know whether that airbase has fallen into the hands of ISIL extremist groups?

MR RATHKE: I’m not in a position from here to give you a confirmation of that (inaudible).

QUESTION: And on ISIS, in Syria there are reports that Turkish Government is ferrying trucks, convoys of trucks, laden with arms and rockets and volunteers and so on into Syria. Are you aware of that?

MR RATHKE: I --

QUESTION: Is that part of the train and equip program that you guys have that talk about 15,000 members – Syrian opposition?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’d refer you to the Turkish Government for – if you’re – if what you’re talking about are reports about Turkish Government activities, our train and equip program,, which is a program led by the Department of Defense, as you well know, has gotten underway recently and – but I’m not going to provide operational details.

QUESTION: But if I’m not wrong, and I think Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said that this process is coordinated with you guys – I mean, the current accelerated activities of training, arming, supplying, ferrying, volunteering into Syria.

MR RATHKE: Well, certainly, we work closely together with our Turkish coalition partners on the train and equip program. And that’s – I think that’s been clear for some time, but I’m not in a position to link it to this report that you’ve referred to.

QUESTION: Okay, and finally I have a question on this – in your estimation there is a lot of reports that they’re saying that the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is basically on – teetering on the verge of collapse. Is that something that you agree with?

MR RATHKE: Well, which --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, most – all reports say that the noose is tightening. I mean, they use terms like this on the Syrian regime. Is that your assessment?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to give a day-to-day update about the situation of the Assad regime. Our position on President Assad has been clear for a long time. We believe he’s lost his legitimacy. We believe he has no future in Syria and he must go. But I’m not going to give a day by day analysis of --

QUESTION: Okay. Because for a long time you were saying that his days were numbered, and then you stopped saying that. Are we back where his days are numbered again?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have – I don’t have a further timeline to put on his rule.

QUESTION: Staying on ISIL?

MR RATHKE: Yes, we can and then – yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Regarding the ongoing efforts to retake Anbar from ISIL, Sunni fighters have told our channel that they’ve been asking Baghdad for weapons, for training, and that they’re not getting it and they suspect that it’s because they’re Sunni. And those comments come on the heels of the Defense Secretary saying that it may be time for the U.S. to actually directly train Sunni tribes and provide them weapons. Does this Administration believe that Prime Minister al-Abadi is acting in good faith when he says that he’s trying to have a unified front against ISIL, or does this Administration believe he’s favoring --

MR RATHKE: Can I stop you there so I can give you a one-word answer?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR RATHKE: The answer is yes. Do we believe he has – is committed to a – his policy – implementing his policy of a unified Iraq and to representing the interests of all – of all of Iraq’s people? Yes.

QUESTION: But the Defense Secretary also told reporters on his way to Singapore that as far as the Pentagon can tell the ongoing training that’s been happening, the ongoing arming that’s been happening coming out of Baghdad has been primarily to Shiites and not to Sunnis. So it kind of begs the question: Is Abadi doing enough to actually make this a unified fight? And if he is, why would then the defense secretary say on the record that it may be time for the U.S. to essentially step in, even under the rubric of acting on the invitation of Baghdad but do the training and the arming itself?

MR RATHKE: So let me – so you’ve packed a lot of questions into that one. So first, the Government of Iraq is determined to eject ISIL from Ramadi, and the international coalition shares the same – the same determination. And we are supporting the efforts led by the Government of Iraq to liberate its territory from ISIL in Anbar and in other parts of Iraq. So we’re going to continue to support our Iraqi partners.

We will do everything that we can to support Iraqi forces, including the tribes of Anbar, as they try to secure the province from ISIL. This includes our ongoing training and equipping program, our airstrikes, our expedited provision of equipment to address the threat posed by ISIL’s use of truck bombs because we recognize that our strategy requires a well-equipped and trained partner on the ground.

Now with regard to the question of Sunni tribes, we are encouraged by the announcement of hundreds of additional tribal fighters in Anbar province, and they were inducted into the Popular Mobilization Forces two days ago. The Iraqis have to be empowered to take this on themselves, and so that’s why we’ve been engaging with Iraqis across the political spectrum locally, nationally. And we believe Iraqis are determined to rise to this challenge, and Prime Minister Abadi and his cabinet and his council of ministers are as well.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. made it very clear, though, to Abadi that he has to be as vigorous as possible to make certain that there is parity between Sunnis who are fighting and Shiites who are fighting?

MR RATHKE: Well, we have – this is central to Prime Minister Abadi’s plan, and we support him and we are in regular contact with him and his government about it. I would also point out that it was the Iraqi council of ministers just about 10 days ago that announced the accelerated training and equipping of local tribes in coordination with Anbar authorities. This includes recruiting into the Iraqi Army but also the Popular Mobilization Forces. There are Sunni tribal units currently being trained by the Iraqi Security Forces and equipped by the Government of Iraq.

And this is part of their budget. A lot of these resources are now coming on stream. And in the same way, the U.S. and a lot of the assistance from – that was approved by Congress, the 1.6 billion that was approved at the end of 2014, is also coming online. So we’re seeing these increased efforts from the Iraqi Government but also a lot of our stuff coming online, too.

QUESTION: And this might be a better question for the Pentagon, but do you anticipate that as the U.S. continues its train and equip mission that U.S. troops will be actively engaged in working with the Sunni tribes to make certain that they have the capability and the equipment to engage in this fight against ISIL?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, our train – our train and equip program and the locations where it’s being carried out, those are better questions for the Department of Defense. I don’t have any announcements to make on their behalf. But certainly, we have been – as our assistance approved by Congress comes online, this also involves providing assistance to the Sunni tribes with the approval and in coordination with the central government in Baghdad.

QUESTION: Okay, and the one question on the human rights situation.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: People in Ramadi and the surrounding areas are complaining that Baghdad is still making it very difficult for them to basically escape the fighting, especially if they want to go to Baghdad; they need to have a relative sponsor them. Baghdad’s argument is that they want to make certain that members of ISIL aren’t sneaking in among those who are trying to escape the fighting. Is Baghdad being a little too careful by half in the U.S.’s estimation?

MR RATHKE: We’re concerned about the humanitarian situation in Iraq, and there have been a lot of people displaced from Ramadi and around. This is, of course, a complicated humanitarian crisis. There’re about 2.8 million people – 2.8 million Iraqis internally displaced since the start of ISIL’s campaign in January 2014. So we are certainly aware of that, and we remain in contact with Iraqi authorities about it. We recognize their efforts as well to provide the displaced people with financial support and food rations, and we continue to urge Iraqi authorities to take all measures to assure safety and free passage to people who are fleeing the violence.

You made reference and there has been reference made in recent days to situation at the bridge leading into Baghdad. We understand that that bridge was opened and approximately 3,000 families with sponsorship in Baghdad have been allowed to cross, and that very few families remain around the bridge. But that doesn’t change the fact that the overall situation for many people who’ve fled the violence remains dire, and that’s why we remain engaged on it.

QUESTION: Is the sponsorship, though, perhaps an impediment to providing physical safety to others who are trying to escape the fighting in Ramadi?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a particular comment on that aspect.

Arshad, go ahead.

QUESTION: I have an Iraq follow-up.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said you believe that Iraqis are determined to rise to this challenge. What makes you believe that?

MR RATHKE: Well, as I said, this is a – we’ve been in contact over the last days and weeks with people across Iraq, with people across the political spectrum, local officials, national officials. And that’s the feedback that we get and that’s why we’re committed to helping Iraq.

QUESTION: Did you believe when the United States removed all of its combat forces from Iraq at the end of 2011 that the Iraqi forces were then capable of and determined to defend their country’s territory?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a retrospective analysis at my fingertips here to offer on that.

QUESTION: But why would you have pulled out if you didn’t think they were capable of it? And public statements by multiple officials suggested that the United States believed that they were capable of defending their territory, so – the reason I’m asking is it’s not clear to me why your judgment, which was that they could fight back then, is necessarily – and appears to have been wrong – is necessarily correct now, that they can and will fight.

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I’m just passing on to you what we hear now from the people we are in contact with across the country. We realize and we’ve said many times that this is a very difficult fight. It’s not – it’s by no means easy, so it requires commitment and it requires the leadership which, again, we believe Prime Minister Abadi has been demonstrating through his efforts to reach out across sectarian and ethnic lines.

Atsushi.

QUESTION: A couple things on maritime security. As you know, Secretary Carter is now visiting Singapore and for attending the Shangri-La Dialogue.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And as you know, China – the spokesperson of the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs yesterday claimed a part of nations – agitate this situation in South – Spratly Island and that’s the root cause of the confusion. Also – and also, China urged United States to stop provocative statements. So do you think it’s – U.S. argument, U.S. statement is a kind of provocative – what do you think? What is a --

MR RATHKE: Well, short answer, no. If you look at what’s been going on in the South China Sea, we are very concerned about recent developments there, which include large-scale land reclamation and associated activity. We’ve spoken out about that; also, countries in the region have expressed their concerns about it. And we see that as the reason behind rising tensions in that regard.

QUESTION: And as you know, Secretary Carter urged that China hold a reclamation – not that China – that all the claimants hold – to stop the reclamation works. But it seems like the claimants, including China, doesn’t listen to these international community. So my question is: We going to have a S&ED next month, and next week President will be attending the G7 summit meeting. I believe that Secretary Kerry last month – I think last month – discussed this issue on G7 ministry meeting, so how the United States is going to deal with this issue? What’s the next option to stop these reclamation activity?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve been clear with all the claimants, including with China, that we oppose any further militarization of outposts in disputed areas of the South China Sea and that all claimants should avoid any actions that escalate tensions. So we urge all claimants to show restraint and to halt reclamation in favor of diplomacy. So as we have always said, we support the freedom of navigation and overflight and free flow of commerce through the vital waterways of the South China Sea, and the non-use of force or coercion and respect for international law, including UNCLOS. So that remains our position.

Anything else, Matt?

QUESTION: This is also slightly – it’s not exactly the same region, but close by, or somewhat close by. What’s the status of the overflights with Thailand? Do you – were you able to get an answer to that question?

MR RATHKE: Ah, yes. Okay. And as you probably know, there was a meeting today in Bangkok which was focused on this situation. One or two points about the outcomes of the meeting, and then – we’re encouraged that the attendees at the Bangkok meeting agreed on the need for regional coordination and on increased efforts to save the lives of those still at sea, to provide protection to migrants, to combat transnational smuggling and trafficking networks, and to address the root causes of the crisis. And we also are pleased that the participants agreed on the importance of continued international cooperation and dialogue that would go beyond today’s meeting.

The United States today pledged an additional $3 million toward the International Organization for Migration’s humanitarian appeal. And with regard to the U.S. operational activity, we welcome the announcement by Thailand to approve U.S. overflights. Thailand has authorized us to conduct these maritime domain awareness flights through Thai airspace to assist in locating and marking the positions of vessels possibly carrying irregular migrants. Now, these – we are working with the Thai authorities to finalize the operational details. We expect that the initial flight that would go through Thai airspace would occur in the – within the next few days.

Flights will continue to operate from the Subang air base in Malaysia.

QUESTION: Sorry, what carrying what migrants? What was the word between carrying and migrants?

MR RATHKE: Oh, irregular.

QUESTION: Irregular?

MR RATHKE: Irregular.

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MR RATHKE: That is – well, one of – I think one of the issues is about orderly legal regular migration. And so --

QUESTION: But doesn’t --

MR RATHKE: -- the point is that the people who have been --

QUESTION: But wouldn’t orderly, legal, and regular migrants not be packed on ships floating around the --

MR RATHKE: Precisely. That’s – so that’s – hence the term irregular. I mean, you can find other words to use, but what we mean are the people who have --

QUESTION: Okay, got you.

MR RATHKE: -- been fleeing by boat.

QUESTION: All right.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: And then you said that you – the – that people need to address the root cause of this crisis. What in the view of the United States is the root cause of this particular migrant crisis going on in Southeast Asia?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think you can – you also see this in the – there was a document issued from the meeting, and in the text where it talks about root causes, the statement discusses promoting full respect for human rights and adequate access of people to basic rights and services such as housing, education, health care. Clearly, these are points we’ve made with respect to the Rohingya population in Burma in the past. We have continued to make those points.

QUESTION: So you believe that the Burmese Government has a particular responsibility to address root causes of this crisis as opposed to, say, the Government of the Philippines?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t believe they were participants in the meeting anyway.

QUESTION: Well --

MR RATHKE: But I --

QUESTION: -- as opposed to the --

MR RATHKE: -- your point is – yes, of course, because --

QUESTION: -- as opposed to the government of Indonesia or Malaysia.

MR RATHKE: Certainly, certainly.

QUESTION: So Burma --

MR RATHKE: When we talk about the root causes, that’s --

QUESTION: Burma/Myanmar has a special responsibility to deal with this.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. And Assistant Secretary Richard made that point today.

QUESTION: All right. Because the --

MR RATHKE: She stressed the need to --

QUESTION: Well, the reason I’m asking and pushing on it is because the Burmese were – at the meeting were very adamant that they not be blamed, that they not shoulder the blunt of – or the brunt of the blame here even though the brunt of the migrants are coming from their country. So would – what do you think about that? Does that – is that just a – an abdication of responsibility?

MR RATHKE: Well, as to the statement by Burmese officials, I’d refer you back to them. We – our sense and the sense from Assistant Secretary Richard in the meeting was that there was a great deal of support for addressing root causes. Indeed, it’s in the document that they issued which was agreed by the participants in the meeting, so we would certainly stand by that. I would add maybe as a certain – as a small footnote that there is – in addition to the Rohingya population that has been fleeing, and many of – who’ve been many of the people on the boats, there have also been people from Bangladesh as well. So I wouldn’t want to say that they are the only source country for people who have been at sea in these last few weeks.

Elliot, last one.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the South China Sea issue?

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Russel, when he was on the Hill a few weeks ago, got some pretty tough questions from members of Congress basically saying that the issue of land reclamation has been going on for quite some time and that continuously condemning or really putting out statements to the effect that it’s contrary to international law and things of that sort are fine, but essentially they’re having no effect and so now it’s time for something to actually back up those statements, some kind of action in this instance. Do you see that as holding any water all, or what’s your response to that kind of criticism?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, our policy on the South China Sea and the territorial disputes there I think has been clear, and we’ve talked about it a lot. I think also Secretary Carter mentioned yesterday that the United States will operate – that is we will fly, we will sail – where international law allows. We do our operations in accordance with international law around the world and we will continue to do that. So I think there is – it’s clear that this is an important interest of the United States and we remain committed to – not only to the freedom of navigation and overflight but also that the tensions remain – that they diminish and that we work with partners in the region to that end.

QUESTION: Sure. I guess my question was a little different. Referring specifically to land reclamation activities by China --

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: --- which you have spoken out --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- strongly against and have said that you don’t believe it to be consistent with international law and things like that. I guess I’m wondering if the Administration is prepared to take any kind of action more than just what it’s done so far, which is so far really just words.

MR RATHKE: Well, I wouldn’t put it in the category of just words. I think if you look at the – if you look at the statements that have come from countries in the region as well, in some cases from other claimants, also from ASEAN, I think there has been a lot of support across the region for --

QUESTION: But those are just words as well. Those are statements.

MR RATHKE: Well, but I think if you look at the policies of these governments, they – we are in accordance with them. I’m not sure what additional action you’re suggesting. It’s a little bit hard to speculate on something that --

QUESTION: I mean some kind of action --

QUESTION: Like military action? (Laughter.)

MR RATHKE: Maybe that’s what Elliot wants. I’m not sure. I’m not going to put him on the spot and make him answer. That’s your job with me. But again, we’re committed to working with our partners in the region. I don’t have any specific further steps to announce right now.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: I think Secretary Carter is at the Shangri La dialogue. He’ll be speaking to many of these issues, I imagine, while he’s there.

Yeah.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on question that I – yesterday on the emails and whether or not --

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: -- this new reports about – excuse me – about Sid Blumenthal and his employment with the Clinton Foundation had caused the State Department any concern or prompted any kind of a relook, or if you’re still --

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t have any – I don’t have any concerns to report or --

QUESTION: But do you know if it’s been looked into and concerns have been rejected, or if it’s just not been looked into at all and you think that this matter – the building thinks that this is not an issue and just --

MR RATHKE: I think what we said a couple weeks ago --

QUESTION: -- except for --

MR RATHKE: --- which is that we don’t – we don’t have plans to go back and do a --

QUESTION: Right. But that was before this latest report about --

MR RATHKE: Well, although we had – when I made that point, that was – that was, granted, before we had released those publicly, but it was – it was also when we had – we had already provided them to the select committee. At that point we had received the emails from Secretary Clinton and so forth. So I don’t see any change to that statement that we made --

QUESTION: Right. But then --

MR RATHKE: -- a couple days ago.

QUESTION: Well, so you’re saying that the case is – for lack of a better word, the case is closed regardless of how much additional information keeps dripping out about --

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I’m not --

QUESTION: -- things that are – things that are related to the emails?

MR RATHKE: The information that you’re referring to was in our possession when I made – when I made that comment.

QUESTION: The payment that – the payment that he was receiving from the foundation you were aware of?

MR RATHKE: Oh, you’re asking – you’re asking about that aspect.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m asking: Since that report came out, did it – has that report or have those reports if there were more than one caused any concern or raised any flags here in the building to the point where you would want to go back and look to see --

MR RATHKE: Okay, I understand your question.

QUESTION: And if not, I mean, if not okay. But I’m just wondering --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- why not, or is there – is there anything that might come out in the future that would cause the department to change its position on saying that this is a done deal and referring all the questions to the foundation.

MR RATHKE: So with respect to your question about whether this had caused any relook, no, not that I’m aware. I don’t have anything further.

QUESTION: But you don’t know?

MR RATHKE: Hmm?

QUESTION: You don’t know or --

MR RATHKE: I’m not aware of any – of any --

QUESTION: Well, I guess the question – but that --

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you --

MR RATHKE: There is no --

QUESTION: Can we find out?

MR RATHKE: There is no relook happening.

QUESTION: There isn’t?

MR RATHKE: That’s --

QUESTION: And do you – but is there anything that – is it case closed no matter what, or is there a possible new information that could come out that would cause a rethink of that?

MR RATHKE: That’s such an open question, I don’t really have an answer – an answer to it.

QUESTION: Okay. But this latest thing does not – did not meet whatever standard there might be for going back and taking a look at things again?

MR RATHKE: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:59 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 28, 2015

Thu, 05/28/2015 - 16:46

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 28, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

12:59 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. I just have one item at the top for you. The United States congratulates Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama on the first official visit by a Serbian prime minister to Tirana on May 27th. Vucic’s historic visit comes six months after Prime Minister Rama visited Belgrade in the first such visit by an Albanian prime minister in nearly 70 years. We congratulate these leaders for reaffirming their mutual commitment to strengthening cooperation between their two countries and contributing to peace, prosperity, and stability in the Balkans region.

With that, over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: I don’t have anything that I think is of primary interest, so I will defer. I do have questions, but --

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: -- someone else can go first.

MR RATHKE: Arshad.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about Wendy Sherman’s decision to leave the department?

MR RATHKE: Well, as some of you have seen, Under Secretary Sherman is staying on through the completion of the nuclear talks with Iran and will be moving on afterwards. As the Secretary has said, Under Secretary Sherman has been an absolutely critical member of his team, in particular in the work spearheading the nuclear negotiations with Iran, but also on nearly every other important issue in the department. She has close relations and collaboration with her P5+1 and EU counterparts; they’ve been instrumental in enabling us to reach the interim agreement that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and makes our partners and allies and our world safer. So she’s going to stay on through the completion of the talks. I don’t have a lot more to add to motivation.

QUESTION: Is it a good time to – given that she is and has been the lead negotiator on the Iran nuclear talks for the last two years, is it a good time to be leaving just as the talks are approaching the deadline for their conclusion?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, she’s going to stay on through the conclusion of the talks, so that’s – it’s not – she’s not going to be leaving before the conclusion, so I think that’s important to point out. And also one of the things that Under Secretary Sherman has made a point of doing is to mentor colleagues and to build a large and strong U.S. negotiating team which encompasses experts from across the U.S. Government and within the State Department as well. So if we are successful in concluding a final deal, we’ll move into a new phase of implementation and monitoring, and this team that Under Secretary Sherman has put together and has led over these last couple of years will continue to track Iran’s nuclear program if we get to a deal. And they’ll be joined by others across the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: And if the deadline gets extended – and I’m well aware that yesterday you said that you were not contemplating an extension, but as we’re all well aware, there have been a series of extensions – does that mean that she will continue to work until there is either an agreement or the Administration ends?

MR RATHKE: Well, as we noted, she’s going to stay until the completion of the talks. I don’t have anything further to say beyond our discussion yesterday about the June 30th deadline. We’re focused on June 30th and completing the talks by then. We’re not contemplating an extension.

QUESTION: But if you’re still talking January – or July the 30th, she’ll still be working on this issue and in this position?

MR RATHKE: Well, she’s committed to staying on through the completion of the talks.

QUESTION: Through the completion of the talks, or through the completion of a deal?

MR RATHKE: I’m sorry, I’m not sure I get the distinction you’re making.

QUESTION: You’re not talking about this particular set of talks --

MR RATHKE: Not this week.

QUESTION: -- whenever they start.

MR RATHKE: No, no. We’re talking about the completion of a joint comprehensive plan of action. That’s what we’re --

QUESTION: So she’s willing to stay through the negotiations in their entirety --

MR RATHKE: Right, that’s – yeah, that’s her – that’s her intention.

QUESTION: -- whether there’s a deal or they decide --

MR RATHKE: Yeah, the completion of the nuclear talks, by which we mean our goal of the joint comprehensive plan of action.

QUESTION: So her actual departure date aside, why – the timing – why does she sit down for an interview to announce her departure the day before – the day that she flies off to Vienna to begin the final round and then to Geneva to meet with the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif? Is there anything at all interesting or unusual or – what’s the reason for the timing of this announcement?

MR RATHKE: Well, I wouldn’t ascribe any special significance to the timing of the interview yesterday. But clearly, Under Secretary Sherman has been under secretary for years. She’s been working hard not only on the Iran nuclear negotiations but on many other issues as well. So there’s not a signal intended by the timing.

Anything else on this topic?

QUESTION: But it doesn’t --

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: But it doesn’t create any potential difficulties, perhaps making it possible for the Iranians to not take this latest round of talks as seriously because --

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we’re not --

QUESTION: -- they now know that she’s a short-timer?

MR RATHKE: No, no, no, because, again, as we were just talking about with Elise, we’re not talking about – let’s be careful what we mean by “round,” because she’s committed to stay on through the completion of the nuclear talks with Iran. So what we’re talking by that is the goal of a joint comprehensive plan of action. We’re not talking about the specific meeting she’s having this week in Vienna and that she will join the Secretary for with Foreign Minister Zarif. We’re talking about the overall nuclear talks with Iran.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: So I don’t see that condition that you describe as arising.

QUESTION: But isn’t it possible, though, that the Iranians might see the fact that the lead negotiator day to day is basically going to be gone if a deal is indeed concluded, and so they don’t have the incentive to take this work as seriously as they might otherwise? Because she’s not going to be there to hold their feet to the fire if there’s any suspicion that they’re not holding up to their end of the deal.

MR RATHKE: Well, Ros, I’d highlight two things, perhaps. One is we’ve had a change in our lead negotiator at another stage in these talks when Deputy Secretary Bill Burns left. So this is not an unprecedented development. And second, I would go back to what Arshad and I were talking about, which is that we have an experienced interagency team that has been part of these talks over years. And so we remain focused now on the negotiations, and if we are successful in concluding a deal, then we will have the people with the expertise, the knowledge, the experience to deal with implementation.

QUESTION: Let me try --

MR RATHKE: Go ahead, Elise.

QUESTION: Let me try another. The other day, the French ambassador spoke with his British and German counterparts and said a couple of things --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- which fly a little bit in the face of what you’re saying. First of all, you say that you’re not even contemplating a deadline extension.

MR RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: He said that it was highly unlikely that a deal would be reached by June 30th, and perhaps it would bleed over or be extended because the Iranians are not – the way that it’s shaping up, it doesn’t look as if the Iranians are moving that quickly. And part of that was because they are not negotiating as if this is the end because they’re waiting for the ministers to come. So, I mean, I understand what Ros is saying about Wendy Sherman, but in fact, what they’re saying is that it’s really only the – until the ministers arrive that the Iranians would seriously sit down and start to get to business.

MR RATHKE: Well, as – it’s no secret that these talks proceed at multiple levels, sometimes simultaneously. So we’ve had expert – we’ve had a couple of weeks of expert-level meetings happening this month. There have also been political directors meetings. Wendy Sherman is now back in Vienna for a second round of discussions at that level in the last couple of weeks. And of course, the Secretary’s going to talk with Foreign Minister Zarif in just a few days. So we see all of these tracks as intensifying in their focus on moving ahead. And we discussed also yesterday – we remain – we believe on the one hand that the P5+1 are unified, and we’re united in the effort to get done by the 30th.

QUESTION: No. I mean, I’m not saying that you won’t get done --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- by the 30th or that you’re not – or that you obviously want to be done by the 30th. I mean, that’s clear, and you’re not entertaining the idea of extending. But certainly that has to be a contemplation, because if, in fact, as the French ambassador said, the talks at this point are not progressed to the level that it looks as if a deal could be done, certainly that – while clearly your desire would be to finish by June 30th, it has to be in your mind’s eye that that is a distinct possibility.

MR RATHKE: Well, it’s not just a question of commitment. We believe that we can achieve the goal by June 30th. So it’s not simply --

QUESTION: But isn’t it --

MR RATHKE: -- that we are committed to doing it, but we believe it is doable.

QUESTION: Isn’t it – maybe it’s doable, but isn’t it better to just say that we’d like an agreement at the conclusion of these negotiations as opposed to giving an artificial date? Not that it’s an artificial date. I mean, obviously, June 30th is the date, but as you saw during the last round, you sat there until you had a deal, and that was a day or two after.

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: So, I mean, does everyone turn into a pumpkin on June 30th, or would you like to just get a deal at this last round of talks?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think we’ve been clear all along that what we’re aiming for is a good deal, not just any deal. So that hasn’t changed. But we think that’s achievable by the 30th.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Does Secretary Kerry or – I realize it’s actually the President’s prerogative, but does Secretary Kerry have any thoughts on whom he might select to replace Under Secretary Sherman?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any personnel sort of contemplations or announcements to make at this point.

QUESTION: And since you yourself got into the hypothetical of when a – when the talks may conclude, is it conceivable --

MR RATHKE: I don’t think I did, but go ahead with the question.

QUESTION: Well, you said if – is it conceivable that she could stay through the end of the Administration if the talks continue on through the – until the end of the Administration? I mean, that possibility is encompassed on “She will stay until the conclusion of the talks,” correct?

MR RATHKE: Well, yeah, but I’ve also said yesterday and today that we’re not contemplating an extension of the talks. So I think that does venture pretty far into the realm of the hypothetical.

QUESTION: Does the Administration --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- still stand by the President’s comments a few months ago that if there isn’t a deal by June 30th, that he’s prepared to walk away, that he’s convinced at that point that the Iranians aren’t serious about a deal?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything to add to the President’s comments, if that’s what you’re asking. Our focus remains, as Elise and I discussed, on getting a good deal that verifiably cuts off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon. There’s a deadline of June 30th for doing that. We remain focused on meeting it, and we believe it’s achievable.

QUESTION: But the way the President put it was that if there was not a deal achieved by June 30th, his assumption was going to be that the Iranians weren’t serious about curbing their nuclear military ambitions, and that he wouldn’t see any point at that moment to continue with the talks beyond June 30th.

MR RATHKE: Well, we certainly remain of the view that it is within Iran’s power to take the steps necessary to demonstrate to the international community that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes, as they assert. So again, nothing is – nothing has changed on that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Iran. Have you seen this new report from the Iranian opposition about Iran-North Korea nuclear cooperation? And whether you have or not, can you – well, if you have, can you speak to it? And if you – well, if you haven’t, I’ll --

MR RATHKE: Let me answer that one and then you can follow up. So we have seen these claims, and we take any such reports seriously. If I can perhaps anticipate one part of your follow-up, we’re examining the report but we don’t have any information at this time that would lead us to believe that these allegations impact our ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: If they – well, if they --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) true, I mean --

QUESTION: If the allegations are correct, how could that not impact the negotiations?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we – these allegations – we’re taking them seriously, we’re examining them. I don’t have a stamp to put on them and say whether we’re we able to verify them or not. We don’t – we have not been able to verify them thus far. We’re examining the report and --

QUESTION: This isn’t the first – this isn’t the first time there have been allegations.

MR RATHKE: That’s true. This group has made --

QUESTION: No, but others have also said that Iran – there is a significant amount of cooperation between the two. So are you saying that you have no reason to believe that there is such cooperation, or these particular allegations are unfounded?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not saying that they’re unfounded. I’m just saying we don’t have – we’re examining these allegations. They’re serious. I’m not able to verify them.

QUESTION: So if you haven’t – if you’re not able to substantiate whether they’re true or not, how do you know if they’ll impact the negotiations? I mean, if they’re true, feasibly that would impact your negotiations.

MR RATHKE: Well, based on the information that we have at this time, which is the way I would put it.

QUESTION: If you say, as – that the allegations are serious, why wouldn’t – is this something that’s not going to come up in the negotiations?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to speak to what’s going to come up in the room. But again, serious allegations and we’re looking at them seriously.

QUESTION: Well, let’s put it this way: cutting off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon is a subject that comes up in negotiations, is it not?

MR RATHKE: Certainly.

QUESTION: Okay. So is sanctions relief, is it not?

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’ve just said two things that are involved in the negotiations. You’ve also said that on the sidelines of the negotiations, the fate or the status of the Americans being held or missing comes up.

MR RATHKE: Yes. Right, that is the case.

QUESTION: Why can’t you say whether allegations of Iran’s – of Iranian cooperation or work with North Korea would come up as part of the negotiations?

MR RATHKE: Well, let me take a step back. First, with respect to North Korea, we continue to work with the international community to exercise vigilance over their proliferation activities worldwide. This is the subject of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. They prohibit the transfer to or from the DPRK of goods, technology, of any assistance related to nuclear ballistic missile or other weapons of mass destruction. You’re familiar with all this, but there is of course a very elaborate international framework, including UN Security Council resolutions, as well as unilateral actions, to address the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs.

And in the same way, any cooperation with Iran on proliferation-sensitive nuclear or ballistic activities would also violate relevant UN Security Council resolutions on Iran, including resolution 1929. So you’ve got UN Security Council resolutions that apply to Iran and to North Korea, and so we follow these extremely closely, but I don’t have more to say on these specific allegations, which we are examining.

QUESTION: Okay. But if it’s a violation, and we’ll take – it’s quite apart from the North – the sanctions on North Korea, you are not negotiating with North Korea at the moment; you have, but you’re not now. You are negotiating with Iran. Iran is in violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions dating back years and years and years – still – even though they’re complying with the JPOA --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- even though you say they’re complying with the JPOA. So why – is bringing Iran into compliance with all relevant Security Council – all the Security Council resolutions, is that not a goal of the negotiations here?

MR RATHKE: Well, the nuclear talks are focused on the nuclear-related issues.

QUESTION: So they can satisfy --

MR RATHKE: So there are other Security Council resolutions that also apply to Iran, and those continue and they will not be affected by it.

QUESTION: So as part of these negotiations, you could reach an agreement with the Iranians – could – without them addressing the nuclear cooperation with North Korea. Is that correct?

MR RATHKE: Well, again --

QUESTION: Allegations of nuclear cooperation.

MR RATHKE: Again, we are focused on shutting down the pathways to a nuclear weapon. I’m not going to get into the details or to preview how exactly we address these in the negotiating room.

QUESTION: Why didn’t you raise the allegations in the negotiating room since one means to ascertain whether or not the Iranians have any or have had any nuclear cooperation with the North Koreans would be to ask them?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not ruling it in or out. I’m just saying I’m not going to prejudge what --

QUESTION: But why would you – why wouldn’t you? How could you not raise it? I mean, if you’re trying to figure out if they’re doing it, how do you not ask them?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we have a variety of ways of trying to verify allegations, especially serious ones. So I don’t have more to say on this than that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I just – it’s my understanding – and I just want to make sure that this is still correct or that it is correct --

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that the United States – this Administration, previous administrations, have expressed concern and have talked about intelligence suggesting that there is cooperation between Iran and North Korea on ballistic missiles. And the – although you are aware of reports like this one that came out overnight about nuclear cooperation, there isn’t any evidence so far. You haven’t seen any sign that these allegations, while serious, are actually true. Is it still correct that the Administration believes that there is ballistic missile cooperation, but not necessarily nuclear cooperation, between the two?

MR RATHKE: I don’t really have more to say than we have said. We’ve – there’s an international framework of Security Council resolutions dealing with both countries. We take any allegations of cooperation seriously.

QUESTION: And then just tangentially, there is a report – this doesn’t have to do with Iran – but about significantly increased activity at a North Korean missile – rocket launching site. Have you seen this? Do you know anything about it?

MR RATHKE: I haven’t seen that. I’m not familiar with that one.

QUESTION: Stay on North Korea?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we talk about Ambassador Kim’s comments today? Meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, he talked about increasing pressure on North Korea for their human rights record, but that was interpreted by some reporters – particularly The New York Times – as tying the human rights record to the nuclear negotiations. So could you just clear that up?

MR RATHKE: Sure. Happy to. So our Special Representative for North Korea Policy, Sung Kim, was in – had meetings yesterday, trilateral meetings with the Republic of Korea and Japan, and they also – and this was related to a wide range of issues related to North Korea. They also had bilateral meetings with South Korea and with Japan.

Now, I think what you have touched upon there – in his press availability after the talks, I think it’s important to highlight two things that Ambassador Kim said: first, that the three countries agreed on the importance of enhancing pressure and sanctions on North Korea. This is in the nuclear context. And he said that we do that even as we keep all diplomatic options on the table. And --

QUESTION: When he says that meaning – “diplomatic options” meaning getting back to nuclear talks?

MR RATHKE: Right. That was – those comments were in reference to the unity of the Five Parties – Japan, Korea, China, Russia, United States – with respect to that.

QUESTION: So while they’re willing to keep the pressure up on sanctions, but also open to the possibility of talks. Is that --

MR RATHKE: And then he – right. Yeah, our position on that hasn’t changed. But again, that depends on the DPRK showing readiness for meaningful steps that would make talks productive.

Now separate from that and in the next sentence, Ambassador Kim said that the three countries also agreed on the importance of working with the international community to address the grave human rights situation in North Korea. So we’re not linking these two things in some new way. We remain concerned about North Korea’s nuclear and proliferation activity and we’re coordinating with our partners to address that, and at the same time we remain extremely concerned about the grave human rights situation in North Korea.

QUESTION: So is there any indication that the North Koreans are willing to come back to the table? There have been various reports both ways over the last few months. But I mean, I know – while you say you’re open to the possibility of talks – not for talks’ sake, but meaningful talks – is there any indication that that’s a possibility in the near future?

MR RATHKE: Well, that’s – it’s up to the North Koreans to demonstrate it, as you said. I think we’re still waiting for some credible and meaningful steps in that regard. I think this is also something Ambassador Kim – on his trip he’s going to be speaking with his Chinese counterpart tomorrow, if I have that correct. So we continue our coordination with the five parties to try to make sure that that clear message – that the North Koreans respond to that clear message.

Yes, Tejinder.

QUESTION: Another subject.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Recently the Modi government completed a year in power. So what are your takes with respect the relations with us, and have there been only talks, talks? Any walks between U.S. and India relations?

MR RATHKE: What sort of walks do you mean, Tejinder?

QUESTION: No, there was a walk with President Obama and Modi in – near the statue. But I’m talking about concrete results from this.

MR RATHKE: Right. Well, as you’ve seen, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi have outlined and ambitious vision for the future of U.S.-India relations. We continue to make concrete progress on a range of bilateral as well as regional issues. Those include trade, climate change, clean energy, regional security, civil nuclear cooperation, space exploration, sustainable development. So you can see we’ve got an ambitious agenda. Just to name a few things, Prime Minister Modi, of course, had a very successful visit to the United States; President Obama has made two visits to India; we’re got a strategic and commercial dialogue; we’ve got a trilateral dialogue – the U.S., India, Japan; we have a civil nuclear cooperation agreement, a defense technology and trade initiative. So – and we’re also making progress toward a high-standard bilateral investment treaty. So this is an extremely broad and ambitious agenda that we continue to work toward.

QUESTION: This is a unique situation because this man was for nearly 10 years not welcome here. This building did not give it. Then he becomes the prime minister, and there is a flurry of activities. But all this that you are listing, like civil nuclear which was in the previous administrations, where is it? Has it – it’s on paper. Are we really working anything between – on civil nuclear program?

MR RATHKE: I mean, I’m happy to – I don’t – I don’t have all the details at my fingertips. I’m happy to look into that and see if there’s more. But – but I think the overall point is we’ve got an ambitious agenda and we’re making progress on it.

QUESTION: Same topic?

MR RATHKE: The same one? Yes, go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much. For the last whole week, celebrations have been going on throughout India as far as the one-year of Prime Minister Modi. My question is that what have changed in one year between U.S.-India relations containing the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress government and the BJP government of Prime Minister Modi as far as overall looking back and looking the future of two countries?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not really planning to look back to the previous government. I think as I said in response to Tejinder’s question, we have a very ambitious agenda. And that’s what the President and the prime minister have agreed to implement, and that’s what we’re working very hard on here with our colleagues across the U.S. Government.

Nicolas.

QUESTION: And just quickly --

MR RATHKE: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: What is the future of India-U.S. relations under the new government?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think it’s that – it’s that agenda that I’ve outlined. And so we have to – we have to work --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Modi said (inaudible).

MR RATHKE: Yes? Okay.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Modi is visiting Bangladesh on June 6th. Do you have anything to update on that?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have an update on that.

QUESTION: The (inaudible) delegation they’re going to be --

MR RATHKE: That would be – I’d refer you to the Indian and Bangladeshi governments on that. I don’t have an update on that.

Nicolas, go ahead.

QUESTION: Another topic?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Football? Soccer?

MR RATHKE: Okay. You can call it football if you like.

QUESTION: As you call it. I don’t know if you have seen it then, but what’s your take on the accusations from President Putin against the U.S. accusing your Washington of basically being behind the FIFA probe to block the re-election of Mr. Blatter because he was in favor of Russia hosting the World Cup in 2018?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, I’d point you first of all to comments of the FIFA spokesman, who I believe said that the arrests and the investigation, quote, “for FIFA is good.”
It’s not good in terms of image or reputation, he said, but in terms of cleaning up it’s good. So I think I’d point you back to the response from FIFA.

Now I would also say that the suggestion that we’re trying to have an influence over the internal processes in FIFA, that’s not – that’s not the point. I think if you look at the Department of Justice release from yesterday, which is quite detailed and explains the background and the specific allegations, I think it’s quite clear the purpose of – of the investigation and of the arrests.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that the Administration as a foreign policy position or as a foreign policy matter does not have a position on the venue for the 2018 World Cup?

MR RATHKE: I’m not --

QUESTION: President Putin seems to think this is part of an attempt to --

MR RATHKE: Again, I think if you look at the – if you look at the – the Department of Justice, at the indictment and the very specific allegations in it, they don’t have anything to do with that topic.

QUESTION: Two senior senators, Senator McCain and Senator Menendez, actually put out a statement, a call either yesterday or the day before, saying that FIFA should reject the re-election of Sepp Blatter as the head of it because strictly – and should elect someone who will take the World Cup in 2018 away from Russia.

MR RATHKE: Well, that’s --

QUESTION: Does the Administration have a view --

MR RATHKE: We --

QUESTION: -- on that?

MR RATHKE: We don’t have a view on that – on that topic.

QUESTION: Well, do you think that Russia should be – given all your concerns about Russia’s activities in the world, do you think that they should be hosting such a prestigious international tournament?

MR RATHKE: Well, Russia has – Russia has also hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Russia has – they’re --

QUESTION: I understand. But --

MR RATHKE: So I don’t know --

QUESTION: I mean, and there were --

MR RATHKE: We don’t have a --

QUESTION: -- questions about whether they should have done that.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a – I don’t have a position on that to outline.

QUESTION: So (inaudible) soccer, it’s – it is time for business as usual?

MR RATHKE: (Laughter.) Well, again, I don’t – I don’t have any further comment on the FIFA presidential elections.

QUESTION: Well, just in – just in general though --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I mean, do you think that there should be more kind of standards on human rights, democracy, international behavior, when these organizations are considering who to award these tournaments?

MR RATHKE: Again, I don’t have a position on that, but --

QUESTION: You don’t think there’s --

MR RATHKE: But I think what is important – and again, I think Attorney General Lynch made this quite clear yesterday – is that we – when it comes to corruption, that we certainly take that seriously, especially when this has a nexus to the United States. So there’s a clear message from the United States that corrupt conduct, that that is not acceptable. And that’s the focus of the indictment and our cooperation in the arrests yesterday.

QUESTION: But that is – but you started by saying that the idea is wrong that you are trying to have a say over the internal processes of FIFA. In fact, you are trying to have a say over the internal processes of FIFA --

MR RATHKE: Well, the question – the question was about the election of a --

QUESTION: -- because you say that they can’t be corrupt. What if they – if they want to be corrupt, then they can’t and it’s against the law.

MR RATHKE: Well, but the question was about the election of a president of FIFA --

QUESTION: Do you --

MR RATHKE: -- not about – not about the question of --

QUESTION: Oh, okay. So --

QUESTION: So it’s only about corruption related to the president?

MR RATHKE: No, I didn’t say that either. It’s – again, read the indictment. It’s pretty clear what --

QUESTION: So you have no issue --

MR RATHKE: -- what corruption it’s focused on.

QUESTION: -- or you’re not aware of the Administration having any issue with the selections of either Russia or Qatar to host upcoming --

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t have anything – I don’t have anything to comment about that.

QUESTION: Do you think this actually will affect relations between the U.S. and Russia?

MR RATHKE: I don’t think so. Again, the individuals who were – who were charged – you can look at the Department of Justice document. They outline quite clearly their nationalities, their affiliations, and so forth, the – and also what the investigation and the indictment are concentrated on.

QUESTION: Yes, but President Putin thinks that this is an overreach of U.S. power. So in response to his comments, do you think this has an impact on the relations between the two nations?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’ll let the Russian side comment, but from our side we don’t see – we don’t see it as – as having – having an effect on those relations. Because again, the focus of the indictment and the case is quite clear and deals in large degree with an organization, CONCACAF, which is headquartered in the United States. So a suggestion that somehow there’s – that it’s not – that there’s – that it’s not appropriate for U.S. authorities to have an interest in corruption of that sort is a bit hard to understand.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Getting back for a second to what Matt said, there was a bunch – it was not only Senator McCain and Menendez. It was a bunch of U.S. lawmakers who tried repeatedly to sway FIFA leadership to make them change the location of 2018 championship, to make them switch to some other country and not Russia. My question is: Since there was several attempts made by U.S. lawmakers to achieve that, have – has the U.S. Administration, on their advice or whatever you might want to call that, tried to engaged FIFA leadership to sway them, to make them take this decision?

MR RATHKE: No. I mean, the senators and other lawmakers speak for themselves. They certainly have the right to their – to their opinion and to express their opinion. But that’s --

QUESTION: Yeah, but I’m asking about the executive --

MR RATHKE: That’s – right, no. But no, that’s not – we haven’t taken a position on that.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, anything else on the FIFA question that --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR RATHKE: Yes, Nicolas. Nicolas --

QUESTION: I’m sorry to insist, Jeff, but I don’t get it. So President Putin is accusing the U.S. specifically directly, so without quoting in Russian, but in English; to spread its jurisdiction to other countries, to block – to try to block the re-election of Mr. Blatter because he was – because he was resisting the pressure for Russia to hold the World Cup in 2018. And against these accusations you have – the U.S. Government has nothing to say?

MR RATHKE: Well, no. I – it’s not accurate. That’s not – that’s not what we’ve done, and it’s not what we’re doing. So that’s – I think that’s – that’s clear. But I’ve also in response to the previous question pointed to some of the facts that are clearly outlined by the Department of Justice, the connection to the United States, and the reasons for the indictment.

Tejinder.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Russia?

QUESTION: Well, hold --

MR RATHKE: We will come back to Russia. I know Guy had a question on Russia as well. Your question is on the same topic, is it not?

QUESTION: FIFA, yeah.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: It’s about the human rights in Qatar in the construction of the stadiums and all. Is because they’re our friends, are we going to address that issue? Because it is a major issue which is affecting migrants from Southeast Asia.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we’re certainly aware of reports of that nature. I don’t have a specific reaction to – unless there’s a particular instance you want me to comment on. In general, of course, we take labor rights and human rights very serious everywhere, and that’s the case in this instance as well.

QUESTION: No, specifically in this case, there was corruption, there was – and then what is going on out there in the media. If you want, I can send you the links to all the stories that have come out.

MR RATHKE: I’m aware of reports that have been out there, and my – the point I’m making is simply that we take labor rights and human rights very seriously. Of course, we do annual reports on these things, so there’s no question that these are important to us, but I’m separating that from the question of FIFA’s decision-making.

QUESTION: So can I follow up on that? It seems as if, like, on very limited issues such as corruption you’re willing to take a stand and say this is unacceptable, but not on larger kind of issues of international norms, law, and behavior on these tournaments, where – whether it’s the labor issue, whether it’s countries that are documented human rights violators, or in the middle of kind of military aggression towards another country should be awarded. I mean, this is a very narrow purview that you’ve taken on. I mean why, if you’re willing to take a stand on corruption, why aren’t you willing to take a stand on whether there should be labor regulations or such for these tournaments?

MR RATHKE: Well, first of all, you refer to it as taking a stand. It’s – in the case of the indictment that was issued yesterday, it’s a matter of U.S. law and the Department of Justice can speak more directly to the particulars of that. But we’re talking about executing --

QUESTION: Well, here we’re talking about allegations of violations of human rights --

MR RATHKE: Right. And I’m saying we take those seriously. I’m not – so I’m not downplaying that. But I’m also – I’m simply – the question was whether that had – and your question is whether that causes us to take a position on – as a government – on when organizations like FIFA should award the particular competitions, and I’m simply saying that we don’t --

QUESTION: Well, maybe not --

MR RATHKE: -- we’re not taking --

QUESTION: I can understand --

MR RATHKE: -- a national position on that.

QUESTION: -- and not about -- when they should award, but if they are awarded whether they should be held to certain standards of behavior.

MR RATHKE: Well, certainly, we think – I mean, that shouldn’t apply only in the case of international events. We think that labor rights and human rights are important every day. It’s not only when some – when an international event comes along that people should care about them. And certainly it’s something we pay attention to all the time.

QUESTION: So your concern --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- about corruption in international sports, are we – should we expect investigations into the cricket federation, badminton federations, other international sporting confederations that may or may not have interests particular to the United States? Or is this simply FIFA because it does some – or at least one of its branches – does business in the United States?

MR RATHKE: Well, look, the Department of Justice – it is a Department of Justice investigation. So if you’ve got questions of --

QUESTION: Well, the Department of Justice is part of this Administration.

MR RATHKE: -- how they came across the information – that’s true, that’s true. But I’ll let them speak about their process for how they began the investigation and so forth.

QUESTION: But I mean, there’s all sorts – there’s all sorts of international sporting federations – rugby and cricket, as I mentioned – even chess, things like that – some of which have interests in the United States. So is it the Administration’s position that it’s going to go after corruption wherever it believes that it might be? Or is it just soccer?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I’d refer you back to the Department of Justice for the reasons for this investigation.

You want – Guy, you wanted to ask about Russia, so go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Russian Government has announced that it has moved to make Russian military casualties classified. Is that a development that bodes well for this department’s consistent calls for transparency from Moscow over Russian military support for separatists in Ukraine?

MR RATHKE: Well, the – we are certainly aware of the law. We’re aware of it and we see this as a misplaced effort to cover up what everyone knows, and that is that Russian active duty military personnel are fighting and dying in eastern Ukraine and that the Russian Government is denying it. It’s been widely reported that before crossing the border Russian troops often remove the insignia from their uniforms, they leave behind passports and other forms of identification, they paint their vehicles to remove Russian flags and other identifying emblems. All of this is to hide the direct involvement in eastern Ukraine of Russia.

And as we talked about last week, the OSCE interviewed two Russians captured by Ukrainian forces who admitted that they were members of the Russian military, in yet the most recent example. So we also see this law as a blow to free press, and we think a free and independent press is an essential component of civil society and we would urge Russia to embrace the spirit of the Helsinki principles that were – that Russia, the United States, and all of our European counterparts signed on to 40 years ago.

QUESTION: Jeff.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Sorry, I’m a little confused. The merits --

MR RATHKE: Just a moment. Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- the merits of what you’re saying aside, whether or not there are Russian troops, is it – why is it any of the America’s – the United States business what the Russian Government chooses to classify and not classify? I mean, this Administration has classified and previous administrations have classified innumerable things that have come under – that have been harshly criticized by people who are advocates for freedom of the press and freedom of transparency, things that you just talked about.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Well, why is it any of the U.S. – the United States’ business what the Russian Government decides should be classified information or not?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’d say two things. First of all, as I said, we consider a free press important and people’s access to information important. Again, freedom of speech, freedom of the press are human rights, and we consider those important. So --

QUESTION: Okay. So that now – so the Administration believes now that the classification of documents is an infringement on freedom of the press? Because if it does --

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: -- I think it should take a look in the mirror because there’s a lot of classification that goes on here.

MR RATHKE: But let’s not – let’s get – but let’s get to – no --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR RATHKE: No, but let me finish. So the other part of your question, though, is – I think we can’t separate this from the context. If we – this is a context in which Russian forces are on the territory of a sovereign neighbor, Ukraine, where they are working with, allied with, aiding and fighting alongside separatists whom Russia also backs on sovereign Ukrainian territory. So we’ve spoken at length about that. And in our view, this law appears to be an attempt simply to make it more difficult for that – for those facts which, again, relate to the sovereignty of a UN member-state, Ukraine, to be covered over.

QUESTION: Right. But you’re making a comment about what the Russian Government chooses to classify and not classify. This government has classified lots of things to prevent – just let’s talk about the NSA and the Snowden leaks and that kind of thing. This government has been engaged in activities – intelligence-gathering activities overseas that it has chosen to classify and wants to prosecute. So I’m not sure I understand how it is that you’re able to make such a – how it is that you’re able to say what it is that you’re saying with moral authority here when there – when this Administration, this government, the U.S. Government, seems to do the same thing.

MR RATHKE: Well, again, there are, of course --

QUESTION: Obviously in different contexts than Ukraine, but I mean --

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Well, I don’t think anybody’s denying that classifying – that governments classifying information is something that all governments do and it’s an --

QUESTION: Right. So it’s their prerogative.

MR RATHKE: -- essential function. So – but again, the – in our view, it seems – it seems pretty clear that the purpose of this -- of this legislation is directly related to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. And – and that’s why we’ve – I’ve said what I’ve – what I’ve said about it.

Yes, in the back, and then we’ll come forward.

QUESTION: Well, on this same discussion, yesterday we talked at length about Russia being the overwhelming aggressor in terms of violating the Minsk agreement. With that said, what can the U.S. Administration do to compel Russia to abide by it?

MR RATHKE: Well, the – we think it’s essential that the Minsk agreements be implemented. This is what the Administration has endeavored to do. That’s what the Secretary of State talked about with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov, among other things, when he was in Sochi. And so we consider it a top priority because it relates, again, to Ukraine’s sovereignty, its territorial integrity. And we remain focused on it and we’ll continue to raise it.

QUESTION: But what about --

MR RATHKE: I think that’s also why you see the United States, along with our European partners, having imposed costs for Russia’s activity in eastern Ukraine. And as we’ve said, if the Minsk obligations are implemented, then – then those – those sanctions and measures can be rolled back when – when Minsk is implemented. But if not, then the costs will continue to rise.

QUESTION: What about the U.S. arming Ukraine so that they can help sort of compel Russia as well?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything new to add to our discussions on that.

Yes, Dmitry, and then Samir.

QUESTION: May I ask you two points with regards to Ukraine –

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- if I may quickly? There was a large piece in the Newsweek several days ago on U.S. instructors training Ukrainian – the so-called national guard of Ukraine in Yavoriv. And I couldn’t help but notice how a number of U.S. instructors referred to what’s happening in eastern Ukraine as – using acronym, ATO – anti-terrorism operation – that was going by the Ukrainian Government, and I think is used solely by it. Is it some kind of – is it a reflection of some shift in the U.S. Administration position? Is this how you essentially see things in Ukraine? It’s an antiterrorist operation, in your view?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think you’re probably aware, but I’ll highlight – there is a Ukrainian law from June of 2014 in which the Ukrainian Government established the antiterrorist operations. So this is Ukrainian terminology that underscores how they view their defensive operations against the combined Russian and separatist forces, but I don’t have any – any further --

QUESTION: But those weren’t U.S. military personnel. Those were --

MR RATHKE: Well, I think it’s only natural, that as they are there working with Ukrainian colleagues, that they’ve probably heard the Ukrainian terminology for it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) just repeat it?

MR RATHKE: I think our point of view on what’s happening in eastern Ukraine and on the – our support for the Ukrainian Government as they fight against this – the – what’s been happening in eastern Ukraine remains unchanged.

QUESTION: Okay, Jeff. And then the other point quickly.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: On human rights in Ukraine. Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, officially declared on Monday, I think it took place, that the Ukrainian authorities would not be able to fully observe human rights in eastern Ukraine as a number of international convention demands. Any response to that?

MR RATHKE: We’ve seen reports that the Ukrainian legislature passed a resolution that purports to temporarily pass responsibility to Russia for the protection of human rights in those areas of Ukrainian territory that Ukraine does not control, which includes Crimea and certain areas of the Donetsk and the Luhansk regions. We’re still reviewing the language of the resolution. I don’t have further comment on it.

QUESTION: But you are comfortable with that language?

MR RATHKE: No, I didn’t say that. I said we are reviewing the language of the resolution.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have further comment on it at this point.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: I have two questions --

MR RATHKE: Please.

QUESTION: -- one on Libya --

QUESTION: On Russia?

MR RATHKE: Oh.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: I got one more on Russia.

MR RATHKE: Oh, you have one more on Russia? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the case of this opposition activist, Vladimir Kara-Murza, who has allegedly been poisoned, an associate of Nemtsov?

MR RATHKE: We’ve seen reports that Russian civil society leader Vladimir Kara-Murza is in critical condition at a hospital in Moscow. He’s in our thoughts and we expect he’ll receive the best medical care possible. We’re following developments closely --

QUESTION: To my --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: No, go ahead.

MR RATHKE: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: Finish, please. When you’re done.

MR RATHKE: Well, and we’ve seen a variety of comments about what may have led to his hospitalization, and we’re following developments.

QUESTION: Have you talked to the embassy?

QUESTION: So you don’t know if there’s been any – you’re not prepared to say if there was any foul – you believe any foul play was involved?

MR RATHKE: We’re aware of a variety of comments. I don’t have further --

QUESTION: It’s my understanding that he and his wife are permanent residents of the United States – they have green cards – and that his children are American citizens. Is that correct?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have information on that. Of course, you know the question of --

QUESTION: The family is apparently trying to get him out of the country for medical treatment because they don’t think that there’s adequate care for him there. Is it – is the U.S. – is the Administration through the embassy involved in any way in trying to get him out?

MR RATHKE: Not that I have to report. As I said, he’s in our thoughts and we certainly expect him to get the best treatment possible.

QUESTION: But beyond --

QUESTION: Well, I’m sure that that’s of great comfort, but I – do you – can you find out if you’re trying to do – if you’re trying to help – if you’re trying to help him or his family get him to – out of the country to get medical --

MR RATHKE: I’m happy to see if we have anything more to say on that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Beyond trying to get him out of the country, is the embassy in touch with him or his family?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have that level of detail with me.

QUESTION: But could you take – could you take that question whether – I understand he’s in your thoughts, but has anybody from the embassy reached out to his family in any way, whether it’s to get him out of the country or not?

MR RATHKE: I’m happy to look and see if we have anything more to say.

Also on Russia?

QUESTION: Just one quick one --

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- on Russia. So I don’t know that this necessarily reflects a new development, but we have a report that the Russian army is massing troops and weaponry, including mobile rocket launchers, tanks, and artillery at a makeshift base about 30 miles from the border with Ukraine. The base is on the so-called Kuzminsky firing range. Do you have any comment on that and whether you think that they’re preparing for a new offensive?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have a specific comment or confirmation of that particular report. But as we have said, Russia has continued to fuel the conflict in southeastern Ukraine, initiating attacks together with the separatists. And we do know that the combined Russian and separatist forces continue to flout the terms of the February 12th Minsk implementation plan. So we’ve – and we’ve spoken about some of the details that we do know about artillery pieces and multiple rocket launcher systems within areas prohibited under the Minsk accords. Russia maintains forces, of course, along its border with Ukraine, and the – there also is a large concentration of command and control equipment in eastern Ukraine – air defense systems and so forth; all these things that we’ve talked about in recent weeks and months.

QUESTION: Just one more on this. Yesterday --

MR RATHKE: Okay, and then Samir has been waiting so patiently.

QUESTION: Right – I mean, it’s on Ukraine, and I’m just wondering --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- if you were able to look into the questions that you were being asked yesterday about the shelling in the east.

MR RATHKE: Well, we – so according to the May 27th weekly report of the --

QUESTION: Which was yesterday.

MR RATHKE: Yes, that’s right – of the OSCE special monitoring mission, several highlights: first, that Ukraine’s largest coke and chemical plant in government-controlled Avdiivka – also which is one of the largest employers in the Donetsk basin – came under sustained artillery fire over a number of days. The report also noted ceasefire violations in Shyrokyne – again, in government-controlled territory – as well as sporadic violence in two towns in government-controlled areas of Luhansk Oblast and so on and so forth. I mean, the reports detail a wide range of incidents. So I don’t have anything further to add to what we discussed yesterday – that is, the overwhelming majority of the violations of the ceasefire are coming from the Russian and separatists’ side.

QUESTION: So all of those that you just mentioned are violations by the separatists?

MR RATHKE: Those are all – yes, those are all violations --

QUESTION: So yesterday --

MR RATHKE: -- by the Russians and separatist forces.

QUESTION: So yesterday, to your view, which is the view of the OSCE, there were no violations of the Minsk --

MR RATHKE: Look, you’re welcome to read the OSCE report also and the --

QUESTION: Well, but I’m – but you’re – are you picking and choosing what to read from the OSCE report, or is that the whole thing?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think it’s important to keep the big picture in mind, and that is that the overwhelming majority of the ceasefire --

QUESTION: Okay, fair enough, but is that the whole report that you’re reading from?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have the entire report in front of me. Again, if you’re --

QUESTION: So someone’s gone in there and pulled out these – highlighted the violations by the separatists, but you can’t say for sure whether there’re any by the – any reports of violations by the government?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I think the special monitoring mission is quite --

QUESTION: All right, I’ll check afterwards.

MR RATHKE: Yes, very good.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: I have two questions.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: One on Libya, one on Iraq.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: On Libya, do you have a reaction to the assassination attempt against the prime minister?

MR RATHKE: We strongly condemn the attack on May 26th against Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani in Tobruk, which was a further effort to destabilize Libya and undermine the ongoing UN-facilitated Libyan political dialogue. We believe the United Nations-led process remains the best hope for Libyans to establish a national unity government and to confront the violence and instability that impedes Libya’s transition and development. We think a political solution is the only way to bring the country together. It’s the only solution to the crisis in Libya, so we welcome the efforts by Libyan stakeholders to promote dialogue.

QUESTION: On Iraq --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- do you have any information about the visit of the Iraq parliament speaker next week to Washington?

MR RATHKE: Salim al-Jabouri --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR RATHKE: -- the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, will visit the White House and will meet with Vice President Biden on Friday, June 12th. The speaker will also have a meeting with Secretary Kerry at the State Department during his stay. Vice President Biden and the Secretary also will welcome Speaker al-Jabouri to discuss a range of issues, including the U.S. strong and continued support to Iraq under our Strategic Framework Agreement, the collective campaign to degrade and destroy ISIL, and the status of ongoing political initiatives to address the needs of the Iraqi people. So --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Pam, and then we’ll come forward.

QUESTION: South China Sea --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- several questions. There are new reports – Australia media reports – that say that China is putting weapons on the artificial reefs in the South China Sea. First, what’s your response?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve consistently underscored our interest in preserving the freedom of navigation, the freedom of overflight, including in the South China Sea. This includes all of the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and of the airspace, and these are guaranteed under international law and are reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention. So the international law is also clear about land reclamation, so we’ll continue to exercise our rights under the Law of the Sea.

As far as weapons, I think you’ve probably seen comments by the Secretary of Defense in Hawaii. I think they sum up to a few key points. First, we want a peaceful resolution of all disputes and an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by any claimant. We also oppose any further militarization of disputed features. And second, I think it’s clear that the United States will operate, will fly, will sail where international law allows. That’s what we do around the world, and we will continue to do so. And I think lastly, as the Secretary pointed out, with its actions in the South China Sea, China is out of step with the regional consensus in favor of a non-coercive approach to this and to other longstanding disputes.

QUESTION: Specifically, would the presence of weapons be viewed by the U.S. as a violation of the 2002 Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think if you look at the text of the code of conduct – or, sorry, the declaration of conduct, it talks about self-restraint. And I think that’s the point that the Secretary of Defense was making, which is why we want a peaceful resolution of all the disputes and we want an immediate and a lasting halt to land reclamation. We oppose militarization of disputed land features.

QUESTION: And one more question. Yesterday, in a speech in New York, Assistant Secretary Russel said that he – the U.S. sees the emergence of global Korea in ASEAN, APEC, and the G20. Given that South Korea’s President Park is going to be visiting next month, could you update on diplomatic efforts to bring South Korea in to work more with the U.S. to ensure regional stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have anything further to add to Assistant Secretary Russel’s speech. Of course, the Secretary was just in Seoul, and he talked at some length about our partnership with South Korea, our alliance with South Korea, and how we increasingly work together to address not only bilateral and regional issues in Northeast Asia, but also global issues. So we are glad to see South Korea playing an increasing role, but I don’t have further to add to that.

Elise, go ahead, and then we’ll --

QUESTION: No --

MR RATHKE: No? Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Okinawa governor is arriving this weekend. Do you have any update who is meeting from this building with him?

MR RATHKE: We look forward to the visit of Okinawa Governor Onaga to Washington. The director of the Office of Japanese Affairs in the Department, Joe Young, is planning to welcome the governor to the State Department and meet with him while he’s here.

QUESTION: What is the message from the U.S. Government to him, who is opposing the U.S. forces realignment plan?

MR RATHKE: Well, you’re probably familiar with the U.S. position on this. Most recently when our defense and foreign ministers met at the 2+2 meeting in New York, the ministers from Japan and the United States reconfirmed the plan to construct a replacement facility for Futenma at Camp Schwab as the – it’s the only solution that addresses all of the operational, political, financial, and strategic concerns, and that avoids the continued use of the air station at Futenma. So the ministers reaffirmed our government’s – both governments’ unwavering commitment to the plan and their determination to achieve its completion. And that would also be – include the return of Futenma to Japan. So we welcome the steady and continuing progress toward that end.

In the back, and then we’ll come forward. No – you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Any updates on the Taliban Five and whether the U.S. is having discussions with Qatar about extending the travel ban restrictions?

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t have any updates on that.

QUESTION: But they will walk in a few days?

MR RATHKE: I simply don’t have any updates on that.

Yes, go. Over on the right, yes.

QUESTION: Okinawa governor Onaga meeting. He requested the assistant secretary. So why are the Japanese – Japan desk is the meeting with him?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any further details to offer, but we look forward to welcoming him, as I said.

Yes.

QUESTION: Jeff?

MR RATHKE: Goyal, yeah.

QUESTION: Quickly, just going back to China. As far as this recent behavior for the Chinese authorities, how much you think the regional nations should be worried about? And many of them are not powerful as far as China, and including, of course, India. What is the --

MR RATHKE: Well, I think the ASEAN foreign ministers have issued statements recently and expressed their concern, so I’d refer you back to their statements. We certainly understand their concern.

Arshad.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Just one. You saw, I’m sure, the reports about anthrax having been distributed or sent to various facilities by the Pentagon accidentally. I believe there are reports that one of those deliveries was to South Korea. Do you have any comment on that? Did you get any response from the South Korean Government about this?

MR RATHKE: Well, the – we’ve had contact with the South Korean Government. Most of the contacts have been, as you would imagine, in the Department of Defense to – channel to their colleagues. So they are in the lead, and I’d refer you back to the Department of Defense for any particular details.

QUESTION: I got one email question.

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Last week, after the email release, or after you guys released the Benghazi tranche of the former Secretary Clinton’s emails, your colleague Marie said that there was – the Department saw no impropriety in anything that was going on, and particularly in relationship to the emails that were sent (inaudible) foreign intelligence information from Sidney Blumenthal to the secretary. She has said that those were unsolicited emails, and I’m just curious as – if – that the revelation, or the report that he – that Mr. Blumenthal was, in fact, being paid a significant amount of money by the Clinton Foundation during the time that he was sending her these emails, if that changes the Department – if that raises any red flag for the Department, or if it doesn’t.

MR RATHKE: I don’t – yeah, I don’t have any further --

QUESTION: Just --

MR RATHKE: -- response. I would say – I would refer you back to the foundation and --

QUESTION: Well, no, no --

MR RATHKE: -- to her for the particular arrangements (inaudible).

QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, does the building see this as an issue? Does the fact that he was being paid by – I mean, lots of people get – including me, including you, I’m sure, get lots of unsolicited emails all the time from peoples purporting to share alleged information about things.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: But I would hazard to guess that very few of us get unsolicited emails from – with this kind of information in it from people who are being paid 10 grand a month by our family’s foundation. So I’m just wondering if that makes any difference in the way the State Department looks at --

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t think it changes our fundamental view of the situation. That is, first of all, as you’ve said, but Mr. Blumenthal was not a U.S. Government employee. It’s also, as you said, Matt, it’s not unusual for officials to hear from a variety of outside voices. And I think, as you can see from the exchanges in those emails, in some cases, the Secretary forwarded them to other officials --

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: -- in some cases not. So no, I don’t have any --

QUESTION: But I think the thing is that it raises the – it raises at least to some the question – and it’s just a question, I don’t think there’s any – there’s --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: No one has offered any significant proof that he may have been being paid. You say he wasn’t a government employee, and yet he was getting paid this money by the foundation and perhaps was sending this information to her as a result of the payment? I just don’t know. I just want to know if the State Department --

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Nor do I. It’s --

QUESTION: -- thinks this is something that should be looked into, or if it doesn’t.

MR RATHKE: I’d say that this – it’s an issue to raise with the foundation for her to (inaudible).

QUESTION: Okay. But it’s not an issue for the building?

MR RATHKE: No.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything more to say on it.

QUESTION: Okay. I was just wondering if you have any comment on the fact Judicial Watch announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against Secretary Kerry to compel his compliance with the Federal Records Act and challenge, quote, “the failure of defending Kerry to take any action to recover emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.”

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not familiar with that report, but if indeed --

QUESTION: You’re not aware of the lawsuit?

MR RATHKE: No, you’ve --

QUESTION: You know it’s – Judicial Watch just announced it. It’s not a report.

MR RATHKE: Well, right. Okay, fine. But --

QUESTION: It happened while we were sitting.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. So I’m not --

QUESTION: No, no, no. It happened a few – it happened a couple of hours ago, actually --

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: -- that they announced it. I mean, I would assume that the --

QUESTION: Your ignorance of this remains the same, correct? (Laughter.)

MR RATHKE: I do not know the particulars of that lawsuit.

QUESTION: Okay. Well --

MR RATHKE: If – but if it is, as – it won’t surprise you, but if there is a matter that’s under litigation, we’re not going to comment on a matter that’s under litigation.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, without commenting on --

MR RATHKE: I think I can say, though --

QUESTION: -- the investigation itself, if you want to learn about the suit, which I’m sure the building knows about already, if you could comment on the merit of this suit, which --

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to comment on the merit of ongoing litigation. I think --

QUESTION: So you think maybe he should be --

MR RATHKE: No.

QUESTION: -- found guilty of --

MR RATHKE: No, not at all. The --

QUESTION: I would assume that you’ve --

MR RATHKE: As a matter of practice, which shouldn’t surprise you, we don’t comment on matters that are under litigation. Now if you’re – if what you’re asking about is the measures that have been taken under Secretary Kerry to address records issues and so forth, I’m happy to go through those again. I think you’re probably familiar with them.

QUESTION: Oh, that’s okay.

MR RATHKE: Okay. All right. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:07 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 27, 2015

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 16:28

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 27, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

12:52 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. I just have one thing at the top for you all. So Secretary of State John Kerry will travel Abuja, Nigeria on May 29th to lead the official U.S. delegation on behalf of President Obama for the inauguration of Nigerian President-elect Muhammadu Buhari. The Secretary will travel later that day to Geneva, Switzerland to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif on May 30th as part of the ongoing EU-coordinated P5+1 nuclear negotiations.

Secretary Kerry will then visit Madrid, Spain from May 31st to June 1st. He will meet with King Felipe VI, President Rajoy, and Foreign Minister Garcia-Margallo to discuss a range of bilateral and global issues.

Secretary Kerry will then travel to Paris, France on June 2nd to lead the U.S. delegation to the Counter-ISIL Coalition Small-Group Ministerial. Coalition partners will review progress on the full range of our shared efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL, while affirming our support for Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi campaign against ISIL. While in Paris, the Secretary will also meet with French Foreign Minister Fabius and other counterparts to discuss regional and global issues.

That’s all I have at the top, so Brad, I’ll hand over to you.

QUESTION: Can you update us on the emails plan of release? Have you had any interactions with the court since your filing yesterday? When should we expect then the next batch?

QUESTION: And then can we have a follow-up on – just on your announcement after that?

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR RATHKE: Sure. On the email filing, yes, we’ve – we’ve made our filing yesterday as – and last Tuesday, as you’ll recall, the court directed us to propose a schedule of rolling productions of Secretary Clinton’s emails. And so we provided the court with more information on our proposed schedule for that rolling production. The Department proposed that it make its next production of the emails by posting them on the State Department’s FOIA website on June 30th, 2015, and that we would make rolling productions in the same way every 60 days thereafter.

QUESTION: So June 30th when, in theory, the Iran nuclear agreement will also be sealed by June 30th, correct?

MR RATHKE: Well, that’s a different process, but that’s --

QUESTION: Busy day for this building.

MR RATHKE: Yes. But there’s two reporters from AP, so you can cover that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Very good.

MR RATHKE: Lesley, you wanted to switch back to the trip announcement.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I – so in Nigeria, is he going to have bilats at all, or is this just a quick visit? So is he meeting the new president or --

MR RATHKE: I think it’s a pretty quick visit. I can check and see if there’s anything more in detail to offer on the schedule there. I think as we get closer to departure, maybe we’ll have more. I’ll look and see if there’s more that – that we can share afterwards about the schedule there.

QUESTION: And then on the meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- does that include any of the other P5 members? Is it just --

MR RATHKE: This is a meeting – it’s part of the ongoing P5+1 negotiations, but I believe it’s just a bilateral. Again, I’ll check and – on that.

QUESTION: And is this kind of essentially the – I mean, we know that there’s – at the political level there’s been a discussion. But this is the first time – given that you’ve got a month before the deadline, is this kind of the last stretch for these talks?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’re focused on June 30th as the deadline, and that’s – that’s what we’re devoting our efforts to. So this – this fits into that plan. Of course, there’s been an active schedule of meetings at the expert level, at the political director level, and also the Secretary will – this meeting follows also in the context of the nuclear negotiations. So certainly, we’re going to be focused on this for the – for the month of June.

QUESTION: One more story – one more thing on this. You saw the story today, France’s comment saying it’ll block any deal between Iran and the six powers, unless – unless there’s – all the necessary installations are in place, as they call it – installations. Was – is that a – would you consider that a necessary thing just before the month is – gets into the last month of talks?

MR RATHKE: Would I consider what necessary?

QUESTION: Those kind of comments. I mean, it’s – France has always been against – well, not against – but has always taken a harder line than any of the other P5 members. Is this is a concern for the U.S.?

MR RATHKE: Well, the P5+1 remain united in our efforts to reach a final deal by the end of June, and we believe that if all parties work – work in good faith we can achieve that goal. So the P5+1 remain united. So I don’t think there’s anything --

QUESTION: Jeff, can I ask on --

MR RATHKE: -- anything there. Yes.

QUESTION: Sorry, just to butt in. The Iranians today said that they believe the talks would stretch beyond June 30th. And there were also – there was a meeting yesterday at the Atlantic Council with the French, British, and German ambassadors, at which they also kind of predicted there could be something around July the 6th. Is the United States – would the United States be adverse to, as we did in Lausanne, to the deadline stretching beyond June 30th?

MR RATHKE: We’re not contemplating an extension beyond June 30th. Again, we’re united among the P5+1 that our efforts are to reach a final deal by the end of June. So that’s – that’s where our --

QUESTION: But given these are very complicated and the technical conversations are going on right now as we speak in Vienna, my question was: Would you be adverse – not whether you’re contemplating it, but would you be against any kind of extension beyond – if you’re already in the talks?

MR RATHKE: Well, in Lausanne, of course, we reached a framework understanding, and we’re working on completing the technical details and elements of that understanding now. So we won’t have a deal until those technical details are done, and – but – and we expect the pace of the talks to continue unabated. But we think we can achieve – achieve that goal.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you more about the --

MR RATHKE: Yes, Brad.

QUESTION: -- the 30th in Geneva. What is the format? You said they meet one-on-one. Are they just going to have a dinner together, or what, an hour-long meeting or something?

MR RATHKE: To be honest, I don’t have details of the format. I’ll check and come back to you afterwards.

QUESTION: So what is the goal of the meeting?

MR RATHKE: Well, of course, the Secretary talks to Foreign Minister Zarif in the context of these negotiations. There are always a variety of meetings – some bilateral, some multilateral, some the full P5+1 with Iran. So I wouldn’t characterize it in any way different from those types of meetings they’ve had in the past.

QUESTION: So there’s no goals?

MR RATHKE: Well, no, the goal is to reach an agreement by the end of June on a nuclear --

QUESTION: Where are you on the --

MR RATHKE: -- (inaudible).

QUESTION: Hold on. Where are you on the technical talks? Under Secretary Sherman is going to Europe to meet with Iranian officials as well?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve had expert-level talks over the last couple of weeks. Those – those were in New York on the margins of the NPT Review Conference. Those continued beyond – again, an additional week. We may have more announcements to make later today about other – other contacts in the P5+1.

QUESTION: So you wouldn’t expect the Secretary, for example, to convey to Foreign Minister Zarif the concerns of the GCC about Iran’s reputed nuclear program and about the progress of these discussions?

MR RATHKE: Well, which concerns are you referring to? Of course, we’ve been briefing our GCC partners --

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: -- including at the Camp David summit on the --

QUESTION: But you --

MR RATHKE: -- on the nuclear talks with Iran.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: And so we certainly – we’ll be focused in all of our meetings, including in the Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif, in advancing the nuclear deal forward.

QUESTION: You wouldn’t --

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to lay out the particulars of those private conversations that haven’t even yet happened. But of course, the purpose of the meeting is to move us forward to achieve a deal by the end of June.

QUESTION: But you wouldn’t expect the Secretary to convey to Minister Zarif what the concerns are that have been expressed already by the GCC members both in Paris and here in the United States?

MR RATHKE: Well, the GCC members also maintain dialogue with Iran. So I’m not going to suggest that the focus of the meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif is only on what we’ve been talking about with the GCC. I mean, there’s a shared international interest in Iran not obtaining a nuclear weapon. That’s – that’s the point of view of the international community, not just the GCC countries and other countries in the region, also the United States, our partners in Europe, our partners in the P5, China, Russia, et cetera. So this is a – this is a shared effort and we all have the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Jeff --

QUESTION: So it does --

MR RATHKE: Yeah, one more on this.

QUESTION: But it does beg the question then: Why have this meeting at this point? I mean, certainly, figuring out an agenda for the last four or five weeks of talks can be worked out at a lower level. Do they actually need to be in the same room to talk to each other?

MR RATHKE: Well, we certainly find it important and useful for the Secretary to talk to his counterpart about the key issues in the negotiations. So certainly, it’s valuable. And as you saw in the – in Lausanne in the meetings that went before it, it was also important to have that kind of high-level contact in order to reach the framework understanding. So this is all part of our effort to drive forward towards – towards a deal that verifiably cuts off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon by the end of June.

Said.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on the sanctions. Suppose there is a deal and it’s signed on the 30th. How are these – I know we ask this question time and again. Will it be done right away, the lifting of the sanctions? Will it be stretched over, let’s say, four or five months? I mean, will there be, let’s say, specified sanctions that will be lifted and others that are not? How is that going to work out?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have new announcements to make about sanctions relief. As we’ve always said, sanctions relief will depend on completion of the key nuclear-related steps, and that’s what we’ve been saying ever since Lausanne, and that remains our position.

QUESTION: So do you expect that once the deal is announced, that the following day or the following week Iran can have access to its own funds that have been frozen?

MR RATHKE: Again, I’d go back to what I just said in answer to your question. The sanctions relief depends on verifiable completion of the key – of key nuclear-related steps. So that’s the way we look at it.

Yes, Pam. Same topic?

QUESTION: Yes. I wanted to circle back to the comments from earlier today from the deputy foreign minister in Iran and also from the French ambassador to the U.S. yesterday in their suggestions that there could be an extension of the deadline. You said that the United States is focused on the 30th as the deadline. Is there consideration of two things: first of all, a relatively short extension two or three days beyond the 30th, and also is there any consideration of a more prolonged extension?

MR RATHKE: We’re not contemplating any extension beyond June 30th. So that’s where we are.

QUESTION: Good. Because two or three days beyond that is a holiday weekend.

QUESTION: Well, but the thing is that if both the Iranians and the French --

QUESTION: And you’ve pretty much said that there are not going to be any negotiations on July 3rd, which is a federal holiday, or July 4th which is a national holiday?

MR RATHKE: If you’re making that request, I’ll take that back and ensure that --

QUESTION: I’m not making that request. I just think that this line of questioning is a bit unusual considering the fact that it’s a holiday weekend. There would have to be a break if there was going to be – is that not correct?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have the days of the week and when July 4th falls in my head, Matt. So that --

QUESTION: July 3rd is a Friday, and that’s the holiday.

MR RATHKE: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: July 4th is a Saturday. That’s --

MR RATHKE: Okay. Duly registered. Thank you.

Yes, Matt. Did you have – I thought you were just – I thought there was more beyond the interjection on the --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, well, there is.

MR RATHKE: -- calendar.

QUESTION: Well, it’s a bit strange that the U.S. is so focused on their deadline and that you’re not contemplating, but yet Iran and the French are saying, well, you need the best deal, and if it goes beyond that, then that would be fine.

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we remain united with our partners in these negotiations, and we believe that if we work in good faith that we can achieve that date and achieve that goal, and certainly we’ve had a robust schedule of meetings in the last few weeks. Those meetings are continuing, and the Secretary’s trip is clearly a central part of that. So we are focused on working to get this done by the deadline.

QUESTION: Well, hold on. Perhaps you could remind the French that they also have a holiday – national holiday, kind of a big one around the 14th of July, I believe.

MR RATHKE: I seem to recall something about that.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR RATHKE: But again, we’re not – we’re focused on June 30th. Any holidays on June 30th that you --

QUESTION: Not that I’m aware of.

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m sure there is one.

MR RATHKE: We’ll come to you in a second.

QUESTION: Just so we don’t --

MR RATHKE: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- interfere with the holiday season, also that – is it possible that the discussions and coming up with Zarif could include things on Yemen, Iraq, Syria?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything to preview of that sort. Again, the Secretary meets frequently with Foreign Minister Zarif, and these discussions are focused on the nuclear issue. Of course, as we’ve said before, we take every opportunity to raise with Iran the U.S. citizens who are detained or are on trial or, in the case of Robert Levinson, missing. So we – certainly we will raise the cases of Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini as well as Robert Levinson.

QUESTION: The Secretary will definitely?

MR RATHKE: Well, we always do, so I don’t have any reason to believe --

QUESTION: In his meeting with Zarif? He will?

MR RATHKE: -- that it won’t come up this time.

QUESTION: Okay. With special attention to the fact that the Rezaian – he’s on trial now?

MR RATHKE: Well, of course, and we talked about that yesterday.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR RATHKE: Yes. Said.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MR RATHKE: Anything more on Iran?

Okay, then go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go very quickly to the Quartet? Today Tony Blair, the head of the Quartet resigned.

QUESTION: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Tony Blair is not the head of the Quartet.

QUESTION: I mean – whatever. He’s the envoy --

QUESTION: Envoy.

QUESTION: -- to the – sorry --

MR RATHKE: Well, he was the Quartet --

QUESTION: He --

MR RATHKE: -- representative.

QUESTION: -- the special envoy of the Quartet – I don’t know what his title is – the peace envoy of the Quartet resigned today. Do you have any comment, first of all, on his resignation?

MR RATHKE: Well, Tony Blair has been a valued partner and friend in our effort to bring peace to the Middle East, and as Quartet representative, he’s worked tirelessly and passionately to advance economic growth in the West Bank and Gaza over the past eight years. And so we deeply appreciate his efforts and we’ll continue to value his support.

QUESTION: So you assess his tenure over the past eight years as a successful tenure by the Quartet? Have the goals of the Quartet been achieved under the sort of the auspices of Envoy Blair?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think the Quartet’s goals haven’t been achieved, of course, because we’re working towards a two-state solution in which Israel lives side-by-side at peace with a Palestinian state. So until that’s achieved, I don’t think any of us can say that we’ve succeeded.

QUESTION: The Quartet by and large is the brainchild of the United States of America. Has the time come to really perhaps change it or create something different to get the process going?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any speculation of that sort to share or to offer. We – the Quartet will continue its work in promoting a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I don’t have any further details to read out about that.

QUESTION: Is there any particular person that you’d like to see in that position that could perhaps have better relations with the Palestinians, because there was a bit of tension between Mr. Blair and the Palestinian Authority all along?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any speculation of that sort. I’m not aware of current plans to replace Tony Blair as Quartet representative. So I don’t have names or speculation to offer in that regard.

Yes.

QUESTION: Does that mean that he might not be replaced?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I’m not aware of current plans to replace him.

QUESTION: I understand that. But would the United States like to see – does the United States believe that that position has value?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, as we said, Tony Blair was active and --

QUESTION: No, no, not Tony --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I don’t want to – I’m not personalizing it. I just want to know, does the United States believe that it is – that having a Quartet representative such as Tony Blair is something that’s worthwhile? Or is it something that doesn’t – the position doesn’t really matter?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve – I would separate those things, because first, as I said, we certainly value --

QUESTION: Well, the Quartet --

MR RATHKE: -- Tony Blair’s contributions. But whether the position will be filled, I don’t have a current position.

QUESTION: The Quartet existed for five years before there was this – I mean, it was basically --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- created – maybe not for him, but he was the first one. And the Quartet had been around for some time before there was this position. So --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- do you think that it should – that this position should remain a position?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything to say --

QUESTION: You don’t.

MR RATHKE: -- beyond the – that I’m not aware of plans to replace him currently.

QUESTION: Let me just --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- follow up on the Quartet for a little bit. During the nine-month negotiations led by Secretary Kerry, there was really no role for the Quartet. So in your view, in your assessment, what role is there for the Quartet in any kind of future negotiations?

MR RATHKE: Well, the Quartet plays an important role in keeping the partners – the EU, Russia, UN, the United States – engaged, up to date, and supporting the goal of the two-state solution. I’m not going to get into a detailed analysis of the Quartet and its working practices. But certainly we think the Quartet is an important format to support, work toward an Israeli – solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I’m not going to do an analysis of organizational arrangements.

QUESTION: But, Jeff, you must agree that during the nine-month negotiation period, the other Quartet members, were – really had insignificant roles to play. It was the United States. So it is the United States that can get the negotiation going or not going at any given time. With that perspective in mind, what role or what value does the Quartet have?

MR RATHKE: Again, the Quartet plays an important role supporting the goal that is shared of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’m not going to offer further analysis.

QUESTION: But --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: But when you say that it plays an important role, surely you have some kind of reason to say that. Right?

MR RATHKE: Well, yeah. As I said, the members of the Quartet all have important roles to play. The Quartet brings them together, allows them to share views, to ensure that any opportunity that can be taken to promote --

QUESTION: Will be missed.

MR RATHKE: -- Israeli-Palestinian peace will be taken full advantage of --

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

MR RATHKE: -- to complete your sentence in a slightly different way, Matt. So it certainly plays an important coordination role.

QUESTION: Well, I understand how it might play an important role, but realistically, going back since it was created in 2002 – so 13 years – can you name a single accomplishment that the Quartet has – I mean, they presented – they came up with George Mitchell and the roadmap, but it was never implemented. I mean, what exactly has the Quartet done to further the cause of a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

MR RATHKE: Well, look, as I said in response to Said’s question, until the goal of a two-state solution has been achieved, then you can’t say that there’s been success. So that applies to --

QUESTION: Well, I understand that, but as far as I can tell – and correct me if I’m wrong – is the Quartet, when it was meeting regularly, got together every couple of months or whatever and issued a statement which – pretty much the same statement that they first issued in 2002, 2003, with the dates changed. It never actually – nothing that it proposed was ever actually achieved. Is that not correct?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have all the Quartet statements going back to 2002 here in front of me, so I’m not going to do a compare and contrast. Again, we think it’s important that the Quartet exists and that the Quartet brings together key parties to support the negotiation process and the outcome we all desire.

QUESTION: Jeff --

MR RATHKE: Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: Was Prime Minister Blair receiving any salary from the Quartet?

MR RATHKE: I would refer you to I believe the UN on those kinds of administrative arrangements.

Same topic?

QUESTION: Jeff --

MR RATHKE: Okay. Then I think --

QUESTION: -- on the Palestinian-Israeli thing.

MR RATHKE: Okay, yeah.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up: Yesterday I asked you if you knew anything of apparently a new proposal by Prime Minister Netanyahu to get the talks going, but to begin with which settlement blocks the Israelis can keep and – or which settlement blocks they can expand and so on. Do – did you follow up on that?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything new to add on that.

QUESTION: Well – yeah, apparently he told this to the EU envoy Federica Mogherini. Are --

MR RATHKE: I’m familiar with the reports and with your question.

QUESTION: But you have no --

MR RATHKE: I just don’t have anything --

QUESTION: You have no comment on --

MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything to add to what we discussed yesterday.

QUESTION: You have no comment on the content or the substance – alleged substance of the --

MR RATHKE: Again, I don’t have anything to add to the discussion yesterday.

Justin.

QUESTION: Will the U.S. be willing to entertain any talks in which the existing settlements would be basically rolled into a final separation deal?

MR RATHKE: I have nothing to preview about that or a reaction to these reports which – that – I don’t have anything beyond what I said yesterday.

Justin, go ahead.

QUESTION: One more, please?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: When was the last meeting for the Quartet? Do you know?

MR RATHKE: I’m happy to check and find out. I don’t know offhand when the last meeting was.

QUESTION: Was there not a meeting of Quartet officials in Brussels today on – as part of the ad-hoc liaison committee meeting?

MR RATHKE: I don’t know off the top of my head, Matt. If you’re --

QUESTION: The answer would be yes, but --

MR RATHKE: Okay. All right, then.

Justin, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Qatar. The travel ban for the Taliban Five – so-called Taliban Five – expires at the end of this month. Have you had any discussions with the Qataris about extending that ban?

MR RATHKE: So I think this question was asked yesterday as well. I don’t have anything to announce --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- in that connection.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have anything to say, though, about whether you’ve discussed anything with them about extending the travel ban? We don’t need any announcement. It doesn’t have to be an official announcement.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. No, I don’t – I simply don’t have anything to read out.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you – me? Okay.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: U.S. and South Korea, Japan hold a nuclear envoys talks in Seoul. Do you have anything read out on that?

MR RATHKE: Yes. So our special representative for North Korea policy, Sung Kim, held in-depth and productive trilateral discussions in Seoul today with his counterpart from the Republic of Korea and his Japanese counterpart. This was, in our view, an important opportunity to continue to strengthen our coordination with our two allies in Northeast Asia on a wide range of issues related to North Korea. This follows on separate bilateral meetings that Sung Kim had with Special Representative Hwang from the Republic of Korea and Director-General Ihara on May 26th. So he had bilateral meetings yesterday with each of them, and then they had a trilateral meeting today. And these are the latest in a series of ongoing consultations with all of the Five Party partners, all of whom remain united in our pursuit of the shared objective of a denuclearized North Korea.

QUESTION: Sung Kim made the remark to his news conference, said United States keep the – all diplomatic options on the table. He mentioned that. Do you have any particular visions for --

MR RATHKE: Keeping all what? Options?

QUESTION: Oh yeah – all diplomatic options --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- on the table. So do you have any particular diplomatic options --

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have anything to offer beyond what he said in his press conference. I think I’d refer you back to his comments there. I don’t have further elaboration to make on that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: I’m sorry, same topic?

QUESTION: Yeah, same topic. Is it true that the U.S. is now willing to consider linking North Korea’s human rights record with the ongoing denuclearization talks? There were some reports coming out of Mr. Sung’s meeting suggesting that that was the case.

MR RATHKE: I’m not familiar with that, so I – again, I would refer you back to his transcript in Seoul. He spoke after his meetings there. So beyond what I’ve said and his transcript, I don’t have anything to add.

Yes.

QUESTION: Does United States considering North Korea as terrorist country again?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have any – you’re aware, of course, that they are not currently on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. I don’t have anything to add beyond that.

QUESTION: But Congress – last week at Congress, Senate, considering about re-list to this terrorist list, the North Koreans.

MR RATHKE: Well, I simply don’t have any comment on that. I’m aware of that report.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: There’s a big discussion in Germany about the collaboration between the secret service BND and the NSA. I know that the German Government officially asked the U.S. Government to give the permission to provide the German parliament with the so-called list of selectors used by the NSA. Has the U.S. Government given any answer to this request yet?

MR RATHKE: Well, as I think I’ve said from this podium before, we don’t comment on intelligence-related matters, so I really don’t have anything to offer in response to your question.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Change of topic?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Iraq. Can we go to Iraq?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Very quickly, can you just sort out all this confusing statements coming from every which way on the role of the Iraqi army, how they conducted themselves during the fall of Ramadi, and so on? Today another person from the Pentagon saying that basically they cut and run. There are statements that are really contrary to that. Just walk us through what is the U.S. position. Is the Iraqi army or the Iraqi Security Forces worthy of all the support, and both material and training and all these things, that they are getting if they – every time there is a confrontation with ISIS, they just fall back?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think we talked about this a bit yesterday as well. Let me just start --

QUESTION: The story just will not go away.

MR RATHKE: Let me just start, though, with the situation on the ground. We are encouraged by reports that Iraqi forces have begun to consolidate and reorganize and counterattack on ISIL around Ramadi. We also welcome the news from Prime Minister al-Abadi on the counteroffensive, and we’ll continue to offer support to our Iraqi partners as they work to push ISIL out of their country.

Now, as for a battlefield assessment, you can talk with the Iraqi Government. We, of course, from our part in the coalition, are supporting the Iraqi Government with airstrikes in conjunction with them on targets, ISIL targets in Anbar and in other parts of Iraq. Now, the question that you’ve asked about the – we’ve always said that our strategy in Iraq, which is a – on the one hand it has a military component, also has non-military components. But the strategy, the military strategy relies on a well-equipped and well-trained partner on the ground. So we are, of course, helping to provide them with the capabilities they need and the support so that they can win this fight, and we’re supporting them to that end.

QUESTION: But the United States has been training an Iraqi armed forces for the past 12 years at least – 12 years, not at least – for the past 12 years, spending a lot of money and a lot of training and so on. But looking back, even when there was the Awakening and so on, it was really the American forces that did whatever fighting there was. So there is no record of this army that you have trained and spent so much time and effort at, standing up and doing what it’s supposed to do. Why do you think that is?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think if you look at quite a few places in Iraq, you see where Iraqi forces have been successful in pushing back and in pushing ISIL out of territory that they previously controlled. There are certainly areas where ISIL has made gains in recent days. Ramadi is, of course, one we’ve talked about, as well as Palmyra, in Syria. But if you compare this to nine months ago, when ISIL was on the offensive in many places in Iraq, we also see places where they’ve been forced to retreat; they’ve lost areas that they used to dominate from Babil to Diyala, also Nineveh and Kirkuk province. So ISIL has been defeated at Mosul Dam, at Mount Sinjar, also in Tikrit. So there are – I think there have been a lot of areas – populated areas where ISIL had been in control and has been pushed back.

QUESTION: Sorry to belabor the point, but even the examples that you cited – Tikrit, Babil, and the north and so on – it was either the Peshmerga or the popular committees, the Shia militias and so on in Tikrit and other places. There is no – I mean there’s no stark example that says this national Iraqi army has stood its ground, is there?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we take a view of that, Said. We – if you look at those areas and others where the Iraqi forces have pushed ISIL back, we see a much different picture, and we see the Iraqi forces committed to defending the country.

QUESTION: You haven’t seen that the counteroffensive has actually begun yet, have you? You said something to that effect earlier, but they’re still regrouping. They haven’t actually started going back into Ramadi, have they?

MR RATHKE: Well, for a battlefield analysis, I’d refer you to my colleagues at the Pentagon or to the Iraqi authorities, but they have been regrouping and counterattacking around Ramadi and not in the city --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: -- itself, as far as I understand.

QUESTION: Just yesterday --

QUESTION: Yeah, you – well, you --

QUESTION: -- Roz asked you about the name of the operation, which is --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- “Labaik Ya Hussein,” which is really a call on the prophet’s grandson, who was also saintly among the Sunnis but it has – in this particular case, it has sectarian connotation. Do you have any reaction to that? The Pentagon stood against it.

MR RATHKE: Well, I think I was asked about this yesterday, and I gave a response. So I don’t have anything beyond what I said yesterday.

QUESTION: They changed the name today.

MR RATHKE: Well, yes, I’m aware of those reports. But Said’s question was our point of view about the name.

QUESTION: Do you have reaction to them changing the name?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m aware of the report. We’ve said that anything that heightens tension is something we would be concerned about. But that was – yes, Roz.

QUESTION: So you don’t --

QUESTION: Let’s --

QUESTION: You don’t have any reaction?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think, again, this announcement yesterday if – it was my understanding it wasn’t an official announcement about this name.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: So I think there’s been a clarification of that.

QUESTION: The new one, or whatever --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, does it matter to you guys?

MR RATHKE: Well, what we’ve always said in our support for Prime Minister Abadi is the central element of our strategy and his strategy is to govern Iraq in a way that is nonsectarian and that brings Iraq together. And so it’s consistent with that, that we would want to see – avoid anything that would raise sectarian tensions.

Yes, Roz.

QUESTION: Well, let’s set aside whatever it is the Shia militia are calling this counteroffensive. Let’s talk about their behavior. Both the Secretary and General Allen have in recent months condemned their behavior once they liberated certain parts of Iraq, basically engaging in sectarian violence and alleged human rights violations. Sine you stressed from the podium yesterday that these militia are acting on orders from Baghdad, has this Administration made it very clear to Abadi’s government that human rights violations by these militia will not be tolerated and should be actively discouraged from the very beginning?

MR RATHKE: Well, our point of view on this hasn’t changed. We believe that Iraqi forces have to make concerted efforts to protect local populations and property and to secure the human rights of all Iraqi citizens, indeed, as guaranteed by the Iraqi constitution and as the Prime Minister himself and other Iraqi leaders have pledged. So our point of view on that remains the same, and we talk regularly with our Iraqi counterparts about those issues.

QUESTION: But I’m asking whether there’s a particular emphasis given that there are so many people who are trying to get out of Ramadi and who basically are being told that unless they have family in Baghdad that they’re not going to be allowed to leave Anbar province and cross over Bzebiz Bridge – I knew I was going to get that wrong – to try to get to Baghdad and to try to get to safety, in part because they’re afraid of potential repercussions by these militia.

MR RATHKE: Well, again, our point of view on this is as I just stated it. We believe that Iraqi forces have to make every effort to protect local populations and to protect the human rights of Iraqi citizens.

Yes.

QUESTION: So what happens if they – if such violations do happen? What can the U.S. do to make certain that those responsible are held accountable?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to speculate about things that haven’t – you’re talking about things that could happen in the future. I’m not going to speculate about that. But the – this is an important, important issue and one in which we remain in contact with our Iraqi counterparts.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Two questions. Yesterday you said that the State Department was looking at scheduling opportunities for the 2014 Human Rights Reports. Can you confirm that the reports have been completed and are just waiting to be released at this point?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have an update on the Human Rights Report. If I get more I’m happy to – happy to share that, but I don’t have anything further to say than yesterday.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Administration is going to release the reports before the Administration finishes negotiations over the TPP or the Iran nuclear agreement on June 30th?

MR RATHKE: Again, it’s the same question you asked yesterday. I don’t have anything further to say beyond yesterday.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about the world’s top news story today, which I can’t believe nobody’s asked you about yet?

MR RATHKE: Please, go right ahead.

QUESTION: I would call it football. You would call it soccer. (Laughter.)

MR RATHKE: Well, you can call it either. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So I want to ask about the huge campaign to – the huge corruption investigation against FIFA and the arrests of six FIFA officials in Switzerland. First of all, at a press conference just a few hours ago, it was confirmed that the United States is seeking the extradition of these officials. Can you confirm that yourself from the podium and --

MR RATHKE: Well, I think the Attorney General --

QUESTION: Attorney General said that, yes.

MR RATHKE: -- has spoken to this. So --

QUESTION: Do you have an extradition agreement with Switzerland?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a list of our existing international agreements. I’m happy to check and come back to you. I just don’t know off the top of my head. But of course, we – as the Attorney General said, this – and I think you’ve probably also seen the comprehensive statement that the Department of Justice has issued. So that, I think, contains the essential facts.

We have a strong bilateral relationship with Switzerland. We have a dialogue with them on a variety of issues. I don’t have comment on specific diplomatic conversations. But of course, you’ve seen in her statement the Attorney General thanked Swiss authorities for their assistance, so I think she was pretty clear about that.

QUESTION: Have you been in touch individually with any of the countries that these individuals come from to sort of tell them about the investigation and to update them on what is going on?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have contacts, diplomatic contacts to read out about those. If I get more information about those, I’m happy to share that. But --

QUESTION: Okay. And I just wanted to ask you also: Russia has, just about a half an hour ago, came out and said that this investigation and the arrests were an example of the United States – “another case of illegal extraterritorial use of United States law.” In other words, they’re accusing the United States of illegally applying its legal force far beyond its own borders. What would your reaction be to that?

MR RATHKE: Well, first of all, I think if you read the Department of Justice complaint, it’s quite clear the basis on which they’ve issued their charges and the connection to the United States. So I don’t have a specific comment on the Russian reaction, but I think our – our statement today from the Department of Justice lays out quite clearly where the connection is.

QUESTION: Does the State Department have any role in this at all?

MR RATHKE: In what?

QUESTION: In this case.

MR RATHKE: Well, as you’ll appreciate even if you --

QUESTION: The questions – the answers to the questions so far seem to answer the original question or the original statement, about why no one had asked about it here --

MR RATHKE: Well, you’ll --

QUESTION: -- because you clearly don’t have anything to say about it, right?

MR RATHKE: Well, as you’ve – you’ll be familiar with, we don’t talk about the specifics of extradition requests and cases.

QUESTION: I’m not asking that, Jeff.

MR RATHKE: But as a general matter – as a general matter, the Departments of State and Justice share responsibility for international extraditions for the United States. So that depends on the exact nature of the agreements --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- that are in effect for a particular country.

QUESTION: Did the Department of State play any role in this?

QUESTION: Roundup.

QUESTION: In what happened overnight in Zurich, Switzerland?

QUESTION: In the extradition.

QUESTION: Did the Department of State play any role at all? Whoops.

MR RATHKE: You okay?

QUESTION: Ouch. Yeah.

MR RATHKE: Ruined the dramatic effect. (Laughter.) So again, I don’t have any – I don’t have anything from our diplomatic conversations.

QUESTION: So the answer is no, or the answer is you don’t know? Or the answer is you do know but you can’t say? What – did --

MR RATHKE: I simply don’t have anything further to read out from our diplomatic conversations.

QUESTION: I’m not asking – I’m just asking if you had any role at all.

MR RATHKE: Right. And I’m saying I don’t have anything further to add to what I’ve said.

QUESTION: Which is nothing, right? I mean, you basically – you have just gone back and cited the DOJ press conference and indictments and statements, correct?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: So you haven’t – so the value added from this building here to his story is pretty much nothing, right?

MR RATHKE: Well, I haven’t said that. And --

QUESTION: Well, I’m just trying to find out. I mean, does --

QUESTION: If there are extraditions, it will have a role.

QUESTION: Did the Department play any role at all in what happened overnight in Zurich?

MR RATHKE: Right. And as – as I started off by saying, we don’t comment on the specifics of specific extradition issues. In general, the State Department and the Department of Justice work together on extradition cases.

QUESTION: Fair enough.

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to go beyond that in this one.

Same topic?

QUESTION: Did Jo ask you maybe if anybody had filed any formal complaints? Any other countries filed any sort of complaints with the State Department about the way it’s handling this investigation?

MR RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of, no. No.

QUESTION: Yemen? Yemen?

MR RATHKE: Anything on this same --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR RATHKE: Same topic? Samir.

QUESTION: What do you say to critics about the timing of this investigation and the action before the elections of the FIFA?

MR RATHKE: I really don’t have any – any comment on that. Again, this is a department – I’d refer you to the Department of Justice for the details of their investigation and the details of the case that they’ve released.

QUESTION: Can we go back --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. support any candidate for FIFA presidency?

MR RATHKE: No. No, we don’t have – we don’t have a candidate. Are you offering one?

QUESTION: No, no. (Laughter.) But there are two. There are two now, the Jordanian prince and the current president.

MR RATHKE: No, we don’t have a – we don’t have a view on --

QUESTION: Yemen?

MR RATHKE: -- on those sorts of issues.

QUESTION: Yemen?

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Very quickly, is there any truth to the story that the United States has revoked passports of United States citizens of Yemeni origin that are in Yemen? Do you have any information on that?

MR RATHKE: Do you have – do you have something specific --

QUESTION: That you have confiscated --

MR RATHKE: -- in which case about which you’re asking?

QUESTION: There are Americans, U.S. citizens in Yemen, who claim that their passports have been revoked or taken away from them under the pretext of stolen identity or to guard against stolen identity. Can you comment on this? Do you have any information?

MR RATHKE: Well, as you know, our embassy has suspended operations in Yemen, so --

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: So I don’t think there’s any recent --

QUESTION: No, but you can – you can revoke a passport without – without having an embassy there.

MR RATHKE: This – yeah, this is an issue that we’ve been asked about before in the briefing room. I’d refer you back to previous transcripts. I don’t have anything new to add – to add on that.

Yeah, go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: Venezuela?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: President Maduro has sent out sort of mixed messages concerning the progress of talks with State envoy Thomas Shannon. He said the talks have been going well, but he has also said that he would not allow the talks to be sabotaged by what he called far-rightists in the United States. First, what’s your reaction? And secondly, what is your overall assessment of the talks?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m going to answer your second question. I’m not going to react to the first one. But I would point out that President Maduro first invited Ambassador Shannon to Caracas in early April. They met on April 8th. And following the Summit of the Americas, Ambassador Shannon was invited again to Caracas. They had another conversation on May 12th, so just a couple of weeks ago. These conversations were positive and productive, and they will continue. But beyond that, I don’t have further to say on the – on those discussions.

Do we have the same --

QUESTION: I want to go to Thailand.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Or Thailand and Burma. And these overflights that the Pentagon says that they’re doing for the Rohingya, for migrants in the --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any – and this is being asked at the Pentagon as well. But does this building have any update on that? Is it – are you running into any problems with the Thais about these overflights that the State Department might be involved in?

MR RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of, in answer to your second question. Going back to the first one, as we discussed yesterday, the United States has operated flights – specifically, I mentioned that on May 24th we had a P-8 flight that operated out of Malaysia and was conducting maritime surveillance to locate and mark positions of boats that might possibly be carrying migrants.

QUESTION: But so nothing – nothing new since yesterday?

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t have anything – I don’t have – I don’t have a new update on – on the flights. But clearly, we see this as a contribution to trying to deal with the situation, in some cases a very dire situation that people face at sea.

Yes? Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead Jo.

QUESTION: Apologies for being so British today. I’m not usually. But I wanted to go to the --

MR RATHKE: I’m not sure what you mean by that, but go ahead. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I wanted to go to the announcement from the government in – well, from the Queen and the government in London that they will hold a referendum, as David Cameron had promised in his campaign speech for re-election. Is there a U.S. reaction to that? What would be your thoughts about holding a referendum on leaving the EU?

MR RATHKE: Well, if you’re asking a question about a referendum or the mechanism or how the British Government pursues its policies, I don’t have a comment on that.

QUESTION: No, but what you want to see happen?

MR RATHKE: If you are – as we’ve said before, we think that the UK’s relationship with the European Union is a question for the British people and the British Government. We value a strong UK voice in the EU. The European Union is a critical partner on global issues, and we welcome an outward-looking European Union with the UK in it. We benefit when the EU is unified, speaking with a single voice and focused on our shared interests around the world and in Europe. So the UK we see as an important player in the world and a longstanding, important friend of the United States, and we’ll always enjoy a special relationship.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Sure.

Yes, go ahead, David, and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: Me?

MR RATHKE: Sorry. Oh, I’m sorry, not David.

QUESTION: All right. I have two questions. One is about Ramadi. There are reports about Iraqi special forces retreating from the city because they received instructions from someone close to former Prime Minister Maliki or Maliki himself. Are you aware of those reports?

MR RATHKE: I’m not familiar with those reports. I don’t have any comment on that.

QUESTION: Second question is about Syria, ISIL. In the – again, there are reports about ISIL publicly executing some people they held in the city of Palmyra. Are you aware of those (inaudible)?

MR RATHKE: Are these reports from today, or how recent are these reports?

QUESTION: I think it came out today from one of those human rights organizations, Syrian local groups.

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not in a position to verify or substantiate such reports. They – but those reports are consistent with the brutality that ISIL has shown in all of the places where it’s been active and where it’s controlled territory. So it would be a – yet another sad reminder of the brutality that ISIL has brought and the reason that we, along with our Iraqi partners and an international coalition, have – are committed to working with the Iraqis to push them out of Iraq, and also working to degrade and defeat ISIL in Syria as well.

QUESTION: Follow-up on Syria --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- okay, and NATO and the Turks and so on. The Turks still insist that they have agreed with the United States that they will give some sort of air cover to about 15,000 who are being trained now in many a place, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, of the sort of moderate Syrian opposition. Could you clarify that for us? Are you --

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any comment beyond what I said yesterday. This – we welcome Turkey’s role in the train and equip effort. The other questions such as you’ve alluded to --

QUESTION: Other questions --

MR RATHKE: -- are questions that we remain under discussion, and I’m not going to offer details of those private discussions.

QUESTION: So you have no – I mean, just to reiterate what you said yesterday, there has been no change in the U.S. position opposing, basically – you opposed in the past any kind of no-fly zone, so --

MR RATHKE: As I’ve said many times in the past, this – we are aware of this interest of some of our coalition partners. These are complicated issues; we continue to discuss them. I don’t have anything new to say.

QUESTION: My last question on this: A lot of the groups that – or the two main groups that Turkey supports, which is Jabhat al-Nusrah and Jaysh al-Put you have placed on the terror list. So how do you see eye to eye on who’s – who do you train, who do you send across the border, how you ferry them and so on, what kind of supplies you give them? Because they find – the Turks seem to sort of support these groups that you oppose.

MR RATHKE: Well, as to the people who are being trained in our train and equip program, that’s something we work on jointly with the Turkish authorities, so that’s something that we work through with them.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Ukraine. There was heavy shelling by the Ukrainian army in the town of Gorlovka in the Donetsk region on Tuesday. Three civilians died, including an 11-year-old. Is that all right under the Minsk agreement to use heavy artillery in residential areas like that?

MR RATHKE: Well, let’s take a step back and look at the situation in eastern Ukraine, because there’s a whole lot more to it than this report that you have mentioned, which I’m not able to confirm and I’m not familiar with. If you look at the OSCE’s reports, and the OSCE has the responsibility for monitoring under the Minsk agreements, the OSCE reports that violence continues in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, notability in and around Shyrokyne, which is outside the ceasefire line on the Ukrainian side, near Mariupol; also near the Donetsk international airport and in Avdiivka, where shelling threatens the lives and livelihoods of thousands of workers at a coking plant.

So we remain very concerned about the level of violence, including the use of mortars and heavy artilleries and tanks, all of which were supposed to have been withdrawn by the separatists and backed by Russia under the Minsk agreements. The overwhelming majority of the ceasefire violations have been conducted by combined Russian-separatist forces attacking Ukrainian positions on the Ukrainian side of the line of contact, which is clearly contrary to the Minsk agreements.

QUESTION: Are you --

MR RATHKE: So we, again, call for a full cessation of hostilities and for full implementation of the Minsk agreements, including unrestricted and safe access for OSCE monitors so they can monitor and verify the ceasefire and the heavy weapons withdrawal.

QUESTION: Are you aware that the Ukrainian army has used heavy artillery on – in residential areas on a number of occasions in recent weeks? And is that – how is that consistent with the Minsk agreements that everybody should abide by?

MR RATHKE: Well, as I just said, the overwhelming majority of the ceasefire violations have been conducted by the Russian and separatist forces.

QUESTION: But the one that – I heard what you said. The one that I just mentioned that happened yesterday, and then there were others including one on May 19th where an army shell hit an apartment building – are those actions consistent with the Minsk agreements?

MR RATHKE: Well, you’ve cited reports with which I’m unfamiliar, so I’m not going to comment on them. As I’ve said --

QUESTION: You give – you give a broad picture --

MR RATHKE: Our view is that the overwhelming majority of the violations are coming from the separatist and Russian side, and I don’t have anything further to add to that.

QUESTION: Can you say the Ukrainian Government is abiding by the agreement – by the Minsk agreements?

MR RATHKE: Again, as I’ve said, the overwhelming majority of the ceasefire violations are coming from --

QUESTION: Are you saying --

MR RATHKE: -- the Russian-separatist side.

QUESTION: I understood. I understood. Are you saying that the shelling by the Ukrainian army is justified?

MR RATHKE: Look, you’re cite – you’re citing reports with which I’m not familiar, so I’m not going to comment further on them. Yes.

QUESTION: How closely do you follow with what’s happening in eastern Ukraine? Do you read daily reports from – or only what the Ukrainian Government is telling you?

MR RATHKE: Look, as I’ve said, the OSCE plays a monitoring role on the ground, and if you look at the OSCE’s reports and what the --

QUESTION: They do report about those shellings.

MR RATHKE: They also report the violence that I’ve described, which continues on the Ukrainian side of the ceasefire lines. So that’s --

QUESTION: If the Ukrainian – the Ukrainian Government thinks that the other side is violating the agreement, and they do think that, does that make it all right for the Ukrainian Government to violate it some more?

MR RATHKE: Look, I’ve – our position is we call for full implementation of the Minsk agreements and the – again, the --

QUESTION: By everyone, right?

MR RATHKE: Yes, and --

QUESTION: Does that include the Ukrainian Government?

MR RATHKE: And again, the primary source of violations of the Minsk agreements and the ceasefire come from the separatists and the Russian side.

Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: Perhaps you could look into and familiarize yourself, or have someone do it, with the reports that she’s mentioning, and then come back to us and tell us whether or not you think that they were violations or if they’re totally in line – I mean, in line with – if both sides are implementing Minsk. But you’ve said several times that the overwhelming majority of violations are from --

MR RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: -- the separatists.

MR RATHKE: That’s right.

QUESTION: But overwhelming majority isn’t all, is it? So there are some violations by the government – the Kyiv government, correct? I mean, it would stand to reason.

MR RATHKE: Well, yeah, it does stand to reason. Again --

QUESTION: I mean, it might be 99 percent to 1 percent, but you’re still --

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a percentage to affix to it. But --

QUESTION: Right. Whatever. But it’s not all – not all the violations are happening on the separatist side, correct? Is that the Administration’s line?

MR RATHKE: Well, correct in – but again --

QUESTION: So there are violations. All right.

MR RATHKE: I think as I’ve said, it’s quite clear to us where most of them are coming from.

QUESTION: Right. But most is not all, right?

MR RATHKE: I think I’ve agreed with you, but --

QUESTION: Okay. So I wanted to ask you related to this, the Vice President --

QUESTION: One more – just one more. Sorry --

QUESTION: Well, this is about Ukraine as well. But if it --

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: May I?

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: From what you were – you’re saying, one may think that Kyiv has a completely hands-off approach in that conflict. Is that how you see it?

MR RATHKE: I’m not sure I understand what you mean by --

QUESTION: That it doesn’t do anything there. It’s all just happening and Kyiv has nothing to do with all of that. That’s what comes across from what you were saying with “overwhelming majority of violations” and all of that.

MR RATHKE: That isn’t what I’ve implied, and it’s not what I’ve said. Again, the situation in eastern Ukraine --

QUESTION: How do you evaluate the Ukrainian Government’s actions at the moment? Do they abide by the agreements? Do you approve of everything that they’re doing?

MR RATHKE: Look, the Ukrainian Government is committed to implementing the Minsk agreements. Of course, the Secretary and the Vice President have been in recent contact with President Poroshenko, and so we remain focused on --

QUESTION: But using heavy artillery in residential areas, is that implementing the Minsk agreement?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, there have been – there are withdrawal provisions in the Minsk agreements, and unfortunately if you look at the Russian separatist side of the line where the OSCE has been unable to verify the withdrawal of heavy weapons, it’s very difficult to verify. So --

QUESTION: So you’re saying their potential violations –

MR RATHKE: No.

QUESTION: -- justify the Ukrainian Government’s violations? Is that what you’re saying?

MR RATHKE: I really don’t have anything to add beyond my statement earlier, that the overwhelming number of violations are coming from the Russian separatist side in eastern Ukraine.

Yes.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the Vice President, who I believe speaks on behalf of the Administration –

MR RATHKE: Correct.

QUESTION: -- as you do, correct? You maybe saw or heard his remarks at Brookings --

MR RATHKE: I haven’t because I think the speech started just --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- before I came out.

QUESTION: All right. I wanted to ask you two --

MR RATHKE: I know he was giving a speech today at Brookings.

QUESTION: Right. I wanted to ask you two questions about things he said related to – about Ukraine and related to Russia. One was that he said that until Minsk is implemented or once Minsk is implemented, the sanctions can be lifted, which has been a pretty standard line.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: But he did not, in that sentence that I head – and maybe I missed it – talk about the Crimea-related sanctions. It’s still the position of the Administration or it’s still the stance of the Administration that until the Crimea annexation is reversed that the sanctions that were imposed upon – the sanctions that were imposed –

MR RATHKE: Those that were imposed in connection with –

QUESTION: -- will remain?

MR RATHKE: -- the illegal occupation –

QUESTION: Implementation of Minsk will not have any effect on the Crimea-related sanctions. Is that correct?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, that remains.

QUESTION: The other thing that he said was that we will not recognize any sphere of influence. And I’m presuming that he was talking about Russia in that. But is that really the case? Is that really – does the United States really not recognize any sphere of influence, or does it just choose not to recognize other countries’ – rivals’, perhaps – spheres of influence?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not sure what you’re trying to apply --

QUESTION: Does this apply – well, I’m trying to – what I want to ask is – he was speaking to this situation that we have now with Russia and Ukraine, but my question is: Is this a broader policy, that the United States does not recognize any sphere of influence?

MR RATHKE: Well, let’s start with the specific and then we can go to the general. With the – in the particular case of Ukraine, the situation is one in which the Ukrainian people have expressed a desire to shape their own future.

QUESTION: And to join the European sphere of influence. Right? That’s your argument.

MR RATHKE: No. No, not --

QUESTION: That they wanted to be more European than they wanted to be – they wanted to look West rather than East. Isn’t that the position?

MR RATHKE: Well, the orientation of the Ukrainian people is fundamentally an issue that has to be decided by the Ukrainian people.

QUESTION: Right, but your --

MR RATHKE: And so that is --

QUESTION: -- interpretation of that and what they wanted was to look West rather than East, right?

MR RATHKE: Well, to go back through the history, it was the association agreement with the European Union, and that’s a free choice of --

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: -- a country to make. But I don’t --

QUESTION: But isn’t that a --

MR RATHKE: -- call – I don’t call that a – no, I don’t call that a sphere of influence.

QUESTION: You don’t call that a sphere of influence?

MR RATHKE: Are you saying the European Union is – that every country that is in the European Union is part of a European Union sphere of influence? They’re simply a member of the European Union for those countries that are members. It’s not a sphere of influence.

QUESTION: But if you’re not a member of the EU, which Ukraine is not --

MR RATHKE: Correct.

QUESTION: -- if you join an association agreement with the EU, doesn’t that put you under a – you might want to use a different term for it, but it’s still a European or a Western sphere of influence, is it not?

MR. RATHKE: Well, you’re sort of looking at – I think this is kind of a zero-sum way of looking at it. And I don’t think we see that as a sphere of influence. It is a --

QUESTION: You don’t think that --

MR. RATHKE: It is a decision by Ukrainian people and their political leadership about the direction in which they want their country’s policies and development to go. So – but anyway, did you have a more general question about that?

QUESTION: Well, the more general – well, I mean, I think the Vice President’s – does the Vice President’s comment about not recognizing any sphere of influence apply elsewhere, other than just far Eastern Europe and Russia? Does it apply with, say, China and its relations with the ASEAN countries? Does it – do you recognize a U.S. sphere of influence in the Western Hemisphere, notwithstanding the fact that apparently the Monroe Doctrine is dead, according to the Secretary?

MR. RATHKE: You seem to regret that.

QUESTION: No.

MR. RATHKE: Because you mention it --

QUESTION: No, no, no.

MR. RATHKE: -- every once in a while.

QUESTION: You mentioned it a couple years ago.

MR. RATHKE: So --

QUESTION: Do – so you don’t agree with – the United States doesn’t agree with any sphere of influence anywhere? Is that correct?

MR. RATHKE: Look, what we see – what we see when we look around the world are places where we desire to improve our contacts with countries, either where we have existing alliances or where we want to build stronger ties. And we also see, in the case of the one that you mentioned, China and Southeast Asia – we see China also expanding its economic ties and other ties with ASEAN and with ASEAN member countries. What – what is important is that – that those – those relations develop on the basis of mutual interest, mutual respect, without coercion, and to the benefit of the peoples of the countries involved. So that’s why I don’t really think the description of that as a sphere of influence is particularly --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: -- apt in those kinds of cases.

QUESTION: Jeff?

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead, Jo --

QUESTION: Sorry to go back to this --

MR RATHKE: -- and then Justin, then I think we’ll wrap up.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sorry to go back to this. Just – and it’s perhaps a little hard for an answer – I don’t know. But the judge in the Clinton email case has just ruled that the State Department should produce monthly releases of the emails and set up percentage goals for the regular – for the postings as well. I’m not exactly sure what percentage goals it’s talking about. Do you have a reaction to that, or --

MR. RATHKE: Well, you’ve got me at a disadvantage.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have that in front of me.

QUESTION: Could you --

MR. RATHKE: Of course, I’ll take a look at that. And I think as we said last Tuesday, the – we respect the court and we – we had – when the judgment was issued last Tuesday, we said that we would comply with that – with that ruling. So I’m not able to comment on the specific ruling --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. RATHKE: -- but of course, we respect the role – the role of the courts.

QUESTION: Okay. So if you could get back to us with a comment on --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah. We’ll come back to you with more on that.

QUESTION: Well, it’s essentially --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- that was my question, too. And it’s essentially the same thing you proposed. So, except for the fact that it’s cutting in half the time from 60 days to 30 days on your sort of gradual rollout of – in batches, can you handle that is really the question, that change?

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, that I’d have to – I’d have to look at the specifics of the ruling and if there are any implications beyond.

So okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:56 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 26, 2015

Tue, 05/26/2015 - 17:34

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 26, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:03 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Hello. Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Hi.

MR RATHKE: I have nothing for you at the top. (Laughter.) So – sorry for the dramatic pause. So, Matt, we’ll --

QUESTION: Well, there’s a surprise.

MR RATHKE: -- we’ll go to you.

QUESTION: Nothing, huh? All right. Well, I’m going to let other people ask you about Ash Carter’s comments, because I don’t think you’re going to say anything that we haven’t heard from the White House already, so let me start with Israel. An Israeli official said over the weekend that Prime Minister Netanyahu had called Secretary Kerry on Friday, I believe, or Saturday, to express Israel’s thanks for sticking to the U.S. commitment on the – as far as the NPT and the Mideast nuclear-free zone conference. Is that correct?

MR RATHKE: Well, they spoke, and that was one of the things they talked about. So with regard to the NPT Review Conference and the outcome, we remain unwavering in our support for the NPT. And they talked about the outcome, which I’m happy to get into in more detail. But I don’t have further detail from the conversation itself to read out.

QUESTION: Do – well, that’s unfortunate, because that would be the most interesting thing. This was the – just three days before, some unnamed Israeli officials had talked to a couple of reporters around town and complained bitterly that the U.S. is basically about to sell Israel out at this conference. The response to that from this podium and from the White House was that any suggestion like that was offensive. And I’m just wondering if you can find out, since you don’t have anything more to read out, if this was part of the call in Secretary Kerry’s conversation with President Netanyahu, whether the Secretary expressed disappointment or whatever with the original comments from Israeli officials about what the U.S. planned to do as it relates to the Mideast nuclear-free zone conference.

MR RATHKE: Well, if we – again, I’m happy to talk about the NPT Review Conference as an issue, but I don’t think I’m going to have more detail to share from their conversation about those kinds of atmospherics.

QUESTION: All right. We’ll just ask elsewhere.

QUESTION: Could I --

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: -- just follow up on this, if it’s all right with Matt, on this?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. But you are not opposed in principle to having the Middle East be declared or be made nuclear-free zone, correct?

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: And including Israel? I mean, you would like to see a Middle East that has no nuclear weapons whatsoever?

MR RATHKE: So with respect to the draft document which was the conclusion document for the review conference --

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: -- we did not support the language in that draft which concerned a proposed conference for a weapon of mass destruction-free zone. We support holding a conference, but not on the term – not on terms that are unbalanced, or – and not on terms that would not allow for consensus-based discussions among all regional states.

QUESTION: So what is exactly the language that you oppose?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to get into --

QUESTION: Okay. Generally, what --

MR RATHKE: -- picking apart the language here. I think I’ve just said that --

QUESTION: What would be – I mean, what would sort of entice you to support a non-nuclear Middle East?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I think as I said in my – in my previous answer, we support holding such a conference, but it has to be on terms that are balanced. And we would not support something that would not allow for consensus-based discussions.

QUESTION: And what would be the terms that are balanced, in your opinion?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to get into further deconstruction of that document, but again, it has to be balanced and have consensus-based discussions.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Israel for a minute?

MR RATHKE: We can, yeah.

QUESTION: The prime minister today – Prime Minister of Israel Netanyahu – suggested that the talks can be resumed provided that they agree on which settlements they can keep and which settlement they can expand. Have you heard of that? Are you aware of that proposal?

MR RATHKE: I haven’t seen those specific reports, but go ahead. What’s your question, Said?

QUESTION: My question is – I wanted to ask you: Was that something that he discussed with the Secretary of State when they spoke?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, these – I think what you’re referring to are reports from the prime minister’s meeting with a foreign official. I am not familiar with those – with the specifics of those reports, so – and I don’t have anything from our contact with the parties to read out.

But go ahead, Ilhan.

QUESTION: On this?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, yes.

QUESTION: Do you support any talks between the two parties on settlements only, or resuming negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians to discuss the settlements and the borders of these settlements?

MR RATHKE: Well, as we’ve said for some time, we’re looking for policies and actions, and I think our support, of course, for a two-state solution is clear. I’m not going to get into the modalities of that further, but we support direct negotiations between the parties that lead to a two-state solution. But beyond – beyond those details, I don’t have more.

QUESTION: On Turkey?

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead, Ilhan.

QUESTION: A couple of questions. Over the weekend, New York Times editorial ran a piece called “Dark Clouds Over Turkey” and raised some concerns in the piece, especially fairness of the upcoming elections on June 7 since the government party – in the piece I am referring saying government party using all the state institutions. What is your reaction to these concerns?

MR RATHKE: Well, to which concern specifically?

QUESTION: Fairness of the elections, where the fairness of the election’s in question right now.

MR RATHKE: Well, I think the article you’re referring to was about freedom of speech in Turkey. We support freedom of expression, as we’ve talked about many times before, and we oppose actions to encroach upon the right of free speech because we believe an independent and an unfettered media is essential in democratic and open societies. So that’s our point of view on that issue.

QUESTION: In the same piece also raised about the fairness. We know that the universal value fairness and freeness of the elections are important to you. Do you see only less than two weeks ahead of the elections in Turkey, do conditions seem to you fair?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think I’ve spoken about our concerns with regard to freedom of the media. I don’t have – I don’t have a comment to offer on Turkey’s election.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I have one more.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: About two months ago, Congressman Keating and some other leading congressmen sent a letter proposing dialogue with Turkey regarding the human rights issues. Does the U.S. Government agree with the notion of this letter that this such dialogue platform should be established regarding rule of law issues in Turkey?

MR RATHKE: Well, with respect to our response to letters of Congress, we don’t generally publicize them. With – but your question about our discussions with the Turkish Government on these kinds of issues – we have ongoing discussions, including at high levels, with Turkey about – and with civil society representatives about these issues. So we address these in our diplomatic conversations.

Lesley, go ahead.

QUESTION: The Washington Post reporter has been held on trial behind closed doors. Has there been any kind of outreach from this building towards the Iranians about this trial? And were you notified that the trial was going to be held in secret?

MR RATHKE: So if I can say a word just more generally about --

QUESTION: Sure, go ahead.

MR RATHKE: -- about the trial to get into it. So we’re aware of reports that U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian’s trial has begun in Iran. We continue to monitor this as closely as possible, and we continue to call for all of the absurd charges to be dropped and for Jason Rezaian to be released immediately.

You asked about the closed nature of the trial.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR RATHKE: It certainly adds to our concerns and it fits, unfortunately, into a pattern of a complete lack of transparency and the lack of due process that we’ve seen since Jason Rezaian was first detained. So while we call for his trial to be open, we also maintain that he should never have been detained or put on trial in the first place.

Now, you asked about contacts as well. We always raise the cases of detained and missing U.S. citizens with Iranian officials on the sidelines of the P5+1 talks and the other interactions that happen in that context, and we will continue to do that until all of them are home.

QUESTION: So anything specifically today that --

MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything specific today to read out on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I ask a couple questions on this?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: One, you said that you’re going to monitor this as closely as possible. How close is that, considering it’s a closed trial, you have no – you don’t have anyone there? So is your monitoring basically looking at the Iranian news agencies?

MR RATHKE: Well, as you said and as I said, the trial is closed, so that limits our ability to monitor it.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: So we’re --

QUESTION: So monitoring it as closely as possible basically means you’re doing the same thing that the rest of us are doing, which is watching IRNA and Fars and --

MR RATHKE: Well, which I think anybody who is not --

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: But I just want to make sure that that’s what we’re talking about.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. No, that’s right.

QUESTION: And then the second thing is that you said that the closed nature of the trial adds to our concerns, unfortunately, about the lack of transparency, lack of due process, that kind of thing.

MR RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: Does that – you specifically mentioned this case. Does that apply to other areas of Iranian behavior?

MR RATHKE: Are you talking about U.S. citizens here or are you talking about --

QUESTION: Concerns about lack of transparency and lack of due process, lack of what you would consider to be international norms of handling things.

MR RATHKE: Well, if you’re asking about Iran’s behavior more broadly in its region and elsewhere, of course, we’ve got concerns. We’ve talked about those in a regional context with regard to Syria, with regard to Yemen. We’ve talked about those with respect to support for terrorism and so forth. So --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- but I’m not sure what – are you trying to draw a connection there?

QUESTION: No, I’m just trying to find out if you – if those concerns about this specific case and the lack of transparency and the lack of what you say is due process, if that applies to other parts of the – of Iran, and if it does, why is it you guys are more broadly so confident in the negotiations that you’re having on the nuclear front?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I --

QUESTION: If this is a country that you say has been – shown a lack of regard for due process and basic norms of justice and – how is it that you’re so confident that you’re dealing with an up-and-up – with a government that’s on the up and up in the nuclear talks?

MR RATHKE: Well, we distinguish the P5+1 nuclear talks, which --

QUESTION: No, I get this – I get --

MR RATHKE: -- and it’s – and the Iranians have made commitments under the JPOA --

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: -- which they have kept --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- which has been essential for that process to continue.

QUESTION: So the concern then in this case and the case of the other detained or missing Americans does not extend – those kinds of concerns don’t extend to the negotiations?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think these are different types of cases. We’re talking about --

QUESTION: Fair enough.

MR RATHKE: -- cases of American citizens who are either detained or, in this case, now on trial, and in those cases there is a standard of due process.

QUESTION: I understand, but you don’t see a pattern of behavior here in these cases and in the support of terrorism in the region and in – and elsewhere and in its actions in Syria and Yemen? That’s not a pattern of behavior that you think could be – or should be extended to other --

MR RATHKE: Well, we have concerns – we have a lot of concerns about Iran, which is why, of course, we insist that the verifiability of any commitments that Iran undertakes in the nuclear context is an essential part of it. Without that verifiability then there’s – you don’t have the adequate basis for it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR RATHKE: Sorry, same topic?

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. Are you --

MR RATHKE: Okay, just a second. We’ll come to you in a second, Said.

Go ahead (inaudible).

QUESTION: Will this trial affect the negotiations in a way or another?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve – as we’ve said, the nuclear talks are about the nuclear talks. We take the opportunity of being in the same room with the Iranians to raise our concerns about American citizens who are detained, missing, or on trial in that context. But I’m not going to draw a conclusion about – a connection to the talks continuing.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: No, I just wanted to ask very quickly --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- are you in touch with his defense team or his family? His brother, for instance?

MR RATHKE: I have --

QUESTION: You cannot comment?

MR RATHKE: -- privacy considerations; I don’t have a readout of that.

Same – also on Iran, Nicole?

QUESTION: New topic.

MR RATHKE: Okay. Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR RATHKE: Yes? Okay, we’ll go here and then we’ll come back to you, Pam.

QUESTION: Same topic – related. As of today, the 2014 Human Rights Report is 90 days past its federally mandated deadline of February 25th. Why hasn’t the State Department released that report yet, for one?

MR RATHKE: I can check and see if there’s an update on that. I know it’s – we’ve just been trying to find a scheduling opportunity for release, so I don’t have any additional update on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Is the State Department at all concerned or the Administration at all concerned that releasing this report would interfere with the Iranian nuclear talks or with the TPT – or the TPP negotiations?

MR RATHKE: Not that I’ve heard.

Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: Jeff, you cited the lack of transparency from Iran in the Rezaian case. Is the United States considering any other action against Iran because of this case, cases like it, perhaps any punitive action? And then secondly, is there consideration for perhaps negotiating through a third party to get additional information about what’s happening in this case?

MR RATHKE: What do you mean by through a third party?

QUESTION: A neutral country --

MR RATHKE: Well, we have – the Swiss Government represents our interests in Iran and the access – we’ve talked a lot about the access problems, and so I don’t have anything further to suggest along those lines. Again, we call on the Iranian authorities to release Jason Rezaian immediately. This is independent of the nuclear negotiations. We also call for the release of Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, as well as for Iran to cooperate in locating Robert Levinson, so that they can all be returned to their families.

QUESTION: But in the wake of how this case has been handled – very little information coming out of Iran today except the initial announcement that there was some kind of proceeding today – is the U.S. looking at any additional efforts to perhaps put pressure on Iran to be more transparent?

MR RATHKE: Well, it’s not a question of transparency. We – the charges against Jason Rezaian are absurd. They should be dropped; he should be released. So I don’t have anything further for you than that.

QUESTION: Jeff, one --

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- follow-up. Did you – were you aware that the trial was going to be behind closed doors?

MR RATHKE: I think the – there have been announcements about that, but --

QUESTION: Okay. I wasn’t --

MR RATHKE: -- I don’t have anything to read out --

QUESTION: I couldn’t remember which one it was. All right.

MR RATHKE: -- about that.

Same topic?

QUESTION: No, different topic.

QUESTION: Iraq.

MR RATHKE: Roz, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. I wanted to ask you about the apparent effort to retake Ramadi and thereby retake Anbar province from ISIL. First off, there’s a lot of mixed messaging coming out of this Administration. The Defense Secretary basically said that Iraqi troops cut and ran, and his spokesperson basically repeated the same message today. The spokesperson also criticized the name of the mission that the Shiite militia used, which is quite provocative and perhaps offensive to Sunni tribes in Anbar province because of its religious nature. And yet, we have a senior State Department official telling reporters just a few days ago that the situation regarding Iraqi forces in Anbar province wasn’t as dire as people were expecting, and we had the Vice President having to call the prime minister and basically say, “No, don’t worry, we have your back.” What’s the message here that the Obama Administration is trying to send to Iraq?

MR RATHKE: Well, Roz, let me – you’ve packed a lot in that question.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know.

MR RATHKE: So first of all, with respect to the U.S. message to Iraq, I think the Vice President spoke to this in his call yesterday with Prime Minister Abadi, and that is we are standing with the Iraqi Government and with the people of Iraq as they try to push ISIL back. We have a strategy working with the Iraqi Government and with Prime Minister Abadi as he works across sectarian and ethnic lines in Iraq to push ISIL back, and that continues.

Now, as to some of the more specific questions, we can get into those in a bit more detail, but with regard to the situation around Ramadi, we are encouraged by reports that Iraqi forces have begun to consolidate, to reorganize, and the Government of Iraq is committed to ejecting ISIL from Ramadi. And we share their determination and are going to support them.

QUESTION: Well, what’s concerning to observers is that when we were talking about the ability of the Kurdish Peshmerga to take the lead in the fight in northern Iraq, there was considerable pushback from Baghdad, which insisted that it have control. In this case, these are Shiite militia which are taking the lead, naming the mission; this is not being done specifically by Baghdad. How is that okay, at least from the U.S. perspective?

MR RATHKE: Well, we – it’s our understanding that the Iraqi Security Forces, along with a mix of the so-called Popular Mobilization Forces, including Sunni fighters, have begun to consolidate and reorganize and counterattack against ISIL around Ramadi. Again, we are encouraged by the Iraqi forces mobilizing at the order of Prime Minister Abadi, and we will continue to support all efforts by Iraqi forces under the command and control of the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: Do you dispute that – do you dispute what Secretary Carter and his spokesperson said, that the Iraqi military, the standing army, has not shown a will to fight, cannot be made to develop that will overnight, and that airstrikes, no matter how many the coalition launches, will not make a difference up until the Iraqi military decides that it’s in there till the bitter end?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think everyone has acknowledged and recognized that the fall of Ramadi was a failure and was a setback. And we’ve talked over the last week about some of the circumstances, including suicide bombings and others that occurred. I don’t have anything to add to that at this point, but I think the Iraqi authorities themselves have acknowledged that there were breakdowns in military command, planning, and reinforcement. Clearly, our strategy of supporting the Iraqi Government requires a well-equipped and well-trained partner on the ground, and we’re helping to provide that support because we share the interest in Iraqi forces winning this fight.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: But Jeff, very quickly a follow-up. Now the Iraqi Government and, of course, the Iranians are basically putting the onus on you guys. They’re saying that you’re not bombing enough, you’re not giving the kind of aerial support that they needed or appropriate to defeat ISIS. Is that fair? Do you reject that?

MR RATHKE: Well, the United States has been very clear in our support for the Government of Iraq. We’ve – we have said that we share the determination of the Iraqi authorities to defeat ISIL. We have a multipronged strategy – which is not just military – to achieve that, including an international coalition of 60 countries, and we’ve got, I would remind, 3,000 U.S. forces right now deployed in Iraq in noncombat advisory capacities to help provide that assistance. So I think it’s quite clear our commitment to --

QUESTION: Going back to Roz’s original question on the contradictions of messages coming from the State Department – even from the White House – the President said that it was a tactical gain. It’s not really strategic. Then others are saying quite the contrary, because they are really – I mean, a great deal of territory now is under ISIS’s control. Do you agree?

MR RATHKE: I’m sorry --

QUESTION: I mean, what – to what do you attribute these conflicting messages from different areas – from the White House, from the Pentagon, from you guys?

MR RATHKE: Well, look --

QUESTION: Either the Iraqi military is capable or it’s not. Which is it?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we’ve said that we support the Iraqis. We have been stepping up our efforts to train and to equip the Iraqi Security Forces. This is a central part of our strategy, and we, because we realize that we need partners on the ground, we continue to work with the Iraqis to that end.

Yeah. Yeah.

QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to touch on one thing that he – I just wanted to touch on one thing that he brought up, this idea of the U.S. and the coalition forces aren’t bombing enough. Does the U.S. fear that when the Iraqis make these kinds of complaints that they’re basically trying to find a backdoor way to get U.S. ground troops in to at least call in these strikes, because they know that their own forces can’t do it without putting civilian lives at risk?

MR RATHKE: You’re trying to get me to ascribe a motivation to people, which I’m not going to do. We have been supporting our Iraqi partners with airstrikes, and we’ve conducted thousands of airstrikes in Iraq, also in Syria, against ISIL targets. We remain committed to supporting, again, Iraqi forces under Iraqi central government command and control as they fight to push ISIL out. I don’t have further details to add on that.

QUESTION: The French parliament has --

MR RATHKE: Just a second, Said. Namo has been waiting and I want to give him a chance to ask.

QUESTION: Okay. Just related.

QUESTION: Just one question. I mean, after Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said that the Iraqi forces didn’t show any will to fight ISIS in Ramadi, now the key question actually from many Iraqis that I have received is that: Why does the United States keep arming a corrupt army that’s willing to abandon its weapons for ISIS? Isn’t that indirectly arming ISIS?

MR RATHKE: No, no. Again, I think we’re talking about a particular episode here. We’re focused on our Iraqi Government partners and in building their capacity. We remain committed to our strategy and we’re going to continue forward to it – forward with it. Sorry.

Michel, go ahead.

QUESTION: Jeff, was this offensive coordinated with the coalition, international coalition, with the U.S., specifically, or not?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, as I said, we’ve been in – we remain in touch with the Iraqi Security Forces and their leadership, as well as at a political level. They’ve begun to consolidate and conduct a counterattack. So we are in discussion about how we can support. As we’ve always said, we are committed to supporting forces that are under Iraqi command and control. For details on their campaign, I’d refer you back to the Iraqi authorities.

QUESTION: Could I come back --

QUESTION: And is – one more, please.

QUESTION: Sorry, sure.

QUESTION: Is the coalition providing any air support to the Iraqi Army now in their offense?

MR RATHKE: I’d refer you to my colleagues at the Department of Defense about their day-to-day --

QUESTION: Yeah. I just wanted to ask you again --

MR RATHKE: -- operational engagement.

QUESTION: -- about the name of this effort to retake Ramadi – and I’m probably mispronouncing it – Labaik Ya Hussein, which is an allusion to the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad who was killed in the seventh century, and that clash essentially created the split between Sunni and Shia Muslims. And it’s considered a very provocative phrase, and the Pentagon says it’s not helpful for this mission to have this codename. Does this building agree? Should it be named something else? Should there even be a name at all for this operation?

MR RATHKE: Well, I – from what I understand, this is – this has been one comment about such a name. I don’t think we’ve seen an official announcement from the Iraqi authorities about the name of the operation, so I’d refer you back to them about that.

QUESTION: But certainly, the Pentagon thinks it’s official enough for them to react to it. I mean, we got this comment an hour ago from their spokesperson.

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve certainly said, and it would apply in this case as well, if we were talking about a name – which again, I’m – I think the Iraqis would have to confirm that – but we would urge all Iraqis who are involved in the fight against ISIL to avoid any action that would heighten sectarian tensions. That’s certainly clear.

Yeah, Nicole.

QUESTION: May I pivot to Asia?

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: One more?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted to know – one of the things in Roz’s original question was the comment about the criticism from the Quds Force commander. Do you have any specific response to that, your ostensible ally, at least in this one small area of the fight against --

MR RATHKE: That’s your word, not ours.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. You don’t share the – you share the same objective here --

MR RATHKE: Well, “ally” is a different --

QUESTION: Well, fine. Your friend in this --

MR RATHKE: I think that --

QUESTION: -- in this particular endeavor, correct?

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: You share a goal with Iran in taking out ISIL.

MR RATHKE: Well, I’ll let them speak for themselves. We certainly share that with the Iraqi authorities. And --

QUESTION: All right. Do you have any specific reaction to General Soleimani’s criticism of U.S. action or inaction in the case of Ramadi?

MR RATHKE: Again, I think this is similar to Said’s question. I think our commitment to Iraq and to supporting Prime Minister Abadi and his government and the Iraqi Security Forces as they fight ISIL is clear.

QUESTION: So the answer to my question is no, you don’t have any specific --

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to make a – I don’t have a specific reaction to everything said by --

QUESTION: Okay, all right. Fair enough.

QUESTION: Jeff, could I follow up before we move on?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Abadi said in an interview regarding the current offensive to retake Ramadi that he believed that forces could retake Ramadi within a few days. Based on the U.S. assessment of the situation on the ground, is that realistic?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to make a military prediction from here.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: The foreign minister of France, Fabius, just actually called for increased bombardment of that area. He’s calling on you – on the coalition – to do that. So obviously, there is some sort of a gap in the bombardment. Do you agree?

MR RATHKE: Well, I haven’t seen his comment, so I’m not going to – not going to kind of follow up on --

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MR RATHKE: Yes. Last one, and then we’re going with Nicole to Asia.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Given Secretary of Defense’s statement, what is the United States going to do to make sure that things like that are not going to happen in the future again, like Iraqi forces abandon their arms so easily for ISIS and just leave the entire civilian population to the hands of ISIS?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think, again, if you look at the response of the Iraqi leadership, not only Prime Minister Abadi but the cabinet – the entire cabinet, by the way, across sectarian and ethnic lines has recommitted themselves to strengthening their response to ISIL and to pushing them out of Ramadi and indeed other territory.

QUESTION: Is the United States itself making any effort to make sure that’s not going to happen again in the future?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we are partners with the Iraqi Government in this effort.

QUESTION: Have you voiced concern about that to the Iraqi Government?

MR RATHKE: Well, we remain in regular contact at multiple levels with them about our support for them.

So – go ahead, Nicole.

QUESTION: I actually do have a Middle East question first.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Yes.

QUESTION: Sorry. I was wondering if the building has any comment on reports that Turkey’s foreign minister has said that Turkey and Washington have agreed in principle to provide air support to Syrian rebels.

MR RATHKE: Well, there are ongoing discussions between the United States and Turkey about our cooperation across all the lines of effort in the fight against ISIL, but I don’t have a specific – I’m not going to comment specifically on the content of those discussions.

QUESTION: Okay. I feel like Said wants to ask a follow-up.

QUESTION: Well, I just want – yeah – to follow up very quickly --

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: -- on this.

MR RATHKE: You are --

QUESTION: Now are you changing your position on the no-fly zone? And if --

MR RATHKE: No, our position on that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: So you distinguish between giving a no-fly zone and giving – and air cover to rebels? Do you distinguish between the two?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not – again, in response to Nicole’s question and to follow up on that, we have ongoing discussions with Turkey as with our other coalition partners. I’m not going to comment on the specifics of those discussions.

QUESTION: Okay, so China.

MR RATHKE: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about this white paper issued by the Chinese army about its plans to expand its maritime presence – whether the building has any comment, and specifically on some of the language used. I think one of the colonels presenting the white paper talked about the maritime battlefield being broadened. So I’m wondering if you have any comment about these plans in general, and whether you have any concerns about the rhetoric being used around it.

MR RATHKE: Well, we’re certainly aware of the white paper that was publicly released. We continue to monitor China’s military developments carefully. We also continue to urge China to exhibit greater transparency with respect to its capabilities and to its intentions. So in conjunction with that, we encourage China to use its military capabilities in a manner that is conducive to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

QUESTION: Same topic.

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. In the white paper, they also mention that – especially emphasize the active defense strategy. What’s the U.S. strategy for it?

MR RATHKE: I’m sorry, can you repeat --

QUESTION: In the PLA’s --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- published the white paper, and then they also emphasized the active defense strategy. So I just wonder, what’s the U.S. strategy for it?

MR RATHKE: Strategy for what?

QUESTION: For this active defense strategy.

MR RATHKE: Well, if you’re talking about military matters such as that, I think my colleagues at the Pentagon would be better positioned to comment on it. But I think our strategy with regard to Asia, which is a focal point for this Administration, involves strengthening our alliances, which we’ve talked about a lot. It also involves political dialogue and military contacts. Of course, Secretary Kerry was just in Beijing and Seoul; we just had the Japanese prime minister here. So I think if you were asking about our strategy, then that’s how we’re focused.

QUESTION: One more follow-up.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Yes. And Taiwan’s President Ma also proposed a South China Sea peace initiative, which the – he emphasized that resource should be sharing while the sovereignty cannot be divided. Do you have any comment on it?

MR RATHKE: Well, our position on the South China Sea is longstanding. It hasn’t changed. We, of course, appreciate Taiwan’s call on claimants to exercise restraint, to refrain from unilateral actions that could escalate tensions, and to respect international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention. With regard to the maritime claims and the claims to sovereignty over land features in the South China Sea, our position is that maritime claims must accord with the Law of the Sea. We have a strong interest in peace and security and in the manner in which claimants address their disputes.

Now, as to the question of sovereignty over islands claimed by Taiwan or other land features claimed by claimants, we don’t take a position on the sovereignty of land features.

Go ahead, Guy, and then we’ll come to you.

QUESTION: Yeah, particularly just to drill into that specific nugget --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- that you’re on right now, in announcing the paper in Beijing, Defense Ministry Spokesman Yang Yujun specifically said that construction by the Chinese Government of basically a naval base on the Spratly Islands was, quote, “no different,” end quote, from other construction occurring all over China. So I understand that you don’t take a position on the sovereignty claims over the Spratlys, but do you agree with that statement that the construction occurring there is no different than what’s happening elsewhere in China?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think as we’ve spoken about over the last few weeks, China’s extensive land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea have created to – have contributed – excuse me – to rising tensions, and I think this something also that countries in the region have spoken to. So we would take a different view of that. I would also highlight that under international law it’s clear that land reclamation cannot change the maritime zones of a geographical feature. That would include a territorial sea or an exclusive economic zone. So it’s only naturally formed land features that are entitled to maritime zones --

QUESTION: Not to --

MR RATHKE: -- so we would take a different view of that as well.

QUESTION: -- play translator here, but – so you’re saying from this podium that the Chinese are violating international law by changing the shape of the Spratlys to --

MR RATHKE: No, no, I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: What I said is that international law is clear that land reclamation does not change the maritime zones of a geographic feature. We can talk more about the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to get into more of those details if that’s what you’re interested in. But the point is that a – creating an island through reclamation doesn’t change the maritime zone around it.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Two question on China’s currency. Just last Friday the Senate rejected currency provisions in TPA bill, which is of course a good signal for TPP. So what’s the reaction of the U.S. Government about the exclusion of the currency provision in the TPA bill?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think we – Secretary Kerry issued a statement just after the passage of the TPA bill in the Senate, as has the White House. So I would refer you back to those for our view on that legislation.

QUESTION: And the other issue is, just today, IMF concludes that Chinese currency is no longer undervalued, yet last month, the U.S. Government still claims Chinese currency is significantly undervalued. So what’s your assessment right now to China’s currency?

MR RATHKE: Well, I haven’t seen that IMF report. I think our colleagues at the Department of Treasury would have the most technically accurate answer on questions of currency, currency values.

QUESTION: One more South China Sea?

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry. You mentioned about the international law. Taiwan claimed that’s the eleven-dash line, and then China is claimed that nine-dash line. I wondered, do you think that both of the claim is according to the international law? Or what’s your position?

MR RATHKE: Well, so as I’ve said, we don’t take a position on sovereignty of the land features in the South China Sea. We think those have to be resolved by the claimants in accordance – peacefully and in accordance with international law. We have consistently called on China to clarify its nine-dash line claim to explain its justification under international law, and we think that if China were to do that, that would be a helpful contribution.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Russia and France.

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: According to the report, Russia has given up on importing Mistral-class helicopter carrier. I believe you support the French decision, so what is your position? What is your comment on this?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not sure I’ve been the report to which you’re referring.

QUESTION: Russia abandoned the plan to purchase --

MR RATHKE: Again, I haven’t seen a report to that effect, so I wouldn’t comment on that. I – we’ve commented before when France suspended or postponed the delivery that we thought that was a wise decision in light of the events in Ukraine – in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

QUESTION: One more thing. Also there is a report – this is kind of one of the rumor – but France would try to sell these two Mistral craft – warship to China. Are you aware of this report?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any information on that. I’d refer you back to the French, the French Government.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sorry, just on the ships.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is it the U.S. position – can you remind us – that France shouldn’t transfer them to Russia as long as the situation is unresolved in Ukraine, including Crimea? And once – if and when that situation or those situations are resolved to the satisfaction of everyone, that there’s no problem, or is it with the sale of the ships? Or is it the position that even if Crimea didn’t – or even if the Ukraine situation didn’t exist, it’s still a bad idea for France to sell them?

MR RATHKE: Well, our position on the sale hasn’t changed. I’m happy to get – to come back with the specific details as we’ve articulated them.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, I think we’ll go to you and then we’ll come back.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just a quick one on the China white paper. Just generally, do you think the white paper is something the U.S. would welcome, since it’s laid out the Chinese military strategy? And isn’t it – China’s taking one step further to answer your call to show its military build-up intention and transparency?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to issue a judgment on the white paper. We have certainly called on China to be more transparent about its military plans and procurements and so forth, but I’m not going to make a judgment of the white paper.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Bangladeshi citizens and Myanmar Rohingya citizens issue, do you have any update? It’s been going a lot. So they agreed to give them shelter in government places in Malaysia. Do you have anything about Rohingya issue, Bangladeshi citizens?

MR RATHKE: Well, the United States has offered to assist governments in the region to improve their understanding of the situation in the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal through U.S. maritime surveillance flights. And also thanks to the support of the Malaysian Government, over the weekend a U.S. Navy P-8 aircraft began conducting maritime surveillance flights to locate and mark the positions of boats possibly carrying migrants. The information that comes from those flights will provide an enhanced understanding of the situation at sea, and we stand ready to conduct additional flights as necessary to help provide support to regional governments.

So that’s in terms of what the United States has been doing in the last couple of days to help address the situation. We’re also pleased, of course, that Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to accept 7,000 migrants, and we’re also pleased by reports that Malaysia will be conducting search-and-rescue operations for those stranded at sea as well.

And then my final point, I think, on this would be that we urge the international community to support this effort and to attend the May 29th conference which is being hosted by Thailand to address the situation.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Yes?

QUESTION: Clinton emails. Today is the deadline for the State Department to submit a court filing outlining a timetable for proposed releases. Has State submitted that filing this afternoon?

MR RATHKE: To the best of my knowledge, that filing has not yet been filed. It will be filed today, so I don’t have anything to preview. But of course, in conjunction with the court order last week, the filing is due today, so we intend to meet that deadline.

Yes?

QUESTION: Can we go back to Asia Pacific?

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: The governor of Okinawa prefecture Takeshi Onaga is planning to come to Washington this week to lobby the Obama Administration and Congress to get rid of the U.S. military presence on Okinawa. Do you know if Mr. Onaga has any meetings with any officials in East Asia Affairs, with other officials here at the State Department? Should he even try to get an appointment here?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have an update on whether he’s got any meetings here. I’m happy to check and see. Of course, our position on U.S. forces in Okinawa and the way forward that we have worked – worked out with the Japanese Government remains our policy. But I’ll check into the question of whether there are any meetings happening here.

QUESTION: Is the siting of military bases specifically a DOD purview, or does the U.S. State Department have a consultative role, if that’s a word, on the siting of these bases?

MR RATHKE: I mean, I’m not intimately familiar with the process, but of course, we have in the 2+2 talks and we have a political-military dialogue with Japan, including on issues related to our mutual defense treaty and our security partnership and our alliance with Japan. So – and it’s in that way that we work through these issues with the Japanese Government, and it’s – and that is how we’ve also arrived at the way forward that we and the Japanese Government are pursuing.

QUESTION: Jeff, a follow-up --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- for the same topic.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I believe Secretary Kerry spoke to Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida this morning or maybe today or yesterday. I believe he --

MR RATHKE: I think it was today.

QUESTION: Today. He talks about that issue as well.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have that level of detail. They talked about a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues, so it was, from what I understand, a fairly wide-ranging conversation. But I don’t have that level of --

QUESTION: According to Japanese --

MR RATHKE: -- granular detail.

QUESTION: -- ministry of foreign affairs, both of them – Secretary and Kishida – talked about Secretary Kerry’s last trip to China and ROK and Russia.

MR RATHKE: Correct.

QUESTION: Particularly in Russia, as your colleague Marie and Assistant Secretary Danny Russel also mentioned, it’s not the right time to pursue business as usual with Russia. So particularly this topic did they talk about, and how Secretary Kerry mentioned this topic?

MR RATHKE: Right. Well, as I said in the previous question, I don’t have a lot of detail from the conversation to share. Our point of view with regard to Russia is that, as you know, Secretary Kerry has recently engaged the Russian leadership, urging Russia to fulfill its obligations under Minsk, to cease arming and training and supporting the separatists. We’ve also engaged on certain global security issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and Syria’s chemical weapons program. So we don’t consider that to be bilateral business as usual. We see that as addressing pressing international security topics.

QUESTION: Jeff, one thing on China. As you know, Senator McCain and Reid oppose Chinese participation in RIMPAC next year. Do you support this opinion?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have my RIMPAC encyclopedia in front of me. So I’m happy to look into that and come back to you.

Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah. Hizballah secretary general was quoted saying that his party might soon be announcing general popular mobilization to fight the takfiris or ISIS. How do you view Hizballah role in fighting ISIS?

MR RATHKE: Well, these remarks about Syria represent in our view a deliberate distortion of Hizballah’s involvement in a foreign war against the will of the Lebanese people. Lebanon has – and the Lebanese people have spoken out for a policy of dissociation from the Syrian conflict. That’s the commitment of the Baabda Declaration. Hizballah has engaged in the opposite, and those actions and Hizballah’s alliance with the Assad regime itself is fueling the growth of violent extremism, and it’s also fueling extremist terrorist threats to Lebanon.

And so our view on Hizballah and its destructive role in Syria hasn’t changed. Hizballah’s a designated foreign terrorist organization, and by carrying out military operations inside Syria, it’s violating the commitment under the Baabda Declaration and Lebanon’s policy of dissociation from the Syrian conflict.

QUESTION: And do you talk to the Iranians about Hizballah’s role in Syria?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything to read out on that, no.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have two topics.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: The first one, Taliban Five. The one-year arrangement with Qatar is about to expire. Do we have any update? Is the deal going to be extended? Are the Taliban leaders going to be sent to another country, or should we expect their release in June?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any update on that one to offer right now. Yes, you had another one?

QUESTION: And then the second topic would be --

MR RATHKE: Yep.

QUESTION: -- the recent Travel Warning issued on Mexico. What prompted the warning, and is it safe for Americans to travel there?

MR RATHKE: Which date do you have on that?

QUESTION: It’s – so I don’t have --

MR RATHKE: I know we’ve updated it in the last couple of weeks.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR RATHKE: And in the warning I think it updates, because we try to make that as specific as we can, to conditions in particular parts of the country. So I would encourage you to look at --

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR RATHKE: -- the description of specific regions.

QUESTION: So I actually do have this specific – so I have a specific quote I wanted to follow up on. So in the Travel Warning, it says “the number of reported kidnappings in Tamaulipas is among the highest in Mexico, and the number of U.S. citizens reported to the consulates… as being kidnapped, abducted, or disappearing involuntarily in 2014 has also increased.” Can you offer any specifics about the nature of that increase?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have that in front of me. I’m happy to look into that and see if there’s more we can share on that.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a quick one, Jeff.

MR RATHKE: All right.

QUESTION: Can you explain why you can’t have a judgment on the white paper?

MR RATHKE: Well, I haven’t read the white paper. I think it’s just been issued. And I think I’ve made our point of view clear about what our general desire is and what we encourage China to do with regard to its defense policy and its military development. But I don’t have anything to offer other than that.

QUESTION: But will you have one after you read it?

MR RATHKE: (Laughter.) I’m not sure I’m going to offer one.

QUESTION: Can I get one in on --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- on Burundi? The East African leaders are having a summit at the weekend. Do you think enough has been done – I mean, do you have a supportive role in that? Are you sending anybody? And do you think enough is being done to try to curb that violence?

MR RATHKE: Well, I would say even in the shorter term, we support the political dialogue that is being facilitated by the UN special envoy, Said Djinnit – that’s occurring in Burundi now – and with – as I understand it – envoys from the African Union, the East African Community, and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. So we encourage all stakeholders to continue to participate in good faith in this dialogue and achieve a peaceful resolution.

We also call on the Burundian Government – and you may have seen our statement over the weekend on this. We call on the Burundian Government to provide political space for peaceful and a credible electoral process, including respect for freedom of assembly and expression. We also call on the Burundian Government to permit resumption of broadcasts by independent radio stations. And so I would highlight those steps now, and I think as we go forward this week, we may have more to say on the specific conference.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR RATHKE: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:54 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 22, 2015

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 17:35

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 22, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:15 p.m. EDT

MS HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to the daily briefing.

QUESTION: Thank you. Happy --

MS HARF: You’re welcome.

QUESTION: -- Memorial Day to you.

MS HARF: Happy Memorial Day weekend. I just have one item at the top, and then I’m happy, Matt, to turn it over to you. As you all know, today the State Department made publicly available online 296 emails from former Secretary Clinton, which were previously provided to the Select Committee on Benghazi on February 13th, 2015. We used Freedom of Information Act standards for this public release, as we have always said we would. The State Department provided these emails to the select committee three months ago. They were provided with significantly fewer redactions under an agreement that the committee would not make any information public that is sensitive and inappropriate for release.

Regarding Benghazi, these 296 emails, some of which hopefully some of you have been able to see despite some of the website issues, do not change the essential facts that have been known since the independent Accountability Review Board report came out almost two and a half years ago. They do not change our understanding of what happened before, during, or after the attack. And just to remind people, in the spirit of cooperation we have consistently engaged with and been responsive to the select committee. Since the select committee’s formation less than a year ago, the Department has provided seven briefings, witnesses at each of the committee’s three hearings, 21 witness interviews since February, and provided over 45,000 pages of documents to the committee as well.

Now that the front row has filled out, including with two Fox reporters, I’m happy to start the briefing off. Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, so let’s --

MS HARF: Happy Friday.

QUESTION: Thank you. Happy Friday to you, too. On the emails --

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- I want to talk about the redactions generally.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: But first, specifically, the one redaction that appears to have been made because it involves classified or what has now been determined to be classified information.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you explain to us what exactly this is?

MS HARF: Yeah. So first, the email and the information in this email you’re referring to was not classified at the time it was sent. And I would remind people it was sent to Secretary Clinton. This very small portion of information, less than two sentences, was subsequently upgraded today at the request of the FBI. It is routine to upgrade information to classified status during the FOIA process. This happens frequently about several times every month. This is part of the process.

Executive Order 13526, which governs classification, provides that information that was previously unclassified such as this can be reviewed to determine whether its classification should be upgraded prior to public release under the FOIA. Again, this information was sent to her in 2012. There are a variety of reasons, in general – I’m not going to speak specifically to why the FBI requested this redaction – but that information could be upgraded to classified prior to its public release. I’m just going to outline a few so people have a general sense for how the process works.

First, it’s possible that the degree of sensitivity of certain information could have evolved over time due to changing world events or national security interests. It’s also possible the details of our cooperation with other countries would be upgraded if their public disclosure could negatively impact U.S. foreign relations, and it’s possible that a candid exchange of views among officials, if publicly released, could have a negative impact on foreign relations. Those are general. I’m not referring specifically to this sentence and a half that was upgraded today. But there are a variety of reasons in the regular FOIA process that this can happen.

QUESTION: But that all refers to being upgraded from unclassified to some form of classification – some level of classification --

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- for candid exchanges between officials included?

MS HARF: If it could impact – if there’s a judgment made by FOIA experts that it could negatively impact foreign relations, yes.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what it was upgraded to, these --

MS HARF: It was upgraded to secret.

QUESTION: Okay, which is the lowest of the –

MS HARF: That’s – well, there’s confidential, which is lower.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, more generally, there are a lot of other redactions.

MS HARF: Correct. And we tried to set expectations that there would be.

QUESTION: Do you – right. Do you have – are you able to tell us what the majority of those redactions were for? Did they – what was the reason --

MS HARF: I don’t have a breakdown. Next to each redaction there is a code for the FOIA exemption that’s specifically cited, and on our FOIA website you can take a look at all those codes. I don’t know them all by heart, and I haven’t done a numerical breakdown of how many apply where. But as I noted, these were provided with very few redactions to the committee. When this one email that we’ve referenced that has now been upgraded was provided to the committee, it was provided un-redacted and unclassified.

QUESTION: And so the committee has --

MS HARF: Because there are different standards for public release --

QUESTION: The committee has --

MS HARF: -- under FOIA.

QUESTION: The committee has the un-redacted version?

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. And they have un-redacted versions of all of this, or was there stuff that was sent to them that was redacted?

MS HARF: There were very small – there were some redactions, but they were very, very limited. This was an agreement we made with the committee that we would provide them in that form and they would not release them publicly.

QUESTION: Despite the fact that this information was not, as you say, classified at the time --

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- it was sent to her --

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- is it at all troubling or problematic for the Department that this kind of information, which is clearly sensitive, even if it wasn’t classified at the time, was being passed around on a private server?

MS HARF: Well, I think we’ve spoken more broadly to this issue in the past, in terms of the fact that there was no prohibition from using private email as a public official. We’ve spoken about this in the past. I don’t have much more to add than that. I would again note that this information was not classified at the time.

QUESTION: Was it – what was it considered at the time? Do you know?

MS HARF: Unclassified.

QUESTION: But not even, like, sensitive but unclassified?

MS HARF: It had no markings on it.

QUESTION: It had no --

MS HARF: And again, when it got sent to the Hill, it also went in an unclassified form. This – again, as part of the FOIA process, this happens about several times a month on average where, for a variety of reasons under the FOIA law, something that has been previously unclassified is for public release deemed to be classified.

QUESTION: Last one from me on this. When did – when was it that the FBI asked for this to be upgraded?

MS HARF: Well, there’s been an ongoing interagency process. Every agency that has equities in these emails has at some point in the review process – is part of it, as will be the case with the 55,000.

QUESTION: So some time in --

MS HARF: So there’s been an ongoing discussion with the other agencies throughout the last several weeks that we’ve been doing this.

QUESTION: But is that since they were turned over to the committee, or since it became public knowledge that there was the – that this private server existed?

MS HARF: Right. So there – when they – they went through an interagency process when they went to the committee as well, but using the standards of going to members of Congress who have clearances, not using FOIA standards. So when we made the decision to release these publicly under FOIA standards, a new interagency process started. So we can work backwards; I’m sorry, I don’t remember the date. But when we decided to release all of them publicly, we started the new FOIA process, which is a separate process with different standards for public release. They went back to the interagency then, and that’s when all of these discussions took place.

QUESTION: All right. Then just remind me: Did you guys decide to make all of these public – it was only after it became public knowledge – of the private server became public knowledge --

MS HARF: No.

QUESTION: -- that you decided to release them all, right?

MS HARF: It was when – well, I can go back and look at the chronology. It’s – when she turned them all over to us, I think we very quickly said – even before the server issue was discussed, if I remember correctly – that we would undertake using FOIA standards review to release these publicly. On Tuesday we’ll be making a court filing, following up on ours last week, I think, on the 55,000, outlining a – how we will be undertaking rolling production – so periodic production of the remaining 55,000. And that’s something we’re committed to.

QUESTION: And just one last question. Just – and you may have said this already, and forgive me, but --

MS HARF: It’s okay.

QUESTION: -- to be clear, because the email and the contents of it was not classified at the time it was sent to her --

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- it’s the State Department’s opinion that she did not violate any policy. Is that correct?

MS HARF: What kind of – I mean, what policy are you referring to?

QUESTION: Well, like something within the FAM or something that would suggest she should not be --

MS HARF: That anyone mishandled classified information?

QUESTION: Correct.

MS HARF: It wasn’t classified at the time, and the --

QUESTION: Therefore --

MS HARF: -- occurrence of a subsequent upgrade does not mean that anyone did anything wrong, just to be very clear here.

Yes.

QUESTION: On that point, is there in the FBI’s request that this now be classified, embedded within that request, the suggestion that it should have been classified on the date in which it was sent?

MS HARF: I have not heard of that. I mean, I don’t – the answer is I don’t know. I haven’t heard that in any of the discussions. As I said, this happens pretty regularly that something is --

QUESTION: But you would concede --

MS HARF: -- this process happens pretty regularly.

QUESTION: You would concede as part of that regular occurrence it’s quite plausible that in some instances something is upgraded in its classification from unclassified to some measure of classification because it should have been at the time and was not – correct?

MS HARF: That’s not --

QUESTION: That happens, yes?

MS HARF: That has happened. But in this case, what we’re talking about is something not – I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about something that, again, when it went to the Hill was sent unclassified; it went through an interagency review process then when technically it also could have been upgraded. It’s my understanding that this was purely using the FOIA standards for public release that the FBI – and again, I don’t want to speak for them, but that the request was made. And ultimately the State Department writes the upgrade memo and signs off on it. So that decision ultimately lies here to do that. But it was at this request, so we decide to do this using the FOIA standards, that for public release this is permissible.

QUESTION: Is it the working supposition of the Department right now that it was from source associated with the Benghazi committee that The New York Times obtained the large trove of emails that it put online?

MS HARF: Honestly – I said this the other day – I’ve given up guessing where leaks like this come from. As I said, the Department certainly didn’t provide the emails that were alleged to be part of that trove, which I’m still not going to confirm are actually a part of it. But we certainly didn’t, and I’m just not going to guess about that.

QUESTION: Do you know whether --

MS HARF: It’s a game, I think, that gets you nowhere.

QUESTION: Do you know whether there is an investigation underway to determine how those documents came into the possession of The New York Times?

MS HARF: I do not know. I’m happy to check, but I don’t know.

QUESTION: Do you happen to know whether if we were to compare specific documents that appear to be the same ones from the New York Times trove to those that were officially released today, we would observe different redactions because one was sent to the committee and the other was redacted under the FOIA process, as you’re making clear?

MS HARF: Well, without commenting on the specific documents that were posted on The New York Times website, if people had in their possession – which they shouldn’t – documents that were sent to the committee – and I’m not saying that those are they, okay? I’m not. But the documents that went to the committee would look different than the ones that were released under FOIA because we use different standards. In order to be as transparent as we possibly could with the committee, we agreed to do very minimal redactions so they could see as much information as possible. FOIA standards are more restrictive for public release.

QUESTION: One of the documents released today included an exchange of emails between Cheryl Mills and Matt Olsen, who at the time was the head of the National Counterterrorism Center.

MS HARF: Of NCTC.

QUESTION: And it was in the fall of 2012, and Mr. Olsen was reporting confidentially to Ms. Mills on how he thought congressional hearings about Benghazi were going at that time – “Fine,” he said, from his perspective; and also reporting on his debriefing or his interrogation by the ARB, the Accountability Review Board, saying that it was an excellent session; and lastly, telling Ms. Mills that the intelligence community, or at least the NCTC, is continuing to fend off questions about the unclassified talking points.

Do you agree that I’m correctly characterizing the correspondence?

MS HARF: I have read all the emails. I remember that one, broadly speaking.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: I don’t remember the last point about the talking points. I just don’t remember seeing that in his email.

QUESTION: It’s in there.

MS HARF: I’m happy to go back and check.

QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts as to the propriety of a senior intelligence official carrying on that kind of correspondence with the Secretary of State’s chief of staff? What’s the reason for it?

MS HARF: When you say what kind of correspondence, what are you – how are you characterizing it?

QUESTION: Reporting back to her on how he thinks congressional hearings are going, reporting back to her on how his ARB session went, telling her that he’s continuing to fend off requests for information about the unclassified talking points?

MS HARF: So on the third piece, I just honestly, James, don’t remember that being in the email. I’m happy to take a look at the email. I’m sure you would walk it up here if you could; we’re not going to do that. I’m happy to take --

QUESTION: I’m not going to pull a Lazio on you, but --

MS HARF: I’m happy to take a look at it. (Laughter.) But I’m not going to have you read it either. But in general, why would – why would sort of saying it went fine, why would that be inappropriate?

QUESTION: I’m just not clear on the necessity of a senior intelligence official communicating with the Secretary of State’s chief of staff about these things. I don’t understand why.

MS HARF: Well, I’m not – I’m not clear why you’re suggesting there’s impropriety, I guess.

QUESTION: I don’t know why he’s reporting to her on how his debriefing by the ARB went.

MS HARF: Maybe it was just a casual conversation. It went well. I’m not sure what the harm in that is.

QUESTION: Well --

MS HARF: Again, I’m not going to parse every single email or get into the head of what people were thinking at the time --

QUESTION: Two more.

MS HARF: -- and not having the email in front of me. But --

QUESTION: Two more questions.

MS HARF: I’m not entirely sure what you’re getting at here, but go ahead. Continue.

QUESTION: I think you have some rough idea of what I’m getting at.

MS HARF: I actually sort of don’t, but go ahead. Continue.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Well, let me ask it before you do your other two.

QUESTION: Okay. Certainly, Matt.

QUESTION: Do you – does the Department believe that there was any kind of impropriety in this exchange that he’s talking about?

MS HARF: Again, I don’t have the exchange in front of me. But I --

QUESTION: Do you believe that there is any impropriety evidenced in any of the emails --

MS HARF: I do not.

QUESTION: -- that were sent?

MS HARF: I do not.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: I do not.

QUESTION: One of the emails appears to indicate that on the 15th of September 2012, Secretary Clinton was to receive the presidential daily brief at her home at 9:30 in the morning. And as the set of emails makes clear, including one from the Secretary to her aides, she says, she types at 10:43 a.m., “I just woke up so I missed Dan,” who was supposed to deliver the PDB.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Putting aside the Secretary’s sleeping habits --

MS HARF: And yet you felt the need to raise them in the briefing.

QUESTION: As you felt the need to begin the briefing by stating that there were two Fox reporters here today.

MS HARF: I thought I was being welcoming.

QUESTION: My point to you is, aside from the fact that she slept through the PDB – (laughter).

MS HARF: Putting aside that, go ahead.

QUESTION: Is it – was Secretary Clinton a regular consumer of the PDB?

MS HARF: Well, I didn’t – I wasn’t here when Secretary Clinton was here. I am happy to get more details for you. It is my understanding that she was a regular, intense consumer of intelligence in a variety of forms, one of which was the presidential daily briefing. There are other – many ways that secretaries of state have intelligence information at their fingertips as well. It is certainly my understanding that she was – used intelligence quite a bit and very much valued it as one of her sources of information.

QUESTION: Last question. This is somewhat toward the personal side of things. But I wonder if it’s – I wonder if it’s been a concern for you and your other colleagues who do these press briefings at the podium that in having to answer for Secretary of State Clinton’s conduct with respect to her private emails and the disposition of those emails, the deletion of some of those emails, that you and you colleagues are, in effect, being forced to serve as surrogate spokespeople for the Clinton campaign. Is that a concern for you?

MS HARF: I certainly don’t feel that way, James. We take it very seriously here, that we defend former secretaries of state, their policies, certainly. That is completely independent from any political campaign that may or may not be going on. As I’ve often said, I am happy in this job to not have to worry about political campaigns. That’s why when we talk about these things we are very factual. We talk about the – what this Department has done, did do in the past to our – to the extent that we can, and quite frankly stay out of all the politics, as much as some of you try to drag us into it.

QUESTION: Well, you defend all former secretaries of state? On Tuesday I’ll ask you to defend Seward.

MS HARF: Former secretaries of state in the administration in which we serve. And their --

QUESTION: When what they do is defensible.

MS HARF: And when they’re – well, look, when we talk about the policies of this Administration, that includes policies under Secretary Kerry and under Secretary Clinton. But we keep it in a very nonpartisan and nonpolitical lane. We, including myself, feel very strongly about that – incredibly strongly about that, that this podium is a nonpartisan and a nonpolitical one. And yes, she is running for president, and that is a fact. But that’s why when you ask me questions about her, I keep it based on the facts. We keep it based on what the Department does as a whole, what Secretary Kerry’s doing today in terms of all of these issues, whether it’s FOIA or getting things released.

QUESTION: Do you defend her sleeping through the PDB?

MS HARF: I think I’m going to move on.

QUESTION: All right.

MS HARF: Any more on this?

QUESTION: Oh, I just would like to ask, when’s the next batch coming?

MS HARF: So I think when we make the court filing on Tuesday, I expect that we may hopefully be indicating when the first rolling production will be. Secretary Kerry is very focused, as are all of us, on doing this as quickly as possible, and that’s certainly a goal. We’re going to be expediting more resources to both the congressional production side, because we have a number of outstanding congressional production document requests, but also to reviewing the 55,000 emails for public release. So this is a huge undertaking, certainly, but we are working as quickly as we can. And hopefully we’ll be able to say soon when the first rolling production will be.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: And how many would those be?

MS HARF: We’re trying to determine that right now. It may not be the same every time. We’re just – as many as we can get done, basically by that date. And given – some of these emails won’t have other agency equities involved, so those will probably be done a little quicker. But when you have all these other agencies, it’s just a process that takes a little longer.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. Going back to the change in the classification level of the redacted – the upgrade.

MS HARF: The upgrade. It wasn’t classified to begin with. Yes.

QUESTION: You had said that this is a fairly regular thing or a routine process.

MS HARF: It happens about several times a month in FOIA requests.

QUESTION: Would the fact that this is as routine as that kind of highlight the flaw in the policy of allowing people to send emails on personal servers, if there’s routinely information that is then upgraded in classification a little bit?

MS HARF: Well, but you’re, I think, assuming something about the reason for upgrade. And oftentimes the reason for upgrade is because it’s not appropriate to be released publicly under FOIA. That’s different than it being unclassified and being sent around on an unclassified email.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS HARF: So those are just different standards. So I think you’re just making an underlying assumption about why things are necessarily upgraded, which is not necessarily the case.

QUESTION: But private servers – probably almost in every instance are probably less secure than government servers. And if there’s information that’s routinely upgraded in classification because it’s determined that it’s actually not something that you want released --

MS HARF: But those – well, go ahead. Sorry, you can finish and then I’ll let you continue.

QUESTION: Well, in that case wouldn’t – doesn’t that highlight a potential security threat with the way that information is handled or has been handled in the past in this building?

MS HARF: I mean, I think you’re making a broad statement. There’s a variety of reasons that things can be upgraded.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. But if one of those reasons is that that information is too sensitive to be seen in the public.

MS HARF: But that doesn’t mean that if it wasn’t being released publicly it would’ve been upgraded. Do you see what I’m saying? Independent of public release that doesn’t mean it would’ve been classified.

QUESTION: You said --

QUESTION: But there are other ways it could get out, especially if it’s on a private server.

MS HARF: I understand the question, but I think I’ve answered it.

QUESTION: When you say – talking about these retroactive --

MS HARF: It’s not retroactive. It doesn’t go back. It just starts going forward.

QUESTION: All right, okay. Wrong word. Sorry. When you’re talking about --

MS HARF: It’s okay. Just a key point.

QUESTION: -- changing the classification or making --

MS HARF: Upgrading.

QUESTION: -- something classified, you say it happens often several times a month.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But does it happen several times a month with people’s private emails, or are these within the state.gov emails?

MS HARF: It happens – I mean, it happens several times a month in FOIA requests. I don’t have more details than that.

QUESTION: But normally, FOIA requests cover just state.gov emails, right?

MS HARF: That’s true. Yeah.

QUESTION: So you have no way of knowing on private email server – on private email accounts how many times this has happened or how many times --

MS HARF: I just don’t have those kinds of details.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I go back to the Blumenthal emails?

MS HARF: You can.

QUESTION: Not the ones that were in the – that The New York Times published yesterday, but the ones – and there are quite a few of them --

MS HARF: Mm-hmm. There are.

QUESTION: And I think that despite the fact that you don’t want to confirm that the ones that were published yesterday are the ones here, it’s pretty clear that they are.

MS HARF: Well, I’m happy to talk about the ones we released today.

QUESTION: Right. So just confining ourselves to the ones that were released today, does the Department think it’s appropriate for some kind of outside political – former political advisor to be sending the secretary this kind of stuff, and for the secretary then to be passing it on, even when such – even when the information is deemed by – occasionally deemed to be dubious or without merit?

MS HARF: Well, I think secretaries of state often hear from a variety of outside voices. They often get advice or information from a variety of places, and as I think people have now seen, hopefully, in the documents, sometimes the secretary passed these on; sometimes they made judgments that they didn’t seem credible; didn’t do much, it appears, beyond that. But again, this is – secretaries often get information from a variety of sources.

QUESTION: Many of these emails that were – that the secretary then passed on to Jake Sullivan, her deputy chief of staff, who then circulated them as he saw – are you aware of any – among people who are still in the building who were there, were there any senior officials who were kind of annoyed by the fact that they kept getting emails from Jake saying, “A friend of HRC says this”?

MS HARF: I don’t know. I haven’t heard that, Matt. I haven’t heard that. But I would note most of the people on those emails, or many of them, I think – many of them aren’t here anymore. But I haven’t heard that.

QUESTION: Well, but they were sent to a variety of --

MS HARF: Some. Yeah, some are. I just --

QUESTION: -- of career staffers.

MS HARF: I just haven’t heard that. Again, we get – the number of emails that I get, that all of us get, from people on the outside who we know or have known for a long time or are friends with who have some information that they think is interesting to share happens quite a bit. It’s certainly not unusual.

QUESTION: Sure, but not everyone has the secretary’s private --

MS HARF: That’s true.

QUESTION: -- personal email --

MS HARF: That is true. That is very true.

QUESTION: -- account. So you can say without a doubt that the information, or alleged information, that Mr. Blumenthal was sending to Secretary Clinton on a regular basis didn’t get any more weight than did actual intelligence coming from the INR in this building or --

MS HARF: Well, I think she or her team – I think she or her team could probably speak – I just – I have – I can’t speak to that.

QUESTION: All right.

MS HARF: I wasn’t here.

Yes, anything else on this issue? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Cuba.

MS HARF: Cuba.

QUESTION: I just spent a week in Cuba and I talked with a lot of anti-LG – or LGBT rights advocates critical of the government, and one of them told me that the Cuban Government is out to, quote, “destroy them.” So I wanted to ask you, Marie, if with the fourth round of talks about normalizing relations that just wrapped up today, did – and I haven’t seen the readout or anything yet because it just happened – but have – was human rights at all part of this specifically? And if so, can you give a little sense of – because that’s still, obviously, a huge concern.

MS HARF: It’s still a huge issue.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS HARF: And just a little bit of a readout: We did make significant progress on a number of substantive issues in this round. This round of talks has – was a productive one. As you know and everyone knows, we’ve met regularly, have been in constant communication. We will continue to discuss with the Cubans the practical conditions needed to implement this new policy that the President outlined. And I can find out some more if human rights was raised today. The answer is I actually don’t know, but I do know that it is an issue we continually raise with the Cubans, that even while we are working to normalize relations and open an embassy and reestablish diplomatic relations, we know we will still have very serious concerns with what is happening on the human rights front, and that that – certainly, if we are – if and when we are able to reestablish relations, that certainly won’t be unique to Cuba.

QUESTION: Right.

MS HARF: Many countries we have relations with, certainly, we raise concerns about human rights, so we’ll keep raising those concerns. But let me find out if it was raised today.

QUESTION: Yeah. And just as a quick --

MS HARF: I just don’t know.

QUESTION: And as a quick follow-up to that, I just was made aware by my colleague at the White House, who said that – I’m reading what Josh Earnest just told him – concern for human rights of LGBTQ humans is among reasons for policy change to reopen U.S.-Cuban relations.

MS HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Is there any thought on that?

MS HARF: Absolutely. It’s one of those areas where we believe that if there is more ability for Cubans to have access to the outside world and contact with Americans or others from the outside world, if there’s more back-and-forth travel between America and Cuba or other countries and Cuba, if Cuba is more open to the world on all of these issues, including LGBT issues, we think that’s a net positive because there will be more outlets to express some of these issues, to discuss them, to hopefully change them. And I think that certainly underpins a lot of the new policy.

QUESTION: And then my final question: Do you have any possible timeline as to when an announcement might – we might hear something --

MS HARF: I --

QUESTION: -- about embassies reopening --

MS HARF: I don’t.

QUESTION: -- to allow further diplomats to travel outside Havana to meet with some of these folks who criticize the government?

MS HARF: Yeah. I really don’t. I wish I could give you a timeline. I really – believe me, I wish I could, but I really don’t.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Thank you very much.

MS HARF: You’re welcome.

QUESTION: Marie --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- can I ask a follow-up question?

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In their comments earlier today, both Jacobson and Vidal referenced what they called the functioning of embassies as being one of the issues that was broadly discussed over the past two days. Is that an indication that one of the remaining sticking points is the level of freedom that diplomats would have to move around in Cuba or move around in the United States?

MS HARF: I think, generally speaking, it’s – excuse me, these allergies. I think, generally speaking, those are ongoing issues of discussion, yes, but there’s a number of issues.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia?

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the explosion in Saudi Arabia today?

MS HARF: I do. We condemn today’s attack on a mosque in Saudi Arabia that killed more than a dozen individuals and left dozens wounded. We have seen reports that ISIL has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but we cannot confirm those details. I know the Saudis are doing an investigation right now.

What else?

QUESTION: Also on Saudi Arabia?

MS HARF: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: In the President’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg yesterday, he said that there was no indication that Saudi Arabia was looking to become a nuclear state. Is that the view of the State Department as well?

MS HARF: It is. Saudi Arabia’s a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It’s committed never to acquire nuclear weapons. This is something we attach great importance to, to their continued implementation of these commitments. As you know, we’ve consulted regularly with them as we’ve talked with the Iranians on the nuclear negotiations, so this is something I think we’ll continue doing.

QUESTION: But there’s no concern about recent meetings with Pakistani authorities talking to Saudi authorities, presumably about becoming a nuclear state?

MS HARF: Well, I’m not sure I would presume that was the topic of discussion, and I don’t think we have concern about it.

QUESTION: Marie --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- on the explosion, do you think that it would increase the tension between Sunni and Shia, especially that ISIL targeted a Shia mosque?

MS HARF: I think we’re going to wait and see what some more of the facts are given we can’t confirm that it was ISIL. Obviously, no matter who the perpetrators were, this is a very bad thing.

Let’s go in the back. Yes.

QUESTION: Can I return to ISIL?

MS HARF: You can.

QUESTION: We talked about it yesterday, Marie, and the --

MS HARF: We did.

QUESTION: -- U.S. strategy. Today the Iraqi deputy prime minister and the Iraqi deputy president have said it’s time for a change in strategy, that what the U.S.-led coalition is doing simply isn’t working. What’s your view on that --

MS HARF: Well, I --

QUESTION: -- and is it time for a rethink, even though you were very staunch in your defense of it yesterday?

MS HARF: My answer hasn’t changed in the last 24 hours, I promise, and I haven’t seen those comments. I think we’ve been clear the seriousness of the situation. We constantly look at our policy to determine the best path forward here, but we have a strategy in place that, to be fair, has only really been in place for about eight or nine months now. And if you think about – if you just think about, for some perspective here, how long it took to degrade AQI in Iraq when there were many American boots on the ground, when AQI was much less better equipped and trained and funded and capable than ISIL is – if you think about the years that took, it’s just some perspective here that this is a long-term strategy. We have always said that, and I think it’s a bit unrealistic to think in eight months that suddenly there shouldn’t be tough days on the battlefield. So we believe we have the right strategy. We are constantly looking at it, evaluating it to determine the best path forward. But overall, we believe in the strategy we have, as much as I did yesterday.

QUESTION: And – but you would accept, though, that you don’t stick to a strategy just because you’ve committed yourself to a three-year strategy to defeat ISIL --

MS HARF: No, but you --

QUESTION: -- if there are very clear signs that the strategy isn’t working --

MS HARF: But you also don’t --

QUESTION: -- and people on the ground say it’s not working – senior people on the ground say it’s not working, then perhaps it’s time for a revision.

MS HARF: You also don’t just abandon a strategy because you have a setback that, quite frankly – we knew there would be setbacks like this. So you don’t just abandon it at the first setback. You stick with it, you keep looking at it, and that’s what we’re doing.

QUESTION: Can I also just touch on the CENTCOM report that came out today, which said that two children had been killed --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- in the attack? First of all, can I get the official line from the State Department on that?

And also, how can you be sure that only two children have been killed, given the numerous U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria?

MS HARF: Mm-hmm. Well – and CENTCOM has put out a press release – we regret the unintentional loss of life and express our heartfelt sympathies to those affected. We take all reports of noncombatant casualties seriously. The Pentagon looks into every single one that is received or reported. Sometimes it’s difficult to get information, but I can guarantee you they look into every single one. They did conclude that in this case the preponderance of evidence indicated that airstrikes conducted against facilities used by the Khorasan Group likely led to the deaths of two noncombatant children. The investigation was directed on January 8th and approved the findings on April 5th. So these investigations just take a little time; any report the Pentagon looks into.

QUESTION: Marie, on the ISIS issue, is the U.S. planning to do anything to protect the ruins in Palmyra and in general the people in Syria?

MS HARF: Well, this is a very tough challenge, as Matt pointed out yesterday. First and foremost, it is about the people, and the people in Palmyra are at great risk. They have been for some time. This city has been caught in the crossfire for some time. And of course the ruins – we’ve seen ISIL destroying historical sites many other places, which is also just heartbreaking, I think, from a civilization point of view. It’s a more challenging battlefield there given we don’t have the same kind of local partners that we do elsewhere. It’s just a more challenging environment. And so obviously it’s a very serious one, but not much more to share on it than that.

QUESTION: And do you expect the UN Security Council will react to protect the ruins first and then the population or --

MS HARF: I’d – you’d have to ask the UN. I haven’t heard of any possible Security Council action.

QUESTION: And any expectations from Paris meeting on Syria and Iraq?

MS HARF: I think we’ll probably have more to say next week on that.

Yes. Go ahead, Barbara.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on this rethinking or constantly looking at our policy --

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- as you said, which depends, of course, on partners on the ground, as you’ve said --

MS HARF: Mm-hmm. That is true.

QUESTION: -- and others many times, and the President in the interview mentioned that he had confidence in Abadi’s commitment.

MS HARF: Correct. Yes.

QUESTION: But there are questions about his ability from various quarters in Washington. Is that part of your constant relooking at the policy? Is there a plan B if the partners on the ground part of it just doesn’t work out?

MS HARF: Well, first I’d say the President and the Secretary and everyone who works on this issue has confidence in Prime Minister Abadi. He has done a number of things right in one of the toughest jobs in the world. And one of them when it comes to Ramadi, as we’ve talked about a little bit in the past few days, is working with Anbari leaders with – in conjunction with other people in the central government to get the decision to use these PMF forces to try to help in conjunction with local Anbari leaders, then retake Ramadi. So he’s reaching out to different sectarian groups, he’s reaching out to different local leaders. He’s reaching out across the proverbial aisle, so to speak, in the Iraqi context. And he has a very tough job. And we have full confidence in him. We continue to review developments, determine how to best sort of refine and carry out our strategy that we have in place, but he is certainly a key part of it.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the emails for –

QUESTION: Sorry. One more on Iraq.

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: How do you view Iraqi prime minister visit to Russia and asking or requesting arms from Moscow? Do you consider or do you think there is a lack of cooperation between the U.S. and Iraq? That’s why he went to --

MS HARF: No, and I addressed --

QUESTION: -- Moscow?

MS HARF: -- this at length yesterday, so I’d point you there.

Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, just back on the emails. Some of the criticism that’s coming from the Hill even now – well, particularly now, after the release – is that the State Department really has no way of knowing whether the emails that you released today constitute the entire universe of Benghazi-related emails that Secretary Clinton had on her private email server. Do you think that that’s valid criticism?

MS HARF: She has said she turned over every email she had that was a record to the State Department. Of those 55,000, we culled through them and pulled out the 296 that were – sorry, 55,000 pages, pulled out the 296 emails, which is about 900 pages, and provided those to the committee in February. So every email of hers that we had that was related to their request on Benghazi, we gave to them.

QUESTION: Right. But you are – you were forced to take her at her – take her or her office or her people --

MS HARF: She has said she provided everything.

QUESTION: -- at their word, though. You don’t have a way of knowing 100 percent that all of the relevant emails were among the 55,000 pages that were turned out. Is that correct?

MS HARF: The former Secretary has --

QUESTION: I --

MS HARF: Wait – has assured us she turned over everything that was relevant as a record at the State Department, and she can speak more to how she did that.

QUESTION: Fair enough, and I’m sure she’ll probably be asked about that again and again, especially if she testifies. But the State Department itself is confident that it got all of the relevant emails it needed to be responsive to the committee’s request from her or her people?

MS HARF: I don’t have much more to say. She said them – she turned them all over. Of those that she turned over, we pulled out every single one that was responsive to their request and we submitted it. I would also note that the emails released today cover, I think, about a two-year period. The 55,000 pages covers the entirety of her time at the State Department. She’ll have to speak further to this issue, though, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. But the Department does not agree with the criticism that’s coming from Representative Gowdy and others on the Hill that this – that what was turned over today is in essence self-selected?

MS HARF: Again, she said she turned everything over.

QUESTION: Well, I know. But she said, but you’d --

MS HARF: If they have a disagreement with her --

QUESTION: I’m asking --

MS HARF: -- they can ask her, which I think they’ll probably have a chance to do.

QUESTION: Okay. But I --

MS HARF: I mean --

QUESTION: But from the State Department’s point of view --

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- you believe that you – or you’re confident that you got everything that you needed to get to be entirely responsive to their --

MS HARF: From the State Department’s point of view, a former secretary of state said she turned over everything. It’s 55,000 pages covering the extent of her time at the State Department. I really just don’t have much more to say than that.

QUESTION: Can I ask you another random email question?

MS HARF: You changed seats, Justin.

QUESTION: I know. I had to go make a phone call.

MS HARF: It’s okay. You’re trying to mix me up here.

QUESTION: Sorry. This relates to one of the emails that was sent, but – and to some of the criticism that Secretary Clinton got during post-Benghazi attack, Secretary Kerry went and visited Walter Reed and visited some of the injured agents in that attack on his – one of his first days on the job. Do we know if, A, Clinton ever made a visit to any of the – those who were injured in the attack, and, B, if she ever made a phone call to any of them to check in on them?

MS HARF: I am happy to check. I’m sorry, I wasn’t here then and I just don’t know. I’m happy to check with her team.

QUESTION: Former Acting Director of the CIA Mike Morell in a recent interview said that he believes --

MS HARF: A fellow Buckeye.

QUESTION: Right. He believes that the server at one point was probably hacked by a foreign service, a foreign government. Do you agree with that assessment?

MS HARF: Her staff has said there is no indication that her account was ever compromised in any way. I think for more questions about that, I’d point them – you to them.

QUESTION: But why would a former acting director of the CIA – somebody who knows a thing or two about espionage – make such a claim?

MS HARF: I know. I’m not sure if he has direct knowledge of her server or her email, though, and I’m – I think her folks are best equipped to speak to that. They have spoken to that, and they’re the best people to answer that question.

QUESTION: You think he was just kind of winging that on a radio interview?

MS HARF: I have no idea. I didn’t hear it.

QUESTION: Marie, do you have that readout of Kerry’s discussion with Lavrov?

MS HARF: I do.

QUESTION: I actually have – I have one more on the email.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: And don’t know if this has been published before, but do you have any reaction to the idea that the State Department reached out directly to the Google CEO, Larry Page, to get the anti-Islam video taken down? Is that – does that demonstrate perhaps some impropriety to be reaching out to a Google CEO, who ultimately did not comply, to take down that inflammatory video?

MS HARF: I’m sorry. I quite frankly don’t know what – I’m not familiar with the – what you’re referring to. I’m happy to look into it.

QUESTION: And also, can I just clarify your comment earlier on impropriety? Were you talking about the specific emails that James raised, or were you talking about generally (inaudible)?

MS HARF: Overall, again, I have – I’ve read most of them, I’ve looked over them, and I haven’t seen anything that I would consider to fall into that category.

QUESTION: Well --

QUESTION: Were you referring --

QUESTION: -- you haven’t seen it. Are you the arbiter of --

MS HARF: Well, no, but you asked me what my opinion was and I answered.

QUESTION: Well, no. But I wasn’t --

QUESTION: (Off-mike) all of them.

QUESTION: I was – I was – but I wasn’t asking for your personal opinion. I was trying to – does the --

MS HARF: Well, no, my professional opinion.

QUESTION: Right.

MS HARF: That’s how you phrased it. You can look at the transcript.

QUESTION: And as – and Marie, I value your professional opinion as I do your personal opinion, but I was asking for the opinion of State Department lawyers, people who go through --

MS HARF: That’s not actually how you phrased the question, though.

QUESTION: Well, that’s what I intended. I’m sorry I was unclear. Is the State Department – not you personally or professionally – but the State Department as a bureaucracy satisfied that there’s no indication or evidence of any kind of impropriety at all in these three – in these emails that were released today?

MS HARF: I haven’t heard any talk of that at all. Again, I’m not going to make sort of a blanket statement, but I haven’t heard any talk of that.

QUESTION: All right. So in other words, it was your personal opinion that you didn’t see anything improper in --

MS HARF: Well, you said, “Do you think there’s anything improper in that?”

QUESTION: Well, but the “you,” it was the royal “you.” It wasn’t just you. It was meant to be the whole building.

MS HARF: Well, sometimes, actually, you just are asking --

QUESTION: Well, I’m not in this case because it’s a little bit more important than what you --

MS HARF: I just answered – I just answered your question.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS HARF: I just answered your question. I have not heard anyone – I mean, if you look at these emails in general, a lot them are discussions about the political dynamics or the situation in Libya at the time, the security situation in Libya. Some of them are sort of mundane bureaucratic emails that say things like, “Please print for me,” which is not at all unusual. Some of them, as you mentioned, are ones from a friend of hers, from Sid Blumenthal. There – many of them are to aides discussing a variety of issues. So I think you can all look at them for yourselves and make your own judgments, but I certainly feel like that’s our position.

QUESTION: Okay. And then on the Lavrov --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- telephone --

MS HARF: The Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday to follow up on a number of issues that they discussed in Sochi, chief among them the need for Russia to make progress fully implementing its Minsk commitments in Ukraine. They also discussed the need for a genuine political solution in Syria, one where there is no future for Bashar al-Assad in Syria; the ongoing violence in Yemen; and the Arctic Council as well.

QUESTION: Do you know about – do you have independent confirmation that the Iranian cargo ship has actually docked?

MS HARF: I don’t think I do. Let me check on that when I get off of the podium.

QUESTION: Marie, before we move off of this, can you be more specific in terms of Yemen? You mentioned the ongoing violence. Anything more than that from the meeting that you can share?

MS HARF: I don’t have anything more to share from that call.

QUESTION: And on Syria, are you getting on the same page with Russia regarding the future of President Assad?

MS HARF: Well, our position certainly hasn’t changed, that there is no future for Bashar al-Assad. He has lost all legitimacy to lead. And the Russians have, as we’ve always talked about, agreed to the Geneva communique framework for a political transition. So that’s obviously what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: But they read --

MS HARF: I don’t think I have much more on this.

QUESTION: -- the communique differently than the U.S. does.

MS HARF: I just don’t have much more for you on this.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Spratly Islands.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: As you know, Colonel Warren yesterday mentioned that the next step would be for the United States military aircraft to fly within 12 nautical miles of reef. So did the U.S. Government determine this mission and policy to flyover that reef?

MS HARF: Well, U.S. military planes operate in accordance with international law in disputed areas of the South China Sea. This is an important principle. As we are aware and as we saw, I think, on some TV reports, China frequently issues warnings to these aircraft. It’s unclear what basis they issue these warnings on. But the U.S. military has and will continue to operate consistent with the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea in the South China Sea. And I think DOD probably can speak more to it.

QUESTION: Even within 12 nautical miles?

MS HARF: For those specifics, I’d check with DOD.

QUESTION: Okay, one more. As you know, Chinese Government express a strong dissatisfaction and they say they will take necessary measures. Do you have something to say against this?

MS HARF: Well, again, we are sort of unclear on what basis it issued the warnings to the U.S. military plane that’s been referenced in a lot of these reports. As I think you know, Secretary Kerry in Beijing raised the issue of China’s land reclamation, the pace and scope of it, with Chinese leaders across the board, and our concerns about that and the possibility that this could lead to tensions in the region. So it’s an issue we’re very focused on.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS HARF: Anything else?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Burundi. Has there been a change in the U.S. funding for Burundi? In particular, is the U.S. looking at cuts in funding that may impact its involvement in AMISOM?

MS HARF: It’s my understanding there hasn’t been a cut to funding. We continue to support Burundian troops currently in Mogadishu under AMISOM, but due to security concerns inside Burundi, the U.S. has temporarily halted peacekeeping training activities such as the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program. Continued instability and violence in Burundi, and in particular the commission of human rights violations and abuses by security forces, could jeopardize Burundi’s ability to continue to contribute to the AMISOM peacekeeping mission.

We also, though, I would say, understand that members of the military have largely acted professionally and neutrally during the recent protest. We’re aware of at least two press reports of soldiers being shot and killed while acting to protect civilians during skirmishes with the police, and we, for that, express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of those soldiers.

QUESTION: So clarifying, you’re saying the funding level is the same, it’s just the training is --

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- it’s being --

MS HARF: Due to the security concerns inside Burundi, that’s correct.

QUESTION: And can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: And the peacekeeping --

QUESTION: Have you – did you suspend development aid to Burundi?

MS HARF: I don’t – I haven’t --

QUESTION: I think that some European countries have.

MS HARF: I haven’t heard that we have. Let me triple-check on that.

QUESTION: And the peacekeeping training, that’s specifically for AMISOM?

MS HARF: Let me check on that. Part of it is the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program, but I’m not sure exactly what that goes to, so I can check.

Yes.

QUESTION: The most recent issue causing tension between Japan and South Korea has been over whether the United Nations recognizes certain sites as historically significant. I guess, A, do you know what I’m talking about? But, B, if you do, do you have any reaction to --

MS HARF: I do, I do. It came up during some of our meetings there. Yes.

QUESTION: Do you know – do you have a statement on that?

MS HARF: I’m not – I don’t know if we have any response at the moment. Let me check with our team and see if we do.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: Yes. But I am aware of the issue you’re referring to with UNESCO.

Anything else? Bless you. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Happy Memorial Day. Thank you.

MS HARF: Everyone have a very good Memorial Day weekend, a happy and safe one. Remember the reason we have this holiday.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:00 p.m.)

DPB # 90


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 21, 2015

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 16:15

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 21, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:44 p.m. EDT

MS HARF: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS HARF: Almost a full front row here. Banner day.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS HARF: Hi. Oh, good to have you.

I have nothing at the top. On your toes, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: Kick us off.

QUESTION: Well, I wanted to start with something that is not the biggest news of the day, but I want to get it out of the way, because I think that you won’t have a whole lot to say about it, and that is --

MS HARF: Great.

QUESTION: -- what can you tell us about this State Department employee in London who has apparently been charged in Atlanta for sextortion?

MS HARF: The individual named in this case was a locally hired administrative support employee who was not a member of the Foreign Service. As of May 18th, the individual is no longer working at the embassy. I can’t comment on criminal cases, obviously; would refer you to DOJ for anything further.

QUESTION: So that means that they were not employed as a result of the charges?

MS HARF: I don’t have more than that to share with you.

QUESTION: And May 18th is not that long ago.

MS HARF: I don’t have more to share with you.

QUESTION: Because he was arrested on the 17th, so that would make sense.

MS HARF: I’m happy for you to keep giving me facts that have been reported. I don’t have anything additional to share with you.

QUESTION: All right.

MS HARF: Yeah, keep --

QUESTION: One more question on that. What --

MS HARF: I don’t have more to share with you, but you’re happy to ask. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Marie. Is – do you have a title for him? Was – did he have an official title?

MS HARF: I – If you were listening, I just said --

QUESTION: No, no, I – no, I was listening. I’m asking for the title.

MS HARF: He was a locally hired administrative support employee.

QUESTION: That was his title? Okay.

MS HARF: That’s what I have. That’s – all I have about him I just read to you.

QUESTION: What – just – this isn’t about him specifically, but what is an administrative support employee in general?

MS HARF: I’m happy to check if there’s more.

QUESTION: All right. So --

MS HARF: Someone who provides administrative support.

QUESTION: Well yeah, but – I know. Does that mean like --

MS HARF: I don’t know.

QUESTION: -- data entry or whatever?

MS HARF: I do not know.

QUESTION: Anyway, he was not a Foreign Service officer and no longer employed.

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: Fair enough. Okay.

Right, so let’s go to the Cuba talks this morning.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Are they over, and if --

MS HARF: I don’t have --

QUESTION: Even if they’re not --

MS HARF: Yes. I don’t have a readout for folks yet on what’s happened today. Hopefully we’ll get one later today or tomorrow morning.

QUESTION: Were you expecting going into these talks that there would – you would have a – that this would be the round to get something --

MS HARF: I don’t think we were expecting that, no.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Are you suggesting the talks will run into tomorrow possibly?

MS HARF: No, I wasn’t suggesting that. I was saying I don’t – I may not – I’ll get a readout as quickly as I can and if we can’t get it tonight, we’ll get it tomorrow.

QUESTION: You don’t know if they’ve broken for lunch, if they --

MS HARF: I’m sorry, I don’t. I’ve been running around in other meetings.

QUESTION: Marie, I just want to clarify – did you say you were not expecting there to be some kind of framework or any deal from this round?

MS HARF: I’m not sure what will come out of it. Honestly, I don’t want to get ahead of the talks. As we have more to share, we will.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say the U.S. is closer to saying yes to a deal than Cuba at this point?

MS HARF: I don’t think I want to do that kind of speculation given the talks are ongoing. I think we’ll probably have more to say when they conclude.

QUESTION: Can you give us an update of how far the talks got today? Did they cover a large --

MS HARF: I don’t have any other readout from today.

QUESTION: -- group of subjects or not?

MS HARF: I don’t have any more readout from today. Again, we’ll have more to share shortly, I think.

QUESTION: Go to Iraq?

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Now that there are some calls to sort of arm the Sunnis – the Sunni tribes – and there was calls in the past to arm the Kurds in the north, it seems like there is a division where Russia is arming the Shias and you guys are arming the Sunni. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?

MS HARF: I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. We’ve provided an enormous amount of assistance through the central Iraqi Government, who has been working very closely with the Kurdish forces, with the Peshmerga; with their national forces, who are – who we think should be doing this fighting here. So obviously, that’s what we’ve been focused on.

QUESTION: So I know you talked about this before, but in terms of what’s going on in Ramadi now, you are quite fine with having the Popular Mobilization, which are the Shia militias, taking a major part in the liberation of Ramadi?

MS HARF: Well, I think I’d say a few things. First is that I understand that the prime minister and the folks leading this effort have been working with the government – within the government, the different sectarian pieces of it – to make sure everyone is okay with the different forces they have helping fight this fight when it comes to Ramadi, and they’ve been doing this, I think, in a fairly transparent and open way. We’ve always said that this needs to be all coordinated under control – command and control of the government forces. That’s been something that’s very important to us as well.

QUESTION: Seeing how those who assumed responsibility for defending Ramadi and Anbar were basically Sunni tribes – and I know them, I know how they work and so on. They’ve had a lot of grievances in the past. Maybe you should have sort of direct talks with them independent of the government?

MS HARF: Direct talks with who?

QUESTION: Direct with the tribal Sunni leaders.

MS HARF: Well, we’re certainly talking to tribal leaders directly.

QUESTION: I mean much like General Petraeus did back during the Awakening.

MS HARF: Well, it’s a very different situation, and I would caution people from drawing too many direct parallels. But we certainly have direct conversations with tribal leaders, absolutely.

QUESTION: And you are willing to supply them directly with arms?

MS HARF: All of our assistance has to be coordinated and gone through the central government, who is working very closely with these tribal leaders.

QUESTION: Same topic.

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: No --

MS HARF: Same topic? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Is it on Syria?

MS HARF: That was a very emphatic “no.” (Laughter.) Hello.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS HARF: Playing the role of Arshad today. Same topic?

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, related to ISIL and the coalition fight.

MS HARF: Okay. Is your question also on this? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Thanks. Just on the reports that – not only on Ramadi but also that ISIL has taken Palmyra in Syria as well. Is there any thinking that this calls for a re-evaluation of the coalition’s strategy given that ISIL seems to gaining a lot of momentum here in both Iraq and Syria?

MS HARF: Well, a few points. First, if you look at the overall picture, ISIL’s lost about 25 percent of the populated area it has – it controlled at the beginning of this conflict. So if you look at the --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS HARF: In Iraq, correct. In Iraq. So if you look at the overall picture, there have been gains made against ISIL, particularly in Iraq. And we always have been clear – very clear – that there will be ebbs and flows here, and there will be days like we’ve seen with Ramadi, and this is going to be a very contested fight. There will be days – again, like we saw in Ramadi; there will be more of them. But overall, if you look at the general trajectory, we have helped the Iraqis push them back out of territory in Iraq. It doesn’t mean there’s not going to be a lot of tough days, and that in no way is sort of downplaying the really serious challenge they’re facing in Ramadi. It’s a serious one.

QUESTION: Okay. (Inaudible.)

MS HARF: But I think the national security team continues to meet and talk and evaluate the strategy and what it looks like going forward, as we always do.

QUESTION: I guess my question was – I appreciate the response. I guess my question was not relating to Iraq per se but more in the --

MS HARF: In Syria?

QUESTION: -- overall in Syria as well, given that the current status quo tends to be that ISIL is gaining not only in Iraq but also in Syria.

MS HARF: Well, I don’t think overall ISIL’s gaining in Iraq if you look at the overall picture. But when we talk about Syria, that’s a little bit of a different challenge. We’ve been very focused on helping the Iraqis push ISIL out of Iraq. We’ve been now training and equipping Syrian opposition forces to get better at fighting inside Syria. That’s going to take a little more time here. So Syria is a bit of a bigger challenge, and we know that.

QUESTION: And then the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says now that ISIL controls more than half of the territory of Syria. Is that you assessment as --

MS HARF: We don’t agree with their calculations on this. We certainly don’t deny that ISIL holds significant territory in Syria, but we don’t agree with those calculations.

QUESTION: What – do you have an alternative calculation to offer?

MS HARF: Let me see if we have one we can share.

QUESTION: 49 percent?

MS HARF: I’m happy to check. I don’t think we’re being too cute by half there, so to speak.

QUESTION: Can I --

MS HARF: I think it’s a lot different, but let me check.

QUESTION: Can I pick up on the question --

MS HARF: Wait. Did – Lesley, did you have a question?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS HARF: Sorry.

QUESTION: It actually was – I was asking because these questions were good. But I was also going to ask about that human rights group because that’s what they say.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: But then you also said that you’re looking – reviewing the strategy. How far along is that review of the strategy and --

MS HARF: To be clear, there’s no formal strategy review. This is an ongoing process we always have of taking stock of what’s happening the battlefield in a variety of places and how best strategically and tactically to approach the situation. So I do want to be very clear: There’s no formal strategy review here. It’s really just part of an ongoing process of looking at what’s happening on the battlefield and determining the best way to go forward.

QUESTION: Marie, what – why isn’t there a formal strategy review?

MS HARF: Because we have in place a strategy that we believe is the right one to eventually achieve our goals. And in Iraq, for example – we’ve talked a lot about Ramadi, and that is a serious setback – we have had success in helping the Iraqis push ISIL out of a lot of its territory. And that in a long conflict like this, there will be days like we saw in Ramadi and there will be ebbs and flows. But we believe the strategy we have is the right one, is the right framework moving forward.

QUESTION: So you think that these are short – both Ramadi and Palmyra are going to be short-term gains for --

MS HARF: We believe that ISIL eventually will be defeated in Ramadi and elsewhere in Iraq. Yes, we do.

QUESTION: What about in Syria?

MS HARF: That’s a tougher challenge. That’s certainly the goal. That requires a little bit different tools here, but it requires us continuing to support the opposition. It’s a tougher challenge, certainly, but that is also our goal there.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you believe ISIS is on the defensive, as the Pentagon said last week? They used the word “defensive.”

MS HARF: Well, I think this is a situation – again, and I’m not a military expert – but where on the battlefield things ebb and flow. And in certain places they absolutely are on the defensive. If you look at the populated areas we’ve pushed them out of – helped the Iraqis push them out of, I should say – they certainly are in a number of places. But we also saw a very aggressive offensive from them in Ramadi, and if you look at what was happening on the ground and what the Iraqi forces encountered, it was a very, very significant offensive from ISIL. And we’ve always said they have quite a bit of capability still, even as they’re pushed back, much more than groups, for example, like AQI ever had. So we know this is going to be a tough fight here.

Yes.

QUESTION: But Marie, can I pick up on the – there may be no formal review of the strategy --

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But yesterday a senior State Department official briefed a few reporters and said you are taking an extremely hard look --

MS HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- at what happened.

MS HARF: We do – and we do that all the time, right? When you look at different piece – different times during this conflict, whether it was Mount Sinjar, whether it was retaking Mosul Dam, whether it’s – there’s different sort of flash points in this conflict where we do prudently take a look at the strategy and tactics and what’s best moving forward. That is true. And that, I think, is indicative of the fact that we are not sugarcoating what happened in Ramadi here and how it is very serious.

QUESTION: So what about on Palmyra, how concerned is the Administration about the loss of Palmyra – or capture?

MS HARF: In the same way – in the same way we’ve talked about the destruction or possible destruction of other historic sites, whether it’s in Iraq or Syria, we’ve spoken out very strongly against this. And that’s certainly a concern. Palmyra has been caught in the crossfire of this fighting for some time now, as have other sites, so it’s obviously of great concern.

QUESTION: I mean, are you calling – are you trying to coordinate with UNESCO or some other bodies in any kind of bid to stop any potential destruction of these sites?

MS HARF: I think it’s challenging. I mean, when you talk about who could stop ISIL from destroying them, I think that’s a pretty challenging thing to do. We’ve certainly called on them not to. This is a tough fight here, though.

QUESTION: Marie, I just want to follow up on the issue of strategy. I mean, ISIS – apparently, it has a strategy. I mean, now they control a large geography, probably larger than any other Arab country in Asia, except for Saudi Arabia. So they do have --

MS HARF: I’m not sure your square footage is right there, Said.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, look --

MS HARF: But continue.

QUESTION: They control whatever, half of Syria. They control large portions of Iraq.

MS HARF: We don’t think they control half of Syria.

QUESTION: Fine. I mean, they control large areas, bigger than many of the countries in the Arab world. They seem to have a solid strategy. That’s not a ragtag kind of hit-and-run operation. So why not --

MS HARF: We have never said they were ragtag. We have never said that.

QUESTION: So they do have a – basically, they do have an address, they have a place, they have command and control, obviously. Why not have a strategy that is just as robust to fight them?

MS HARF: We have a strategy that’s more robust. And can I tell you what it’s done? It’s taken out parts of their command and control. It’s taken out their communications. It’s taking out their majority funding source when it comes to taking out the oil, including in Syria. So we have a strategy that is choking off their funding, that is taking off their fighters, that is taking – cutting off ways for them to get more foreign fighters, that’s taking them off the battlefield every single day, including right now – the U.S. Air Force that is operating in and around Ramadi searching for ISIL targets and is going to do so until Ramadi is retaken. So I can assure you that that’s a strategy and that’s one we’re going to keep pursuing.

QUESTION: My last question on this: Are you disturbed by the fact that they are using U.S.-supplied weapons and now you are going to give them even more shoulder-carried rockets and so on?

MS HARF: Who’s “they”? Sorry. Who are you referring to?

QUESTION: ISIS, ISIL. I’m sorry. ISIL --

MS HARF: Well – yeah.

QUESTION: ISIL was using American-supplied weapons, and now you’re going to supply more sort of shoulder-carried rockets and anti-tank missiles and so on that may very well fall into their hands.

MS HARF: I think the Pentagon has spoken to some of the specifics there on the specific weapons. But of course, any time weapons that we provide to a partner falls into the hands of someone like ISIL, that’s something that’s very disturbing to us. Of course, that is. So --

QUESTION: Marie?

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: What’s your reaction to the visit today by --

QUESTION: Sorry – before we move on, can I just ask a question on Iraq before we move on?

MS HARF: We’re still working on Iraq, actually, I think.

QUESTION: Sorry, I thought that a visit --

MS HARF: No, I think it’s the visit to Iraq, right?

QUESTION: My apologies.

MS HARF: I think it’s the visit of the prime minister of Iraq.

QUESTION: The prime minister of Iraq’s visit to Moscow today insisted on --

MS HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: He said some powers asked – discouraged him from going to Russia, but he insisted because he wanted to stress the importance of his interest in cooperation and cooperating with Russia and getting support from them.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, if he’s asking for full support from Russia, will the U.S. welcome the Russians to be part of the coalition against ISIL?

MS HARF: Well, they’re not, I think, technically a part of the coalition. And we understand this was a long-planned trip by the prime minister as he continues to expand relationships with Iraq and other countries around the world. Iraq certainly has the right to pursue military equipment from Russia and a variety of countries to fulfill their legitimate defense needs. We’ve long said every country can play a role in degrading and defeating ISIL. As you know, we and Iraq have a long, growing, very large FMS sales program to Iraq. We provide things to Iraq that no one else can. So I think that’s certainly what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: Any U.S. official talked with Abadi before – after the fall of Ramadi?

MS HARF: Has anyone spoken to the prime minister?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS HARF: I am guessing we have. We’ve been in contact with a variety of Iraqi officials since the fall of Ramadi. I am happy to check and see specifically who that is.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: Matt.

QUESTION: I just had two brief ones. One, in terms of the question that you were just asked a little while ago about Palmyra and what your concerns are, yeah, I – there are monuments there that are historic, priceless.

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- but your concerns are broader than that, right?

MS HARF: Of course.

QUESTION: I mean, there are people there as well. I mean, live human beings. So it’s not just --

MS HARF: Of course, we’re concerned about the fate of the residents there.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: Of course. People are tending to ask about the historic sites, though. That’s why I referenced them.

QUESTION: Yeah. But let me just point out there are people there and there’s pictures of butchery and slaughter in the streets, so --

MS HARF: Including people being held at a prison there. I think a pretty notorious prison, and --

QUESTION: Correct. So I just wanted to make sure that there is a concern.

MS HARF: Yes. Believe me, there is.

QUESTION: And then the second thing is you kept repeating over and over that there will be days like this – meaning, I presume, bad days.

MS HARF: Right.

QUESTION: How many more of these bad days are you guys prepared to accept? I mean, can you foresee a time when Baghdad is threatened or Damascus or, I mean --

MS HARF: I’m just not going to speculate on that. I’m really not.

QUESTION: But you’re prepared to --

MS HARF: I’m really not.

QUESTION: But you said before that you’re prepared to accept these kind of short-term – bad days without reviewing --

MS HARF: Not to accept --

QUESTION: Hold on.

MS HARF: -- but that we understand --

QUESTION: Well --

MS HARF: -- they will happen.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, that’s an acceptance of a kind. And you say there’s no formal review of the strategy.

MS HARF: True.

QUESTION: So how many more bad days do there – are they – will it take for there to be a review of the strategy?

MS HARF: Matt, I mean, if you talk about a strategy for how you fight a conflict, built into any strategy is the fact that every day isn’t going to be a day you win or a good day on the battlefield. Look at any conflict we’ve had throughout history. If every time there was a setback on the battlefield we redid our entire strategy, what would that have looked like? That’s just not common sense.

QUESTION: I don’t know what it would’ve looked like but this is --

MS HARF: But it’s just not common sense here.

QUESTION: But you’re --

MS HARF: Look, overall ISIL has been put – has continued to be pushed back out of populated areas. They’ve lost about 25 percent of that populated area that they used to hold. That’s the right trajectory. We’re going to help the Iraqis retake Ramadi. In the 96-plus hours since they lost Ramadi they’ve regrouped on the outside of town. We’ve helped them consolidate those lines. We’re helping them plan for a counter attack. So we’ll keep watching this going forward here, but built into any military strategy is the fact that there will be setbacks.

QUESTION: Right. But as you look at the – whether or not the 25 percent that you and others have said, in terms of populated areas --

MS HARF: Right.

QUESTION: -- if you look at the territory that ISIS controls as a red blotch between Iraq and Syria, the blotch is getting bigger, is it not?

MS HARF: We – I’m not sure about that. Let me check on that. We believe we are – in Iraq, we are pushing them out of territory.

QUESTION: Right. Well, in Iraq and Syria --

MS HARF: I understand, but --

QUESTION: -- the bleeding is – I mean, the red is getting bigger.

MS HARF: The strategy is a little different in each – the challenge is a little different in each place. That’s why I’m distinguishing between the two.

Yes.

QUESTION: It’s just two questions. I’m sorry if you have already responded to them, because I came a little bit late. The first one about – just about the strategy. The strategy is called “degrade and defeat ISIL.”

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: But now – like, how would you – what would you tell Iraqis when they might ask you how significant have you degraded ISIL over the past 10 months since you started bombing ISIL?

MS HARF: Well, I think we’ve talked about some of the metrics in here, whether it’s pushing them out of territory they’ve held in populated areas, which we’ve helped them do; whether it’s cutting off their communication; taking out parts of their command and control; taking out their leaders; cutting off their main source of funding, which was oil, and which is no longer their main source of funding because of our military action. There are all these different ways we look at whether we’re making progress. Is it a tough fight? Yes. But you can see tangible progress in places. There have been setbacks, as we’ve seen in Ramadi, but if you look at retaking Mount Sinjar, retaking Mosul Dam, there are things you can point to over the last 10 months, almost a year now, to point to that.

QUESTION: Would you say the gains outweigh the setbacks?

MS HARF: Well, I’m just not – I would say that the gains outweigh the setbacks, but at some point it doesn’t matter until the goal is met, which is that we degrade and defeat ISIL.

QUESTION: One more question about the Popular Mobilization Forces.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I just want to have a clear – your clear position on that. I know you had been reluctant in the fight for Tikrit to cooperate or coordinate with them because they’re backed by Iran. But now in the fight for Ramadi, what’s your position exactly about their participation, which has been asked by Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi?

MS HARF: Well, and I addressed that a little bit, but basically it’s that the prime minister consulting with the different parts of his government and representatives of the different sectarian pieces of the country have talked about this, about them being part of this effort. We think everything needs to be under Iraqi command and control, obviously, as it can be on the ground, and that this is really an ongoing process here that Prime Minister Abadi is running, and we’ll be watching it.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS HARF: I think – let’s go to the back now.

QUESTION: Thank you. You’ve talked a lot about strategy, Marie, and clearly there have been some successes. You say you’re pushing them out of the populated areas. Was the strategy wrong, though, that you lost the strategically significant town of Ramadi? I mean, it’s given you a huge public relations disaster and it’s also deflated many people because they don’t think that you are actually now on top of the war against ISIL. It has given them a massive boost, and may actually help with the recruitment.

MS HARF: Who is them? Who are you --

QUESTION: ISIL.

MS HARF: -- who has it deflated?

QUESTION: I think we both understand I’m talking about ISIL. It’s not just random men.

MS HARF: Who has it deflated? I guess I’m trying to – pundits, or who? You --

QUESTION: Well, the Iraqis. It can’t be great --

MS HARF: Okay. Okay.

QUESTION: -- for them to see the strategic, important town of Ramadi being lost when the U.S. military is there in an advisory and training capacity, and has, in your own words, has this strategy on how to beat ISIL.

MS HARF: Well, I think the Iraqis, first of all, over the last 10 months have actually seen the Iraqi armed forces, backed up by the U.S., have many successes as well. They’ve seen them retake Mosul Dam. They’ve seen them retake Mount Sinjar. They’ve seen them push ISIL out of 25 percent of the territory it used to hold in populated areas, and now there are all these people who live in those areas who are no longer living under ISIL. I also think the Iraqi people – and I don’t pretend to speak for them; I know you just were, but – see that the Iraqi army on the outskirts of Ramadi now, unlike what we saw in Mosul, has held their positions outside of Ramadi. They’re consolidating those lines. We’re helping them plan for a counterattack. We have aircraft flying over Ramadi, and hopefully we will be able to help them retake Ramadi.

I think the Iraqi people understand this is going to be a long and tough fight, and they see the kind of enemy they’re up against; they see the United States standing there with them, helping them have some success, and when there are setbacks, helping them recover and helping them push forward.

QUESTION: Let me just follow up on that. And I don’t claim to speak for the Iraqi people, although I have seen quotes from Iraqi people, including Iraqi people who saw their army run from Ramadi on – when ISIL moved in and who saw police officers going around asking businesses and locals for money to buy weapons because they didn’t have enough weapons to defend themselves or their city. How does that fit into the U.S. strategy?

MS HARF: Well, I think what our experts tell me is that when the Iraqi army faced the ISIL challenge in Ramadi, it was actually very different, for example, from the situation they faced in ISIL[1], where we did talk about people basically just putting down their weapons and fleeing. That’s not actually what happened in Ramadi. They engaged in a very serious and sustained fight against ISIL. It was one where they were overpowered by an incredibly strong and well-armed challenge from ISIL. So they retreated outside of the city, they are regrouping. That doesn’t mean this wasn’t a big setback. Nobody’s sugarcoating that. But I think in a conflict like this, you have ebbs and flows on the battlefield, and what matters ultimately is if we can get back on track, get the Iraqi army back on track and help them retake Ramadi.

QUESTION: So you’re not degrading to the extent where they can’t launch major offensives to retake an important strategic city?

MS HARF: Well, certainly this is a process to degrade them. We’ve degraded their capabilities in a number of areas. As I said, we’ve cut off their main source of funding. That’s having an impact. We’re taking fighters off the battlefield every single day. That’s having an impact. But we’ve always said that ISIL is incredibly capable. They’re much more capable than AQI ever was, for example, and they have the ability to launch these kinds of attacks. But every day we are degrading that ability. And we’re going to keep doing it, the Iraqis are going to keep doing it, and ultimately we believe they will be defeated.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in Iraq have said that 6,000 Iraqi troops were defeated by as many as 150 ISIS fighters (inaudible). Is that --

MS HARF: I saw some of those numbers. I just can’t confirm them. I’ve seen them. I’m happy to check with our team again.

QUESTION: Do you have your own assessment?

MS HARF: I’m happy to check with our team.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have confidence in the ability of the Iraqi armed forces that you have trained and spent billions of dollars on?

MS HARF: We do, we do. Look, this is a tough fight. This is a tough fight.

QUESTION: Yeah. But certainly they are better armed, better equipped, better supplied --

MS HARF: They’re better armed, they’re better trained.

QUESTION: -- than the ISIS fighters?

MS HARF: And we actually saw that in the difference between what happened in Mosul and what happened in Ramadi. That doesn’t mean this wasn’t a huge setback. But look, we’re focused on how we can keep making them better.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you this last question on Ramadi, because it seems that the armed forces in Ramadi are composed of Sunni tribes. And maybe they have their allegiance with ISIL. I mean, have you ever considered that? Perhaps structuring an army that is based on sectarian divides is wrong?

MS HARF: I haven’t heard that, Said, and I just don’t want to sort of go down that road.

Yes, Matt, and then Justin.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up.

QUESTION: Well, I just want to – I mean, all this talk about degrading them and the strategy is working --

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and that you’re taking fighters off the battlefield every day and that you cut back – cut off their source of revenue. It strikes me as somewhat contradictory that if they are being degraded, how is it that they have managed to capture these two significant cities? Granted, the circumstances are different. I mean, it doesn’t seem to --

MS HARF: Because they still have significant capabilities. They came in with a lot of capabilities; we have degraded a lot --

QUESTION: All right.

MS HARF: -- but there’s still a lot of work to do.

QUESTION: All right.

MS HARF: I think you’re familiar with how long these conflicts can take sometimes. This is a very well-equipped group.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on what’s just taken place now, that the tribal fighters have said that Islamic State has just over-run the Iraqi Government defenses east of Ramadi.

MS HARF: I hadn’t seen that. I’m happy to check with our folks on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: Justin.

QUESTION: Marie, on --

MS HARF: I’m going to go to Justin first.

QUESTION: Well, this is on a different subject, so --

MS HARF: Oh, well, then, let’s finish Iraq first.

QUESTION: I have a question on ISIL for you.

MS HARF: Yeah, or ISIL.

QUESTION: This week, Fred Hof of the Atlantic Council wrote a piece that said that the operational absence of the Obama Administration in protecting the Syrian civilians and that, quote, “willingness of the Obama Administration to make do with moralistic rhetoric about Assad regime war crimes and crimes against humanity.” How should we interpret such criticism that the Obama Administration has been – inaction or has been absent in helping the Syrian civilians?

MS HARF: Well, I mean, I just fundamentally disagree with the notion. I think if you look at what Secretary Kerry, what the President, what Ambassador Power at the UN have both spoken up on and done to support the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people who are caught in the middle of a conflict between a number of different actors here, under very difficult circumstances – I think that I just disagree with that notion.

Justin.

QUESTION: I have one before --

MS HARF: On Iraq?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS HARF: Let’s finish Iraq on this one.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you. Has the U.S. determined that the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq are under the control of the ISF? And does that mean that airstrikes can only be called in by the ISF? Or if the U.S. believes the militias are being managed by the ISF, will the militias be able to call in airstrikes?

MS HARF: Iraqi airstrikes? Because only U.S. can call in U.S. airstrikes.

QUESTION: That’s right.

MS HARF: Are you talking about Iraqi airstrikes?

QUESTION: So – well, okay. So – then I’ll go to my first question. Has the U.S. determined that the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq are under control of the ISF?

MS HARF: That’s certainly what we’ve said needs to – I’m happy to check with our team and see what the latest is on that.

QUESTION: Okay. But we haven’t, like – okay.

MS HARF: I just don’t have an answer. I’ll check.

Yes, Justin.

QUESTION: Okay. I want to go to our favorite subject, Clinton emails.

MS HARF: Great.

QUESTION: Would – I know that you’ve seen the New York Times piece today, and my first question about it is they actually link to electronic copies of these emails. Can you confirm or deny that those emails that they link on their website are, in fact, the Benghazi-related emails from Clinton’s email account?

MS HARF: So a couple of points. First, I can neither confirm nor deny the authenticity of the documents published by The New York Times. The department has not shared Secretary Clinton’s emails with any news organizations. Some of the folks have asked that as well. I can also say that we will be releasing very, very soon the first set we said we would release of the documents that have already been provided to the committee that are related to Benghazi, as we talked about under the FOIA process with FOIA standards. We will be doing that very, very soon.

QUESTION: Okay. And just --

MS HARF: And we can all have that discussion then, I’m sure.

QUESTION: And I’m sure we will, right. So a little bit of a refresher to things I know that we talked about and asked about a few weeks ago when this first came about, but one of the things that we need to get a good sense of is whether it is against policy or permissible for an employee such as the secretary of state to be sending sensitive but unclassified email through a nongovernment email account. Is that permissible or is that problematic?

MS HARF: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the specifics and talk about something that’s online. In general, sensitive but unclassified information, to remind folks as a refresher, is not a classification designation. It’s not a national security classification. Several different categories of information can be considered SBU. There’s really a range that’s pretty expansive of what can be considered SBU. There is a difference between information that’s sort of not appropriate for posting online versus information that could damage our security. I think we’ve talked about this as well. We’ve talked about the fact that in general, when possible, SBU should be handled in certain ways. We’ve talked about this numerous times in here as well.

But as we’ve also said, it is permissible under limited circumstances to use personal email for unclassified purposes, and again, SBU is not a classification.

QUESTION: Do you have any concern --

MS HARF: We do have – I would say, though, and we’ve talked about this and we’ll get into this more, I’m sure – but we do have systems and rules designed to protect that information, and employees in general are instructed to use that system. But it’s worth noting that from time to time, employees may use their judgment to send SBU information over a non-SBU system. That’s also written into our rules.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: So do you have any concerns that – does this department have any concerns that the secretary of state was receiving and sending sensitive information to outside advisors such as Sidney Blumenthal --

MS HARF: Well --

QUESTION: -- about Chris Stevens whereabout and the danger that he was in?

MS HARF: Again, I’m not going to get into any way the contents of what has been posted online by The New York Times. We will, as we have promised to do, be releasing this first tranche of Secretary Clinton’s emails, the ones that have already been for months provided to the select committee, and I’m sure we will have many conversations about the contents then.

QUESTION: Isn’t there a distinction then between sending around SBU material using a non-State system to outside of the network recipients versus inside the network? In other words, basically to that question, to Jackie’s question, is that permissible?

MS HARF: I’m just not going to get into the specifics until we --

QUESTION: Well, not asking specifically about what she may or may not have done --

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- but in general, when you’re dealing with SBU under those limited permissible circumstances where you can use your nongovernment email, is there some restriction on sharing that with other nongovernment emails?

MS HARF: Well, as I said, the FAM acknowledges that – the Foreign Affairs Manual, sorry, the FAM – acknowledges that employees may from time to time use their judgment to send SBU information over a non-SBU system. And I would also note there’s a difference between sending it and receiving it as well.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

QUESTION: No, hold on just one second. You said that they --

QUESTION: Staying on this --

MS HARF: Wait, I think Matt has one.

QUESTION: -- they’re going to be released very, very soon. Like, in the next 30 seconds or so? (Laughter.) Can you be a little bit more specific?

MS HARF: Well, if it’s released in the next 30 seconds, then I’m just going to run away from this podium.

QUESTION: Can --

MS HARF: No. I can’t be more specific, but I assure you it will be – it will be – as soon as we are finished with this, we hope to get – to get them out.

QUESTION: Over the weekend?

QUESTION: All right. Well – yeah, before the --

MS HARF: I’m just not going to have more specifics in the briefing.

QUESTION: I mean, we’re talking about Memorial Day weekend here. Is this --

MS HARF: And I am going to the Indy 500, as I do every year this weekend. So you all know my plans. So believe me, we won’t be releasing them on Saturday or Sunday or Monday.

QUESTION: Or Monday?

MS HARF: Or Monday. But they will be released very soon. So when we have more to share on that, we can.

QUESTION: All right. And once – and once they are released, let’s just assume for a second – and I know you don’t want to assume anything – that the documents that were published today by The New York Times are, in fact, correct. So --

MS HARF: Well, I – let me – let me say --

QUESTION: -- once you’ve put --

MS HARF: Wait, let me speak to that generally, though, before you ask your question. In general, the documents – these 290-some emails that were provided to the committee were provided with very, almost no redactions that were not under FOIA standards, under an agreement with the committee to do so. When ours – when these are released through the FOIA process, there will be FOIA exemptions in there. So just to – there’s a different standard between what goes to Congress that doesn’t go to the public, and what is released under the standard FOIA process that is governed by that regulation. So when her emails are released, just to set expectations, there will be things exempted under the standard FOIA process.

QUESTION: So you’re suggesting, then, that these emails that were published today came from the committee?

MS HARF: I’m not suggesting anything.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Well --

MS HARF: I am not --

QUESTION: -- now can we go back to my question?

MS HARF: I am saying the department has not released any emails.

QUESTION: Fair enough.

MS HARF: I am not --

QUESTION: But once --

MS HARF: I’ve learned never to guess where things come from in anonymous stories anymore.

QUESTION: But once you have put them all out --

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- with your redactions in them --

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- you --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- will be able to talk about --

MS HARF: The content.

QUESTION: -- the contents --

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and whether or not – and provide more specific answers --

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- to Justin’s questions about --

MS HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- SBU information?

MS HARF: And about content in them. Absolutely. That is correct. And I look forward to doing that.

QUESTION: But at the – but at the moment, until that happens --

MS HARF: I will not --

QUESTION: -- it’s basically a waste of our time to continue to ask about --

MS HARF: I would never use that term about your questions, Matt. But I’m not going to be able to answer them.

QUESTION: Turkey?

QUESTION: Staying on the emails?

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS HARF: Last email question.

QUESTION: Okay. Last, but the best. (Laughter.)

MS HARF: It’s a high bar for yourself; you have to live up to it now.

QUESTION: After the recent Newsmaker event at the press club, there were four experts who did give their views, including Jason Baron, the former director of NARA, the National Archives. And they argued that the basic system is flawed, that most of --

MS HARF: Overall in the government?

QUESTION: Yes. That different departments are not putting enough money for saving or archiving these records. And you know that the new rule that’s coming in – by 2016, 2019.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And so how far the State Department has put funds, is working on it? Because --

MS HARF: No, and that’s a very good question. And we’ve talked a lot about how even over the course of Secretary Clinton’s tenure, different guidances kept coming out, things kept having to be clarified by NARA and others because the regulations or – were unclear, they were contradictory. There just wasn’t a lot of clarity. So this has been an ongoing process that the federal government has been undertaking for many years. We have certainly – you referenced the new guidelines. It is something that has historically across the government, I think, probably been underfunded as well, because there’s a lot of different priorities here. But I think Secretary Kerry – I know Secretary Kerry, having spoken to him about this; and he sent the letter to the inspector general, if you all remember – feels very strongly that we at the State Department need to take a hard look at how we do everything from records management to retention to FOIA requests and really see how we can get more efficient, how we can improve our processes, given the changing nature of technology, given the sheer amount of – volume of electronic records we all have now. And I think that’s something he’s been very focused on going forward.

QUESTION: So you think the State Department will meet the deadlines, 2016, 2019?

MS HARF: I certainly have not heard otherwise.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: I’m sorry that I got in late. It is about another topic.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Is there any progress with the conversation with Cuba?

MS HARF: So I addressed this a little bit at the beginning.

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MS HARF: No, no, no, it’s okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: But you’re lucky, because I said I didn’t have any update, so you didn’t miss anything. Talks are ongoing and we’ll get you a readout as soon as we can. I’m sorry, I don’t have an update for the briefing.

QUESTION: While we’re on that, can I just throw in another?

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Going into today’s talks, since you don’t have a readout --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- would you say that the main outstanding issue was the legality of the training courses being offered at the U.S. interests section in Havana? And is the United States willing to reach some kind of agreement with the Cuban Government – say, the education ministry – on how those courses are run?

MS HARF: I think, just candidly, there are a number of outstanding issues on each side. I wouldn’t want to say that there was one outstanding issue, and I’ll look forward to getting more of a readout from our team.

Lesley, I think you wanted to go somewhere else.

QUESTION: Yes. I wanted to go to Ukraine.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: And can you confirm and give us a readout on – there’s a conversation – the Russian foreign ministry just said that Kerry spoke to Lavrov this morning?

MS HARF: Yes, they just got off the phone right before I came out here, though, so I don’t have a readout yet. But I will get one for you.

QUESTION: Is it – has anything to do with the – the OSCE said today that the fighting had become worrisome – the spread of violence had become worrisome in eastern Ukraine.

MS HARF: Let me check. Let me check.

Yes.

QUESTION: On this topic.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: There’s been a lot of, over the past few months, instances where you and your colleagues have noted concern about movement of Russian military assets near the border with Ukraine. There was a piece --

MS HARF: Not just near but over the border.

QUESTION: Sure. There was a piece in the Daily Beast a few days ago suggesting that this was Putin gearing up for a major summer offensive against the Ukrainian military. Is there any concern in this building that that could be case, that we could be seeing a real offensive here?

MS HARF: I’m certainly happy to check with our team. All I can tell you – I haven’t heard that, but all I can tell you is that our meetings in Sochi last week – was that last week now? As Secretary Kerry said, the Russians publicly and privately committed to the implementation of Minsk, and that’s what we think they need to do. But I’m happy to see if there’s more to share.

QUESTION: At this point, you’re not yet at the point of saying that the Minsk II agreement is a failure?

MS HARF: No, not at all. In fact, I think the Secretary said that was the best path forward here in terms of de-escalation.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: May I just ask one question about Cuba?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Ukraine --

MS HARF: I think we’re still on Ukraine. Let’s finish Ukraine, and then you can go on.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And just very quickly, the Ukraine parliament annulled five security arrange – agreements that they had with Moscow --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- which were in place – had been in place for some time, and included things like being able to purchase weapons that are only produced in Ukraine.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: These have been suspended since the start of the conflict, but now they’ve annulled them and it makes it – obviously, if they’re going to reinstate them at some future point, they have to go back to parliament. I just wondered if the United States was at all concerned about this move.

MS HARF: Well, given – I think given Russian military intervention in Ukraine, they have – Ukraine has been moving incrementally to slow or halt different forms of military cooperation with Russia. In this case, we understand that the Ukrainian legislature moved to terminate a Ukrainian-Russian agreement allowing the passage of Russian military units temporally stationed in Moldova via Ukrainian territory. We understand, though, that today’s actions in the Rada will not affect military-to-military cooperation within the joint center for control and coordination, which I think we’ve talked about before; nor will it affect the implementation of the Minsk agreements via the trilateral contact group and its working groups, which is, of course, key there.

QUESTION: Can I change topics?

MS HARF: You can.

QUESTION: Okay, Iran.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I just want to go back to something that you said yesterday. I’m sorry, I wasn’t here.

MS HARF: It’s okay.

QUESTION: But on the issue of questioning Iranian scientists, is that – would be like something to undo the whole deal or the whole process if the Iranians insist that their scientists will not be questioned?

MS HARF: Well, as I said – and we’ve said a number of times since Lausanne – we and the Iranians agreed to undertake a process to develop a list for access in terms of the PMD issue. The people and places on that list are an ongoing topic of conversation, but we will not agree to any final agreement that doesn’t meet what we need to get out of that piece of it.

QUESTION: Was that issue not discussed throughout the 18 months of negotiations? Why is it coming up now?

MS HARF: It was – and that’s why we said we agreed to undertake a process to put together a list. It has been discussed.

QUESTION: So you think that the supreme leader by saying they will not be questioned is basically trying to undo the deal?

MS HARF: I’m not going to speculate on that. Look, we are – we don’t negotiate in public. We’ve never said we would negotiate in public. Often different parties say different things in public, but what we’re focused on is what’s agreed to in the negotiating room and ultimately what Iran implements, which we saw in the JPOA, where we also saw various Iranian leaders making different statements, but what mattered was that they implemented it.

QUESTION: Okay. And finally, today there are meetings of technical teams and so on, I assume.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Or tomorrow.

MS HARF: They’ve been ongoing in Vienna.

QUESTION: They’re ongoing, okay.

MS HARF: At the technical level.

QUESTION: So what are they discussing? I mean, would that be one of the issues that they need to arrive at at conclusion?

MS HARF: There’s a number of issues that they’re discussing.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: It seems – I wondered if I could just ask one, because it seems one of the issues or one of the problems might be that the Iranians are asking for a 24-day delay for authorized visits from the --

MS HARF: I thought that the French mentioned that.

QUESTION: Yes, they did. Yes.

MS HARF: Yeah, and that’s – that’s certainly, I think – let me just get what I have on that. What do I have? That the exact details of the inspection regime are still being worked out. We expect to come to a solution that will give us and the IAEA the assurances we need with regards to access and transparency. And as we’ve said all along, if we don’t get what we need, we won’t say yes.

QUESTION: Twenty-four days would be too long, though?

MS HARF: I’m not going to comment on that one way or the other.

QUESTION: Well, why not? I mean, we’ve seen three --

MS HARF: Because I am not going to negotiate in public.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t think this is a negotiation.

MS HARF: Well, commenting on a specific proposal --

QUESTION: Do you think that --

MS HARF: -- on one way or the other would be negotiating in public.

QUESTION: Do you think that three weeks – more than three weeks is – you can still have an inspection that meets your goals with more than three weeks’ notice?

MS HARF: All I can say is we will not accept an inspection regime which we do not agree with.

QUESTION: Okay. And --

MS HARF: And I’m not going to say more than that.

QUESTION: Well, that’s fine, except that that leaves open the idea that the Administration might be willing to accept a 24-day notice --

MS HARF: I didn’t --

QUESTION: -- which I think to anyone – anyone who gets 24 days’ notice of anything, that’s not a snap inspection. That’s not even an inspection that early --

MS HARF: Well, I’m happy to take your position on board back to the negotiating team. But I’m not ruling it in or out. I’m just saying I’m not going to negotiate in public and comment on specific alleged proposals.

QUESTION: Okay. So it would be accurate then to say that the Administration will not rule out a 24-hour – a 24-day --

MS HARF: I think it would be more accurate to say that I wouldn’t comment on it or that I wouldn’t rule it in or out, because you’re assuming there’s a positive side to this when I’m actually trying to stay quite neutral.

QUESTION: Why would you stay neutral on something like that?

MS HARF: Because we don’t negotiate in public, Matt, and we don’t – every time someone said we might --

QUESTION: Marie, this is not the Iranians negotiating --

MS HARF: Wait, wait, let me finish.

QUESTION: This is the French.

MS HARF: Let me finish.

QUESTION: This is your partner in the negotiations --

MS HARF: Wait, let me finish.

QUESTION: -- not the Iranians floating something out there.

MS HARF: As we have always said, every time there’s a specific proposal put out there in public, every single time we are very clear that we’re just not going to say yes or no to specific proposals in public. We do that at the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Well, here’s a proposal that’s been thrown out by the Iranians. They won’t accept any inspections or any interviewing of the scientists, and you say that that’s not acceptable to you.

MS HARF: I said – I’ve said what they agreed to in Lausanne and that we need to get an agreement we are happy with, but I haven’t said what that specifically would look like.

QUESTION: So in other words, it is also possible that the United States could accept a situation in which the Iranians would not allow access to military sites and --

MS HARF: No, I --

QUESTION: Oh. Well, then you’re ruling something out and you’re thereby negotiating in public.

MS HARF: That’s – but that’s a general – look, we outlined the general things we need. Yes, I have said we won’t accept something that doesn’t cut off the plutonium pathway at Arak, just like we won’t accept something that doesn’t give us access and transparency into possible military dimensions of their program. And also we will not accept something less than what we need on access and transparency. I’m not going to get into a number of days and whether or not that’s good or not good or sufficient or not sufficient. That’s a very specific negotiating position that’s different than the general principles guiding our negotiating positions.

QUESTION: Well, I’m --

MS HARF: And I know you understand that. You just want me to weigh in on 24 days.

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: No, no, no, no.

MS HARF: Yes, let’s move on.

QUESTION: I don’t – I don’t understand why saying that a period of time that is longer than three weeks you can’t say would not meet the requirement to have a snap inspection.

MS HARF: Because I’m not going to publicly outline what our requirements are for a very specific --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: -- negotiating detail. Why would I outline that here and not outline it at the negotiating table with the Iranians?

QUESTION: I don’t know. Maybe to stop all the criticism that’s coming at you from people who are very dubious --

MS HARF: If every time --

QUESTION: -- of whether this deal will accomplish what it --

MS HARF: Well, we talk to a lot of those people in closed settings, in classified settings, when we can.

QUESTION: Can I just ask – I asked yesterday when Wendy Sherman was likely to go back. Do you have that?

MS HARF: We don’t know yet, no.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I have a related question?

MS HARF: She’s in Canada today, though.

QUESTION: Can you – this is somewhat related to Iran but not really. It has to do with the NPT and the – and this conference.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: What – can you explain to us what exactly the U.S. position is on convening a conference or for a nuclear free Middle East?

MS HARF: Convening a conference? Well, are you referring to what’s being discussed at the NPT Review Conference?

QUESTION: I’m referring to whatever it is that has got the Israelis so upset this latest time, and why --

MS HARF: At least according to one story.

QUESTION: Right. And why Tom Countryman flew there --

MS HARF: Well, that predated any of this.

QUESTION: Wait -- yeah, but what’s he explaining to --

MS HARF: So the NPT review process is in its final week in New York. There’s no final text on this issue of the Middle East conference. We are working to ensure that a final text meets our interests and those of Israel. Both the United States and Israel support the creation of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. We’re closely working with our Israeli partners to advance our mutual interests, including preserving the NPT. Given there’s no final text, this is something we’re working behind the scenes and don’t have much more to share than that.

QUESTION: Right, but they are – they --

MS HARF: I think I can only do a few more, guys.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: They --

MS HARF: Wait, let’s not all yell at once. I can just only do a few more.

QUESTION: Israeli officials seem to be very concerned that this is somehow going to --

MS HARF: I think that may just be one Israeli official that I’ve seen anonymously talking to one reporter. In the conversations we’ve had with Israeli officials, they understand that we are working to ensure that a final text meets both our interests and those of Israel.

QUESTION: Okay, and that – but what are those interests? And I’m not quite sure I understand why they are so upset about this if in fact there’s no reason --

MS HARF: Why one official anonymously seems to be concerned? I don’t know either. You can call that official.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) follow-up --

MS HARF: Let’s – we’re just going – guys, I can only do a few more.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) a quick follow-up on this.

MS HARF: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah, very quickly. I just – very quickly follow –

MS HARF: Let’s do key questions all at once, though. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On this issue.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In the future, if it ever comes to pass that the Middle East is declared as a nuclear weapons-free zone, it should include Israel, right?

MS HARF: I don’t have much more to share for you than this.

QUESTION: Just one follow up on this?

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: About the conference, do you have any position on whether or not the officials should go to Hiroshima or Nagasaki has been, like, a subject of debate over the past weeks?

MS HARF: I haven’t seen that. Let me check on that.

Actually, I promised I’d go to you on Cuba. Yes.

QUESTION: According to – it’s a question about Cuba, and according to CNN, the Cuban leader Castro said in order to normalize the bilateral relations, the embargo has to be lifted. And from the hearing yesterday, we heard that – we heard a lot of harsh criticism from the senators. So I wonder, how would you guys to work with the Congress to lift the embargo?

MS HARF: Well, I don’t – I didn’t see those reported comments. We’ve been working with the Cubans on the issue of re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening an embassy, so obviously, our position on the embargo is well known. But I think that’s a little separate from the process we’ve been undertaking to re-establish diplomatic relations.

QUESTION: But it looks like the Cuba has a different definition from yours.

MS HARF: I’m not sure that’s true. I’m happy to check.

Yes.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: Quick one on Japan?

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you were asked about the chair of the state duma, Sergei Naryshkin – of Russia – visiting Tokyo and meeting with officials there. Since then, he met with the prime minister. This is – given that this is someone who is under U.S. and EU sanctions, what’s your position on this?

MS HARF: Yeah, I mean – look, in general, I think that as we’ve said to our partners, including Japan, that it’s not time for business as usual with Russia. I think some of the propaganda coming out of – even of just the Secretary’s visit – that somehow this is a way to walk back from our concerns on Ukraine, is just crazy. I was there and that’s absolutely not the case. So in general, I think we’d tell any of our partners this isn’t time for business as usual, particularly on the economic side, and I think that’s certainly what we’ve conveyed to people.

QUESTION: You would prefer that Japan not move forward with preparations for President Putin to visit?

MS HARF: I don’t – again, don’t have much more comment on that, other than to say this isn’t time to do things as we’ve always been doing them with Russia. We work with them when we can, but again, a lot of the meetings last week was about issues where we differ quite a bit.

QUESTION: The prevailing view is that this meeting was to try to make progress on territorial issues that Japan has with Russia. Would that be --

MS HARF: Okay. I’m happy to check on that piece.

QUESTION: Okay, because that’s not an economic --

MS HARF: I’m happy to – yeah, no, no, no, I understand. And we’ve talked a lot about territorial issues, so let me check on that piece.

QUESTION: Just one question on Turkey?

MS HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: There’s this Reuters story today that Turkish intelligence has sent weapons to the rebel-held areas in Syria, and some of which have likely fallen into the extremists’ hands. Have you seen that report?

MS HARF: I’ve seen it, but I’d refer you to the Turks.

Yes, Pam.

QUESTION: But would you be worried if the Turks have actually done that?

MS HARF: I don’t have much more on the report for you.

QUESTION: So you wouldn’t be worried?

MS HARF: Pam, go ahead.

QUESTION: What is your assessment on these reports of the confrontation in the South China Seas between the U.S. surveillance plane and the Chinese military plane? And has the U.S. expressed any concerns to China about this incident?

MS HARF: Well, I don’t – and I saw the video. I don’t think I’d call it a confrontation. There were certainly warnings – verbal warnings – given by the Chinese. It’s unclear on what basis they issued these warnings. U.S. military planes operate in accordance with international law in disputed areas of the South China Sea, so the U.S. military has and will continue to operate consistent with the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea in the South China Sea. Again, it’s unclear what the basis for these warnings was. I mean, I saw the video. It didn’t – there were some verbal warnings, but I don’t think I’d call it a confrontation.

QUESTION: U.S. raise any concerns with China about the warnings?

MS HARF: I’m not sure if we did. In general, when Secretary Kerry was in China recently, in every meeting he had, he raised the issue of land reclamation in the South China Sea by China. That was an issue that repeatedly came up. But I’m not sure they raised this latest issue in Beijing.

QUESTION: Can you ask if there is any State Department involvement at all in what happened? I mean, post-fact, if the --

MS HARF: In --

QUESTION: -- Chinese complain – I don’t want you to – I’m not --

MS HARF: Yeah, I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: -- asking you to speak for the Pentagon. This was their plane as far as I know. Was there anyone from the State Department on board the plane?

MS HARF: I don’t think so.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MS HARF: Just DOD and Jim Sciutto.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: Yeah, he was on the plane.

QUESTION: All right.

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: So if there was a protest --

MS HARF: I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: -- anything having to do with this related to the State Department would be interesting, because I just don’t know if there is any --

MS HARF: I am --

QUESTION: -- State Department involvement.

MS HARF: I do not know either. We’re going to do two more.

QUESTION: A question on Tunisia.

MS HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: It’s regarded as one of the successes --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- one of the few successes of the Arab Spring. The U.S. has given a lot of military support to the Tunisian Government at their request. Given comments by the Secretary of State and also the President that – excuse me – that poverty is one of the root causes of extremism, should the U.S. be doing more in giving economic and financial aid to Tunisia?

MS HARF: Well, I think we’re also giving quite a bit of economic support funding to Tunisia as well, and I think we put out a whole fact sheet today on a lot of what that new funding will look like. I think the White House released it, so I’d point you there.

Yes.

QUESTION: The last one on Tunisia, very quickly.

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have details about this major non-NATO ally status which could be granted to --

MS HARF: I don’t. Let me check with our team on that.

QUESTION: Can I sneak one more? Thanks. On Qatar.

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: This is --

MS HARF: The meeting I was supposed to be at 20 minutes ago, I’m sure they’re all watching the briefing on TV.

QUESTION: I think this’ll be short.

MS HARF: It’s okay. Go ahead. It’s fine.

QUESTION: I was just wondering, there was an Amnesty International report --

MS HARF: Yes, I saw.

QUESTION: -- documenting – yeah – labor abuses. Sponsors of the 2022 FIFA World Cup have also raised concerns. What’s your take on this? Are you also communicating these kinds of concerns?

MS HARF: We’ve seen the report. We’re reviewing it now. We welcomed a 2014 announcement by Qatar that they will transition from a sponsorship-based kafala system to a contract-based system for workers. I think we thought that was a good step forward. We’re a strong supporter of labor rights globally, clearly, and we remain committed to working with governments, including Qatar’s, and civil society organizations, workers organizations, to making sure that workers get the rights they deserve.

QUESTION: You are aware that the claim made in this Amnesty report is that they have not made any progress, or very, very little on --

MS HARF: On that 2014 announcement.

QUESTION: On the 2014 (inaudible).

MS HARF: And we’re reviewing the report right now.

QUESTION: Did you know that’s a system that all GCC countries use, the kafala system?

MS HARF: Thank you for adding that to the transcript, Said.

QUESTION: Marie, real quick, do you have anything on Deputy Secretary Blinken in Burma? In particular, do you know if he’s had a chance to raise the issue of the Rohingyas?

MS HARF: He has. He met with the Burmese president, the foreign minister, the parliamentary speaker, and the commander in chief. In all of those meetings, he expressed our ongoing support for their democratic reforms and the elections and also raised our deep concerns about the thousands of vulnerable migrants stranded at sea. He stressed the need for Burma to address the root causes of this migration, including the racially and religiously motivated discrimination and violence facing the Rohingya population in Rakhine state. He also met with Aung San Suu Kyi as well, where he talked about the importance of credible, inclusive, and transparent elections later this year, and the situation in Rakhine state.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:38 p.m.)

DPB # 89

[1] Mosul

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 20, 2015

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 17:20

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 20, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:30 p.m. EDT

MS HARF: Hello. Welcome to the daily press briefing. We have an energetic crowd in here today, I like it.

I have a couple items at the top, and then Brad, I will turn it over to you. First, as you all saw, Secretary Kerry met this morning in Washington with the Tunisian President Essebsi – excuse me. He reaffirmed our strong commitment to expanding our strategic partnership and to supporting Tunisia’s democratic success. He and the Tunisian minister advisor of political affairs also signed a memorandum of understanding outlining how our countries plan to work together to enhance both our security and our economic cooperation. Later today, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker will host a business roundtable with prominent U.S. business leaders, and tomorrow President Obama and Vice President Biden and some others – I think the Defense Secretary and the Treasury Secretary – will all also meet with the president.

A couple more items at the top. The U.S. welcomes the decision by Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand that they will work together to uphold their responsibilities under international law and provide humanitarian assistance and shelter to 7,000 vulnerable migrants stranded at sea in Southeast Asia. The United States urges other countries of the region and the international communities to support them in those efforts. This will be an important subject at the May 29th conference hosted by Thailand in Bangkok. We believe all governments in the region with a stake in this issue should attend this conference, where a high-level U.S. delegation will be present.

The U.S. continues to urge countries in the region to take proactive steps quickly to save the lives of migrants and asylum seekers now at sea and refrain from turning away any new boat arrivals. Deputy Secretary Blinken is in the region; he said in Jakarta earlier today that the U.S. stands ready to help the countries of the region bear the burden and save lives today. We have a common obligation to answer the call of these migrants, who have risked their lives at sea. And I note tomorrow he will be going to Burma.

And then finally, I’d like to welcome the group in the back visiting today from the Foreign Service Institute. These folks will serve at posts around the world as information officers, so some of you may be dealing with them. So we’re happy to have you all here. I think they’re heading across the world to a bunch of different places, so thanks for coming and I hope it’s enjoyable.

Brad.

QUESTION: Great. Can we stay on the Rohingya --

MS HARF: We can.

QUESTION: -- and the others who have been at sea?

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Has there been any progress with Burma – Myanmar – about, one, improving conditions for these people; and two, taking them back should they return home?

MS HARF: Well, as I said, the deputy secretary will be there tomorrow, and this will be a key topic of conversation then. He will urge the Burmese Government to cooperate with Bangladesh particularly to rescue and provide immediate relief to migrants adrift. And as we’ve said before, when it comes to some of these conditions, we remain concerned about the factors that drive people to risk their lives at sea, including the Government of Burma’s policy towards its Rohingya minority and racially and religiously-motivated discrimination. So I think the Deputy Secretary will emphasize – as we have a number of times – the need for the Burmese Government to assume responsibility for these longstanding issues in Rakhine state, including addressing the conditions facing the Rohingya population. And I think we’ll urge also some full and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance there as well.

QUESTION: You said the U.S. was ready to help. That was the message of the deputy secretary in Indonesia.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: How would the U.S. help? If there are more migrants, would the U.S. be willing to resettle some or provide military assets to help with moving people around?

MS HARF: A couple points – yeah. So we’re actively considering our options right now on two pieces of that, though I’ll start with financial assistance. If the UNHCR and IOM indicate the need for additional funds to assist governments to establish things like reception centers and ensure protection screening procedures, we’ll consider those requests. We will encourage other governments to respond swiftly and generously, and we’ll be ready to respond to an appeal if and when they make one.

In terms of resettling, I think the Malaysians and the Indonesians have requested some help resettling people. We’re taking a careful look at the proposal. We’re prepared to take a leading role in any UNHCR-organized multi-country effort to resettle the most vulnerable refugees. I’d note that more than a thousand Rohingya have already been resettled to the U.S. so far this fiscal year, and we’re also providing assistance this year. We’ve provided nearly 109 million in humanitarian assistance for vulnerable Burmese since the beginning, again, of this fiscal year.

QUESTION: When was this decision made? It --

MS HARF: What --

QUESTION: Just about the potential for the willingness to take in some of these additional Rohingya.

MS HARF: It’s not – I mean, as I said, just this fiscal year we’ve taken in a thousand, so I’m not sure there’s been some new decision. This has been an ongoing process. But I’m happy to see if there’s more backstory there.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: A follow-up on this.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: All these stuck there – are you – is the U.S. willing to take some of them or a group of them to the U.S. --

MS HARF: I think that’s the question I just answered.

QUESTION: But it’s – this is addition to thousands you already have.

MS HARF: We’ve already resettled I think more than a thousand Rohingya, and we said we’re prepared to take a leading role in any UNHCR-organized effort. It has to be a multi-country effort. We obviously can’t take this all on ourselves, but we are prepared to play a leading role in this effort.

Anything else on this issue?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: On South Korea: Secretary Kerry, while he visiting Seoul, Korea earlier this week --

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and he mentioned about the THAAD missile deployment on South Korea. Does the U.S. have any consultation with the THAAD missile defense?

MS HARF: You’re talking about the THAAD system?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS HARF: He did mention that briefly. He was referring to internal – and I was there with him on that trip. He was referring to internal U.S. discussions. Our position on this hasn’t changed. It wasn’t a topic of conversation with the South Korean authorities.

QUESTION: It’s not an official mention in this --

MS HARF: No, our position on this hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: He was just sort of casually referring to internal conversations in our government.

QUESTION: And another one. North Korea refused the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to North Korea. Can you comment on that? Why --

MS HARF: Well, I would note what the Secretary said about a similar issue in his press conference that he gave in Seoul, where he said they’ve refused to meet with a Russian delegation; they’ve refused to meet with a Chinese delegation; they’ve refused to meet with a South Korean delegation; that Kim Jong-un has a pattern of refusing these high-level diplomatic meetings of people who are trying to reach out to see if there’s some way to get North Korea back to a diplomatic process. I think this is just the latest in a line of what we’ve seen coming out of North Korea.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Tunisia?

MS HARF: Anything else on North Korea? North Korea? And then we’ll go to Tunisia.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Just quickly to get your reaction. North Korea said today they developed nuclear warheads small enough to fit on the head of a missile.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about how that might raise tensions in East Asia?

MS HARF: Well, regarding that specific claim of miniaturization, we do not think they have that capacity, and our assessment on that hasn’t changed. I know we’ve talked about this before. But we do know they’re working on developing a number of long-range missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles – it’s been a few days since I’ve been up here – and that could eventually threaten our allies, our partners. So that’s obviously something we’re very concerned about, but in terms of that capability, we just don’t think they have it.

Yes.

QUESTION: So I just wanted to go back to – you were talking about at the top.

MS HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: Is there anything more you can tell us about what’s in the memorandum? Did the Tunisians ask for any specific type of additional financial assistance, and what is the U.S. providing that’s new?

MS HARF: Well, we’ve provided about 570 million to Tunisia since the revolution, including about 300 million in economic growth-related support, 175 million in security assistance, and 80 million in democracy, governance, and related issues. We plan to allocate additional resources this year. I don’t have those specifics in front of me, and I don’t have much more to share beyond what we said earlier today.

QUESTION: So the memorandum is more of a general pledge of support as opposed to specifics?

MS HARF: It really outlines the path forward here for our cooperation on security and economic issues, and I know he’ll have – the president will have conversations with our President, with the Vice President, others, and we may have more to say after those meetings tomorrow.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Question about Palmyra in Syria, an ancient city of massive cultural value recognized the world over. And the Islamic State today has moved into large parts of the city, it seems. Is there really nothing that America can do to prevent its destruction?

MS HARF: Well, we are deeply concerned by reports of ISIL’s attacks on the Syrian city which holds the ruins of Palmyra. We can’t – there are different reports about exactly what’s happening there, so it’s hard for us to nail down with any sort of granularity exactly what’s happening on the ground. But we know that this is a city that has been caught in the crossfire for some time, certainly. It’s sustained damage from both the regime and opposition groups. And the destruction and looting of these sites has been sort of something we’ve seen in other places in Syria as well that is incredibly harmful. We’ve spoken up about it a number of times.

So we’ll keep watching here and we’ll keep seeing what’s happening on the ground, but this is the reason we’re trying to push back ISIL out of Iraq and to try and help the Syrian opposition push back ISIL in Syria.

QUESTION: But there are no particular diplomatic efforts to ring-fence Palmyra?

MS HARF: I’m not – what diplomatic – I mean, what diplomatic efforts would we undertake with ISIL? I’m not sure that --

QUESTION: But would this – but it says within – with the Syrian Government or with other parts of --

MS HARF: Well, as – this is ISIL attacks on the city, so that’s obviously what at the moment is posing the biggest threat to the city. So this is something we’re following, we’re concerned about this. Obviously, it has been caught in the crossfire for some time and we’ll speak up about it, but beyond that I’m not sure what more can be done.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I think the fighting is exclusively in this area ISIL against the Syrian Government’s forces.

MS HARF: At the moment.

QUESTION: Right, at the moment.

MS HARF: The current fighting.

QUESTION: Right. Given that – given what ISIL has done in some Iraqi archeological treasures, is this one of those weird situations where you hope the Syrian Government prevails in this fight?

MS HARF: I think what I would say is we hope that these sites are not further damaged by the fighting.

QUESTION: But you would be very concerned – I think you – I’m assuming you would be even more concerned if ISIL were to take the city entirely. Is that not right?

MS HARF: Well, concern from a strategic perspective or from a cultural --

QUESTION: No, from a cultural preservation – given what it has done in other places.

MS HARF: Certainly, certainly. Yes. But it’s also – look, the Syrian regime, the opposition, these – a number of these sites have been caught in the crossfire between all parties here, and so obviously ISIL is the one who’s doing a vast, vast majority of this. But these places are caught in the middle of these conflicts and unfortunately we’re seeing that playing out here.

Yes, Carol.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Today, Ukrainian officials said that they would welcome anybody who would be interested in establishing an anti-ballistic missile system on their territory to ward off Russian attacks.

MS HARF: I saw that.

QUESTION: Is that anything that the United States would support?

MS HARF: Well, there’s no offer or plan to place U.S. or NATO ballistic missile defenses systems in Ukraine, and I don’t think we’re exactly sure what they’re referring to. NATO ballistic missile defense plans are well known. All existing and planned elements are on NATO territory, for example. And certainly, NATO missile defense is not directed against Russia but against threats from the Middle East, as we’ve talked about quite a bit. So beyond that, I’m not exactly sure what they were referring to.

Yes, Jo.

QUESTION: Israel I’d like to go to, if that’s okay.

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you’d seen the reports today that the defense minister had proposed a scheme whereby Palestinians could not run on the same bus – ride on the same buses --

MS HARF: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: -- as Jewish settlers. I wondered – that’s now been suspended by the prime minister --

MS HARF: Correct. Yes.

QUESTION: -- but I wondered if I could have your comment on this.

MS HARF: Well, we understand, as you said, that they have suspended those plans. We believe that was a positive decision to suspend them. We also know that this proposal raised considerable controversy and I think with good reason.

QUESTION: You would not have been supportive of such an idea?

MS HARF: That is safe to say we would not.

Yes, Justin.

QUESTION: Just a schedule item, what do we expect tomorrow with the Cuba talks? Is there --

MS HARF: Yes, I think we’re going to be putting out a little --

QUESTION: -- any announcement --

MS HARF: -- more logistical information tomorrow – about tomorrow after the briefing, but Assistant Secretary Jacobson will host a delegation from the Cuban Government on Thursday, May 21st. That’s tomorrow. We have several issues to discuss. Look forward to a productive discussion. This is obviously on the issue of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and reopening of embassies.

QUESTION: Could you announce tomorrow that you’re going to reopen embassies, or is that --

MS HARF: I have nothing to preview for you.

QUESTION: -- going to --

MS HARF: I have nothing to preview for you.

QUESTION: You think they’ll do a press conference?

MS HARF: We’ll get you all the logistical information afterwards. I’m not sure what the full schedule is.

QUESTION: On Venezuela?

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There was a report a couple of days ago that the U.S. is investigating some top Venezuelan officials over drug trafficking-related allegations. Recognizing that it’s a Department of Justice investigation, has – have the Venezuelans expressed any concerns about this to this building, and is there any fear that this could kind of increase the tensions that already exist?

MS HARF: Well, we don’t comment from here on ongoing law enforcement matters, so I’d refer you to DOJ.

QUESTION: But could reports of the --

MS HARF: We don’t comment on them and --

QUESTION: -- existence of this harm the relationship?

MS HARF: We don’t comment on these issues. I’d refer you to DOJ.

Yes.

QUESTION: What was – just – sorry. I know you --

MS HARF: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: When Tom Shannon went there recently --

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- what was the result of those discussions and what did they actually – I know it’s a few days now, so --

MS HARF: It’s a few – let me check. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Okay. All right.

MS HARF: I haven’t talked to him since we’ve been back.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you had any reaction to – the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums announced that they will no longer purchase dolphins acquired by drive hunting. Excuse me. And I know that U.S. officials, including Ambassador Kennedy, has expressed opposition to whaling in the past. I was just wondering if you had any reaction to --

MS HARF: I hadn’t seen that, but let me check with our team. You are correctly identifying what we’ve said in the past, but let me just check on this.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have a question about Japan and Russia.

MS HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Recently, the head of the Russian Duma visited Tokyo and met with former Foreign Minister Komura, and Mr. Komura obviously told Mr. Naryshkin that Prime Minister Abe wants President Putin to come to Japan. The Russian foreign ministry said that if they received any official invitation they would consider it. But anyway, my question is: What is the United States Government’s position on potential visit by President Putin to Tokyo?

MS HARF: I’m not sure we have one.

QUESTION: You’re not?

MS HARF: I haven’t seen the reports.

QUESTION: No position on this one? I mean --

MS HARF: I’m not sure we have one.

QUESTION: -- you have tension with Russia over Ukraine, and the situation --

MS HARF: And Secretary Kerry just met with President Putin in Sochi, himself.

QUESTION: So the situation is changing in this sense? I mean --

MS HARF: No, that’s not it. We’ve always said we have lines of communication to speak to the Russians about the issues where we work together, whether it’s the Iran nuclear negotiations or other issues. But in those meetings – and I was there in Sochi as well – a lot of conversation about Ukraine, where we clearly have big differences, talking about how to fully implement Minsk, talking about how to get back on a diplomatic path here. So we meet with the Russians, we talk to them, we talk about areas where we can work together, areas where we have disagreements, and that’s certainly our position and that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: So if Japan, which is one of the closest allies for the United States in Asia, took a similar position of trying to cooperate with Russia where they can, then you have no reason to oppose?

MS HARF: I certainly can’t think of one.

QUESTION: Marie, do you have any --

MS HARF: But we also want countries that we are allies with, and others, to speak up on the places we disagree, whether it’s Ukraine or elsewhere. So I think you can do both at the same time.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about who was behind the bombing of the Russian embassy in Damascus?

MS HARF: I don’t think we do yet. Let me check. I don’t think we have any information on that, Samir.

What else? Yes.

QUESTION: I have – there was a report last night in The Wall Street Journal that former Secretary Clinton’s chief of staff had – that her staff had negotiated with records specialists here in the Department about what would and wouldn’t be released in FOIA requests. Is there any truth to that report?

MS HARF: Well, I saw the story. I’m certainly not in a position to respond to, I think, all unnamed sources in the story or – and look, I have no knowledge or information to confirm the claims made in this report. I wasn’t here. I have nothing to confirm them. It’s entirely appropriate for various Department personnel to be made aware of documents that could potentially respond to FOIA requests received by the Department. And no matter who provides guidance, though, and who’s in that process, the Department only withholds materials that are exempt or excluded from public release under terms spelled out in the Freedom of Information Act, which I know you all – we are all becoming increasingly familiar with. And that’s how we – that’s what governs what is ultimately released.

QUESTION: So would it --

MS HARF: Those standards in FOIA.

QUESTION: Would it ever be appropriate for a State Department – any State Department personnel to advocate for a document not to be released under other conditions?

MS HARF: I’m just not going to address that kind of hypothetical.

QUESTION: What – I’m sorry. I thought you just sort of said – are you saying that it wouldn’t be inappropriate for people in those positions as was described --

MS HARF: To be made aware of documents that could --

QUESTION: Or to negotiate in any way with the FOIA office?

MS HARF: I said to be made aware of documents --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: -- that could potentially respond to FOIA. I also said I have no information to confirm the claims made by unnamed sources in a report.

QUESTION: Would it be appropriate for a member of the secretary’s staff or inappropriate for a member of the secretary’s staff to negotiate with the FOIA office?

MS HARF: I’m just not going to address that kind of hypothetical.

QUESTION: Oh, but that’s not a hypothetical.

MS HARF: It is.

QUESTION: That --

MS HARF: It depends on who the --

QUESTION: That’s just a question.

MS HARF: I mean, there’s – it’s a question that is a hypothetical one, Justin, that addresses an unnamed secretary’s staff member and an unnamed FOIA – I mean, right?

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: That’s not a specific question.

QUESTION: Then would it be inappropriate for you or someone in your office --

MS HARF: I’m not on the secretary’s staff.

QUESTION: -- to negotiate with the FOIA office? Is that inappropriate?

MS HARF: I’m just not going to address a broad question like that. As I said, what gets released under FOIA – you can be frustrated, Justin, but as I just said --

QUESTION: I don’t think it’s, like, an unfair question.

MS HARF: As I just said, what is released under the Freedom of Information Act is guided by what guidelines are in the Freedom of Information Act, and what is releasable and not releasable under those guidelines. That is what determines what’s released publicly --

QUESTION: Can I --

MS HARF: -- no matter who is aware of what’s going on in this process.

QUESTION: But I think the issue wasn’t that people were made aware, it’s that they held up processes or that they slowed down --

QUESTION: Or aware and got (inaudible) about it.

MS HARF: As I said, I read the story. I’m not in a position to confirm those claims.

QUESTION: Do any members of the Secretary’s --

MS HARF: These are made by unnamed sources.

QUESTION: Do any members --

MS HARF: I wasn’t here at the time.

QUESTION: -- of the Secretary’s current staff take part in the FOIA process – I’m not talking about people in the FOIA office; I’m talking about in his seventh floor staff – take part in the FOIA process, discuss ongoing FOIA-related responses?

MS HARF: As I said, it’s entirely appropriate. There are a number of people here who are part of the FOIA process, not just the FOIA office. It’s subject matter experts who are from the different bureaus who weigh in on FOIA requests because FOIA officers don’t always have the substantive knowledge to know what can be released and what can’t be under various exemptions, as you know. So in theory, there’s a lot of people who can be involved quite appropriately in this process, as we do it here.

All I know is how we do the process. It’s not unthinkable that someone could be made aware of a discussion about an ongoing FOIA request. There are a lot of pieces to this, and pieces from different offices, whether it’s the Office of the Legal Adviser, who’s not part of FOIA, who also plays a key role. It’s other agencies. When we have to do the interagency process, they have equities. So there’s a number of different people that are aware of ongoing FOIA requests and part of a discussion.

QUESTION: Speaking of things not hypothetically, what guidance is currently given to those senior staff about what is and isn’t appropriate for them?

MS HARF: I’m happy to check and see that, but again, there’s a – it’s not inappropriate for senior staff members to be made aware of FOIA requests and participate in discussions about them. Again, that doesn’t govern what eventually gets released. There’s a lot of people that are a part of this process.

QUESTION: Do FOIA officials on their own know every instance which information is classified versus unclassified, or --

MS HARF: No. That’s why there are subject matter experts who, on each document that gets released under FOIA – let’s say it’s a hypothetical topic A, you have a subject matter expert A from a bureau who will look at that and make a recommendation, for example. Because FOIA officers aren’t subject matter experts on every issue we deal with and every issue that gets FOIAed.

QUESTION: And this --

MS HARF: And the Office of the Legal Adviser plays a role. They are not part of FOIA. They obviously play a role. Many times, other agencies – we have to coordinate with them on our releases because they have their equities or people CCed on emails from their organization.

QUESTION: So the point is that the Office of the Legal Adviser’s involvement to you doesn’t raise any flags? It would be normal procedures and --

MS HARF: Correct. Having an attorney who’s an expert in FOIA look at what we release under FOIA seems to be pretty prudent practice to me.

What else? Yes.

QUESTION: Iran?

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: Just quickly, the ayatollah said today that Tehran is not going to give foreign --

MS HARF: One of the ayatollahs, the supreme leader.

QUESTION: One of the ayatollahs.

MS HARF: There are many in Iran.

QUESTION: Excuse me. He said that Tehran is not going to give foreign inspectors access to Iran’s nuclear scientists. Do you have a response to that? And how will that affect the final negotiations?

MS HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, we’ve said we’re not going to negotiate in public before. We certainly aren’t going to start now and we certainly aren’t going to start responding to every comment by the supreme leader. We just don’t tend to do that. But as I’ve said repeatedly, as the Secretary has said, we and Iran have agreed that we will undertake a process to address possible military dimensions, and part of that includes access. And under the Additional Protocol, for example, which Iran will implement and has said they will implement as part of this deal, the IAEA does get access.

And so obviously, that’s an ongoing topic of negotiation; but if we don’t get the assurances we need on the access to possible military dimension-related sites or activities, that’s going to be a problem for us, and we’ve said that. And we’ll see if we can get this done in the next, what, five weeks. I lose track of time.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I ask when did the last talks wrap up in Vienna, because I don’t think that you got a – that final day.

MS HARF: I’m trying to think when under secretary --

QUESTION: Was it Saturday or was it Friday?

MS HARF: I’m sorry, I can check. The days are all --

QUESTION: And do we have any indication --

MS HARF: But as – the EU did announce that the EU deputy and their negotiator Helga Schmid and her Iranian counterparts are expected to go through this Friday. So they are continuing to meet in Vienna, as are our experts. So they’re still there.

QUESTION: Okay. Oh, they’re still there.

MS HARF: The experts are still there and Helga Schmid is still there. I can find out when Under Secretary Sherman --

QUESTION: -- is likely to go back?

MS HARF: -- returned or when they --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS HARF: -- and when we’re likely to --

QUESTION: So she’s there right now?

MS HARF: No, she’s --

QUESTION: She’s

MS HARF: She’s back. She’s back. She’s here in the building, yes. Yes.

QUESTION: Okay, gotcha.

QUESTION: Right. Okay.

QUESTION: Marie, I think the supreme leader also said that inspectors would not have access to Iranian scientists. Is that a sticking point?

MS HARF: Well, again, in general, the issue of access – we’re agreed on a path forward here to address possible military dimensions. And I’m not going to go into more of what that means specifically, but obviously, facilities is one, information, people. Those all under – fall under that rubric. And that’s an ongoing topic of negotiation. And we’ve agreed on a process to get to a list here, but if we cannot agree in the final instance to something that meets our bottom line for what we need in terms of access, we’re not going to sign a final deal. And that’s just something we’ve been very, very clear about.

QUESTION: Can you explain – so you’ve agreed on a path forward, but it’s all still subject to negotiation. So what exactly has been agreed, then?

MS HARF: We’ve agreed to undertake a process to develop a list for access that addresses the PMD issue. What is actually on that, we are – here I’m going back to my old language here from right after --

QUESTION: I know this is not --

MS HARF: We are still negotiating over all of the people and places where the IAEA will have access required.

QUESTION: So --

MS HARF: But we have a path forward and an agreement they will undertake a PMD access list process.

QUESTION: So until that list is filled out, you actually haven’t agreed on any --

MS HARF: Well, no --

QUESTION: -- of the nuts and bolts of the PMD access?

MS HARF: Correct. But it is significant, I think, that we agreed to undertake this process to develop a list. That is a step forward. But --

QUESTION: They had the IAEA list, the 20 sectors as well.

MS HARF: But this is separate. This is part of the JCPOA. So this – obviously, we want them to keep working with the IAEA as well, as we’ve talked about. But this is a separate process that we’re going to be negotiating, and that’s something we’ve agreed to. But you’re right; what matters is the details here, as on so many issues.

QUESTION: When was it agreed to have a list?

MS HARF: That was one of the things agreed in Lausanne.

QUESTION: Oh, April 2nd?

MS HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: When will it – the next meetings? How this continue?

MS HARF: We’re not sure when the next meeting will be, but we expect a robust negotiating schedule between now and June 30th, which I know we are all very excited about.

Anything else? Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:55 p.m.)

DPB # 88


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 17:51

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 19, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

12:43 p.m. EDT

MR. RATHKE: Hello, good afternoon. So the – as you are aware, the Secretary is in Seattle. He’ll be delivering remarks soon on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and we’ll get a signal when those remarks are about to start so folks can go back and watch it. I don’t have any other announcements to make at the start. So since we’re going to have to keep this potentially very brief, we’ll turn it right over to you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: What’s your reaction to reports that the Clinton emails, the timeline that you provided, was rejected by a D.C. District Court judge?

MR. RATHKE: Well, there was a court order issued this morning which directed the department to provide certain information within a week. That’s what you’re referring to. This includes directing the department to propose a schedule for rolling productions of Secretary Clinton’s emails. Of course, we take our legal obligations seriously; we’ll comply with the order. So I don’t have further comment than that, but we will, of course, comply.

QUESTION: So you have no plans to appeal or to challenge this ruling?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any plans of those sorts to announce, no, at this point.

QUESTION: And can you explain why you wanted to release them all en masse in one big bulk delivery?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we – that was the plan that we had originally proposed, which we spoke about from the very first time this issue came up. I don’t have further reasoning beyond what we filed in the court papers to detail.

QUESTION: I’m not challenging. I just --

MR. RATHKE: No, no.

QUESTION: I just wanted to know why that was --

MR. RATHKE: Well, it’s a large volume of documents, 55,000 pages. It requires coordination with – in some cases, with other agencies, and as well internally. So – and it covers basically the entire span of Secretary Clinton’s time with the department, so it covers a lot of different issues. And so -- but I don’t have --

QUESTION: So --

MR. RATHKE: -- further detailed analysis of that.

QUESTION: Okay. So now we should expect within one week a new timeline from this department on how it will release it --

MR. RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: -- bit by bit?

MR. RATHKE: That’s right. That’s the request. I would also just mention, because it’s – we’ve been handling it separately, which is we’ve been working to release the Benghazi-related emails first. That has also been part of the plan from the start. But this order as well calls on the State Department to provide a proposed deadline – provide within a week a proposed deadline for when those emails will be produced. We will comply with that aspect too, so just to make that clear.

QUESTION: Are any of those emails going to be released this week?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have a deadline to announce for those, but of course, we’ve been working on the Benghazi-related emails first – for release first.

QUESTION: So nothing on it yet?

MR. RATHKE: But I don’t have a deadline --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: -- on it. Yes, Justin, then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: Are you – have you – how many of these emails have you actually reviewed, and are you prepared to start releasing any of them? If so ordered, will you be prepared to start rolling them out as --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, I’m not in a position to preview where that stands. We’ve just gotten the order this morning to produce the schedule within a week, so we’ll do that.

QUESTION: But you do have an enormous staff working on it apparently, so are none of the emails of the 50,000 cleared at this point in time?

MR. RATHKE: I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: I just said I don’t have an update on where that process stands. So we’ve got a court order to – which we will meet.

QUESTION: It’s very possible, then, that you could start releasing them within a couple weeks.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t know. I don’t have – again, I don’t have the specifics of where those reviews stand. We are going to comply with the court order, so we’ll come up with a schedule for rolling productions.

QUESTION: So in your filing, you noted the sensitivities of foreign governments. Is there any work going on to talk to foreign governments right now about information that may be in those emails that – whether they’re compromising or not, whether they deal with sensitivities or embarrassing details, is there anything going on of that nature?

MR. RATHKE: And do you mean in specific reference to – do you mean to all – with reference to all of the emails or --

QUESTION: I don’t --

MR. RATHKE: -- with the Benghazi-related ones?

QUESTION: No, not the Benghazis specifically. I mean with all of them, yeah.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have anything to say beyond what’s in our filing. I can check and see if there’s anything more to say about our contacts with foreign governments.

QUESTION: Are there any plans to redact information that may not be classified or extremely sensitive, but reflect poorly on countries and therefore would maybe make diplomatic operations more difficult with some governments?

MR. RATHKE: Well, what we’ve said all along is that we’re going to use the FOIA standards for redactions. You’re probably familiar with those. I don’t have the list of every single standard, but we’re going to use the FOIA standards for redactions and, I believe, indicate when redactions are made under which of the FOIA standards.

Laura, yes, and then we’ll go back.

QUESTION: Yeah. Following up on Justin’s question, is the Benghazi-specific related emails – are those – have those worked their way through the process, or are they still awaiting other agency reviews on those? What’s the holdup with those specifically?

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I said, we – those are – those are the first that we are going to produce. That is still the intention. I don’t have a deadline or an update on the process, but clearly, that – those 300 approximately emails, which total about 900 pages, that – those will be the first to be released.

QUESTION: Right. But if you’ve given them to the committee, what would stop you from giving them to the public at this point?

MR. RATHKE: Well, what we gave to the committee were very lightly redacted versions, and so there has been – we did not go through the – we did not apply the FOIA standards to the emails that we provided to the select committee. So what we’ve been doing since then is to apply those FOIA standards to those emails.

QUESTION: If the emails are already segmented into these, I guess, hundred segments or batches, then I mean, what’s --

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

QUESTION: Well, as the court order was specified and it’s already been segmented, I guess, into these hundred batches that are working their way through separately the process for agency review, if they’re already divided up that way, why the desire to release them as one bulk release in January? Why not do a more rolled-out release?

MR. RATHKE: Well, this is very similar to Brad’s question. We announced our plans to do them in one. I don’t have anything to add to what was in the court papers. Clearly, the court has issued an order; we’re going to comply with it. But I don’t – I don’t have a further breakdown of the individual components, let’s say, of the 55,000 pages.

QUESTION: The Secretary herself has just told correspondents that she wants this done as quickly as possible. Does that change your timeline at all? She seems to really want to get this out as quickly as possible.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve said from the very start that we’re going to apply the FOIA standards to releasing these emails to make sure that information that shouldn’t be released under those standards is not included. That’s what we continue – that remains our intention.

QUESTION: Would you take into consideration anything that she may say about the release of this, since they’re the emails that she generated herself?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not familiar with those comments. These are records, as we’ve talked about, so we have to – we have to treat them that way in anything that has to do with release.

Brad, did you have a question?

QUESTION: No, it’s just that the line of questioning is pertinent because critics are alleging that you’re slow-rolling it and that this whole notion of keeping them all to the end is to draw out the process and then essentially have a kind of information dump at the end. Is that what was going on?

MR. RATHKE: No, no, I don’t think so. Again, we have a large volume of records that cover the entire span of Secretary Clinton’s time at the department, so I’m sure you could – you can imagine this would cover pretty much any topic. It could cover any topic on our foreign policy agenda. And so there would also be a question if certain things were released early, you could have other records pertinent to the same topic that might not have been finally processed, so there was a desire to do them at once so that they would – so that they would be available in their entirety. Again, we’ve got an order – an order that instructs us differently, so we’re going to comply with it.

Anything else on this topic?

QUESTION: No.

MR. RATHKE: No?

QUESTION: Change of --

QUESTION: Benghazi related?

MR. RATHKE: Wait, wait. Did you – is it something on the same topic?

QUESTION: I did have one last one on this one.

MR. RATHKE: What’s that? Go ahead.

QUESTION: And would you, having reviewed the emails or having some knowledge of them, would you be willing to say at this point that there’s no incriminating evidence in any of the Benghazi emails specifically?

MR. RATHKE: What do you mean by --

QUESTION: Anything that the committee could use against her to say that she was withholding information --

MR. RATHKE: Well, the committee’s had these emails for some time.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. RATHKE: So again, we’re going through to apply the FOIA criteria, and we will release them when that’s done.

QUESTION: Right. But you understand my question, right?

MR. RATHKE: You’re asking me to reach an advanced judgement and --

QUESTION: Yes, I’m asking you to make a judgement about the --

MR. RATHKE: -- about the content of the emails --

QUESTION: Correct.

MR. RATHKE: -- which I’m not going to do.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: We’re reviewing them according to the standards, and we’ll release them.

QUESTION: Jeff, Benghazi related --

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Now that Secretary Clinton agreed to appear before a congressional hearing on Benghazi, what will be the State Department’s role? How will you work with her on this issue?

MR. RATHKE: On which issue?

QUESTION: She’s going to appear before a hearing, a congressional hearing.

MR. RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: She agreed like a couple weeks ago. What will be your role? What is the State Department’s role in this case? How do you work with her? I mean --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not sure what your question is. Of course, we’ve engaged --

QUESTION: My question – my question is she is --

MR. RATHKE: We’ve engaged throughout --

QUESTION: She is no longer the --

MR. RATHKE: Sorry, Said. Let me try to answer your question.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. RATHKE: We’ve engaged since the formation of the select committee with the committee to provide documents, to provide testimony of officials. We – the Secretary has said we’re going to cooperate with the committee. We’ve been doing that; we continue to do that. Now as for Secretary Clinton’s plans and her testimony before the committee, I would refer you back to Secretary Clinton and the committee. Our engagement has been ongoing and it will continue.

QUESTION: I’m saying – I guess I’m trying to see what kind of coordination you will have with her on this. I mean, what is the type of coordination that the State Department will have with the former secretary of state on this particular issue?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I don’t have any detail to offer on that.

Let’s move on, because we’re going to run out of time. Yes.

QUESTION: Change of subject. The U.S. has charged three Chinese professors and three others – Chinese nationals with economic espionage and stealing trade secrets from two companies that develop technology. Does the State Department have any comment on this? Does this – did you have any role in looking at, for example, the visa issues or what – any kind of role that the State Department would have in this?

MR. RATHKE: Well, there was – the Department of Justice this morning released their document on this, a rather long document with a lot of detail.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. RATHKE: So for any questions about the specifics of the investigation, the Department of Justice would have the lead. I think this case demonstrates, though, that the United States is committed to protecting U.S. companies’ trade secrets and their proprietary business information from theft. So this is an important issue for the United States. I’m not going to comment on our role in the investigation, though.

QUESTION: Is there any concern that this case might cast a pall over – I mean Chinese nationals looking for work in that kind of area, in technology? I mean, it does raise some concerns, and is there any concern within this building and – that that would be the case, the spinoffs from this?

MR. RATHKE: Well again, we, as with our colleagues from the Department of Justice and across the U.S. Government, we are committed to enforcing the law and to supporting those – the law enforcement agencies and also to ensuring that American companies and American individuals – that their business information is protected and that economic espionage is something that we take very seriously. So --

QUESTION: I guess the question that I really want to ask was that is there going to extra scrutiny on overseas nationals working in this area and the granting of work visas or authorizing them to work here in that area? Is there going to be extra scrutiny?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think this has just been issued today, so I think it would be too early to say that there were specific operational measures that the State Department would adopt. But I go back to my earlier statement: We take these issues very seriously. We’re always vigilant about these kinds of concerns, and I think for today I’ll leave it at that.

Anything else on this topic?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) topic.

MR. RATHKE: No – new topic?

QUESTION: Syria.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There were news reports today saying that Secretary Kerry has offered SOC President Khaled Khoja when he was here in D.C. two weeks ago – he has offered a proposal stating that if the opposition wants a political solution for the crisis in Syria, they have to accept Assad in the transitional phase, and if they want Iran and Russia to support this transitional phase too. Today the SOC spokesperson has said that Assad will not be part of any political solution or in any transitional phase, no matter how long it takes or whatever shape it takes. Do you have anything on this? Is it accurate that the Secretary has proposed such a proposal?

MR. RATHKE: I have no information about such a proposal, and I’m not confirming in any way. Again, our position has long been and it remains that Assad has no role in Syria’s political future. We’ve been extremely clear about that publicly as well as privately. So I don’t have – I don’t see any truth in that report that you’ve cited. I haven’t seen the report myself, but the way you describe it, no.

QUESTION: And are you more flexible now about Assad participating in the transitional phase for a short period of time to convince Iran and Russia to support a political solution, and that’s why ambassador or Special Envoy Rubinstein was in Russia yesterday?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I don’t have any detail to offer on that. Our view is clear: Assad has no future in Syria. There is, of course, consultations being led by de Mistura now in Geneva. That’s the focus of attention. Also, our special envoy has had some discussions recently in Geneva as well as in Moscow, but I don’t have that kind of (inaudible).

QUESTION: But Jeff, you certainly agree --

QUESTION: So far --

QUESTION: On this one – on this one, when you said that he has no role in the future of Syria, did you mean, too, that he has no role in the transitional phase, too?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I think we’ve been very clear about Assad. I’m not going to get into parsing this in the way you’re trying to suggest. Our view on Assad has not changed.

Yes, Jo.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout on the meetings which Special Envoy Rubenstein had yesterday in Moscow?

MR. RATHKE: Well, you probably have seen the note we put out yesterday afternoon. I don’t have a lot to offer beyond that. He – this was a follow-up to the discussion that Secretary Kerry had with President Putin and with Foreign Minister Lavrov on the topic of Syria. So Special Envoy Rubenstein met with Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov, other foreign ministry officials, and the focus of all these discussions is to create the conditions for a genuine, sustainable political transition in Syria that’s consistent with the Geneva communique.

QUESTION: And what does that require?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again --

QUESTION: The right conditions – what are you talking about when you talk about the right conditions? What do you mean? It’s just – create the right conditions, what do you mean?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, we need to see the process in Geneva that de Mistura is leading move forward. He’s having consultations, and we’ve been talking with the Russians about putting the right pressure on all parties to engage. I don’t have further detail to read out than that.

QUESTION: Jeff.

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Said, and then we’ll go to Nicolas.

QUESTION: Just a very quick follow-up.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: But you keep saying you want a transition or you want to see a Syria that is representative of all Syrians. Certainly, Mr. Assad represents a large minority, if you will, because it’s the Alawis, the Christians, (inaudible) and so on. They are part of the process. I’ve spoken to Mr. de Mistura himself. I mean, this is the case. How could you say that he has no role to play whatsoever in the transition?

MR. RATHKE: Look, Assad is responsible for the bloodshed in Syria --

QUESTION: I understand. I mean, that aside.

MR. RATHKE: -- and I don’t – sorry, Said. We’re running out of time here. I don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: But the hard fact is that he does represent a large minority, correct?

MR. RATHKE: He is the leader of the regime that has been brutally suppressing its own people, which has led to the deaths of countless thousands and millions of Syrians who have had to flee, either internally displaced or left their country.

Nicolas, go ahead.

QUESTION: Very quickly, staying in Russia. Do you have details or a readout about the meeting Assistant Secretary Nuland had in Moscow yesterday?

MR. RATHKE: So she is – she has just returned this morning, I believe. I don’t have the detailed readout of each meeting. I would – again, this was focused on Ukraine, our desire to see Minsk implemented, following on Secretary Kerry’s meetings with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov. We may have more to say in the course of the day.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Ukraine, yesterday Kyiv showed off to the media two men that they said were Russian soldiers that they had captured during a gun battle --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- in the east. And they’d been wounded and they were shown to the Ukrainian media. I just wondered if you had an opinion on whether (a) these really were Russian soldiers, and (b) whether what – I mean, surely there are conventions against parading or allowing the media to go in and sort of see people that you all are saying are captured prisoners.

MR. RATHKE: Okay, so we’re aware of the capture of these two Russian military personnel, and we note that this took place in – near Shchastya, which is in Luhansk, which is on the Ukrainian Government’s side of the ceasefire line. The Ukrainian Government has informed the United States that they are in Kyiv, they are receiving medical attention, and that Ukraine has invited international organizations to visit them.

Now this capture comes as no surprise. We’ve said repeatedly that Russians and the separatists are working together, training together, and operating with the same command and control systems. So this capture only heightens our concern that the combined Russian separatist forces continue to flout the terms of the Minsk agreements, and Russia has shown little willingness to abide by its commitments and has not used its considerable influence with the separatists to persuade them to do the same.

Now you asked a technical question as well, which is --

QUESTION: No, there’s an ethics question. An ethics question, I guess. Yeah.

MR. RATHKE: I’m not in a position to offer an opinion on the legal status of these individuals. Regardless of how they are characterized, we expect humane treatment for all detainees, whether they’re held by the separatists, by Russia, or by Ukraine.

QUESTION: Iran?

QUESTION: But following up on this, the embarrassment or public ridicule of detainees is like one of the sacrosanct principles of the Geneva Conventions. Are you saying this doesn’t apply now in Ukraine? I mean, so --

MR. RATHKE: No. I didn’t say – I didn’t say that it doesn’t apply. I mean, the application and the status of individuals under the Geneva Conventions is a technical, legal matter. I’m not in a position to say how that – whether that applies and how that applies in this particular case.

QUESTION: Murdering people is a technical, legal matter too.

MR. RATHKE: No, Brad --

QUESTION: I mean, it’s a basic tenet of international law. It actually predates most of the treaties that are in effect in the world today. So I mean, to just say it’s a technical matter and you’re not going to take the question is unfair.

MR. RATHKE: That isn’t all that I said, Brad. If you were listening, I – we also said that regardless of how they are characterized, that we expect humane treatment for all detainees, whether they’re held by the separatists, by Russia, or by Ukraine.

QUESTION: Do you believe publicly showing off detainees to journalists is humane treatment?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I’m not going to go beyond what I said. We certainly believe that all detainees should be treated humanely.

QUESTION: New topic --

QUESTION: I have one on --

MR. RATHKE: Sorry, anything on the same topic? Yes, Nicole.

QUESTION: Yeah. I understand that there are – or there are working group talks going on right now with separatists and Ukrainian Government on various aspects of the conflict – humanitarian issues, economic issues. I’m wondering if there is any U.S. or State Department involvement in those talks – participation, monitoring? Are you guys part of it at all?

MR. RATHKE: Well, there’s a meeting – if you’re talking about meetings of the trilateral contact group and meetings in Minsk, we’re not a direct party to those. We certainly support the working groups under the trilateral contact group. And as a way forward, that has the participation of the OSCE. We strongly support that. We’ve been engaging with our European partners, most recently with Ukraine and with Russia. So we support that.

We’re going to have to wrap this --

QUESTION: Do you have a body in the room?

MR. RATHKE: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Do you have a body in the room?

MR. RATHKE: For the trilateral contact group meetings?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RATHKE: No. We’re not a party of the trilateral contact group.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Is there a desire to have a body in the room, as Nicole said, though? Is there a desire for a more greater --

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve talked --

QUESTION: You talked about yesterday about deepening U.S. engagement.

MR. RATHKE: Yes, that’s right. But --

QUESTION: So is one of those deep --

MR. RATHKE: We’re not changing that format. And we’re not suggesting a change to that format. We support that format; we’re actively engaged diplomatically; we’re deepening our engagement broadly. That’s not to change any particular format.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the situation in Ramadi? Iraq, Ramadi? Any update?

MR. RATHKE: Nothing beyond what we said yesterday as far as the on-the-ground situation. I would say – and I think this will have to be the last one because the Secretary’s about to begin his speech – the Government of Iraq has begun the process of consolidating and reorganizing its forces to begin an offensive to retake Ramadi. Prime Minister Abadi had a cabinet meeting today, and in that cabinet meeting the council of ministers strongly supported the prime minister’s actions in Anbar, including the use of the Popular Mobilization Forces under the command of the commander in chief.

QUESTION: So you are in support of the Popular Mobilization Forces?

MR. RATHKE: We’re supporting Prime Minister Abadi and his council of ministers.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Jeff, do you have any reservation about the Shia militias being used in Ramadi, like that you had, I think, about --

MR. RATHKE: I think I spoke to this yesterday; I don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: Jeff, the Rohingya.

MR. RATHKE: So the Secretary’s going to begin speaking --

QUESTION: Rohingya – do you have any update for – quick on the Rohingya issue?

MR. RATHKE: Rohingya, okay. Let me just mention that we remain concerned about the situation. We urge the countries of the region to work together to save the lives of migrants at sea. I would point out there was a joint statement issued by the International Organization for Migration along with several other international organizations. We support that joint statement and we urge countries to adopt the nine-point plan that it presents. We also believe all governments should participate in the conference being hosted by Thailand on May 29th. We continue to urge governments to identify and address the root causes of the crisis.

Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:08 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 17:12

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 18, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

12:55 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. So I have just one thing to mention at the start. The Secretary is on his way back from his trip to Beijing and Seoul. He’s on his way to Seattle, as I’m sure you’re aware. He will visit Seattle tomorrow and will give remarks about the strategic and economic importance of trade. So with that, we’ll pass it over to you, Brad.

QUESTION: Could you give us a review of, I guess, what would be the good, the bad, and the ugly of your fight against the Islamic State this weekend? Specifically on Ramadi, what you’re doing now to reverse this setback, and where you stand with the Iraqi forces on trying to --

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Okay. Well, the news about Ramadi, of course, got a lot of attention over the weekend. I would point out a couple of things. First, Ramadi has been contested for the last 18 months. ISIL first moved openly into Ramadi on January 1st, 2014, and Iraqi forces and local fighters have fought back against them throughout this period. Starting late last week, ISIL launched a series of suicide vehicle bombs that had a large impact, and this also – and since then we’ve also heard from ISIL’s own comments that the suicide bombers were foreign fighters.

We’ve always known that the fight would be long and difficult, especially in Anbar province, and so there’s no denying that this is a setback, but there’s also no denying that the United States will help the Iraqis take back Ramadi. As of today, we are supporting the Iraqi Security Forces and the Government of Iraq with precision airstrikes and advice to the Iraqi forces. Our aircraft are in the air searching for ISIL targets, and they will continue to do so until Ramadi is retaken. Since the beginning of May, we’ve conducted 35 airstrikes in Ramadi, and that includes nine over the last 24 hours, and those strikes will continue. My colleagues at the Pentagon will have more details, perhaps, to share about that.

But we believe that the Iraqi Security Forces have the capacity and the will to retake Ramadi, with coalition support, and as we’ve always said, this fight against ISIL will be difficult and would take time.

I would – just one larger context point I would say: There’s also no question that overall, since the formation of the international coalition to fight ISIL that ISIL has been driven back in Iraq. It has lost as much as 25 percent of the area that it once controlled. And I would also highlight that on Saturday, thanks to the skill and extraordinary competency of some of our forces, a major ISIL leader who was responsible for its funding mechanism, through the oil sales, was eliminated from the battlefield and significant intelligence gains were achieved. And so while this was an American operation, it was also done in close coordination with our Iraqi partners.

QUESTION: One --

QUESTION: Before we get to --

QUESTION: Can I ask one real simple (inaudible)? You said, “We believe the Iraqi military have the capacity and the will to take back Ramadi.” Why do you believe that?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve been working with Prime Minister Abadi and with the Iraqi Security Forces since the formation of his government, and through our joint operation centers we’ve been intensifying our training and equipping program with the Iraqi Security Forces. We’ve also seen Prime Minister Abadi reach out to the Sunni population of Iraq. We – and in addition, he has worked to build bridges and is working now to – with the Popular Mobilization Forces, to focus on retaking Ramadi. So we think this is – that they are capable of doing that.

QUESTION: But at the same time, for a --

QUESTION: One follow-up from me, if I may, and it’s the only one I’ll ask you. You believed that the Iraqi forces were capable of defending Iraq when the United States withdrew all of its forces in December of 2011. You had at that point been involved in training and equipping the Iraqi forces in a massive way, for multiple years, and you were wrong. They didn’t have the will to fight, and they didn’t seem to have the ability to defend their territory – witness ISIL’s rise. Why are you right now that they have the ability and the will – your words – to take back Ramadi when you were wrong in the previous judgment?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think there’s a very different situation Iraq right now. First of all, if you look at the shared understanding among Iraq’s leadership of the need to fight ISIL, that ISIL is the primary threat, and the focus on that, I think that’s different. Second, you see Prime Minister Abadi reaching out across sectarian lines to all communities in Iraq in ways that we hadn’t seen before. And also you have – I think the experience over the last 18 months has focused Iraqi minds, and especially the Iraqi leadership, on the urgent task of confronting ISIL. I think that’s what we see as different.

Brad, did you have further --

QUESTION: Just last week you mentioned that – I asked if Ramadi was a strategic priority, and you said that it was important. Is regaining control of that city now a strategic priority?

MR RATHKE: Well, as we discussed last week, I think we’ll let the Iraqis define their strategic priorities. Clearly, it is important to retake Ramadi, and we are confident that Ramadi will be retaken. And I would point out that over the weekend, there – in consultation with the leaders in Anbar, with Anbari leaders as well as the tribes there, Prime Minister Abadi has ordered the Popular Mobilization Forces to assist in that fight. This was a unanimous vote, and I think that’s also a clear indication of shared purpose.

QUESTION: Just – you’ve – what do you assess – why do you assess that they lost? I mean, they have better equipment, they have American equipment; they’ve been getting training now from the U.S. military. Why can’t they hold what is clearly, in your words, an important city?

MR RATHKE: Well, as I said as well, this is – the city has been contested for some time. I’m not in a position to do a battlefield analysis from here. I think my colleagues in uniform would be better positioned to offer thoughts about the particular circumstances on the ground. As I mentioned, there was a series of large suicide vehicle bomb attacks, which also --

QUESTION: This isn’t new. This tactic has been used elsewhere. Why haven’t they learned to adapt to these yet?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I’m not going to be – I’m not in a position to do an analysis of their operational tactics from here, so – but go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one last one?

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said that the long-term trend shows ISIL is losing ground, and you cited the area – losing 25 percent. I mean, the majority of Iraq is uninhabitable desert, so I don’t quite understand why you think it’s important to gain 25 percent of arid nothingness and lose a city of a million people. How do you square those two as a positive?

MR RATHKE: I’m not trying to suggest – I’m not trying to downplay the importance of Ramadi. I’m simply pointing out that over the last 12 months, the trend has been for ISIL to be pushed back in Iraq. You see this in Tikrit most recently, and you’ve seen it in other places where the siege – going all the way back into last summer, when there were real fears about whether Baghdad itself might even come under threat. We don’t have those fears now. We don’t see Baghdad as under threat, and we see in a number of places, including in Anbar and other parts of northern Iraq, ISIL being pushed back. It’s not a uniform positive message or a uniform positive picture; there are setbacks like in Ramadi. But we are confident that the Iraqi political leadership and their security forces working with us will be successful.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I ask if the fall of Ramadi is causing any rethink within the department and beyond within the Administration about the policy of using Popular Mobilization Forces? We’re now seeing that the Shiite militias are now converging on Ramadi because they were kept out of the battle, and I just wondered if this is causing any kind of re-analysis of what has been the focus so far, of training up local mobilization forces – Iraqis – to do the battle and retake some of these strategic towns.

MR RATHKE: No, I’m not aware of any rethink of the strategy. We --

QUESTION: Why not? Because it didn’t work for Ramadi.

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to do a next-day analysis of Ramadi. I think there are others who are better qualified than me at this podium to look into that. But the point is that, as we’ve said all along, this is a long fight. We have – we are working with an Iraqi political leadership that is focused on building ties across all of its communities and on mobilizing the population to fight back against ISIL. I think if you look at the Popular Mobilization Forces – again, the decision by the Anbari leadership and tribes to support their coming into Anbar to help retake Ramadi is an important step, and we see this as part of Abadi’s outreach, again, across sectarian lines.

QUESTION: But clearly, it would seem to have --

QUESTION: Can I just follow up --

MR RATHKE: Yeah, let’s let Jo follow up, then we’ll come across.

QUESTION: But clearly, it would seem to have been a mistake to have kept the Shiite militias on the margins of this battle so far. Would you agree with that?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to get into that analysis from here.

Barbara.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just – just to follow up on that, I appreciate that it’s a uniform decision and the Sunnis have asked for the Popular Mobilization Forces to come in. But how much of it is a concern that a year later the ground forces in Iraq are still Iran-backed Shiite groups and the efforts to build up the Sunni militias have clearly failed?

MR RATHKE: Well, I wouldn’t describe that effort as a failure. The prime --

QUESTION: You don’t think it was a failure in Ramadi?

MR RATHKE: Well, you asked a more general question. And we have seen over the last months and indeed even in just the last few weeks Prime Minister Abadi giving additional impetus to the effort to arm Sunni tribesmen and train them so they can operate as part of – under unified command and control with the Iraqi Security Forces. So we see that as the policy that is best going to engage the Sunni leadership. Perhaps the fall of Ramadi will lead to renewed commitment to that, but I’m not going to make that judgment the day after.

QUESTION: Jeff --

MR RATHKE: Yes, Arshad, and then we’ll come --

QUESTION: Do you agree with the premise of Jo’s question that the Shia militias were kept out of the latest battles in Ramadi, or do you believe that they – rather than being excluded, they simply chose not to fight there?

MR RATHKE: I’d refer you to the Iraqis on that. I don’t have – I don’t have analysis on that to offer.

QUESTION: And the second question: Do you think there is a risk that the introduction of Shia militias to fight against a Sunni militant force in a Sunni-majority area could actually make matters worse by re-introducing the kind of – by re-introducing the factor of sectarian violence and animus to the equation?

MR RATHKE: Well, this is a decision that was – that was made by the Iraqi Government with the unanimous support of Anbari political as well as tribal leaders. So I think that’s significant to remember. We will continue to assist the Iraqi Security Forces as they fight to degrade and defeat ISIL, and we call on all of the anti-ISIL forces – the Iraqi Army and other Iraqi forces, the Popular Mobilization Forces, the Peshmerga, and so forth – under clear Iraqi Security Forces command and control in coordination with local leaders to join their efforts in this fight. So – but we see this in Anbar as being a decision by local leaders.

QUESTION: Do you support that decision? Do you think it’s a good idea?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, this is an Iraqi – the Iraqis are in the lead in this fight, and we are supportive of Prime Minister Abadi and his government, and so we are supportive of this decision.

QUESTION: And do you think that Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi Armed Forces actually have command and control over the Shia militias?

MR RATHKE: Well, this is a discussion we’ve had as well with respect to Tikrit and other military engagements around Anbar and throughout Iraq. That has been – that has been the case in the specific case of Tikrit, and we expect that would be the same in this case.

QUESTION: Jeff?

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: What is going to be the impact on this on the upcoming possible battle to retake Mosul?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have an analysis to offer on that. We’ve always said it’s important to retake Mosul. The Iraqis have to do that when they are ready. So we haven’t set a timeline for it.

QUESTION: Would you anticipate this would put it back?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to offer an analysis on that. I would – I don’t have – I don’t have a comment on it.

QUESTION: And can I ask if anyone has been in touch with the Iraqi authorities from this building, with Prime Minister Abadi for instance? Have anybody – has anybody from this building talked to him about what happened over the weekend?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any calls to read out from the Secretary to Iraqi counterparts. I think you saw on Friday there was an announcement put out by the White House, and – but I don’t – I don’t have any Washington calls. Of course, through our team on the ground at Embassy Baghdad we’ve been in regular contact with --

QUESTION: And is Brett McGurk in town or is he planning to go to Iraq?

MR RATHKE: I’d have to look and see what his – I’m not – I’m not certain what his schedule is. I haven’t seen him today, but I’m not certain whether he’s in Washington or traveling.

Yeah, go ahead, John. Then we’ll come to you.

QUESTION: Just on that point, since the fall of Ramadi, has the Iraqi Government asked for U.S. assistance in any way? If so, what are they asking for and what is the U.S. providing?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’ve talked a little bit about our airstrikes, and of course, we have two joint operations centers in Iraq and we have several locations where we – where our train and equip efforts are being carried out. So we’re in regular contact on a daily basis at all levels. I don’t have any specific sort of headline request to read out. But again, we’ve – we are working together in so many ways through so many different contacts that I can’t say for certain that there haven’t been specific requests made. Certainly, our airstrikes, for example, and those kinds of support efforts are things that we coordinate with – with our Iraqi counterparts.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah. There were reports during the liberation of Tikrit that the militia have committed some crimes at that time. And the U.S. has asked for the withdrawal of the militia to help the Iraqi forces in liberating Tikrit. Do you have any guarantees that this will never happen in Ramadi?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not sure what kind of guarantees you’re asking for. We’ve certainly spoken to our view that militias should be under the command and control of Iraqi Security Forces. And so that is an important point for the United States, for unity of effort, and for effective military operations. I don’t have any details about Ramadi to offer in that regard.

Yes, go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: One more on this, please.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said that the Iraqi forces have the capacity, the will, and the experience to retake Ramadi. If they have the capacity and the will and the experience, why have they allowed the fall of Ramadi in the hands of ISIL?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, this has been a contested area for a year and a half. It’s a setback, but I don’t have further analysis of the developments on the ground over the last couple of days to offer.

QUESTION: You keep mentioning that it’s been contested for a long time. Now it’s not contested; they’ve lost. So why does the argument that it’s been contested – so if the Islamic State contests something for a long time, it will naturally win eventually?

MR RATHKE: No, that --

QUESTION: I mean, what’s the – I don’t --

MR RATHKE: -- isn’t what I’m trying to suggest.

QUESTION: Okay. So explain why that explains why they lost, that it’s been contested for a long time.

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not offering that as an explanation for why they – for why Ramadi fell.

QUESTION: That was his question, though.

MR RATHKE: No, my – and – but my point is that I’m not here from this podium in a position to offer a military analysis for the fall of Ramadi. I’m simply highlighting that this is an area that has been under attack for a year and a half, and there are other areas that have been contested. In some cases, the battle has gone the other way, as we saw in Tikrit. And in other cases there have been setbacks, like over the weekend in Ramadi.

Yes.

QUESTION: Just kind of going off that a little bit further, you use the language, they’ve “been driven back,” and it’s the long game. But right now, can the U.S. say that the coalition is winning its fight against ISIL?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think the Secretary was asked a similar question today or yesterday in Seoul. And we see the overall trend in the fight against ISIL in Iraq as positive. We see them overall losing control of territory. We see increased unity and solidarity in fighting back against them. We see increased international support. That doesn’t diminish the setback in Ramadi; but we are confident that our efforts, in conjunction with the Iraqi leadership and with Iraqi forces, will be successful.

Go ahead, Pam. Same topic?

QUESTION: Yes, a couple of questions. Last year, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad prepared contingency plans to evacuate its staff after the Islamic State seized Mosul, Tikrit, and Fallujah. Now that the Islamic State has taken control of Ramadi, are those plans being updated or are they being refreshed and looked at again, first of all?

MR RATHKE: Well, you know we don’t talk about those kinds of plans, but I can say we have not changed our posture in Baghdad. Of course, we continually monitor the security environment, but we have not changed our posture. And I think you may – in reference to another question, I’ve indicated we don’t see Baghdad as under threat at this time. We – the Iraqi Government has a tight security perimeter around Baghdad.

QUESTION: Can you say general if the coordination would include the United States and other foreign organizations that are present in Baghdad? And then also, if you’re looking at --

MR RATHKE: I’m sorry, what coordination are you referring to?

QUESTION: In reference to the contingency plans.

MR RATHKE: Well, as I’ve said --

QUESTION: If that is taking place, would that be --

MR RATHKE: -- we don’t talk about those kinds of plans and we don’t – and we haven’t changed our posture in Baghdad. We see the Iraqi Government having a tight security perimeter around Baghdad.

QUESTION: Jeff?

MR RATHKE: Yes?

QUESTION: Do you think that the Iraqi Government bears any responsibility in the fall of Ramadi?

MR RATHKE: Well, what is --

QUESTION: Because they haven’t provided the arms to the Sunnis, to the --

QUESTION: To the tribes.

QUESTION: -- and the tribes that they’ve asked for.

MR RATHKE: Well, clearly, the fall of Ramadi is not a success, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m not going to point fingers and assign specific responsibility, but clearly, it is a setback. So – and that’s – and I think, as we see by Prime Minister Abadi’s response, a commitment to finding ways to move forward and to take back Ramadi.

Yes.

QUESTION: But it’s not late, do you think --

QUESTION: If it’s not the Iraqi Government’s fault --

QUESTION: It’s the same in a different way --

QUESTION: If it’s not their fault, whose fault is it? I mean, it’s their city, it’s in their country, they didn’t defend it. Is it – how can you not say it’s their fault? I mean --

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t – it’s not my judgment to make from here about whose fault it is for a development inside Iraq of this sort. As I’ve said in response to Michel’s question, it’s clearly not a success. I’ll let the Iraqi leadership talk about --

QUESTION: Jeff, I’ll ask --

MR RATHKE: -- questions of responsibility and what they would change.

Yes.

QUESTION: I’ll ask Michel question in a different way.

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied by the level of support and arming by the government to their – the tribes in Al Anbar?

MR RATHKE: Well, this has been a priority for Prime Minister Abadi. He has devoted a lot of time and effort to it. We see it as an important component of the way forward. I’m not going to give a grade to it.

Nicole.

QUESTION: Is some --

MR RATHKE: Sorry.

QUESTION: Because the tribes were still complaining about how the government was dealing with them.

MR RATHKE: Well, I understand, but I’m not going to affix a grade to that.

Nicole, go ahead.

QUESTION: If Samir is done.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you done? Okay. There are reports that a large amount of U.S. military equipment was seized in the course of Daesh taking the city. Can you give us some comment on that?

MR RATHKE: Well, we know some equipment was lost. I don’t have an inventory, and I think my colleagues at the Pentagon would have closer information about that. This is something we’re in discussion with Iraqi partners about as well to get a better picture of that situation, but I don’t have details to share at this point.

QUESTION: Are you confident that the Sunni tribes will continue or, in greater number, will fight against ISIL given that political problems remain, and now we’re seeing potentially hundreds if not thousands of tribesmen being executed in Ramadi – members of tribes that fought against ISIL as well as people who were in security forces or police units?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve also seen thousands of Sunnis coming out to join forces and fight ISIL in other places. So I can’t speak to the long-term effect. But what we see happening, more broadly speaking, in Anbar is Sunnis coming out wanting to fight against ISIL, wanting to push them out. And so that’s --

QUESTION: So you don’t --

MR RATHKE: You could also argue that that feeling might be intensified as a result.

QUESTION: So you don’t fear that the atrocities that are being committed supposedly – burning bodies, dumping them into the river – this is going to have a chilling effect on Sunni tribesmen who might otherwise fight against ISIL?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think it could equally mobilize people, so I don’t – I’m not going to make a prediction of that sort.

New topic or anything more on this topic?

QUESTION: One more.

MR RATHKE: One more. Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Do you know how many the U.S. trained from the Anbar tribes, how many militia?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have that number at my disposal. Again, my Pentagon colleagues might have.

New topic?

QUESTION: Can we talk about --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the weekend operation in Syria?

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: Semi-related, at least?

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Was there any contact between the U.S. and Syrian Government either before or after the operation?

MR RATHKE: There was no contact of that sort before or after.

QUESTION: And then can you just provide any more information on Abu Sayyaf beyond what apparently was a oil and gas – lucrative oil and gas operations? What other crimes do you accuse him of having committed?

MR RATHKE: Well, Abu Sayyaf, as you referred to, Brad, was – he had a senior role in the oil and gas operations that ISIL carries out. This is a major source of revenue for this terrorist organization. And he was also involved in ISIL’s military operations, and so that is the focal point of the U.S. Government’s interest and indeed the operation to capture him.

QUESTION: But do you have information linking him directly to killings, or was – is primarily your interest in him because of this lucrative oil and gas operations?

MR RATHKE: Right. I mean, that – the financing of ISIL, which is extremely important to them and is extremely important to their reach and their ability to carry out operations, was the focal point of that. And it was the President’s decision – on the basis of a recommendation from the national security team that this could be carried out successfully, that decision was made to move forward.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one more?

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, is this unprecedented – I mean, essentially the way you guys have described him is a businessman of sorts, however nefarious; a money guy – to actually send special forces into a country that we don’t have permission to enter and kill him on that territory? Is that an unprecedented act for the United States?

MR RATHKE: I don’t know if I can speak to precedent. I would add one – maybe one or two things, though, to your characterization. As I said, he was also in – it’s our information that he was involved in military operations in addition to being involved in oil and gas. And while – and you’re also aware of the two women who were brought back from the raid, and he may have been complicit in the enslavement of the young Yezidi woman, but that is something that’s being investigated, so I don’t have more detail on that.

QUESTION: But the U.S. isn’t in the general business of sending special operations teams to invade countries if there’s a sex slave that somebody’s holding. This has to be --

MR RATHKE: This has to do with the oil and gas and his – also involvement with their military operations.

QUESTION: But without linking him directly to killings or to mass human rights atrocities, is this a new kind of operation that – I mean, I just find it unique that you’re not accusing him of massive killings or anything like that. You’re saying he made a lot money and therefore you could kill him.

MR RATHKE: Well, this isn’t about his making a lot of money. He was central to ISIL’s financing, and that’s – that is the focus. I understand your question about precedent. I don’t have an answer on the top of my head. If we can come back to you with more, I’ll see if we have anything.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Can I ask about his wife?

MR RATHKE: Sorry?

QUESTION: Can I ask about his wife --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- who was captured, I believe, in the operation?

MR RATHKE: That’s right.

QUESTION: And do you have her name, and where is she now?

MR RATHKE: Well, his wife Umm Sayyaf – that’s spelled Umm Sayyaf.

QUESTION: That just means “Mrs.” though.

MR RATHKE: Yes, right, right.

QUESTION: What’s her name?

MR RATHKE: Umm Sayyaf. We suspect that she is a member of ISIL as well and played an important role in their terrorist activities, and that she may also have been complicit in the situation of the Yezidi woman who was rescued. But we – our understanding, our information is that she is also a member of ISIL and was involved in their terrorist activities.

QUESTION: And are you able to tell us where she is now?

MR RATHKE: Let me – we’re currently debriefing the detainee to obtain intelligence about ISIL operations. I don’t have further detail to share about location.

QUESTION: Okay. And could --

QUESTION: Or about her terrorist activities?

QUESTION: Yeah, I was going to ask more – yes – more about what exactly she might have done.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have more detail to offer than that at this point.

QUESTION: And I saw a report over the weekend that there was some indication that the U.S. thought that she might have information about hostages, Western hostages who are being held. Is that correct? Is that something you can give us?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have – it’s possible that they may have had information about that, but I think that’s also what we’re working to determine now, any information that she may have regarding hostages. I don’t have any information to share, but that’s part of the debriefing, to determine if she might have any information about hostages.

QUESTION: Okay. And could I ask, if – she’s being debriefed. I’m sure that’s an acronym for something else – euphemism for something else, but what does that – what – where could this lead to eventually? Could she be seen by the United States as an enemy combatant? Are you possibly talking about eventual charges being brought against her? And if so, where would they be laid?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have any information to share about possible charges or prosecution. What’s going on right now is, again, a debriefing of the detainee to obtain intelligence about ISIL’s operations. We’re also working to determine if she has information about hostages. I don’t have anything to share on that. And as far as the – where that might lead, the – that is something we’ll see. I don’t have any information about a prosecution. If you’re – if there’s a – if you’re asking about sort of the legal authorities --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR RATHKE: -- for detention, the President has authority under the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, and the international legal basis for this detention is the consent of the Government of Iraq in the context of the ongoing military operations in Iraq and Syria against ISIL.

QUESTION: So should we assume by that that she’s no longer in Syria and she’s in Iraq?

MR RATHKE: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Should we assume from that that she could be in Iraq rather than in Syria?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I don’t have further details to share about location. But that’s the legal justification for the detention.

QUESTION: Is she Iraqi or Syrian?

MR RATHKE: She is Iraqi.

QUESTION: She’s Iraqi.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have a full name for her?

MR RATHKE: I only have the --

QUESTION: Would it be possible to find out? Because Umm isn’t a name; it’s just --

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Right. I’ll see if we have anything more that we can offer. I don’t have anything beyond that.

QUESTION: And age, approximate age?

MR RATHKE: I can check and see if we have her approximate age.

QUESTION: Jeff, would you say in general that – has she been cooperative in --

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any feedback on that to share.

Go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: That was in the – over the weekend and you mentioned it again as well. You believe she might have been involved in this sexual enslavement of the Yezidi woman? Did I understand that right?

QUESTION: You said enslavement.

QUESTION: Sexual?

MR RATHKE: I said enslavement. No, I said enslavement.

QUESTION: Okay. But you also believe she was a sex slave? Is --

MR RATHKE: I – we’ve never said that. So I’m not sure where --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: We’ve used the word “enslavement,” but again, that’s something that we’re seeking to determine more about.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: And what happened to the Yezidi woman?

MR RATHKE: So with respect to the Yezidi woman – if you bear with me for a moment – let me come back to you. I know I’ve got the information; I can’t put my hands on it. But my understanding is that she would be debriefed and then to be reunited with her family, but I don’t have a timeline for that.

Same topic?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is there any concern about the optics of this operation and that the U.S. is seen as willing to go into, inside Syria to go after IS but to date hasn’t really been willing to go in to act against Assad or his government? Any concern about the optics in the Arab world about that?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think the reasoning and the decision are clear. The President authorized this operation because of the information we had about Abu Sayyaf and about his wife. And it was consistent with the mission as well as carried out with the consent of the Iraqi Government. So we don’t see an inconsistency there.

QUESTION: It’s not so much about the reasoning; I’m not questioning the reasoning. I’m talking about the way it’s going to be perceived or is being perceived.

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: You don’t think it’s a problem?

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t think that’s – we’ll see if countries raise concerns, but I think this was an effort to strike at the financing network of ISIL, which is certainly a – why we have so many countries joining us in this international coalition.

Anything else on this topic, or I move on?

QUESTION: On that point --

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- what about reassuring people who are worried about the U.S. getting too involved in Syria? It seems like it would be a rather dangerous mission. Is this opening the U.S. to doing any kind of special forces operation to take out somebody of this level?

MR RATHKE: Well, this – again, I think this was a specific case, and it was planned and executed in response to specific intelligence about a specific individual. I’m not going to suggest that it’s a pattern, but it was a specific operation with specific objectives. So we don’t see that as – and we see it as consistent with the AUMFs.

QUESTION: But there are a number of ISIS officials who could also warrant attractive targets for the United States. Are we going to launch special forces operations and go after them if we’re able to?

MR RATHKE: Well, this was a distinctive operation that was backed up by credible intelligence about a specific opportunity to go after a targeted individual. So our preference, of course, always is to detain and interrogate and prosecute suspected terrorists where it’s feasible, but this is a – this specific operation was carried out for specific reasons.

Yeah, Barbara.

QUESTION: This is a different topic.

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Yemen?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: There are reports that the Saudis have started their airstrikes again. Is it your understanding that the ceasefire is over now? And have you been in touch with the government – the Saudis about it?

MR RATHKE: Well, the ceasefire expired yesterday, of course. It was a five-day ceasefire --

QUESTION: But I mean the chances of extending it, because you were saying you were hoping it could be a longer term affair. So is that the – kind of the window for that is closed now and we go back to the conflict as it was?

MR RATHKE: Well, I would say that that’s a question for the Saudi-led coalition. The ceasefire took place at the proposal of – at the initiation of the Saudi-led coalition. And they – I’m sure you’ve heard from the Saudis, but the Saudis have also indicated that during the ceasefire that there were Houthi movements of long – of missile-launching capabilities to the border and other activities, as a result of which Saudi Arabia took action against those – against that equipment. So I would refer you back to them for the details on their decision.

Certainly, we see ultimately that the only solution to the crisis in Yemen is to get back to the political dialogue process. We support that, but also we’ve been clear that the Houthis have to cease unilateral aggressive actions inside Yemen in order for that to have a chance, and they need to indicate their readiness and their willingness to come back to the table, as part of the UN-led process.

QUESTION: So the end of the ceasefire is the Houthis’ fault?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we – the Houthis shelled Saudi territory numerous times during the pause and we think the Saudis exercised restraint during this pause, which enabled food, fuel, and humanitarian aid to reach vulnerable Yemeni citizens.

QUESTION: What do you (inaudible) the humanitarian aid (inaudible) of the ceasefire?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, there were multiple humanitarian aid organizations that were able to deliver aid during the pause. It’s our understanding that yesterday, May 17th, the fifth and sixth UNHCR flights, since May 15th, reached Yemen. They had about 138 metric tons of nonfood items. There was also a World Food Program vessel that was scheduled – or, sorry, was confirmed to have arrived on May 17th. The World Food Program has delivered 420,000 liters of fuel, which will enable humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance throughout the country, and these were just the latest in a series of deliveries during the five-day pause. The UN would have more comprehensive details about all of those things.

We certainly urge Saudi and other authorities to continue to allow commercial shipments of fuel and food to avert a humanitarian crisis for the 16 million Yemenis in need of assistance. And we also understand that humanitarian aid organizations and the United Nations will continue to try to deliver aid, as conditions permit.

QUESTION: And on the Iranian ship, do you have any information? Where is it now? And – because they are insisting to send this ship to Yemen.

MR RATHKE: So the – with regard to the Iranian ship, the location – it remains in – sorry – in the waters near Yemen. We certainly have been following carefully the position of the ship as well. There has been – there have been efforts to reach out to the UN and, as we stressed at the end of last week, it’s important that humanitarian aid be coordinated through international mechanisms. I don’t have a further update on the specific position of the ship though and its intentions.

QUESTION: And have you talked to the Iranians directly about it?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any direct contacts to read out. I think we’ve made our position on this quite clear publicly. We’ve also been working through the UN to stress the importance from the United States perspective of international coordination mechanisms being adhered to in this case.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: Did they accept for the ship to be searched by the UN, or they going to go there as a provocation to the standards that the UN put --

MR RATHKE: I don’t have an update on the – on where the ship will be headed and what steps the Iranians will undertake. We’ll refer back to them. But our position on what we would like to see happen and why it’s important to coordinate internationally given the situation in Yemen is clear, I think.

QUESTION: Burundi?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Anything else on this topic?

Okay, yeah, go ahead. Burundi.

QUESTION: So I don’t know if you saw a statement that was posted on the Burundi foreign ministry website saying that demonstrators against the president will be treated as accomplices of the generals who allegedly staged last week’s failed coup. What do you think about treating anti – protesters who are against the president as – the same way as one would treat alleged coup plotters?

MR RATHKE: Well, those charged with involvement in the attempted seizure of power must be treated in accord with relevant laws, and their rights must be respected. Also, we believe that the Burundian military must conduct itself professionally in dealing with civilians. We remain – overall, we remain concerned by the volatile situation in Burundi. While the situation is generally calm, there have been some protests, and the potential for violence remains.

There are also reports of retaliatory violence against people who were involved in or supportive of the attempted seizure of power. And as you said, Arshad, opponents of a third term for President Nkurunziza have announced that they will continue protests.

QUESTION: Could I sort of go back?

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I appreciate that you had a long answer to that, but you began by saying, “those accused of involvement in.” And the point I was trying to get at was it’s quite conceivable that protesters may not have been involved in a coup. They might favor one, they might like the idea of one, they might oppose the president, but that doesn’t mean they actually staged or executed a coup.

MR RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: And I guess what I was wondering was whether you might be able to address the importance of not treating peaceful protesters as coup plotters if in fact they weren’t coup plotters, they were just protesters.

MR RATHKE: Yes, I agree, and thanks for the opportunity to clarify. We – what we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks is that, in fact, the president’s decision to announce his candidacy for a third term has and will continue to exacerbate instability and foment violence in the country. But certainly, peaceful protesters should not be equated with people who participated in an attempted seizure of power.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Anything else on Burundi?

QUESTION: Can I – yes. Can I ask --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- for just some – a bit more clarification on the assistance that you provided over the weekend --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- to American and some Canadian citizens, and other countries as well?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Was this – could you describe what this assistance was? Did you actually put on your own charter flight, or was it that you helped people to get onto existing flights to Kigali or (inaudible)?

MR RATHKE: Sure, I’m happy – some of you probably saw a note that we put out on this, but to go into a little more detail and answer Jo’s question – so as a result of the deteriorating security situation, we ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. Government personnel as well as family members – dependents – on May 14th. And in response to the requests from several diplomatic missions in Bujumbura, we provided evacuation assistance both to U.S. citizens and to other foreign citizens in Burundi. So the United States Government chartered three commercial flights. Those departed May 17th from Burundi, and in addition to approximately 20 American citizens, there were several other foreign citizens on that – on those flights.

QUESTION: Are you able to break down beyond Canada? Can you give us any other nationalities of the citizens?

MR RATHKE: I can check and see if we have more information. In general, we would let them – let those countries speak to that and not speak on their behalf. But there were – there were a few countries whose citizens were on the flights. I would also highlight that as a result of these flights, all U.S. and foreign citizens who expressed an interest in departing Burundi on the charter flights were assisted. So we, of course, remain in contact with American citizens and will continue to do so, but it’s our understanding that this has taken care of those citizens who wished to depart.

QUESTION: So no further evacuations of that nature --

MR RATHKE: Well, again, as far we’re aware right now, those were all of the people who had a desire to depart. We remain in contact and we’ll see how that situation might change.

I would also add with respect to the airport, we understand that a – that one commercial flight arrived in Bujumbura on Sunday, but we – our embassy has reports that the land borders continue to be closed. So we’re continuing to monitor the transportation situation as well and to share that information as appropriate with American citizens there.

Any other questions on Burundi? No? Okay, John.

QUESTION: Yeah, Israel-Palestine. The White House and State Department has said it’s going to watch closely how the prime minister of Israel is going to form his new government in terms of how it’s going to reassess solutions for the Israel-Palestine conflict. It’s now being reported that Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom has been made responsible for talks with the Palestinians. Shalom has never publicly supported a two-state solution, according to Haaretz, and has even expressed support for West Bank settlement construction. Is this a concern for the U.S.?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have a reaction to that specific appointment, but let’s go back to how the United States views the situation overall. As the President has said and other senior officials, we look forward to working with this Israeli Government as we have with every Israeli Government that has preceded it. We continue to believe that a two-state solution is vital not only for peace between Israelis and Palestinians but also for the long-term security of Israel and as a democratic and Jewish state. So it’s not a secret that the new Israeli Government includes cabinet members who do not necessarily believe in that premise, but our goal and this goal for the United States continues to be a top priority for us, and that isn’t going to change. So that’s what we will continue working towards, and our policy hasn’t changed at all.

QUESTION: But these – I mean, these are two pretty crucial points specifically that following the elections and before the elections the U.S. has said are problematic; it needs to see signs that the Israelis are no longer going to publicly disavow the creation of a Palestinian state. Let’s say – this has been reported that he is the next official responsible for the Palestinian talks. Would it be a problem if someone were to be appointed in this position who hasn’t publicly supported this two-state solution and has been supportive of settlements?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, the United States policy is that we support a two-state solution reached through direct negotiations between – between the parties. And we are looking for policies and also actions from both sides now that an Israeli Government has been formed that advance toward that end. So that’s – that I think is where I’ll leave it.

QUESTION: Isn’t the U.S. position that – on the Palestinian side, at least, that to be included in negotiations you must accept in principle a two-state solution?

MR RATHKE: Well, as prime minister – sorry, as Palestinian Authority President Abbas has done. But that’s --

QUESTION: But here, in this case, if you have an Israeli official who doesn’t accept a two-state solution necessarily or hasn’t publicly endorsed it, do you find that okay?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I haven’t seen the report that John referred to, so I’m not confirming that report. But the --

QUESTION: How about the principle of that suggestion?

MR RATHKE: The point is that U.S. policy is to support a two-state solution. We are looking for policies and actions that advance a two-state solution. And I think I’ll leave it at that for now.

QUESTION: But if the Palestinians were to appoint, let’s say, in their unity government, let’s say a Hamas official who doesn’t support the two-state solution as their intended interlocutor for the process, would you have problems with that?

MR RATHKE: Well, that’s a hypothetical I’m not going to comment on. That’s not – they haven’t taken that step, so I think I’ll leave it at what I said.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Well, my question is: I thought that the road – that the next benchmark that the U.S. Government had been sending is, all right, this is how the election turned out, but we’re going to be – we’re going to wait to see how this coalition government is being formed. Is the U.S. now pushing it down the road to say, okay, well, they might be appointing whoever they want for their coalition government, but it’s going to be about the policies and what we see next? Is this the U.S. sort of kicking the can down the road?

MR RATHKE: No, no, not at all. We’ve said consistently that what will matter are not just words but actions, and so that’s why we’re looking to the policies and the actions of the Israeli Government. And we’re – the government has just been formed, and so we are looking for policies and actions. But I don’t have more than that at the moment.

Yes, go ahead, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. On South Korea?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Secretary Kerry at the joint press conference in Seoul, Korea and he expressed his strong support for Korean efforts to realize the opening of the Korea-Japan-China summit in the near future. What particular diplomatic actions would the U.S. be taking to support this?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have specific actions to read out. Certainly, we support those trilateral contacts, and it was among the many things that the Secretary discussed with his counterpart as well as with President Park. And we see the U.S.-South Korea relationship as an essential alliance, and we’re going to work to advance it. But I don’t have – I don’t have further details from the meeting to read out in that regard.

Why don’t we go here and then we’ll go all the way to the back. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout of Secretary Kerry’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping?

MR RATHKE: I have a couple of – a couple of details. They discussed the importance of President Xi’s upcoming visit to Washington. They addressed a range of global issues on which we work together. That includes climate change, the nuclear negotiations with Iran, providing development aid around the world as well as Afghanistan. And they also share – they discussed our shared commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. They agreed on the importance of maintaining pressure on the DPRK. And the Secretary also expressed U.S. concern about ongoing land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea and highlighted the need to lower tensions, resolve disputes peacefully, to respect international law, and to exercise restraint.

QUESTION: And you don’t have any readout of Kerry’s meeting with the South Korean –

MR RATHKE: Those meetings happened much more recently. I don’t have a detailed readout of those yet. If I get more, I’m happy to share that.

Sorry, a follow-up?

QUESTION: China.

MR RATHKE: Yeah, okay, and then we’ll go to you, Michele. Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. New York Times noted that Secretary Kerry declined to answer about the news about the Pentagon was considering sending ships and aircrafts to the South China Sea. And instead, he stressed that smart diplomacy. So is that still the official position that the U.S. Government thinking of pursuing the diplomatic solution to resolve the issue in the South China Sea?

MR RATHKE: Well, we certainly support steps to resolve the issues diplomatically. We support the ASEAN-China discussions on a code of conduct. We are against any unilateral efforts to determine sovereignty. There are multiple claimants to many of the land features in the South China Sea, and those need to be resolved diplomatically and in accordance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. So our policy on that issue hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: And also still --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- on the – also, Chinese media quoted that Secretary Kerry said the U.S. does not want to be a safe haven for corrupt fugitives. So in terms of starting talks on the extradition treaty, how will that proceed?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have – I don’t have any announcement to make about the – about starting talks toward an extradition treaty. I think the Secretary’s words speak for themselves. I don’t have any further announcement or elaboration to offer on it.

Michele. Sorry, I think we need to keep moving because we’re going to run out of time here. Michele, go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a question on Egypt --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- and whether or not you have any reaction to the sentence handed down to Mohamed Morsy and whether the U.S. has shared any of those thoughts or concerns with Egyptian officials.

MR RATHKE: Yes. We are deeply concerned by yet another mass death sentence handed down by an Egyptian court to more than 100 defendants, including former President Morsy. We have consistently spoken out against the practice of mass trials and sentences which are conducted in a manner that’s inconsistent with Egypt’s international obligations and which are frequently used against members of the opposition and nonviolent activists. This practice, which in this instance was directed against, among others, a former elected president, is unjust and undermines confidence in the rule of law.

QUESTION: And did you – I mean, has this message been sent to Egyptian authorities somehow?

MR RATHKE: Well, we continue to have frank discussions with the Government of Egypt about our human rights concerns, including this. I don’t have a detailed readout to share, but this is certainly a topic that we continue to have conversations about.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: I think similar statement was told on Sunday morning by an unnamed State Department official, and shortly after the readout Egyptian court hanged six people. One of them was high school student, which is described by the Amnesty International as grossly unfair. So it’s clear that U.S. – or Egyptian authorities does not really care about U.S. concern or other countries’ condemnation, and I’m wondering if U.S. is planning any other measures regarding the human right abuses in Egypt.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, I don’t have steps to preview, but we continue to stress the need for – with our Egyptian counterparts, we stress both publicly and privately the need for due process and for individualized judicial processes for all in the interest – in the interest of justice. We think the right to due process is critical to the stability and the prosperity that Egypt seeks. And so we certainly continue to make that point to our Egyptian colleagues.

QUESTION: The court’s final decision will be on June 2nd, I guess. And any U.S. official present or Secretary planning to call any counterpart in Egypt?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. I don’t have – I don’t have calls to preview, but we do – we do note that this is a preliminary sentence that was handed down over the weekend. And as I said, we continue to have frank conversations with our counterparts.

Yes.

QUESTION: Since this is a preliminary sentence, which was going to be my next question, what’s the threat to Egypt if they actually go forward, confirm this sentence, and then hang or otherwise kill the former president?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to make a prediction about that. We have made our views and we continue to make our views clear to the Egyptian Government. We believe that all Egyptians, regardless of their political affiliation, are entitled to equal and fair treatment before the law. That includes full respect for their rights to due process, and we remain opposed to politicized arrests and detentions.

QUESTION: So you can’t spell out any possible repercussion to Egypt if they --

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to spell out in advance ---

QUESTION: -- if they flagrantly ignore what you just said and do what you just said was so unjust – in your words?

MR RATHKE: Well, what I also said is we continue to have frank, private discussions with the Government of Egypt. I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Yeah. But that’s --

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to --

QUESTION: -- that’s not a punishment. Frank discussions is sometimes even a reward for countries that have problems as well with you. So I mean, is that it? If you do this, we’ll have frank discussions?

MR RATHKE: Well, look, I’m not going to spell out in advance what the United States reaction would be to --

QUESTION: Can I change topic?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: And just picking up on the frank discussions, another country you had frank discussions with last week was Russia. And I wondered if you had any readout on the meetings today of the Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland in Moscow, which obviously comes hot on the heels of those visits by – of the visit by Secretary Kerry and his talks with President Putin last week.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, Assistant Secretary Nuland was in Moscow. She’s on her way back now, if I understand correctly, and she was there to discuss the next steps in implementing the Minsk agreements. And these follow on, of course, to the Secretary’s meetings May 12th in Sochi. The United States is actively engaged in deepening our engagement and our support for seeing Minsk fully implemented in all of its aspects, including a full ceasefire, increased humanitarian assistance and access, control and monitoring of the international border, and free, fair local elections in eastern Ukraine. Of course, after the meeting with NATO foreign ministers in Antalya, Assistant Secretary Nuland went to Kyiv, where she had meetings with the full range of the Ukrainian political leadership, and then went from there to Moscow. So she has been actively engaged over the last week to try to move Minsk forward. We don’t have breakthroughs to report, but this is continued, active engagement to try to push forward the discussions that the Secretary had at Sochi.

QUESTION: Who did she meet with in Moscow today?

MR RATHKE: Let me check and see if I can get a name for you. I don’t have the name in front of me.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- what would be your – what would the deepening U.S. engagement in implementing Minsk look like? What exactly, concretely, are you thinking of doing? Because she did say actually afterwards – she talked to some journalists; she said “we talked about concrete steps.” What might those be?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, the United States focus from the outset of the crisis in Ukraine has been to support Ukraine and to pursue a diplomatic solution that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity. We remain in close contact with our European allies and partners as well as with countries around the world to help accomplish this. That’s – I don’t have specific steps to read out from her meetings. Again, this is – we didn’t – we don’t see this as a breakthrough; we see this as continued, active engagement to try to move Minsk forward.

QUESTION: But you guys aren’t actually – the United States is not actually part of the Normandy process that’s been led by France and Germany at the moment with Russia and Ukraine.

MR RATHKE: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Would you see some kind of involvement, some deep engagement in that process on the U.S. side?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think regardless of format, what we’re talking about is the U.S. engagement to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. I don’t have a format announcement or preference to spell out right here, though.

Same topic?

QUESTION: No. It’s --

MR RATHKE: Anything else on --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry has been harangued by a number of think-tankers and critics about the meeting in Russia. What is the State Department’s response? The general criticism being that this was a gift to Putin and the way that it’s being interpreted in Russia is a sign of how important Russia is on the world stage and how people must come to Sochi and meet with the president – with the premier.

MR RATHKE: Well, I think you meant with the president.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. So the – I think the purpose of the trip to Sochi was to speak directly to the top decision maker in Russia about a number of issues, including Ukraine, and to express clearly the U.S. view with regard to Ukraine, to talk about the consequences for failure to implement Minsk. And so it was a valuable opportunity for that reason, and that’s also why Assistant Secretary Nuland has been so actively engaged in the week following his trip to Sochi. So we think it’s always good to express that view directly and clearly. And the Secretary went right afterwards to talk to his NATO foreign minister counterparts as well with his Ukrainian counterparts to make that clear to them as well.

QUESTION: Jeff, on this?

QUESTION: I believe – can I just ask --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Sorry, Michel. I believe this was – I believe the last time Secretary Nuland was – Assistant Secretary Nuland, sorry – was actually in Moscow dates back to late 2013, before Crimea and before the eastern Ukrainian crisis. So should we – do you as an Administration or does this building believe that Kerry’s – that Secretary Kerry’s visit actually achieved some kind of slight detente in the tensions that you have seen up until this point?

MR RATHKE: Well, the purpose is – was to focus on specific areas where we believe we can work together. We’re not describing it in that kind of general term that you used. So that’s why there was a discussion of Ukraine, as we talked about – also Syria; also Iran; important areas where we need to work together. We’re not giving it a label broader than that.

Same topic?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: The goal wasn’t to ease tensions, then?

MR RATHKE: I think the goal was to focus on specific topics where we need to work together or where we need to see greater action.

QUESTION: But do you see that now happening? The fact that Assistant Secretary Nuland 18 months on has now gone back to Moscow – does that signal some kind of easing in these tensions?

MR RATHKE: Well – and she was in Kyiv right before she went to Moscow. So I think our focus on Ukraine’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity remains as it has ever been. I – so if you mean to suggest by “easing” some sort of retreat from our policy and our view about Ukraine, then no.

QUESTION: No, I didn’t, actually. I meant to suggest that the United States and Russia now find themselves in a position where they are at least able to talk about this in a – in some kind of fashion, rather than having to meet in European --

MR RATHKE: Well, this is not the first time we’ve talked about it. I mean, we’ve --

QUESTION: No, but it is the first time that she’s been back to Moscow.

MR RATHKE: That’s --

QUESTION: And it’s probably only the first time that you’ve actually talked to Moscow about this issue for some – at that level for some time.

MR RATHKE: Possibly, although the Secretary has talked with Foreign Minister Lavrov numerous times over the last months, including about Ukraine. So I don’t think I agree with the premise that there has been an absence of communication on Ukraine. It’s important that Assistant Secretary Nuland is in Moscow to continue this discussion, especially following right on Sochi, but I think that’s --

QUESTION: But clearly there’s been an attempt to change the tone of the conversation. I mean, the Secretary was almost effusive in his thanks to President Putin for hosting him and for having these serious conversations. So I mean, is it not a – it’s not clearly an attempt to change the tone and to ease tensions and to find progress, even if you don’t retreat on Ukraine?

MR RATHKE: Well, we think it’s important to keep up dialogue. We have some shared interests with Russia when we talk about the Iran nuclear negotiations; we have some areas where we disagree, as with Ukraine; and then there are other areas where we want to see if there’s the opportunity to work more effectively together, such as Syria. But – no, again, I’m not going to --

QUESTION: So why did the Secretary thank President Putin so much in the press conference in Moscow? What was the goal of that? Was he just really thankful?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have further analysis to do about his word choice in the press avail.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR RATHKE: I think we need to keep moving because we’re going to run out of time.

QUESTION: I’ve got a quick one on North Korea.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: No --

QUESTION: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) stay on Russia, please.

QUESTION: Please do.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Russia. Do you have any readout on Special Envoy Rubinstein’s meetings in Moscow today?

MR RATHKE: I’m not sure if they’ve concluded, so I don’t have one right now, but we will share one once those are over.

QUESTION: Do you know what – who he’s met today or with?

MR RATHKE: I don’t, but as soon as his meetings for the day are over, we will – we’ll share a readout.

Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: Yeah. Just – as you will have seen, the Secretary in Beijing earlier today talked about the United States and China discussing additional sanctions on North Korea. And he said, “With respect to the methodology for boosting sanctions and other things, we are discussing all of that now. China obviously has an extraordinary leverage.” We’ll have – “We will have security and economic dialogue with the Chinese in Washington in June, and that will be the moment where we will table some of these specific steps.” Is he talking about U.S. and Chinese sanctions on North Korea, or are the two countries discussing the possibility of additional UN sanctions on North Korea?

MR RATHKE: Well, we continue to work with our – with the Five Parties, including China, and the international community to implement the UN Security Council resolutions, to pressure North Korea to return to credible denuclearization talks, and to take concrete steps. As the Secretary pointed out, we have the Strategic and Economic Dialogue happening here next month. I don’t have more detail to preview on specific steps they’ll discuss at that time, though.

QUESTION: Is there any reason to expect a near-term – meaning in the next few months – intense – a significant effort to intensify sanctions on North Korea?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I don’t have an announcement to make on that. Our focus on putting in place the right measures and keeping the pressure on North Korea – both with those countries that have influence over North Korea, such as China, as well as internationally. That remains our approach, but I don’t have additional detail.

QUESTION: Just last one from me on this. China historically has been reluctant to impose sanctions on North Korea. I’m not saying the two countries are still as close as lips and teeth, but historically, China has not been the enthusiast for sanctions against North Korea. Has something changed, or is this really just at the level of talking but not necessarily anywhere near action?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think you can also observe that China has exactly the same interest in denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that the United States does. So their focus on that issue has been increasing over time. It’s an issue on which we work together with China and we want to intensify that, but I don’t have an additional rollout to suggest or details.

QUESTION: Jeff.

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead. Pam.

QUESTION: A question about the massive protests over the weekend in Macedonia calling for the resignation of the prime minister. Senator Chris Murphy issued a statement and he said the unfolding political crisis in the country is a reminder that the “United States cannot take peace and stability in the Balkans for granted.” What can the U.S. do to bring Macedonia back on its path of Euro-Atlantic integration?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve been following events in Macedonia closely, and along with our European partners, we remain in close consultation with the Macedonian Government and with political leaders to convey our concerns about the current political crisis. We call on all sides to respect the rights of freedom of assembly and peaceful protest, and while refraining from violence. We’ve urged the authorities to make progress toward accounting for allegations of government wrongdoing that arise from the recent disclosures. And we also have urged the opposition party to return to parliament so that it can take part in strengthened parliamentary oversight of Macedonian Government institutions, including an inquiry committee into these disclosures.

We’re encouraged by the steps taken last week by the government to replace key ministers and government officials who were implicated. So we take that as a positive step, but we believe that Macedonia’s leaders all have to work together and engage in dialogue on the issues that confront the country, which includes the necessary reforms and the current political crisis.

I think we have time for just one more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, just a quick return to Israel-Palestine. The Canadian Government has said it’s going to take a zero-tolerance approach to groups that advocate the BDS movement, and they’ve recently suggested that might include applying hate crimes legislation against such groups. Is that something you think would be an appropriate response? And is the BDS movement something that the U.S. Government feels it needs to actively counter?

MR RATHKE: I’m not familiar with that specific report. I think I spoke to that issue more generally at the end of last week in the briefing, so I’d refer back to that transcript.

Really, last one here. Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just one more on Qatar please.

MR RATHKE: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. On different topics, a question about Futenma on location issues. I told you last week and already a major rally against the base construction hold in Okinawa last Sunday. 35,000 people participated at the event. Where is Okinawa people’s (inaudible)? How do you think that so many Okinawan people participated that event?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have an analysis to do of that event, but as we discussed last week when you asked about Okinawa, certainly the United States remains committed to our security partnership with Japan. We are working with the Japanese Government on all aspects of our defense relationship. That includes the replacement facility for Futenma on Okinawa. And that is moving ahead. So that is a part of our security relationship with Japan and our alliance, and that is where we continue to go.

Last question, Michel. Qatar.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any reaction to the arrest of a BBC crew in Qatar today or yesterday? They were reporting on the situation of foreign workers there.

MR RATHKE: I hadn’t heard about that. I’ll take a look and see if we have anything to say. Wasn’t familiar.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)

DPB # 86

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 15, 2015

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 18:27

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 15, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:05 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. Sorry for the delay. I just have a couple of things to mention at the start.

First, with regard to the migrant Rohingya situation, we remain deeply concerned about the urgent situation faced by thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants at sea in Southeast Asia. The Secretary called his Thai counterpart last night to discuss the situation of migrants in the Andaman Sea and to discuss the possibility of Thailand providing temporary shelter for them. The two also discussed the May 29th conference, which Thailand will host. Our ambassadors in the region are intensely engaged with governments to encourage a rapid humanitarian response.

We urge the countries of the region to work together quickly, first and foremost, to save the lives of migrants now at sea who are in need of an immediate rescue effort. This is an emergency that we believe needs to be addressed with appropriate speed and resolve through a regionally coordinated effort to save the lives of the thousands of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers.

We note that nearly 3,000 people have landed this week in Indonesia and Malaysia, where they are receiving assistance. We appreciate the steps taken by the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand to assist these migrants, and urge continued coordination with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration. We urge governments in the region to refrain from pushbacks of new boat arrivals. The United States Government is now discussing ways that the United States can continue to support the regionally led efforts in this crisis, and we plan to send a senior delegation to the regional conference hosted by Thailand in Bangkok on May 29th.

Second item, Ukraine. As the Secretary said at the NATO ministerial meeting in Antalya, Turkey, earlier this week, this is a critical moment for action by Russia and the separatists to live up to the Minsk agreements. Ukraine’s leaders continue to implement their Minsk commitments, just as they have answered the call of the Ukrainian people on the Maidan by delivering the largest reforms since Ukraine’s independence in less than a year, and they aren’t stopping. Assistant Secretary Nuland’s ongoing visit to Kyiv and her discussions with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and President Poroshenko reaffirm the United States’ full and unbreakable support for Ukraine’s government, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. We continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine and reiterate our deep commitment to a single Ukrainian nation, including Crimea, and all the other regions of Ukraine.

And the last item: As you are aware, Secretary Kerry is on his way to China right now. He’s in the air, but just kicking off a trip to China, the Republic of Korea, and then back to Seattle. So with that, over to you.

QUESTION: Can we start with what you started with, which is --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- the plight of the Rohingya? Firstly, you said that in the Secretary’s call with the Thai foreign minister, they discussed the Thais providing temporary shelter? Is that right?

MR RATHKE: They – that’s right. They discussed the possibility of Thailand providing temporary shelter.

QUESTION: So is Thailand going to do that, or did he ask and they said they’ll think about it? What was the result of that discussion?

MR RATHKE: They discussed it. I’ll let the Thai authorities speak for themselves. It’s an issue they discussed. We’ll let Bangkok say if they’re ready to.

QUESTION: Are they providing – is this to provide for all that reach its shores or all that are out at sea, or what?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I don’t want to get ahead of the Thai internal deliberations on this, but it’s clearly important to find a way to address this. Again, we think this is a regional challenge, needs a regional solution, but we’re very glad that the Thai authorities are considering what they might be able to do.

QUESTION: Have you had any conversations with the Burmese, who don’t seem to think that this requires a regional solution or at least one that involves them, apparently?

MR RATHKE: Well, as I said, our ambassadors in the affected countries but also in Burma, which – from which most of these migrants are traveling in one way or another, have been engaging Burmese authorities. We continue to stress that we see a need for Burma to fulfill its previous commitments to improve the living conditions of everybody affected in Rakhine State, and we press the Burmese Government as well to address migrant smuggling and human trafficking of Rohingya, and we think that’s extremely important. So we monitor the situation in Rakhine State.

QUESTION: Are you upset they’re not going to this conference? They said that --

MR RATHKE: I wasn’t aware of an announcement about their attendance, so --

QUESTION: Well, I think they said if the word “Rohingya” is mentioned or in any way involved, they’re not attending.

MR RATHKE: I wasn’t aware of that report. But clearly, we’re sending a senior delegation to the conference. We welcome the Thai initiative. And we think participation by all countries who are involved in one way or another would be a good idea.

QUESTION: Just one more on this. And they also said that officials in the Myanmar Government – that they will not take them back because they can’t even determine their identity or where they’re from or whether they had any right to be in their country to begin with. Does that worry you, given the obligations they have to people who live in their country?

MR RATHKE: Well, we have repeatedly raised the humanitarian issues as well as other issues in Rakhine State related to the Rohingya, and that includes the path to citizenship for stateless persons. It includes a number of the details that you mentioned related to identity documents and so forth. We think there needs to be a path that allows individuals to self-identify as Rohingya and there need to be ways to reinforce the rule of law and protect vulnerable populations.

QUESTION: Well, what about the fundamental question of whether the U.S. Government is willing to do anything other than use words to put pressure on the Myanmar Government to actually take steps to recognize these people as citizens, or to, at a minimum, create a process so that they can assess and potentially grant citizenship to people who have lived in their country? Are you willing to do anything besides talk to actually pressure the Myanmar authorities, or not?

MR RATHKE: Well, this is a longstanding issue. This is an issue that has not just arisen this week. And so as I’m sure you’ll recall, this is one we’ve raised with Burmese authorities, Myanmar authorities, for quite some time. And our views are well known. I think they’re also shared by a number of countries in the region. So we continue to work through this. There have been – there has been some progress in reform in other aspects of politics in Burma. We’ve welcomed those, but we think this is an area that needs continued attention.

QUESTION: Right. But what are you willing to do to try to influence the Myanmar Government to do something about this other than just talk about it, which has not succeeded?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have – I don’t have specific pressure steps to outline. But as we see this week, this is clearly a priority issue and we are focused on it.

QUESTION: How do you address the criticism that at least some human rights groups have that the United States desire to improve relations with Myanmar have, in effect, led – not led, but one follow-on effect of that has been that people like the Rohingya and their plight simply fall through the cracks?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve – since the change in our policy toward Burma a couple of years ago, we have seen that as a way to leverage greater support for reforms. That doesn’t mean there have been successes across the board. But as I alluded to, there have been – there has also been real progress. Are – is the work over? No. And so we continue to push in a variety of areas, including on the plight of the Rohingya. So we remain focused on it. But that’s – we believe that engagement is better than not engaging on this, and so we’re going to stick by that – that approach.

QUESTION: So do you think that the reforms that – and clearly there are some reforms that manifestly have been taken by the authorities in recent years – are likely eventually to their treating such Rohingya as may remain in their country more humanely over time? I mean, is that your hope or your bet on this that eventually you’ll have a more reform-minded and a more – a Myanmar Government that’s more willing to address this issue in ways that you want them to?

MR RATHKE: Well, there are no certainties in life, but we certainly feel that engagement with the authorities in Myanmar is the best way to pursue our policy priorities and steps that we think are to the benefit of all citizens and all people living in the country.

QUESTION: And how much of a priority then is the plight of the Rohingya for the United States Government?

MR RATHKE: How much? I’m not sure your – what kind of a quantification you’re seeking.

QUESTION: Well, is it more important than the broader opening with Myanmar? Clearly not, right?

MR RATHKE: It’s a part of it. If your question is will we decide to disengage with Burma because we have a disagreement over their approach to the Rohingya, no, we will remain engaged with Burma. But that doesn’t mean in any way that we’re going to shrink from what we think is appropriate, including under Burma’s own commitments.

Same topic?

QUESTION: Can I ask one more on this? This is my last one on this.

MR RATHKE: Yeah, yeah. And then we’ll – yeah.

QUESTION: So why is it that the migration refugee exodus problem is a regional problem that should be dealt with regionally? I mean, the U.S. Government provides enormous sums of money in other parts of the world to try to help neighboring countries grapple with such refugee flows. Why isn’t this something that the United States Government should do more itself on rather than just kind of pointing to the region?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’re not asking countries to do things when we’re not doing something ourselves. We have been putting resources into this effort. As we’ve talked about earlier this week, since Fiscal Year 2014 and into this fiscal year we’ve provided $109 million in humanitarian assistance for vulnerable Burmese. That includes Rohingya, and that money has gone to programs in Burma and in the region. So among the things we support are the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration – and that deals on the one hand with the needs of refugees and asylum-seekers; also deals with resettlement issues. I don’t need to remind you that the U.S. is the largest destination country for refugee resettlements in the world. So I would dispute the notion that the U.S. isn’t playing a part and doing what we can to help address the situation.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have an assessment of why these Rohingya are migrating? Is it your view that the primary reason is due to some aspect of disparate or unfair treatment in Burma? Is it for economic reasons, or what’s the assessment on it?

MR RATHKE: Well, in any case where you have large numbers of people fleeing, it often – it’s often a confluence of several factors. So I don’t want to try to prioritize them or pinpoint one specific factor, but certainly we believe that the humanitarian situation in Rakhine State is – needs attention, and we’ve raised this with the Burmese Government. They have made commitments to improve the living conditions there. We want to see the Burmese Government do more to carry out those commitments, and that’s clearly a factor.

QUESTION: And do you feel that the U.S. confidence in this rapprochement with the Burmese Government is undermined in any way by the fact that you have however many thousand members of this group making a very contrary judgment about their own personal situation?

MR RATHKE: Well, the fact that there have been people trying to flee is also not new, unfortunately. We may be seeing a spike in it now. But this is a phenomenon that has existed for some time. So again, we see the best way to try to address these issues is by working with all countries in the region – again, the countries that are affected by this most directly in the region. It’s also a concern for them. And so we want to work with them and we want to work through our bilateral relationship with Burma as well.

QUESTION: And is there anything that’s causing this – you mentioned a spike. Is --

MR RATHKE: I’m not going – we’ve talked about the humanitarian situation. I don’t have more analysis to offer about what is precisely behind – Ros.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. believe that the Burmese Government is making these promises in good faith, or are they just saying this just to get the ambassador and other American officials out of the room?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we – they’ve made commitments; we take those seriously. We are – we’re working with them to see them implemented. But the work isn’t done.

QUESTION: And what is the U.S. doing to hold them to their commitments? I mean, we’ve got --

MR RATHKE: Well, this is similar to Arshad’s question. We remain engaged, we raise this regularly, and we’re working on this now at high levels because of the crisis it’s created.

Yeah.

QUESTION: You’ve mentioned that the engagement has led to or has helped further broader reforms in Myanmar. For the Rohingya specifically, can you point to any benefits they’ve received as a result of U.S. engagement over the last three years, or three, four years now?

MR RATHKE: Well, I would separate that into a couple of different things. First of all, if you’re talking about policy steps by the Burmese authorities, as we were just talking about, we see the need for the Burmese Government to do more. If you talk about the U.S. engagement more broadly, however, we have provided humanitarian assistance that has helped the plight of many Burmese – some in the country, some outside the country. So in that respect, we are doing what we can to help address that humanitarian assistance ourselves as well.

QUESTION: So your assertion would be that U.S. engagement with the Burmese Government has paid off for the Rohingya?

MR RATHKE: Well, I would say --

QUESTION: Has benefited the Rohingya as well?

MR RATHKE: I would say it has – there has been some progress on access for humanitarian organizations. There have been some setbacks in that regard as well, but I think there have been also some positive developments. We – I’m not able to point to a clear line of continuous, steady improvement, but there have been some changes. I don’t want to overdramatize those. Again, there’s a lot of work to be done, and that’s why we continue to work on this with Burmese authorities.

Yeah. New topic?

QUESTION: No, same topic.

MR RATHKE: Same topic? Yes.

QUESTION: So was it – was a humanitarian issue raised and discussed during today’s U.S.-ASEAN Dialogue at all? And if so, what was it?

MR RATHKE: Well, those meetings may still be ongoing. I must admit I don’t know when they were scheduled to conclude. But certainly this was one issue that we intended to discuss with our ASEAN partners. Again, the three countries most directly affected by the flow of migrants are ASEAN members, and so that’s certainly an issue we plan to raise. But I don’t have a readout of that meeting to offer.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) U.S.-ASEAN Dialogue today --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- is it fair to say the purpose of having this meeting is to talk about how they can deal with South China Sea issues with China, how U.S. can help them to deal with China?

MR RATHKE: Well, that’s not the only purpose of the meeting. Certainly, the South China Sea was one topic of discussion, but we have a broader – a broad relationship with ASEAN. It touched – it starts with economic issues, it goes all the way through maritime cooperation in the region, also deals with a number of other international issues. So we see this as a – this meeting today as an opportunity to make progress along many fronts in our relationship with ASEAN, rather than a specific – only a single issue meeting.

Anything on the same topic, or --

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout on the ASEAN meeting once it’s done?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, yeah. We can get that and share it.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR RATHKE: Sure. Nicolas.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: Like yesterday, Burundi.

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Now that the president is back to Bujumbura and that some plotters have been arrested, he made an interesting statement drawing a link or connection between the plotters and three weeks of demonstrations against his possible third term. So does the U.S. share this analysis? And what’s next for the U.S. policy? Will you continue to press for him to give up with his plan to run for a third term?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Okay. There are a few – there are several issues that are part of your question. So first of all, we are deeply concerned by the situation in Burundi. I said that yesterday; it holds today. We’re concerned by the potential for further violence, including some reports today or retaliatory violence following the attempted seizure of power yesterday. We strongly believe that the Arusha Accords must remain the foundation for Burundi’s stability and for national reconciliation.

And as we have stated on the question of a third term, the U.S. position is that President Nkurunziza, in accordance with the Arusha Accords, should not stand for a third term. In fact, the president’s decision to announce his candidacy for a third term has and will continue to exacerbate instability and potentially foment violence in the country. This threatens the viability of the Burundian Government, and it increases the risk of violence and insecurity that could threaten donor support.

As to the United States message, we call on all parties to exercise restraint, to refrain from any retaliatory action and violence, and this is especially important in the aftermath of the most recent events. We think that any of those who plan in – plan, participate in, or order widespread or systematic discriminatory violence against the civilian population should know that the world is watching and that they should be held accountable.

So I’ve – I talked earlier in the week about the possibility of visa restrictions from the United States’ side; that remains a possibility. And I mentioned yesterday as well the Burundian military involvement in violent events in Bujumbura, and remind once again that under our Leahy Law, the United States cannot provide U.S. military assistance to military units if we have credible information that they’ve been involved in gross violations of human rights.

QUESTION: Have you – sorry, a quick thing. Had you previously said that it was the U.S. position that the president should not – that in accordance with the Arusha Accords should not run for a third term?

MR RATHKE: Yes. We’ve said before that we – that it was inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the Arusha Accords. So that’s not a new statement, but I’ve – it was part of Nicolas’s question, so I wanted to make sure it was clear.

Anything else on Burundi?

QUESTION: Does the --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Does the Travel Warning to U.S. citizens stand – the one that was issued overnight saying, basically, get out?

MR RATHKE: So you saw our Travel Warning that was issued last night. For those who haven’t, I’ll simply repeat that our Travel Warning warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Burundi. And to those U.S. citizens who are in Burundi, we recommend that they depart as soon as it’s feasible to do so. That Travel Warning still stands, Ros, to answer your – the specific question.

I would also highlight that in our Travel Warning, we informed that the Department of State has ordered the departure of dependents of U.S. government personnel as well as non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Burundi. Our embassy is closed today. We are able to offer limited emergency services to U.S. citizens. We are in touch with American citizens in the country, including those who have an interest in departing. I don’t have further details to share about those conversations, but we are certainly in touch with American citizens and will remain so.

QUESTION: Do you know whether the ambassador or other embassy staff have been in touch with the president, Nkurunziza, since his return?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any contact with the president to read out. So we’re certainly aware of the reports of his return to Burundi, but I don’t have contact with him to read out.

QUESTION: And what would be the primary U.S. message once contact is established, whether from here or there in (inaudible)?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think it would be very consistent with what – with the several points I just laid out: the importance of respecting the Arusha Accords, the importance of no retaliatory violence, the importance of exercising restraint, and so forth.

Pam, did you have a question on the same topic?

QUESTION: I did.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Actually on several questions. First of all, you mentioned the embassy was closed today. It was closed yesterday for a holiday. Is this part of that, or is it closed for a different reason today? And then --

MR RATHKE: Let me answer that one quickly. The reason for the closure today is because of the situation in the country, not for a holiday.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Also, what is your understanding – what is State’s understanding of the situation on the ground at this point? Are you characterizing what occurred earlier in the week as a coup? Was it not a coup? Is it your understanding that – what are officials there telling you, basically, about the situation on the ground at this point?

And then also, a clarification with the Arusha Agreement: In that the president’s first term involved being elected by parliament, does that in essence give him the option to seek a third term, since the agreement requires the terms to be by balloting and not by a parliamentary procedure?

MR RATHKE: Well, our position on the Arusha Accords is as I just stated it. Our position is that President Nkurunziza in – under the Arusha Accords should not stand for a third term. Your question about the situation on the ground – I think the description from yesterday still applies. The situation is very fluid. I don’t have a sort of update to provide about the situation on the ground except to say that we’re following them, they are changing rapidly. So that’s about as much as I can say about that.

Anything else on this topic? No? We can move on. Michel, and then we’ll come to you, Namo.

QUESTION: Yeah. Jeff, do you have any reaction to the advances made by ISIS today in Ramadi in Iraq?

MR RATHKE: Right. Well, in conjunction with Anbari tribal forces, Iraqi Security Forces have been confronting ISIL fighters in Ramadi and around Anbar province for several months. Today, ISIL is once again attempting an offensive in the city of Ramadi. I don’t have a battlefield update to provide, but I would highlight that the coalition is supporting Iraqi Security Forces to help protect the citizens of Anbar province and to support their efforts to force ISIL from Ramadi and other cities. We continue to provide targeted air support in ISIL-held and contested areas, and that includes numerous airstrikes in Ramadi today. But as for the status on the ground, I would refer you to the Iraqi Government for their update. And about – for the details of U.S. military support, my colleagues at the Pentagon can share more detail.

QUESTION: And do you consider what happened as a blow for the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi forces?

MR RATHKE: Well, look, we’ve said before that there will be good days and bad days in Iraq. ISIL’s trying to make today a bad day in Ramadi. We’ve said all along we see this as a long-term fight in conjunction with our Iraqi partners against ISIL. We are confident that Iraqi forces with support from the coalition will continue to push back ISIL where they’ve tried to gain advantages on the ground. So our policy and our engagement remains the same.

QUESTION: So is it the U.S.’s view that Ramadi is falling to ISIL, is under ISIL control, or would you say that it’s contested?

MR RATHKE: Well, I would – I’m not in a position to confirm reports that – I know there have been several reports out there – about the situation in the city center. I’d refer you, again, to the Iraqis for up-to-date information. We have said in the past that Ramadi is and the areas around it have been contested for months, and – but as to the situation in Ramadi right now, we’re working with the Government of Iraq to get a clearer picture of the situation.

Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) consider keeping Ramadi out of ISIS’s control a strategic priority, or is this going to be like Kobani where it’s not a strategic priority unless you win, and then it becomes a strategic priority?

MR RATHKE: Well, no. I think what we said about Kobani was that it was a strategic priority for ISIL. So – but anyway, to switch back to --

QUESTION: Do you consider this – yeah.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you consider this a strategic priority for the anti-ISIL coalition and for the Iraqis that this does not become an ISIL stronghold?

MR RATHKE: Well, this is a fight that’s being led by the Iraqis, so it’s the Iraqi Government’s job to set priorities. So that would be their – it’s their country and they need to set those priorities and we support them. Clearly, Ramadi is important and it’s a large city. It’s been contested for some time. And Anbar province – we’ve talked a lot about other actions in Anbar province in recent weeks and months, so Anbar is important, Ramadi is important. I’m not going to place labels on them to try to suggest a prioritization.

QUESTION: You – this building and this Administration has been a leader in creating a global anti-ISIL coalition.

MR RATHKE: Certainly.

QUESTION: Do you consider it important that they – that ISIL not gain what would be a significant victory here? I mean, are you --

MR RATHKE: No, I’ve just said Ramadi is important. I agree with you. But what I --

QUESTION: But are you willing to tell the people of Ramadi, the civilians in Ramadi, “We will not let this city fall”?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we are – our approach in Iraq is to support the Iraqi forces as well as the tribal forces and all the forces who are fighting against ISIL under the command and control overall of the Iraqi central government. So we – that commitment remains and we are going to continue that support, and that’s not going to change.

QUESTION: Jeff, on this --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- do you consider that the Iraqi Government bears some responsibility in the falling of Ramadi since they didn’t provide the tribes and the Sunni militia the arms that they asked for or they need?

MR RATHKE: Well, first of all, this – I’m not going to start from the assumption that the city has fallen. I’m not issuing that judgment from this podium. With regard to the outreach to the Sunni tribes, this has been a priority for Prime Minister Abadi. He and other senior Iraqi government officials have been reaching out to the tribes to bridge differences and to build trust. We know there’s a lot of history there to be overcome and Prime Minister Abadi has been working continuously to address that.

So in broader terms, taking a step back from Ramadi, we have been encouraged by the Iraqi Government’s efforts to enlist and to arm tribal fighters in the campaign. They’ve been building on the thousands of Sunni fighters who have joined the popular mobilization forces, as they call them, over the past six months. I would highlight as well that the Anbar governor just last week held a ceremony to induct about a thousand more tribal fighters. So these units are going to be working with and coordinating with the Iraqi army. Prime Minister Abadi last month visited Anbar and delivered weapons to Sunni tribes. Of course, there are more efforts to organize and to arm the Sunnis and to integrate them; those who want to fight ISIL will be needed in the coming months. This is a long-term effort, so – and – but we will continue to support the Iraqi Government in that effort.

QUESTION: But – one follow-up on this.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Did you consider that the Iraqi Government is fulfilling its commitment regarding the Sunni tribes, first? And is – or will the U.S. provide the Sunni arms directly without passing the Iraqi Government?

MR RATHKE: Well, our policy on arms transfers to Iraq is – remains the same. We – all of those arms transfers are coordinated through the Iraqi central government. That’s not going to change. And as I said, Prime Minister Abadi has made it a priority to reach out to the Sunni population in particular in Anbar, and so we support those efforts.

Namo, go ahead.

QUESTION: We have seen little progress in Prime Minister Abadi’s outreach to the Sunnis, because – I mean, if you just look at the cities and towns that have been falling to ISIS in Iraq, almost all of them have been Sunni towns. It’s predominately Sunni towns. Does that – what does that tell us? Does that – doesn’t that tell us that the Iraqi army, which is basically a predominately Shia army, is unwilling to protect Sunni areas? Or doesn’t that also tell us that Prime Minister Abadi has failed in his outreach toward – to the Sunnis? Because they have been demanding weapons and also some equipment that they need to defend themselves.

MR RATHKE: Well, and the Iraqi Government has been providing it. So they --

QUESTION: But they have failed.

MR RATHKE: No, but – I wouldn’t accept that characterization. The prime minister has been reaching out. He has made the commitments to enlist and to arm tribal fighters. And those aren’t just the commitments on paper, they’ve been happening. I was just talking about some of the most recent steps in answer to Michel’s question. And so in addition to his personal engagement in Anbar, there was just last week an induction of another thousand tribal fighters. So yes, more efforts are needed but Prime Minister Abadi has focused on this and he continues to pursue that.

QUESTION: In your understanding, why is it – why the predominately Sunni areas seem to be much easier to fall to ISIS than the Shia areas? We haven’t seen, I think, a single Shia village fall to ISIS in Iraq. But, for example, when the fight --

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: -- when the fight was in Amirli, which is a predominately Shia Turkmen village in Kirkuk, Prime Minister Maliki at the time (inaudible) went there and he sent so many troops to make sure that that town didn’t fall. And the United States provided a lot of airstrikes to make sure that town didn’t fall.

MR RATHKE: Well, as we’ve been also providing --

QUESTION: But we haven’t seen the same thing --

MR RATHKE: Sorry, excuse me. Let me answer your question. So the United States has also been providing airstrikes in the effort to defend and push against ISIL and push back ISIL in Anbar. And we’ve done many, many strikes in support of Iraqi – the Iraqi Security Forces.

Now with – I’m not going to do an analysis of every place where there has been fighting, but as I said before, there’s a history to overcome here. And Prime Minister Abadi has committed to ruling and – in a nonsectarian way and to reaching out to all of Iraq’s population. He has committed to that. We see that in his actions, not only in his policies, and we expect that to continue.

QUESTION: Just one question about the Erbil-Baghdad.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. I think we’re going to need to move on. So yes --

QUESTION: Just one quick question about the Erbil-Baghdad. Because the – over the past couple of days, that oil deal that the United States has been praising for quite a few – quite a while as a successful deal seemed to have come to the edge of collapse, with the Kurdish leaders accusing Baghdad of having failed to abide by the terms of the agreement. And even the prime minister of the Kurdish region said they are going to take independent steps if Baghdad fails to implement that deal. What is your understanding of the deal between Erbil and Baghdad?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we just had very good visits to Washington both by Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi Kurdish Region President Barzani. One of the things that was discussed with them was the – were the important issues facing Iraq. And we understand that Baghdad and Erbil remain committed to seeking implementation of the deal. We continue to urge both sides to work together toward resolving the payments issue and fully implementing the agreement that was reached at the end of 2014. ISIL is the main threat, and we continue to encourage the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to work together to fight against ISIL and resolve those issues.

Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I assume you’ve seen Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif quoted as saying that he thought an agreement was, quote, “very likely provided that our negotiation partners mean it seriously.” Do you concur in his judgment that an Iranian nuclear agreement is very likely?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t think we’ve ever assigned probabilities to outcome --

QUESTION: The President has.

MR RATHKE: -- except for the – I think the 50/50 reference. So I’m not going to take new odds or issue new odds on it. We’ve said all along that if Iran wants to prove that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes, that it’s in – it’s within Iran’s power to do so. That’s the purpose of these negotiations: to close off the pathways to a nuclear weapon. And so this depends on Iran’s commitment to demonstrating verifiably that its nuclear program is peaceful.

QUESTION: And can you give us any kind of a readout on the talks in Vienna?

MR RATHKE: Well, they continue to meet with Iran. This – they are – this is at the political director level, of course. The meetings continue out in Vienna. They’ve been meeting in various formats – some P5+1, and there have been some bilateral and meetings and so forth. I don’t have a further update. I can see if there’s more – more to say.

QUESTION: And do you know how long those are expected to run?

MR RATHKE: I can check on that. I’m not sure when the conclusion date for the round is.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Japan? Change of topic?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Today is the 43rd anniversary of the Okinawa’s reversion to Japan and sovereignty from the United States occupies, but still Okinawa have been hosting the large – the U.S. military facility since the World War II. And Okinawa governor Onaga and is strongly opposite to constructing the new U.S. military base in Henako. And also this Sunday, major rally against the base construction will be held in Okinawa, and they expected even to draw up at least 30,000 participants. So how do you think about that Okinawa situation?

MR RATHKE: Well, this is an issue on which we’re working with the Japanese Government. We are committed to the – to moving to the replacement facility. We’re working with the Japanese Government to that end. The Japanese Government as well is committed to it. They can speak to those details for themselves. So I don’t have an update to offer except to say that our commitment to Japan remains. It was underscored yet again during Prime Minister Abe’s visit and during the 2+2 meeting that happened during that same week. And so our commitment and our policy remains the same.

Yes, Pam.

QUESTION: I had two questions on different issues.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: The first one was Ukraine.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: In your opening statement you mentioned what you called a critical moment. Considering that there are ongoing concerns about Russia’s engagement in Ukraine, has there been any movement in the U.S. position to consider selling defensive lethal weapons to Ukraine? And if not, is there a point in which the U.S. would consider such sales?

MR RATHKE: Well, our focus from the outset of the crisis has been on supporting Ukraine and on pursuing a diplomatic solution that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We constantly assess our policies on Ukraine to ensure that they are calibrated to achieve our objectives. I’m not going to go into the details of internal policy discussions, but we continue to assess how best to asses Ukraine. I don’t have an announcement to make now, but we continue to assess that.

QUESTION: So are you saying the door is possibly open or --

MR RATHKE: I’d just say we continue to assess that, that we are constantly looking at our policies on Ukraine. But I don’t have an announcement to make.

QUESTION: And my other question was on Cuba, and this is in reference to the talks --

MR RATHKE: I’m sorry. Any other questions on Ukraine?

I would – if I could take the opportunity, I would also just want to go back to what I said at the top, and just to review what has happened this week with regard to Ukraine. Secretary Kerry was in Sochi at the start of the week, where the Secretary was clear with Russia – President Putin, Foreign Minister Lavrov – about Ukraine and about the consequences for failing to uphold the Minsk commitments. Right after that discussion, he called President Poroshenko to update him and to reaffirm our support for Ukraine. He went from there immediately to the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Antalya, where he briefed them and also underscored the United States’ commitment when he met with Foreign Minister Klimkin in Antalya. Assistant Secretary Nuland is in Kyiv right now, and the message of all of these engagements is that we stand for the implementation of Minsk. We stand in support of the Ukrainian Government, President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, and the Ukrainian people. And I wanted just to make sure that I took that opportunity.

Go ahead. You had a further question.

QUESTION: Yes, switching topics. Cuba, in reference to the talks resuming next week: Is the naming of ambassadors fast approaching as President Castro has suggested? And then secondly, can you provide any specifics on next week’s agenda?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think we’ve had a few questions about that first topic this week, and our point of view remains that as far as the appointment of ambassadors, that is a step that will happen after we have agreed on re-establishing diplomatic relations and reopening embassies in each other’s capitals. So that’s what we are focused on; that’s the purpose of these talks. And here we get to the second part of your question, that the talks that are happening next week are – their purpose is continuing this discussion of re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening embassies. That’s what we’re focused on and that’s what will be happening on Thursday next week here.

QUESTION: Can you get a little bit more into the mechanics of what’s going to happen under those broad topics?

MR RATHKE: Well, I would distinguish that, for example, from some of the other meetings that’ve happened: migrations talks that we’ve had, telecommunications, and so forth. Those are also part of our policy approach to Cuba, but those aren’t going to be part of the talks on Thursday. I’m not going to get into the details of the specific issues that we’re discussing. I think they’ve – I think they’re relatively clear.

But yes, go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: Why do you need to re-establish an embassy before you agree to exchange ambassadors?

MR RATHKE: Well, we see that as the logical – you can’t have an ambassador in a country where you don’t have diplomatic relations. You need to have diplomatic relations --

QUESTION: I didn’t say – right, but --

MR RATHKE: -- re-established before you can have that.

QUESTION: I understand the – but why do you need the embassy, then? You have ambassadors – you have an ambassador you nominated to Somalia. You don’t have an embassy in Somalia.

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: And then when the embassy’s there, the ambassador fills the post, right?

MR RATHKE: Well, but the purpose of the talks is – we see the re-establishing of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies as steps that happen together, so we don’t see – we’re not separating those two.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: Those are the purpose of the talks that we’ve been having and that we will have next week. Once those are successful – and if they are successful – then we would be at a point where the nomination of ambassadors would be appropriate.

QUESTION: But you would have to --

MR RATHKE: But we don’t want to put the cart before the horse.

QUESTION: Okay. So when you – you would have to reopen the embassy or agree to reopen the embassy? Because, I don’t know, you might need security upgrades; you might need technological upgrades before you can reconstitute the interests section as an embassy, I’m guessing.

MR RATHKE: You’re right; there could be some technical aspects of that. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if there are such implications. But without parsing too far down into whether you’re talking about nomination of and announcement of intent to open embassies, that’s --

QUESTION: I mean, it seems to me you’ve already agreed to exchange ambassadors. Both presidents have said they want to exchange ambassadors. It’s just a matter of doing it, right?

MR RATHKE: Well, Pam’s question was about nominating – I think about nominating --

QUESTION: About nominating, okay.

MR RATHKE: -- nominating individuals to – so we share the goal with the Cubans of re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening embassies. It’s a question of working through the issues that we have to agree on in order to – for us to take those steps.

QUESTION: Has the status of Guantanamo been a topic of discussion during these talks? And if not, will they come up during these talks?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to predict what’s going to come up next week. My understanding is that that has not been a topic of discussion on – in the discussions on re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening embassies.

QUESTION: It did come up, though, in the first meeting in Havana, did it not? The Cubans --

MR RATHKE: I’d have to go back and check, but you’ll recall also the first meeting in Havana was two days on – they were different sets of – actually three different sets of topics. We had one on re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening embassies, we had one on bilateral issues, and then we had one on migration talks.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: So that was a different kind of format where we had three different sorts of baskets of issues.

QUESTION: But the Cubans --

MR RATHKE: Yeah?

QUESTION: Yeah. I just wanted to quickly follow up. But the Cubans had raised it as one of their fundamental issues as part of the normalization process. Does the U.S. agree that it should be dealt with at this stage --

MR RATHKE: This is not an issue that is --

QUESTION: -- the normalization talks should be done out – apart from that?

MR RATHKE: This is not an issue that is -- this is not an issue that we see being addressed or being on the agenda for – in these talks.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: New topic. I had asked Marie earlier this week a few questions on State Department ethics policy, including when – whether a State Department employee or spouse who gives a speech and then directs the funds to charity is required to report that in an annual financial disclosure. Do you know if there’s an answer on that?

MR RATHKE: So let me – I recall your asking – I think you asked the question last week.

QUESTION: I think it was Monday of this week, but yes.

MR RATHKE: Okay, perhaps. I’ve been briefing this week, so I just know it hadn’t come up in the briefing here. I don’t have information in front of me. I recall the question. I’m happy to see if we have it. I just don’t have it at my fingertips.

QUESTION: Okay. And does that apply to my two other questions about what countries were acceptable to sponsor President Clinton’s speeches and also whether there was ever a recommendation to donate funds to the Clinton Foundation as a way to cure an ethics conflict?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, I’m sorry. I don’t have that at my fingertips.

QUESTION: On a slightly related topic --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- do you have any update for us on when, say, the first tranche of the Clinton emails – the Benghazi one that the State Department had said would come out, quote/unquote, “soon”? I think it was two months ago when you guys started saying it would come out soon. Do you have any update on when soon will be?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have an update to share. But yes, we’re aware that there’s interest out there, certainly.

QUESTION: Can you rule out today?

MR RATHKE: Yes. I’m not aware of a release today, if you’re worried about how your afternoon might be occupied, Arshad.

QUESTION: It’s more my evening. It’s more my evening that I’m interested in. (Laughter.)

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Can you rule out Keystone?

MR RATHKE: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Can you rule out Keystone XL decision?

MR RATHKE: I’m not aware of any announcements being made – being made this afternoon.

QUESTION: Jeff, can I just ask --

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead, Nicole.

QUESTION: -- ask a question about China? Apologies if this has come up already.

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: But have you guys got a comment or statement on the detention of the lawyer who represents the artist Ai Weiwei? I believe his name is pronounced Pu Zhiqiang.

MR RATHKE: Yes. We are deeply concerned that Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent Chinese defense lawyer, has been indicted for, quote, “inciting ethnic hatred,” unquote, and for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – that’s also a quote.

QUESTION: God, that would be half the press corps.

MR RATHKE: Since authorities detained him on May 6th, 2014, we have repeatedly called for Pu’s release, and we have expressed concern for his well-being. His indictment appears to be part of a systematic pattern of arrests and detentions of public interest lawyers, internet activists, journalists, religious leaders, and others, who challenges official Chinese policies and actions. So we call on Chinese authorities to release him immediately and to respect China’s international human rights commitments, including the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.

QUESTION: Is it your contention that he didn’t, in fact, pick quarrels, or that picking quarrels is not a legitimate criminable offense?

MR RATHKE: Well, as this appears to us to be part of a pattern of arrests of lawyers and others, as I described. So we – that’s why we call on him to be released in accordance with China’s international human rights commitments.

QUESTION: On this?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: His lawyer said that – this morning told VOA that while the court issued the indictment, but the lawyer is himself did not get such a thing. So is that – what does that say about the judicial system in China?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we see what appears to be a systematic pattern of arrests of people who challenge official Chinese policies and actions. I’m not going to offer a further comment at this stage than that.

QUESTION: Do you think this harassments pattern to the rights lawyers will be brought up during Secretary Kerry’s visit to Beijing? And what do you say to a Chinese Government saying like please don’t meddle with domestic policy?

MR RATHKE: Well, we always talk about the human rights situation in our high-level dialogues with China. This is something that’s important to us. So I don’t have a readout in advance of the Secretary’s meetings, but there have been several high-profile cases. Unfortunately, this is not the only one. But we raise human rights concerns when we meet with Chinese officials.

And as to the question of internal or not, we see these as part of international human rights commitments that countries undertake, including China. And that’s why it’s important to remain focused on them.

Go ahead, Nicole.

QUESTION: So you’re not – just to follow up, you don’t know if the Secretary will be raising this specific case in his meetings, but could you --

MR RATHKE: Well, as I said, there have been --

QUESTION: -- let us know if he does?

MR RATHKE: As I said, there have been a number – there have been a number of cases, so I don’t want to single out just one case and say he’s going to raise this one and he’s not going to address the other one.

QUESTION: I understand.

MR RATHKE: What I want to convey, though, is human rights issues are always on the agenda when we have high-level meetings, and the Secretary will --

QUESTION: Right. They come up in every meeting. I’m asking specifically about this case and asking you just to take the question that if the Secretary does – if this particular case comes up in his meetings, if you could --

MR RATHKE: If I have more on that, I’m happy to share it.

QUESTION: I appreciate it. Thank you.

QUESTION: A follow-up question?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: There was a report by the International Crisis Group on Tuesday. We asked about this question a couple days ago, but you said you might have something for us in the coming days about arming the Peshmerga. And it voices some worries about doing so and arming other Sunni tribes. It says it could prolong the war against ISIS rather than defeating ISIS, and it’s a long report, 39-page long.

MR RATHKE: Well, again, our policy on how – on our engagement with the Peshmerga and providing arms through the Iraqi central government hasn’t changed. I don’t have any further comment to offer on that.

Michel.

QUESTION: The last question today. After Camp David summit yesterday --

MR RATHKE: Are you speaking for yourself or for everyone? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: For me, for me.

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: After the – after Camp David summit yesterday, practically what should we expect to see in the upcoming weeks regarding increasing Gulf states’ military capabilities and countering Iran threats and influence in the region?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m sure you’ve read or watched the President’s comments --

QUESTION: Sure.

MR RATHKE: -- as well as those of Josh Earnest and Ben Rhodes yesterday out at Camp David. I would just maybe highlight a few points. First, the President highlighted the core national security interest for the United States in the security and stability of the Middle East generally and of the Gulf region specifically, and he referred to this as a fundamental tenet of American foreign policy. So the meetings at Camp David were an opportunity to review our already extensive cooperation. And also there was agreement that the security relationship between the United States and the GCC partners will remain a cornerstone.

Now as to the specific outcomes, I think if you look at the fact sheet that was issued yesterday, we said that our existing cooperation, which includes basing, information sharing, joint military exercises, provision of sophisticated military equipment and training, are a testament to the value we put on our security interests. There is some more particular detail in there about ballistic missile defense, about a military exercises and training partnership, about arms transfers, about maritime security. So there is – there is a lot there. I don’t want to read out every single line in the fact sheet, but I would highlight those as areas where our security partnership was focused on yesterday.

QUESTION: But regarding countering the Iranian influence and threats in the region, what steps are you planning to take?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think the President also spoke to this as well. They were focused on the purpose of security cooperation, which is to provide assurance to our partners in the Gulf. And I think this is a – they talked about this in the context of the nuclear negotiations. They also talked about it in the context of Iran’s destabilizing behavior in other parts of the region and support for terrorism. So again, I’d refer you back to some of the more detailed information that came out after the meeting for those steps.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: So now do you expect Iran to decrease its destabilizing activities in the Arab world as a result of the summit?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to issue an expectation. I think, though, the message of U.S. solidarity with our GCC partners yesterday was extremely clear, and I think also the message about Iran’s destabilizing behavior was clear. So that’s – I think that’s the important element of the discussions.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jeff.

MR RATHKE: All right, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:02 p.m.)

DPB # 85

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 14, 2015

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 15:19

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 14, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

12:56 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Hello. Good afternoon. I just have a couple things to mention at the top, and we'll get right to your questions. The Secretary, of course, is out at Camp David today, joining the President and other senior members of the U.S. Government team, including Secretary Carter, Secretary Lew, Secretary Moniz, Director Brennan and Nick Rasmussen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center. The discussions are ongoing there. There will be a briefing, of course, as you know, with Josh Earnest and Ben Rhodes I believe and then the President later in the day. And once that has concluded, then the Secretary leaves tonight for his trip to Beijing, Seoul, and Seattle, continuing his active travel schedule. So that's it. Over to you, Brad.

QUESTION: So I was wondering – I saw the Pentagon had some limited information about this shooting incident between Iran and – well, by Iran toward a Singaporean ship. Do you have any more information about it?

MR RATHKE: So the – certainly aware of these reports. Bear with me for just a moment. They – we’re aware of a situation between a commercial vessel and an Iranian patrol craft in international waters that occurred today. There were no U.S. citizens and no U.S. vessels involved in the incident, so we don’t have a whole lot more detail to provide. But we’re certainly aware of that incident and following it.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that shots were fired at this Singaporean vessel?

MR RATHKE: I’m aware of those reports. We haven’t been able to confirm that, but that’s certainly been reported.

QUESTION: So you’re not rejecting --

MR RATHKE: No, no. That’s – I just am not able to independently confirm it.

QUESTION: Do you – was there any distress call or any ask for assistance by this vessel or by any of the --

MR RATHKE: Not that --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) authorities?

MR RATHKE: -- I’m aware of here. Again, the DOD colleagues may be closer to information of that sort. I’m not aware of that.

QUESTION: And then just what do you make of – this is not the first incident recently with Iran and these waterways, this internationally recognized maritime route, as we know. What do you – do you think this bellicose behavior from Iran? Are you concerned with activity that may be interfering with commercial activity in the region?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we’re certainly concerned about anything that interferes with the freedom of navigation in international waters and the free flow of commerce. Of course, that includes the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb. And we are – as you say, we are aware of a number of reported incidents recently. With regard to this particular incident, we’re still gathering information to understand what has transpired. Of course, the United States maintains naval forces and a force posture in the Gulf that is prepared for a range of contingencies, because, again, we have this core interest in ensuring the free flow of commerce and the freedom of navigation.

QUESTION: So can I follow up --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- Brad, saying: Does the U.S. perceive this to be a – I mean, this is quite a new threat that has developed in this very strong commercial shipping lane. Does the U.S. perceive this to be a major threat at this stage, these growing incidents of it, or is it just that they’re reporting more of it?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to apply that label to it. We’re certainly concerned about anything that affects the free flow of commerce and the freedom of navigation.

QUESTION: Has the --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary taken this up with the Iranians, or is there some kind of move afoot to discuss what’s going on in this gulf and the threat that it’s posing now to commercial trade along that route?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any recent conversations with his Iranian counterpart to read out. Clearly this is important to the United States, but I don’t have any diplomatic contacts to read out on that specific – yes, Ros.

QUESTION: Yeah, do you have any information about this cargo ship? It’s carrying a Singaporean flag, but do you know who owns the ship, who’s --

MR RATHKE: I would refer you to Singaporean authorities for that kind of detail. But yeah, certainly we’re aware that the reports are that it’s a Singaporean-flagged ship. It is not a U.S.-flagged ship. That I’m certain of. So we’d refer you to the flag state for those kinds of details.

QUESTION: Can I just – I mean --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: You’re addressing this very soberly, and that’s fine. But is anybody planning to warn Iran to stop this behavior when you’re talking about shooting at ships? Is there a plan at all to say, hey, cut this out?

MR RATHKE: Well, I take the point. I mean, we are certainly – again, as I said, we are very concerned about free flow of commerce and the freedom of navigation. I don’t have specific planned diplomatic engagements or messages to read out, but it’s certainly the case that we are paying close attention to the situation with regard to shipping in those waters, and I think that’s all I’ve got to say now. We’re still trying to find out more details about the particular --

QUESTION: Has the U.S. given a warning to the U.S. ships going through that area? I know that there was going to be some escorting of U.S. vessels through there, but has there been a specific warning from the State Department to commercial vessels operating in that area over the last week or so?

MR RATHKE: I may be wrong, but I think that those kinds of notices to mariners and to airmen typically wouldn’t come from this building. We – so for that specific question, I don’t think that would come from here. But on the question of the escort that was initiated a few days ago – a little over a week ago – that was, again, led by our colleagues from the Department of Defense, so they would be able to tell you about their current and ongoing plans and the status of any escort engagements.

QUESTION: And do you have any comment – the Pentagon said today there was no Iran warship that was escorting this Yemen cargo vessel assisting with humanitarian aid.

MR RATHKE: Oh, okay, so you’re – okay, we’re switching to Yemen. So --

QUESTION: Oh, well --

MR RATHKE: No, no, no, it’s okay. I don’t mind.

QUESTION: -- I figured we were in the maritime area. (Laughter.)

MR RATHKE: I just want to be sure --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR RATHKE: I just want to be sure – I just want to be clear which --

QUESTION: The seas.

MR RATHKE: -- what you’re referring to. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR RATHKE: So --

QUESTION: Do you have anything further on this?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think when we talked about this yesterday, we talked about it in two separate questions. The first question was the question of humanitarian aid, and the second question was with regard to the presence of Iranian warships. And I don’t have any operational update to provide about locations of those. I don’t think – we’ve said that we’re aware of the reports of the Iranian warships. I’ve not been providing an update on their location.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: Again, my colleagues at the Defense Department – if anyone in the U.S. Government may have information about their location, it’s possible they would. But we’re certainly tracking the Iranian warships and the Iranian convoy closely, and we stand by our position from yesterday, which is we encourage all sides to avoid provocative actions and to encourage the provision of assistance through established channels.

QUESTION: Do you know whether the Iranian ship is going to take its humanitarian aid to Djibouti, or do you still have a belief that it’s going to go directly to a port in Yemen?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have an update on its heading and how close it is to any port, but to come back – and I know this was a topic of interest yesterday – with respect to humanitarian aid deliveries, the United States point of view is that it is – that any country – this would include Iran – is welcome to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen. It’s up to the legitimate government of Yemen to decide how humanitarian assistance to Yemen is to be coordinated.

So that’s why the United States is looking to the UN to guide the international community on how to implement those aspects of this humanitarian pause. That’s why we support the use of established channels for assistance under the auspices of the UN and other international organizations. And that’s why there isn’t – we expect and the international community expects Iran to provide assistance through those channels. From our perspective, a refusal to coordinate could raise suspicions about a donor’s intentions and its willingness to assist all civilians in line with humanitarian principles. And that’s why we consider it important that aid during this humanitarian pause be coordinated and that it be done in ways that encourage and strengthen international confidence not only for the international community broadly, but especially for countries in the region, that this humanitarian pause will achieve its desired intention.

QUESTION: Since you used the phrase “would raise suspicions,” is there a concern that if, as the Saudis have alleged, that Iran is providing material support to the Houthis, that bypassing Djibouti could be a signal that it’s trying to shore up the military capability of the Houthis?

MR RATHKE: Well, we don’t – we’re not aware of any reason why any donor, including a UN member state, would not be willing to – would want to go outside internationally regulated – or internationally recognized humanitarian systems. And so as I said, those – you could have those suspicions arise if countries were not willing to coordinate.

With regard to Djibouti, it’s our understanding that Djibouti is the primary logistical hub for the United Nations and for other international humanitarian organizations through which they are addressing the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. And so that’s why you’ve heard statements encouraging its use. Now the UN and its partners have the lead in addressing the humanitarian crisis, so we certainly would refer to them about any more operational details of that.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on the – another strike by the Saudi-led coalition, I think on a truck nine people killed according to security officials?

MR RATHKE: According to --

QUESTION: Yemeni security officials.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a comment on that. I was not aware of that report. But maybe just a word on the ceasefire --

QUESTION: Please.

MR RATHKE: So we are aware that the Saudi-led coalition put out a statement last night which indicated multiple incidents of ceasefire violations, which included in one example reports of rockets being shot over the Saudi border. From what we understand, the Saudis also have reported those incidents to the UN. But at the same time, in their statement the Saudi-led coalition confirmed their full commitment to the humanitarian truce and to restraint. So we continue to urge all sides to continue to exercise restraint and hold to the terms of the ceasefire.

I would say more generally that our information is that there has been a broad pause in the fighting. There have been reports of incidents, but there has been a broad pause in fighting overall. And this has resulted in the successful delivery of some humanitarian assistance and some relief for the Yemeni people. Those – there are – there is humanitarian assistance that has gotten in in recent days, plans for more to come in. So in that regard, we see that – the humanitarian pause and the ceasefire as having facilitated some of those aid deliveries.

QUESTION: So, Jeff, we’re already in day three of – well, two of the truce.

MR RATHKE: Two, I guess. Yes.

QUESTION: Humanitarian groups are saying – and you’re only getting the supplies into some of these ports and nearby areas – half of it – it hasn’t even really started being distributed. Humanitarian groups are saying today that five days is not enough to get this – these supplies to the people that need it. Would you agree with that assessment? Is – has that been raised already as an issue by the U.S. – by development groups to the U.S.?

MR RATHKE: Well, going back to the announcement that the Saudi-led coalition made about the ceasefire, they described it as a five-day ceasefire that would be renewable. So I think that’s an acknowledgment of a desire for it not simply to last five days and end; the purpose is for it to continue if the conditions are right and it’s abided by by all sides. And also, this is connected to the broader question of the UN-led dialogue process, the GCC initiative, the national dialogue, and all of those political elements which are essential to finding a way forward that is in line with the UN Security Council resolutions and the need to address political – the political issues.

QUESTION: Do you know when the declaration will be made over whether it will be renewed or not?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have that information. I don’t know. I’m happy to see if we have anything more. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, I ask because, obviously, if it’s in the last day and they haven’t said if it’s renewed, aid groups are going to have to pull their people off roads and off cities and – or out of cities and into safe places. You can’t – these things take many days sometimes – certain deliveries to get places --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and how can you plan if you don’t know whether as of 10 p.m. bombings are going to start?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. No, I understand the question; it’s a valid question. I just don’t know what the answer is to it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: We can see if there’s – if there’s more.

Lesley, you mentioned humanitarian deliveries, also Brad, as kind of the core of your question. Just to say again that in these first days, our understanding is that aid agencies are working on accessing and delivering from their in-country stocks and – but we – it’s our understanding as well that there will be additional flights and vessels to arrive in Yemen in the coming days. So we would still refer back to the UN OCHA and the relevant authorities for more specific detail on that.

Nicolas.

QUESTION: Can we move on? New topic?

MR RATHKE: Yep.

QUESTION: Burundi.

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: So the political situation is still very confusing on the ground. So thanks to the assistant secretary and your embassy, do you have more clarity of – about the whereabouts of the president and who is leading the country?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. So let me – on the specific question, I’ll come to that, and may just make a couple of general points about the situation in Burundi. We’re watching the situation there very closely and with great concern. As we discussed yesterday, the situation remains very fluid, so we continue to attempt to gather facts. There are multiple reports of clashes and violence in Bujumbura, and we have called for all actors in Burundi to show restraint, to avoid violence, and to take all steps in their power to ensure that the human rights of all Burundians are respected. We think it’s more important than ever that all political forces, civilian and military, respect the principles of the Arusha Agreements. These principles have been the basis for the lasting peace and unity in Burundi. We are also deeply concerned about reports of Burundian military involvement in the violent events in Bujumbura. I would highlight that under the Leahy law, the United States cannot provide U.S. military assistance to military units if we have credible information that they have committed gross violations of human rights.

On the situation on the ground, our embassy has received reports that the airport continues to be closed and that the land borders may also be closed or restricted at this time. You asked about the whereabouts of President Nkurunziza. We understand that he overnighted in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he was attending the East African Community’s head of state summit. I don’t have further information about his precise whereabouts.

I would also go back to the point that we discussed yesterday, which is that President Nkurunziza remains the president of Burundi.

QUESTION: So your understanding was that last night, he overnighted in Dar?

MR RATHKE: That’s our understanding. But we – I don’t have an hour-by-hour accounting of his whereabouts, so I can’t say exactly where he is --

QUESTION: So same question than yesterday: As of now, he is the president of Burundi?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: There was no coup d’etat, or if there was, it failed?

MR RATHKE: Well, yes, the fluidity of the situation – so there are reports of clashes in Bujumbura. We’re following those and attempting to gain as much information as we can. He remains the legitimate president of Burundi. That’s the way we see it.

QUESTION: Legitimacy aside, do you understand him to have effective control over his government and the country right now?

MR RATHKE: Well, there are reports of these clashes. I – it’s – his whereabouts, I’m not – I don’t have his precise whereabouts. There are contesting or competing claims to authority, but we recognize President Nkurunziza as the legitimate president.

QUESTION: Jeff --

MR RATHKE: And then the rest – there – the rest, it’s – we’re just trying to --

QUESTION: Jeff --

MR RATHKE: We’ll go to Pam and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. had any communication with the president within the last 24 hours, even if it’s been by phone?

MR RATHKE: Well, as I mentioned yesterday, our assistant secretary for African affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, was in Tanzania for the East African Community’s summit. And she met with officials of the countries in the region to express U.S. support for regional efforts to find a solution. She was – as I mentioned yesterday, she was in touch with the – our delegation there was in touch with the Burundian delegation. Assistant Secretary Thomas Greenfield is on her way back. So she left Tanzania yesterday, did not have an opportunity to speak with the president before her departure. So I don’t have any contact in the last 24 hours with the president to report on. But she certainly looks forward to continued engagement by the region on Burundi. I would point out there’s a – just next week, May 18th, there is an upcoming meeting of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. And so we consider the regional role to be especially important, given that they have been so active up until now.

Same topic? Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR RATHKE: Well, I think this is the same question that Brad asked. It’s a fluid situation. We consider President Nkurunziza to be the legitimate president of Burundi. Of course, there is – there are clashes and violence on the streets. I don’t have a kind of a real-time recounting of that.

Same topic?

QUESTION: Different topic.

MR RATHKE: Anything else on this topic?

QUESTION: One more.

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. On Monday, the State Department put out the Travel Warning to Americans warning them to avoid non-essential travel. And now, you’re talking about the airport being closed, land crossings possibly being closed as well. Is there any initial planning on trying to remove Americans who want to leave Burundi since the usual options for their departure may be inaccessible?

MR RATHKE: Let me say a word about what we’ve been advising American citizens. Over the last two days, we’ve issued two emergency messages through our embassy in Bujumbura. And this is, of course, occasioned by the increasing violence in multiple locations across Bujumbura. So we had one message that was issued today. There was also one yesterday about the military activity as well as alerting U.S. citizens about border and airport closures as well as some flight cancelations.

Our recommendation to American citizens in – who are in Burundi is that they exercise extreme caution, and if they are in a safe location we recommend that they remain where they are because travel in Bujumbura currently is not – is not safe. We are continuing to provide updated information through our embassy to American citizens. The embassy is – today is – today actually is a local holiday, if I understand correctly, so the embassy is not open as it normally would be, but they are – our operational status is unchanged. We are continuing to provide emergency services even though it’s a holiday to U.S. citizens. So we have no change to our status or staffing to announce.

Yeah. Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on what is or isn’t being done to help these Rohingya in – and I think Bangladeshis as well onboard these ships in Asia that no one seems to be willing to take them in?

MR RATHKE: We are – we’re concerned about the situation. We urge the countries of the region to work together to save lives at sea. This is an urgent regional challenge that needs to be addressed regionally through a coordinated international effort and in accordance with international conventions and with maritime law. We are coordinating with the affected government authorities, also with the UN high commissioner for refugees, the International Organization for Migration. The priority is to save lives. And we appreciate that the governments of the region have accommodated many Rohingya and other refugees and we urge them to continue to do so. We also appreciate the efforts that are being made by the Thai Government to convene a regional conference on these issues. That would take place May 29th, but the priority right now is to save lives. So our ambassadors in all of these concerned countries are engaging governments to discuss ways of providing assistance so that that can be achieved.

QUESTION: Which ambassadors in particular are seeking meetings and what – so Malaysia, what, Thailand, Indonesia? Who are we talking about?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, those are – those are the countries, of course, that are affected by the migrants. We also continue to raise these issues with the Burmese authorities, because of course, we have to remember that there’s an urgent need to fulfill commitments to improve the living conditions of those affected, the humanitarian situation – excuse me – in Rakhine state. So we’re raising it with all of those governments.

QUESTION: You expressed appreciation to these countries for taking in so many previously, but do you find it not disheartening that these are human lives essentially drifting away at sea and no one’s willing to take them at this point?

MR RATHKE: Well, there have been a number of people who have been admitted or accommodated, so we appreciate that. But you are right; these are – there are many lives that are – that are in danger, and that’s why we think the priority has to be to save lives and we urge governments to continue to accommodate these people who are on the seas in their vicinity.

QUESTION: Just one --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: My last one on this. You said yesterday there was nothing at this point about any U.S. operation to rescue these people.

MR RATHKE: Correct.

QUESTION: I assume that stands.

MR RATHKE: That remains the case.

QUESTION: That remains --

MR RATHKE: This is a regional issue. It needs a regional solution in short order.

QUESTION: Is there any contingency planning at all to step in if no one’s willing to step up here?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any plans of those sorts to read out, no.

QUESTION: New topic --

QUESTION: Can you confirm that issue is the – what was the focus of Deputy Secretary Blinken’s meetings today with the ambassadors of Myanmar, Indonesia, and Vietnam?

MR RATHKE: Deputy Secretary Blinken – he had a few meetings today. The meetings with ambassadors from Vietnam, Indonesia, and Burma were previously scheduled, and those were – I don’t want to say routine, but those were previously scheduled meetings. So – but the deputy secretary, for those meetings that happened – I can’t remember which ones were before the briefing there, some were in the afternoon – but the deputy secretary will use the opportunity to discuss the full range of issues, including important human rights and regional issues. That wasn’t the reason they were scheduled. They were scheduled previously, but they certainly provide an opportunity in particular with ambassadors from Indonesia and Burma to talk about these issues.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR RATHKE: Same topic? Yeah. Okay.

QUESTION: Bradley mentioned what I was planning to ask you, but how many numbers from Bangladesh --

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a good estimate of the numbers. There are --

QUESTION: A lot.

MR RATHKE: There are – they’re large numbers, but I don’t have – I don’t really have an authoritative estimate from here.

QUESTION: Can we switch topic, please, yes – to Pakistan?

MR RATHKE: Same topic?

QUESTION: Yes, Pakistan. Can we?

MR RATHKE: Okay. Anything else on this issue? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. I just read Secretary Kerry’s statement on yesterday’s terrorist attack in Pakistan expressing sympathy and offering assistance to the investigators. You know that 43 people – the Taliban attacked a bus and killed 43 people in Karachi yesterday. And I wanted to go beyond the statement and just sort of remind you that the investigators found pamphlets left behind by the attackers, which were --

MR RATHKE: I’m sorry to interrupt you. Which attack are you referring to?

QUESTION: This is Karachi yesterday.

MR RATHKE: Okay, very good. I wanted to be sure.

QUESTION: And the pamphlets were from the ISIS and sort of saying that they would kill anybody who opposes them, blah, blah. So does it increase your concern about the presence of ISIS in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Do you see that as a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly more alarming?

MR RATHKE: As we’ve said before, we remain concerned about that potential, but we – I won’t speak to the details of the attack yesterday because there’s an investigation ongoing. It’s being led by Pakistani authorities. So – but in general terms, we certainly are concerned about the possibility of ISIL influence spreading. However, up until now, our estimation has been that these are primarily of a rhetorical nature, not of an operational linkage between ISIL in Iraq and Syria and Pakistan or South Asia. So that’s – but that’s a topic we continue to watch.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Since the new disclosures on the OBL operation in Pakistan, we have seen the statement from the White House, but there is a – tight-lipped in Pakistan, both the army and Pakistani Government. And it looks they’re very pleased with this report and there is some truth in the latest relations. So do you have anything to say?

MR RATHKE: I mean, I think the White House has been quite clear and definitive about that. I don’t have specifics to add, but I think you should – you should look carefully at what the White House has said. And that certainly stands for this building as well.

Elliot.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Russel was testifying on the South China Sea and East China Sea territorial issue on the Hill yesterday, and he said that there would be a meeting tomorrow with 10 senior officials from ASEAN. Do you have any details to provide on that?

MR RATHKE: Yes. So Assistant Secretary Russel will welcome ASEAN senior officials from the 10 ASEAN nations, as well as representatives of the ASEAN secretariat today and tomorrow at the department. They’re going to discuss an array of important issues ranging from economic integration to regional maritime cooperation. And of course, the assistant secretary will take this opportunity to underscore the United States commitment to a close relationship with ASEAN. He will reiterate the importance of ASEAN unity and centrality as they continue on a path toward economic integration, and as they – as the members of ASEAN face difficult regional and global security challenges. So this is part of our growing relationship with ASEAN, and we welcome the opportunity to have a meeting.

QUESTION: That’s a two-day set of meetings?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t know when exactly they begin and when they finish. It may be that it’s more like one day spread over two calendar days, if you know what I mean.

QUESTION: Right, sure.

MR RATHKE: So the duration of the meetings I don’t have information on.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I understand Secretary Kerry will address the issue of Chinese land reclamation when he goes to Beijing. Do you have anything further on what he will convey to Chinese officials during those meetings?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have a lot to preview about his message to Chinese officials specifically, but I think our view on issues related to the South China Sea has been pretty clear. And we’ve talked about it quite a lot, as did Assistant Secretary Russel in his testimony. So we continue to believe that the scope of China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea is contributing to rising tensions in the region. And we’ve spoken about the effect that has and our support for ASEAN’s efforts to conclude a code of conduct with China. Our position on this is pretty well known, and I think it will be an opportunity for the Secretary to discuss with his Chinese counterparts.

QUESTION: But is it fair to say that the message he’ll convey will be a harder line than what he’s conveyed in the past? I mean, recently you guys have really been sort of upping the ante in terms of your statements on this issue. So I want to sort of get at whether Secretary Kerry will also be sort of raising – turning the heat up, so to speak, in this conversation.

MR RATHKE: I wouldn’t refer to it as upping the ante. I would say that we’ve been responding, as have countries in the region, to a pattern of land reclamation that is contributing to rising tensions. So I think it’s that that the Secretary will be interested in talking about.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Moving on?

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about something that came up yesterday. It’s language in the trade bill concerning Israeli settlements.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Particularly it seems like requirement that the Administration would have to push back against any BDS efforts globally. What is your view on such language in the bill, whether --

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. You’re right. This question was asked yesterday. I have a little bit more information on it today. The Administration’s policy opposing boycotts against the state of Israel and opposing Israeli settlement activity remain unchanged. Our position on settlements has been very clear every U.S. administration since 1967 – Republicans, Democrats – has opposed Israeli settlement activity beyond 1967 lines. This Administration is no different, and our policy remains firm and unchanged. We’ll continue to oppose settlement activity and efforts to change the facts on the ground, and – because we believe they only make it harder to negotiate a sustainable and equitable peace deal.

QUESTION: Is it your view of the language that’s being proposed that essentially you would have to go to bat for Israeli settlements around the world, push back against European governments and others who would divest or boycott Israeli operations or Israeli commercial interests that have any activity in the West Bank?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have an interpretation to that level of detail of the amendment. So I don’t have anything to offer on that.

QUESTION: I mean, it sounds like you oppose the amendment. But is this something you would be willing to swallow given that the trade bill seems to be a top priority for the Administration right now?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we have – as I mentioned, we’ve got two policies that I think are important to stress. We opposed boycotts directed against the state of Israel, and we oppose Israeli settlement activity. So those policies remain unchanged. It’s our understanding that certainly from the Administration point of view the language in this amendment will not change our policy.

QUESTION: Well, it may not change your policy, but it’s going to – it may change your activity. And if you are going to European governments and telling them that they shouldn’t boycott anything that’s related to settlement activity, you’d be going to bat for settlement activity, would you not?

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: I mean, you may – you can uphold the principles, but if you’re basically supporting settlement activity, then you’re supporting – I mean, the principles are gone, right?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have a detailed analysis of the implications of the amendment. But I’m simply stating that from an administrative – an Administration perspective, that this language will not change our policy.

QUESTION: So in that case, you don’t oppose it necessarily, because it doesn’t actually affect you?

MR RATHKE: I simply have nothing more --

QUESTION: You don’t --

MR RATHKE: -- to offer on that. I mean, for more specific comment, I’d refer back to the White House.

QUESTION: You don’t – so you can’t say if you oppose or support it?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have more to say.

Pam.

QUESTION: Two questions on different topics. The first one, Cuba: Do you have anything new on the process of restoring ties? There are reports that there are going to be meetings next week to discuss the reopening of embassies. Can you confirm that?

MR RATHKE: There were reports yesterday evening, and there were – I know some of you had queries about that. We have been planning for a meeting next week. We don’t have an announcement of the specific dates right now, but we will make an announcement on the date when both sides have confirmed. We continue to work with the Government of Cuba on re-establishing diplomatic relations and on reopening embassies. We believe that it would serve the interests of both countries, and as soon as we have a date we’ll share that.

QUESTION: And a second question, different topic. This is on Nauru and it deals with social media. There are reports saying that it has blocked social media, in particular Facebook, because of what the government says is concerns about protecting children. But advocates for refugees say the ban was designed to restrict asylum seekers who are in detention there to keep them from communicating with the outside world. Do you have any response?

MR RATHKE: We’re aware of that, and we’re concerned by reports of recent internet restrictions imposed by the Government of Nauru, including that they blocked Facebook and other social media sites. Freedom of expression online and offline is essential to a healthy democracy, and so ensuring that a country’s citizens have access to an unrestricted and open internet is in accordance with Nauru’s own expressed desire to the higher – to the highest standards of democracy, and we’ve certainly conveyed our views to the government there and reiterate our call for these restrictions to be lifted.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: I think you were asked yesterday about the Japanese cabinet and the defense bills. They actually approved them today, and I was wondering if you might have an update on them.

MR RATHKE: Well, the security legislation itself is a domestic matter for Japan, but we certainly welcome Japan’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the alliance and to play a more active role in regional and international security activities. That’s reflected, of course, in the guidelines that were just approved for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation, so this is certainly consistent with the discussions that we’ve had both in the 2+2 as well as Prime Minister Abe’s visit.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I ask about if you have an opinion on the Bahraini king attending a horse show in the United Kingdom instead of attending the Camp David summit?

MR RATHKE: I think I’d refer you to Bahraini authorities for their assessment of that. I think, as my colleagues from the White House have said, the important thing in this meeting with GCC leaders has been that the right people are in the discussions to carry out these kinds of important security and regional cooperation concerns.

QUESTION: If he wasn’t one of the right people, why did you invite him?

MR RATHKE: Well, that was a Bahraini decision who would attend on their behalf. I don’t have a comment on --

QUESTION: Well, the question’s pertinent because I think when all of the no-shows were announced, it was stressed that a lot of people – a lot of leaders had very important matters of state to attend to, prior commitments. Do you see a horse show as more important than a summit on regional security that you’re hosting?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I’m not familiar with the king’s program on his visit to the UK, so I don’t know if that’s the only thing he’s been doing there. So I don’t have further comment on that.

QUESTION: And you still see this as not a snub, per se, because he’s attending a – he may be doing other things in addition to the horse show?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, you may know more about his schedule than I do, Brad. I don’t know. But the – we consider that we’ve got the right people there. And I think not only the White House but also the countries participating – I think the Saudi foreign minister spoke to this extensively a couple of days ago with respect to their representation by the crown prince and the deputy crown prince, so we are confident that it’s going to be a productive discussion. And I’m sure that right about now my colleagues from the White House will be saying a little bit more in detail the outcomes of the meetings.

All right. Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:38 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 13, 2015

Wed, 05/13/2015 - 17:04

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 13, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

12:48 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. So I have just a couple of things to mention at the start. First, as you may be aware, Secretary Kerry is on his way back from Turkey, where he met this morning with NATO foreign ministers who were gathered there. And he will go tonight to dinner with the GCC leaders who are in town and will participate in their meetings tomorrow. As I think you’re all aware, the Secretary will then travel tomorrow to Beijing, Seoul, and Seattle, kicking off that trip.

The other thing I would mention at the top: You probably have seen the announcement today from the Secretary on his appointment of John Kirby as the new State Department spokesman. He is with us here today. It’s his first day in the building on the job, so we certainly welcome him. And I know he looks forward to getting up here to the podium, but all in due time. And so we’re glad to have him with us.

And with that, we’ll move over to you, Brad.

QUESTION: Given the GCC meeting tonight, I just wanted to ask you about something the Secretary’s invested a lot of time in recently, and that’s this Yemen ceasefire. It seems to have gotten off to a somewhat rocky start. There was a Saudi airstrike. There’s also been fighting on the ground. What’s your assessment, and do you hope this will hold?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Right. Well, we think the ceasefire and the humanitarian pause are critically important for the people of Yemen. And you’re right; the Secretary has been actively engaged. It’s our understanding that the ceasefire has broadly held, and we urge all parties to continue to honor it and to honor the commitment to restraint. We are aware of some reports that you referenced, Brad, of some clashes. There’ve been some reports of anti-aircraft fire as well since the ceasefire began last night. Again, we call on all parties to exercise restraint to enable the ceasefire and the humanitarian pause to succeed, and to avert worsening the humanitarian crisis there.

QUESTION: Have you had any discussions with Saudi officials about the one particular airstrike that they confirmed they have taken?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any conversations to read out on that. Of course, they’re arriving today. In fact, they had meetings at the White House just this morning. So I’d refer you back to them for the conversation there. That, I think, just ended, or should’ve just ended just a few minutes ago.

QUESTION: What about --

QUESTION: Okay, but the foreign minister’s been in town for the last few – I mean, few days. And --

MR RATHKE: Right. But the Secretary’s on his way back from Antalya. I don’t – he hasn’t been in contact this morning, that I’m aware of --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- with the foreign minister.

QUESTION: All right.

MR RATHKE: But there have been meetings at the White House. Anything more on this – on Yemen?

QUESTION: What --

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Iranian ship?

MR RATHKE: So we can turn back to that, yes. There was some discussion we had here yesterday about that. And I don’t have an operational update or any kind of update on the location to share with you, but I would go back to what we talked about yesterday. We look to the UN to guide the international community on how to implement the humanitarian pause. Iran is no exception to this. So we support using established channels for assistance under the auspices of the UN, and we think this is the most effective way to do it. There’s no reason to go outside any of the regular, internationally recognized humanitarian systems during this humanitarian pause.

QUESTION: Have you conveyed this message directly to the Iranians?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have contacts to read out. I think our position has been made pretty clear. We’ve been clear with the UN agencies, with the UN special envoy – who, as you’re aware, is in Sana’a right now. So our point of view on this, I think, is pretty clear.

QUESTION: Will Under Secretary Sherman discuss the Yemeni issue with the Iranians in Vienna?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have – as we’ve said all along, the talks with Iran on the nuclear program are focused on the nuclear program. There is – as we’ve said, from time to time other issues will come up. I’m not aware of a specific plan to raise it, but on the margins sometimes other issues come up. But I don’t have a readout from those talks to pass on.

QUESTION: Have supplies been delivered yet?

MR RATHKE: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Have supplies been delivered yet from the hub in Djibouti to Sana’a and other cities? Has that started?

MR RATHKE: So with regard to the humanitarian shipments, it’s our understanding that there were – on the humanitarian side, that UN agencies have been able to successfully access and deliver in-country stocks, which include food, medical supplies, shelter materials, and other critical relief items. We expect additional humanitarian flights and vessels to arrive in Yemen in the coming days. Of course, the UN agencies are in the lead for coordinating that, but we – there have been some deliveries; we expect more to come in the coming days.

QUESTION: Are they going to be able to fly into Sana’a, given the repeated bombing of the airport there?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a status report on the Sana’a airport. I believe the flights to which I referred were going into another airport, so I don’t have an update on the status of that airport.

QUESTION: Just on the Iran ship.

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: You’re not opposed in principle to the notion of bilateral aid from the Iranians, is that correct? I mean, you’re saying it should go through the --

MR RATHKE: How do you mean, bilateral?

QUESTION: Well, in many conflicts around the world, the United States provides money through coordinated appeals to the United Nations, aid agencies, to the Red Cross, but it also does stuff directly on behalf of the U.S. Government through USAID or other mechanisms. The Iranians, in theory, could do the same. They don’t have to go exclusively through the UN, do they?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I – we think that coordinating, first of all, for the – to ensure that there is efficiency and effective delivery of aid, also to maintain a picture of where the needs are, the UN humanitarian agencies need to have an understanding of the aid that’s going into the country and I don’t – it’s probably obvious that in this particular situation in Yemen with the violence over the last several weeks that it’s even more important that this humanitarian pause, it’s even more important to ensure that this humanitarian pause is implemented in a way that is sustainable and has the support of all the parties and sustains that support. So that’s why we think it is important to coordinate things through the UN.

QUESTION: I can see why it’s preferable, but you’re not saying that you are opposed to the Iranians sending in their own shipments, are you?

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: Or doing their own aid operations? That – you’re not opposed to that, are you?

MR RATHKE: Well, there have been concerns about making sure that shipments that go into Yemen --

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: -- are for the purposes that – for which they’re declared. So certainly we have a concern, to make sure that shipments going to Yemen from Iran or from others that they be focused purely on humanitarian efforts. So we do have a concern there.

QUESTION: But you’re concerned, but you’re not telling – you’re not saying, “Here, don’t send in your own aid, don’t do your own aid operations.” You’re just saying be proper and be correct and don’t --

MR RATHKE: No, we’re saying that established channels for UN aid coordination – for aid coordination through the UN should be followed in this case.

QUESTION: Should be in all cases.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I mean in – okay.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: So Iran – I just want to clarify. So Iran has not done that – gone through those channels with a specific --

MR RATHKE: I would refer you to the UN, the Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance and the other relevant UN bodies to hear an update from them. I will let them do that.

QUESTION: And who could verify that the ship is not carrying weapons and so on? Is any – is that the UN’s job?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to assign responsibility for it, but again, it’s the UN Office of the – sorry – Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance typically takes on that role of coordinating international humanitarian efforts. Now, I’m not going to get into the level of detail about verifying the contents, but certainly we think that all shipments and deliveries need to be coordinated through the UN.

QUESTION: And one follow-up.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you know if Yemen came up in the discussions between the Secretary and the Russians yesterday?

MR RATHKE: Well, I believe the Secretary made reference to that in his press availability after. I think if you look at the topics on the agenda, that was certainly one of the international – regional issues that was important. Of course, Iran, Syria, and Ukraine were the main focus of the conversation, but I believe the Secretary spoke to that as well, that Yemen is an important area for coordination.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you know what exactly he would bring up with the Russians regarding Yemen?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a more detailed readout of the discussion. I’m happy to check and see if we have more that we can share. Of course, we’ve stressed throughout that we need to get back to the UN-led dialogue process that is part of the Gulf – the GCC initiative, the national dialogue, as well as the UN Security Council resolutions that support it. So we certainly want to see a transition back to that UN-led process.

Yes, Nicolas.

QUESTION: Another topic?

MR RATHKE: Sorry, I think – let’s, yeah, talk more about Yemen. Yeah.

QUESTION: It seems Iran is insisting on sending their aid via the cargo ship directly to Yemen, and an Iranian general threatened Saudi Arabia yesterday that if they block the entry of the ship, they’re going to use fire. Do you feel Iran is sending these warships to Yemen to send a provocative message to the GCC leaders on the eve of their meeting with the President at Camp David?

MR RATHKE: Well, I won’t ascribe a motive, but we’ve certainly seen the reports, as we talked about yesterday, of Iranian warships in the area. And I would repeat what we discussed before, which is: We discourage any provocative actions and we encourage the provision of assistance through established channels. So we certainly want to see all sides avoid any provocative actions. I would include in that the statement you referenced.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about any possible clashes between the Iranian warships and the Saudi or Egyptian warships in the region?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we think that aid should be organized and coordinated through the UN, and we discourage any actions that could be provocative. I think that applies broadly.

QUESTION: And what role is the U.S. playing in this regard?

MR RATHKE: In which regard?

QUESTION: In the sea there, the U.S. warships are playing any role or not?

MR RATHKE: Well, we, of course, maintain a naval force posture in the Persian Gulf in order to be prepared for a range of contingencies, but I’m not going to get ahead of things. We’re working with the international community to ensure that donors provide aid through the established channels, but that’s – so we certainly have our assets in the region. But I’m not going to foreshadow more than that.

QUESTION: Are you suggesting that this would have been a part of the Roosevelt Carrier Group’s mission?

MR RATHKE: No, I’m not trying to suggest anything. I’m simply underscoring that we have our force posture in the region to deal with a range of contingencies.

Same topic, Lesley?

QUESTION: Yeah. Just do you know how much the U.S. is sending in aid? Sorry if you’ve addressed this before.

MR RATHKE: Well, I didn’t address it yesterday, and let me – I don’t think I’ve got the most recent update. Of course, the – there were announcements made on the Secretary’s trip last week about additional aid to Yemen.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR RATHKE: And we’re happy to check and make sure you’ve got the updated figure in case there’s been anything since then.

QUESTION: Right. There was the 65 million. So nothing further?

MR RATHKE: That was an additional, but I think --

QUESTION: There was --

MR RATHKE: -- the total that we’ve been providing to Yemen is in the hundreds of millions, I believe. Certainly, it’s over 100 million. We can get the exact figure --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- and get that back to you.

QUESTION: I realize this is a unique situation, but is there any precedent for the United States opposing all aid outside of the UN’s kind of oversight, or that all aid – it would oppose aid that’s not done through the United Nations? It seems to me like I’ve never heard this as kind of a U.S. policy before.

MR RATHKE: Happy to look and see if this is --

QUESTION: Please.

MR RATHKE: -- if there is a precedent.

QUESTION: That would be great. Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Okay. So you wanted to switch?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead, Nicolas.

QUESTION: Can we go to Burundi?

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: What’s your assessment of the situation on the ground? Do you think that there is a military coup or that the president is still in charge?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. So we’re watching the situation in Burundi very closely and with great concern. First off, let me say we call on all parties immediately to end the violence and to exercise restraint. I would draw to your attention a statement by the East African Community leaders today. They’ve been meeting in Tanzania. And we support the statement by the East African Community calling for an end to the violence and for peaceful elections in line with the electoral laws and in the spirit of the Arusha agreement.

We also call on all stakeholders to take steps to restore the conditions that are required to hold timely and credible elections. So we will continue to monitor the situation. We will take targeted measures where appropriate, including, when appropriate, by refusing U.S. visas to impose consequences on individuals who, among other things, participate in, plan, or order widespread or systematic violence against the civilian population.

Now, with respect to the description of the events, we’re monitoring the situation closely. We’re not ready to draw a conclusion about the situation on the ground. It’s quite fluid, so we are watching it hour by hour.

QUESTION: So as of now, for the time being, the president is still – according to the U.S. Government, the president is still in charge?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, the situation is fluid. We are aware, certainly, of reports from some suggesting a desire to take power by the military. We’re not able to confirm that, and we’re watching the situation on the ground to see how that develops so we’re not – we’re just keeping a close eye on it.

QUESTION: What’s the ambassador telling you about the situation on the ground?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, it’s – there have been – on the one hand, we’ve spoken out about the use of violence against protestors, which is why we’re calling on all sides to exercise restraint. Our view on the question of the presidential candidacy of President Nkurunziza is also well known. So we’re trying to keep in touch with figures on the ground. As well, I would point out that the meetings in Tanzania with the East African Community – Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield is there representing the United States, and their delegation – the U.S. delegation spoke with advisors to President Nkurunziza on the margins of that meeting. She and the president did not have the opportunity to speak before his departure, but we have been in touch with his advisors.

QUESTION: So she spoke with his advisors but not with him directly?

MR RATHKE: Our delegation spoke with his advisors. I have not – I don’t have the specificity to know whether she personally participated, but the point is we’ve been in touch with the president’s team.

QUESTION: Is there a reason why you can’t say from this podium whether President Nkurunziza is, in fact, still the sitting president of Burundi?

MR RATHKE: Well, he’s the president of Burundi. I think what Nicolas was asking about is what the effect has been of the announced intention by at least one military officer to take power. And on that, I simply don’t have the on-the-ground facts to provide an assessment, but the president remains – he’s the elected president. The questions about a possible third term are about elections that are upcoming that haven’t taken place yet. So in that regard, yes, and that’s why also it’s important for the United States and why we join in supporting the East African Community leaders’ statement about the importance of the constitutional process and about being – holding elections that are peaceful, that are in accordance with the spirit of the electoral laws and the Arusha agreement.

Same topic, Pam?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: You said a U.S. delegation had spoken to some of the president’s advisors. Can you clarify the timeline for that? Was that today? Was that after the so-called coup took place? And if so, can you elaborate a little bit on the nature of that discussion? And then secondly, what is the status with the U.S. diplomatic staff in Burundi? Are there any plans to pull back because of security concerns?

MR RATHKE: So on the first question, I don’t have the timeline. I believe those conversations were today. But whether they happened before these reports from Burundi or after, I don't know. The – with regard to our mission, our Embassy – all of our staff are safe and accounted for. Our Embassy – so our personnel are on the ground. I don’t have any announcements to make about that. I would highlight for you that we updated our Travel Warning a couple of days ago for Burundi, and we recommend that U.S. citizens avoid any nonessential travel to the country, and this is in line with – and so I think anyone who consults the Travel Warning, you can get further details there.

Same topic?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR RATHKE: Yep.

QUESTION: You were talking about measures that could be taken.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you talking about measures against those that – against – I want to say coup-takers. (Laughter.) That’s not the word. But are you talking about measures specifically against those that incite violence, or measures against who particularly?

MR RATHKE: Well, they would --

QUESTION: And how soon?

MR RATHKE: I won’t specify a timeline, but we have the ability to take measures such as visa restrictions as a way of imposing consequences on individuals – I’ll leave it at that – who participate in or plan widespread or systematic violence against the civilian population based on political opinion.

QUESTION: Like in South Sudan, where you haven’t – despite what, 18 months of violence – imposed sanctions on the leaders or the mutineers? Is that right?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m happy to talk separately about South Sudan, but --

QUESTION: Are you --

MR RATHKE: -- I’m making the point that we consider this a possibility. In the case of Burundi, that’s why we think it’s important as a way of underscoring our call for restraint on all – by all parties.

QUESTION: Are you moving closer to sanctions in South Sudan?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have an update for you on that. Happy to take a look and get back to you.

QUESTION: But you still plan to hold people responsible for or accountable for any possible violations?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. And I think we’ve also – that’s been indicated in our statements on South Sudan, but I’m happy to look into those and come back with more details.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: But when you talk about --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- imposing visa restrictions on persons who might be engaged or in planning or carrying out violence against people – I mean, we’re not talking about massive riots in the street at this moment. I mean, we’re talking about what seems to be a struggle for power. Are the people involved in trying to depose the government also subject to these kinds of restrictions, potential sanctions, and so on?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I think we’ll see what the – what exactly transpires in the course of today and in the coming days, and we’ll respond accordingly. I think when I mentioned the visa restrictions, keep in mind as well that over the last few days there have been reports of violence used against demonstrators by the police. So that’s also part of the backdrop for raising that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Are you considering – is the U.S. considering more of a direct role in trying to resolve this? And does that include --

MR RATHKE: Well, we are directly engaged with --

QUESTION: Do you believe that the president should step down given the violence that’s going on?

MR RATHKE: Well, our view on the president standing for a third term has been pretty clear, I think; we consider that to be inconsistent with the Arusha agreement. And as well, I think it’s important to highlight the role of the East African Community, because this is a view shared by many countries in the region. And that’s why the statement from the leaders of the East African Community today about the Arusha agreement, about the need for peaceful elections that are in accordance with that agreement as well with the electoral laws, is important.

Yeah.

QUESTION: So a follow-up on that: Given your strong disagreement with what you repeated, his possible third term, would the U.S. be pleased if the president steps down quietly?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I think that this is – the question of the way forward in Burundi is one that needs to respect the views of the Burundian population. Also, we’re talking with the stakeholders in Tanzania who are gathered. I don’t have a fuller readout of Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield’s meetings there. As we do, happy to provide more information on that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. ever considered Nkurunziza a good ally of the U.S.? Is he someone that the U.S. has favored in that position?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to issue kind of a judgment on his first two terms. I would simply highlight, once again, our point on the third term.

Do we want to move on to a new topic? Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. I got a bunch of questions on Asia.

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: One, do you have any reaction to the report that North Korea’s defense minister was executed by anti-aircraft gun? It seems a different way of capital punishment than practiced here, for example.

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve seen the press reports about the execution of North Korean officials. Not in a position to confirm the – any of those specifics. But these disturbing reports, if they are true, describe another extremely brutal act by the North Korean regime. These reports, sadly, are not the first in this regard. But with regard to the specifics, I’m not in a position to confirm (inaudible).

QUESTION: And where does the United States currently stand on bilateral talks with North Korea, independent of this latest report? Where are you on possibly reaching out to North Korea given the whole host of destabilizing activity there you accuse them of?

MR RATHKE: Well, with regard to the Six-Party talks, our position remains that in close consultation with our partners and allies, that we remain open to dialogue with the DPRK. But the burden is on North Korea to take meaningful actions toward denuclearization and to refrain from provocations. So we’re committed to working with our partners and our allies in the region to achieve consensus on the terms for negotiations that would be credible and authentic.

QUESTION: So you’re open to U.S.-North Korean talks within the scope of a broader six-party talks?

MR RATHKE: Yeah – well, I wouldn’t want to slice and dice that. I can check and see if we have a particular position about the bilateral versus multilateral parts of that.

QUESTION: You said “dialogue” --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- which by definition implies two parties.

MR RATHKE: Your knowledge of etymology is good.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR RATHKE: I’m happy to look and see if there’s more about --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: But again, the overall message here is that the North Korean regime has to take credible steps toward denuclearization.

QUESTION: Why float this idea now?

MR RATHKE: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Why float this idea now? What is it --

MR RATHKE: Well, no, I’m not floating the idea now. I’m responding to a question Brad asked.

QUESTION: No, no, no, but --

MR RATHKE: We’re not --

QUESTION: No, but --

MR RATHKE: We’re not floating ideas. This has been our longstanding position which we’ve talked about frequently. It hasn’t changed. It’s – this isn’t a new idea.

QUESTION: But it’s come up in recent days, and we had not heard much discussion from this podium about the status of the Six-Party Talks. I mean, they --

MR RATHKE: No, I’d disagree with that, Roz. I’ve been asked – I personally have been asked over the last few weeks on a couple of occasions about it and I’ve said the same thing that I’ve talked about with Brad just now: We remain open to that, but the burden is on North Korea to take credible steps.

QUESTION: Can we change topic?

MR RATHKE: Said.

QUESTION: New topic, please.

QUESTION: North Korea.

MR RATHKE: Oh, okay. We’ll take one more on that, then we’ll come to you, Said.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: About North Korea announcement of the launch of – from submarine of ballistic missile. There is a report about U.S. officials saying that it was not actually launched from submarine, and also there are some experts saying similar things. Do you have any analysis or --

MR RATHKE: The second part of your question – the first part was about the alleged missile launch, but what was the --

QUESTION: Yeah, announcement. And there are people who say that it was not actually a launch from submarine --

MR RATHKE: So I don’t have an analysis to offer about that incident. I know there’s been a lot written about it, but I don’t have an analysis to offer.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) new topic? New topic?

QUESTION: Can we wrap Asia really fast before we go to Middle East or --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR RATHKE: Yeah, okay. All right.

QUESTION: Two quick ones.

MR RATHKE: We’ll be right back to you Said. Yeah.

QUESTION: And do you have any update on the – whether the U.S. is going to do anything to help the Rohingya? It’s come up the last couple days, and there’s a lot of stranded individuals at sea, it looks like.

MR RATHKE: Yes. So we are concerned by reports of thousands of additional Rohingya migrants on land and at sea in boats and who may need humanitarian protection and assistance. We’re following the situation closely and we are in contact with the UNHCR – High Commissioner for Refugees – as well as the International Organization for Migration. We have – with regard to what steps we are taking of course, we are supporters of the UNHCR as well as the IOM. I can get some figures and a breakdown of some particulars of our assistance if that’s interesting. We are certainly committed to working with governments in the region who are dealing with the brunt of this burden.

QUESTION: But we’re not sending military assets or anything else to --

MR RATHKE: No, no, nothing to report on that. I would highlight, though, since – just since the fiscal year 2014, we’ve provided $109 million in humanitarian assistance for vulnerable Burmese, including Rohingya, in Burma as well as in the region. So these are important programs for us to provide assistance to vulnerable populations.

QUESTION: And then let me clear one more out of the way --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and then I’ll yield to my esteemed colleague.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the defeat of the trade bill in the Senate, given that you’ve spent so much time on TTIP and on the pivot writ large, about redefining America’s role in the Asia Pacific? And this seems to be a pretty devastating loss for a lot of what this building has tried to accomplish in recent months and years.

MR RATHKE: Well, a few weeks ago, the Senate Finance Committee reached a bipartisan compromise on tough, fair, and transparent rules for pursuing high-standard trade agreements, and it’s disappointing that the Senate was unable to take a common-sense step forward and begin debate on bipartisan legislation. So – but procedural challenges like this aren’t new. I would refer you to the White House for more details about the Administration’s overall engagement on this issue. As I think you’ve seen, yesterday the President met with some senators to talk about the issue.

As far as the Administration’s policy, our commitment to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, also to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, remains and we are committed to working with members of the Senate to move this important priority legislation forward.

QUESTION: Do you fear your interlocutors in Asia will not take you as seriously given that you’ve sort of had your legs cut out from under you on this, at least at this stage, that this hampers the effort?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think at this stage, again, it was a disappointment, but I don’t think that’s the end of the story. We remain engaged with our partners. As we’ve talked with our partners in the TPP negotiations, each country has its domestic political situation with regard to approval to work through. We’ve continued to work on the substance of the agreement throughout. We will continue to work with our partners as the Administration will continue to work with Congress.

QUESTION: A side --

MR RATHKE: Sorry, no, Said’s been waiting patiently, Roz.

QUESTION: But I just --

MR RATHKE: No, no, Roz, you’ve had quite a few questions already. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you very quickly if you have any reaction to the Vatican recognizing the state of Palestine today?

MR RATHKE: I did see that there was a report about that from – it’s not entirely clear if that’s a new step in that regard. Certainly, our position on this is well known, so I don’t have anything to add to it.

QUESTION: So are you in disagreement with the Vatican on this issue?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think you’re quite familiar with the U.S. position on it, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you --

MR RATHKE: And our position hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Let me ask you this: Do you think that the Vatican recognition of the state of Palestine places this recognition in a sort of position of urgency that it must be done? Moral urgency?

MR RATHKE: No. Again, Said, our position on a two-state solution remains the same, and we take note of what’s happened with the Vatican. But --

QUESTION: And finally, regarding the trade bill --

MR RATHKE: -- I won’t over-interpret it.

QUESTION: -- just to follow up on the trade bill: Some senators are trying to tie it to sort of delegitimizing or making illegal the boycott of Israel and the settlements. Do you have any comment on that?

MR RATHKE: I’m not aware of those specific provisions, and in general on trade legislation, it would be the U.S. Trade Representative and the White House that would comment in the first instance. But I’m not familiar with the specific details.

QUESTION: Well, it was an amendment, I guess, done by Senator Cardin and his counterparts in the House, and that passed committees in both the House and the Senate. You have no comment on that?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a comment on that specific provision, sorry.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: So International Crisis Group just released a report yesterday. They criticized the way the United States and other coalition countries provide military assistance to the Kurdish Peshmerga. First of all, have you seen the report? And --

MR RATHKE: I haven’t seen the report. I think our stance on our support to the Kurdish forces, to the Peshmerga, remains the same. We provide very significant assistance to the Kurdish Peshmerga, so I think there can be no question about our commitment to supporting the Kurdish forces. But we do that in coordination through the central Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: Are you – is there any concerns that providing military assistance to the Kurdish Peshmerga might destabilize the region furthermore in the future, as the report states?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, our policy is – it remains the same. We believe that a united Iraq is a stronger Iraq. We support the Iraqi constitution. And we have an active relationship, of course, with officials in the Kurdish region, as well as with the Peshmerga. So we see that as strengthening the – Iraq overall, and that’s why our policy is focused on a united, democratic, and federal Iraq.

QUESTION: Also on Iraq?

MR RATHKE: Yes. Yeah, Iraq. Yes, go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: There are reports – well, Iraq’s defense ministry has said that ISIS’s number two has been killed in Iraq. Can you confirm any of this?

MR RATHKE: I’m not able to confirm that. I think if anyone in the U.S. Government will know first, it would be my colleagues at the Pentagon. But I don’t have confirmation.

QUESTION: Would it matter if he were killed? What does it say about the current strength of ISIL?

MR RATHKE: Well, our view on ISIL is that its momentum has been halted; they’ve lost control of territory; and we believe that ultimately they will be defeated. So that’s certainly the way we look at ISIL.

QUESTION: We actually had (inaudible) saying that ISIL had made gains near Homs in Syria and that it is actually expanding its reach in Syria. Does that worry you, or do you actually not see that as the overall trajectory there?

MR RATHKE: I’m not familiar with that report. I hadn’t seen it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: So we’ve tried not to do a battlefield analysis on shifting lines on a day-to-day basis. I think if you look at the extent of ISIL’s reach about a year ago and look at where it is now, you see that it has been pushed back in many, many places, but --

QUESTION: I guess it depends when you start to look and – I mean, if you look at two years ago to where they are now, they have a lot more than what they had two years ago.

MR RATHKE: Well, and ISIL is a serious threat. That’s why we’ve mounted a coalition to oppose them. But my point is that since that coalition has been brought together and has taken so many different steps, that it’s had a real effect --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) just to follow up on --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: But ISIL, I mean, their biggest prize that they’ve gotten so far is Mosul. And there was so much talk about a spring offensive to liberate Mosul and so on, and nothing really is happening (inaudible).

MR RATHKE: Well, we haven’t put a timeline on that. That will be a decision made by the Iraqi leadership. We are supporting Iraq through training, through equipment, and through our joint operation centers in Baghdad, in Erbil. But as we’ve said quite a few times, when they decide to undertake an operation to liberate Mosul will be an Iraqi decision, and I think the Iraqis want to do it when the time is right.

QUESTION: Most reports show that they are actually strengthening their presence in Mosul, not loosening it, so to speak. So they – they govern it as an independent entity and they do from traffic to finances to currency to all these things. They’re solidly in control. So wouldn’t it be safe to assume that the lack of this offensive, or the joint operations, as you call them, or the delay basically helps ISIS control more of that territory?

MR RATHKE: We’ve said all along that this will take time. So it’s – it is important. We’re working with our Iraqi partners to that end; also with our international partners.

Go ahead, Guy.

QUESTION: Thanks, Jeff. Just back to this talk about the International Crisis Group report, the report also went into quite a bit of detail actually about how the current U.S. and coalition policy of channeling the weapons through the ministry of defense in Baghdad is making Kurdish – factions of the Peshmerga that are aligned with different political factions within the KRG and around wider Kurdistan fight amongst each other and be more susceptible from Iranian military influence. My question for you – this report specifically called on the United States and its partners in the coalition to create a central command that included Baghdad and these various other factions to redefine the policy of distributing weapons to the various militias in Iraq. And there are others in Iraq that are calling for that right now. I’m wondering if that’s something you can comment on. Is it something being considered seriously in this building by perhaps General Allen, Mr. McGurk, and others?

MR RATHKE: Well, as I said in response to the earlier question, I haven’t seen that report, so I’m not familiar with its contents and I don’t want to --

QUESTION: I just told you what the contents were.

MR RATHKE: Well, I appreciate you’re offering the summary, but --

QUESTION: I also wrote about it. It’s in today’s paper if – it’s laid out fairly clearly. (Laughter).

MR RATHKE: You need to send me your articles. I hadn’t seen that one.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR RATHKE: But our policy is in support of a united and federal and democratic Iraq. And also our policy with regard to arms transfers, again, is designed to reinforce that policy. I’m happy to look and see if there’s anything additional to add on that, but I’m not aware of any discussion about changing – about the United States trying to suggest changes to how Iraq organizes its security forces writ large.

Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: Jeff, a couple questions on Cuba. I know you hit on some of this yesterday, but I wanted to circle back. Is there anything new in the way of a timeline for announcing ambassadors as the diplomatic process moves forward? Does it look like there may be announcements before the end of this month? And then secondly, is there any initial indication on where the Cuban embassy – Cuba’s embassy in the United States would be located? Does it look like it would be back at the old facility on 16th Street?

MR RATHKE: Well, let me take those in reverse order. First of all, we’re not at a point yet where we have reached successful conclusion of our talks to re-establish diplomatic relations and to establish embassies in each other’s capitals. So I’m not going to comment on the location. Of course, Cuba has an interests section here now, but as for any of their plans should we finalize these talks, I’ll let them speak to that.

With regard to the question about exchanging ambassadors, you’re right, this came up yesterday. And we see the exchange of ambassadors as being a logical step once the re-establishment of diplomatic relations is complete, not the other way around. So we do not have a set timeframe for the conclusion of the talks on re-establishing diplomatic relations. We are – we continue to work on that. But I don’t have any announcement to make in that regard, so I don’t have anything more to say than I did yesterday.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

MR RATHKE: Anything else on that topic?

QUESTION: -- a question on Kuwait? Kuwait?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, just a moment.

QUESTION: Very quickly.

MR RATHKE: We’ll go to your colleague on your right and then we’ll come to you.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: New topic, about Russia and Ukraine.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So the last day, Secretary Kerry mentioned that United States and Russia continue to disagree on certain components or facts about Ukraine. Can you tell what are these components exactly? And the second question is: Also, Secretary Kerry said that United States is ready to put pressure on Ukraine to fully implement Minsk II agreements. So do you have any readout of meeting Secretary Kerry with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Klimkin? Thank you.

MR RATHKE: All right. Well, so first of all, with regard to the areas where we disagree, I think the Secretary spoke to this yesterday, but I’m happy to reiterate. We – as the Secretary told his colleagues among the NATO foreign ministers this morning, we consider this a critical moment for Russia and the separatists it backs to live up to the Minsk commitments, the Minsk agreement; that the OSCE needs to get into the conflict zones, as they are mandated to do in the Minsk agreements, and especially in Shyrokyne and places like it that I would highlight are beyond the ceasefire line on the Ukrainian side and where there is still – there are still attacks happening. That needs to stop. We need to see the full implementation of Minsk. We need to see the working groups that are called for in the Minsk agreement and under the trilateral contact group to begin working. And this – the separatists are not engaging constructively in those working groups. That needs to change.

And with – I would also highlight the need to withdraw heavy weapons systems verifiably. That includes Russian military air defense systems, command and control equipment. All of this is called for by the Minsk agreement – need to halt the flow of fighters into eastern Ukraine, establish control over the international border, need humanitarian access, the release of all political prisoners – all of these are things where progress needs to be made.

You made reference as well to Ukraine and the Secretary’s comments. I think that it’s important to point out that, as the Secretary said in answering that question, he said that the resort to force by any party would be extremely destructive. But I think we should distinguish between the question about Ukraine and President Poroshenko’s comments with relation to Donetsk, I believe, which was a speech, not the initiation of any action – there’s no impending offensive of that sort – whereas separatists on a daily basis continue to breach the Minsk agreement through their attacks.

I don’t have a readout of the meeting with Foreign Minister Klimkin. It happened just before the Secretary got on the plane.

QUESTION: But he didn’t – I mean, Kerry didn’t say it yesterday after talks with Lavrov about that only Russians or Russian-backed separatists breaking the agreements. He talked maybe about different details – I mean, just united actions from both sides. I mean --

MR RATHKE: No, I think the Secretary was quite clear about what we see happening on the ground in eastern Ukraine.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: The GCC summit (inaudible) I have a question: Will President Obama or Secretary Kerry discuss any of the human rights violations in the GCC, or specifically in Bahrain?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think the White House did an on-the-record call two days ago about the GCC summit in which that was raised, so I’d refer you back to their comments for this.

Nicolas.

QUESTION: Just back to Russia and the U.S. for a minute. More broadly, you think that yesterday’s meetings were the start of the reset of the reset between the two countries?

MR RATHKE: No, this was not a business-as-usual event. The Secretary delivered a strong message to President Putin with regard to Ukraine. They also talked about the Iran nuclear negotiations. They talked about Syria. They talked about other international issues. But I think the Secretary was very clear with regard to Ukraine. Right after the meeting, the Secretary called President Poroshenko; they spoke yesterday. I don’t have a detailed readout of that, but they spoke yesterday following the meetings. Of course, the Secretary met with Foreign Minister Klimkin this morning in Antalya. And the Secretary also went to Antalya to talk to his NATO foreign minister colleagues and update them on those talks and why he considered it important to go to – to have that dialogue and to speak directly and clearly with the decision-making leadership in Russia.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. Very quick on Kuwait, also related to human rights. Apparently, there is an activist, even a former parliament member – his name is Khalid al-Shatti – who is being tried for slander. Apparently, he tweeted about – against the Saudi-led coalition bombardment of Yemen or mosques there – or mosque or something like this. Do you know anything about the case? We understand that --

MR RATHKE: I don’t know anything about that case.

QUESTION: -- somebody sent you information on this case and yours – and that the embassy in Kuwait is aware of it?

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t have anything on that.

QUESTION: Could you find out, please? Khalid al-Shatti --

MR RATHKE: I’m not familiar with the case. If I get anything on that, I’m happy to share it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead. Israel.

QUESTION: Israel.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Today the prime minister of Israel sent his instruction – the instructions of his cabinet to Knesset, and it had language very similar to previous governments about wanting to support the peace process and reach a peace agreement at some point with the Palestinians. Does the consistency of the language assuage some of your concerns about this Israeli Government taking a new path that might be detrimental to the peace process?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think you may have seen, but if not I would mention that there was an interview with the President yesterday that was published; I think it was done with Asharq. And as the President said, we continue to believe that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is necessary, it is just, and that it’s possible. And that’s why, of course, the United States is so committed and has worked so hard over the years for a two-state solution.

We look to the new Israeli government and the Palestinians to demonstrate through their policies and their actions a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. We think that’s the way to rebuild trust and avoid a cycle of escalation. So that’s the way we see the way forward.

QUESTION: Do you see what the prime minister put forward today as a genuine commitment?

MR RATHKE: I haven’t read the document. We’ll – I’ll take a look and --

QUESTION: Okay. It’s not that long.

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Well, the part that’s pertinent to what you guys care about, I think.

MR RATHKE: All right. So I don’t have a comment on it specifically. I can take a look and see if we have more to say.

QUESTION: The President also – he said a couple of things. He said, one, that the U.S. was taking a hard – a long look or a hard look at U.S. policy --

MR RATHKE: I think “hard look” may be what he said, yeah.

QUESTION: Hard look. Is – I mean that’s kind of similar to the language he said at the time of the election. Has anything really developed out of that hard look? I mean, the policy is what it was before, am I right?

MR RATHKE: You mean the U.S. policy?

QUESTION: U.S. policy toward – toward Mideast peace.

MR RATHKE: Yes. And I think we’ve said also that after the election it was up to Prime Minister Netanyahu to assemble a coalition, to come up with a – with its policies, to constitute a government, and then we would look for their – look at their policies and look to their actions.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: So I don’t have any update since then. I think the government has just been formed, so the document you referred to --

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: -- is a next step. So I’ll take a look and see if we have more to say.

QUESTION: So that – I mean, on the policy front, that would be, I guess, one of the things you would look for or look to. And --

MR RATHKE: Yeah, certainly policies as well as actions.

QUESTION: And then actions-wise, I guess it’s a bit early, but there haven’t been any actions, per se, at this point that --

MR RATHKE: I think the government has just been formed, so yeah, I think that’s – I think you’re right.

QUESTION: So is there anything that has happened yet since the election that would – you said at the time you would re-examine or take a hard look. Has anything happened up to this point that would make you change U.S. policy toward a two-state solution at this point, in either the actions or the policies?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think also the look or the so-called – the hard look, taking a hard look at our approach – it’s about the best way to achieve a two-state solution.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: It’s not about revising that policy goal. I think that’s – so I would say that first. And I don’t have any additional analysis to do on it. I think we’ll look at policies and actions going forward.

QUESTION: So this hard look I guess continues. Nothing’s changed yet --

MR RATHKE: I don’t have an update to offer --

QUESTION: -- from the United States.

MR RATHKE: -- or to change on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: But Jeff --

QUESTION: Quick follow-up on --

MR RATHKE: Sorry. Said, and then we’ll go back to Michel. On that same topic?

QUESTION: Really – yeah, on the same topic, just a quick follow-up.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: You said that both sides need to demonstrate their commitment to the two-state solution.

MR RATHKE: Yes, that’s right.

QUESTION: What do you expect the Palestinians to do to demonstrate their commitments?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have new steps to outline. I think we’ve talked in the past that we want to see a commitment on both sides.

QUESTION: So you want them to, let’s say, stop whatever efforts they’re doing at the United Nations or at the International --

MR RATHKE: Well, certainly, our point of view on the ICC issue is extremely clear.

QUESTION: And you would also want the Israelis to stop building settlements, for instance, or to rescind the most --

MR RATHKE: Our position on settlements is also clear. So I’m not going to issue a prescription --

QUESTION: I understand.

MR RATHKE: -- right here for the Palestinian Authority, but --

QUESTION: But rescinding the decision taken last week, for instance, to expand the settlements most recently announced – that would be a gesture or a demonstration of goodwill towards the state, right?

MR RATHKE: Well, our position on construction in East Jerusalem, as I explained last week, is longstanding. It hasn’t changed. I’m not going to turn – our policies are well known on this, Said. I’m not going to turn those into a specific prescription for a specific step that needs to happen right now. Those are things we’ll discuss in our diplomatic exchanges with the relevant parties, but I’m not going to read those out from the podium.

QUESTION: But the reason this particular settlement should hold some significance is because it was announced upon the arrival of Vice President Biden back in 2010.

MR RATHKE: I’m aware of the history.

QUESTION: And now they’ve expanded it, okay?

MR RATHKE: I’m aware of the history, and I think I spoke to this last week.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah. The document that Brad was talking about – there is no mention for the two-state solution, and especially that Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t recognize the two-state solution before the elections. To what extent are you concerned about the platform of this government?

MR RATHKE: Well, that’s – as we were just discussing with Brad, the United States policy is that we support a two-state solution. That’s what we’ve been working toward all these years through multiple administrations from both parties, and that continues to be our policy. So that’s also why I said in the discussion with Brad that we look for policies and actions that demonstrate a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. I think I’ll leave it at that for now.

Yes, in the back, and then we’ll come forward to you, Abby.

QUESTION: A new topic. Can I ask about – a question about Japan?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: It’s about – Japanese ruling parties agreed on the entire text of a national security bill that expand the Self-Defense Force – role of Self-Defense Force. And Japanese Government is slated to adopt the bill at the cabinet meeting tomorrow. So do you have any comment on that?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not familiar with the content of that bill, so I’m not going to comment on its specifics. But certainly, there has been a process over a number of months in Japan to address questions of the role of the Self-Defense Forces, and I think we’ve spoken out multiple times in support of the way in which Japan has approached this, the transparency, and the extremely positive role that Japan has played not only in its region but also globally in – over the last decades. So I think you see evidence of this in the 2+2 meetings that happened a couple of weeks ago, as well as Prime Minister Abe’s visit. I don’t have the specifics on that one.

Abby, go ahead.

QUESTION: This may have been discussed last week, but there was a joint DOD-State workshop with countries in the Lake Chad Basin region about protecting their borders, Boko Haram. Is there a readout from that workshop or any analysis on that?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a readout of it. We, of course, have been engaged with countries around the Lake Chad Basin and more generally to support their ability to defend their borders. We’ve also been engaged with them in support of the fight against Boko Haram. I can take a look and see if we have any specifics on the outcomes of that meeting.

Okay. Nicolas and then we’ll see if we have anything more to wrap up.

QUESTION: A quick one on Syria?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The British newspaper The Guardian has a story saying that a independent commission founded by the U.S., the EU, and the UK has produced enough evidence to prosecute Bashar al-Assad and 20 people around him before a war crime tribunal. So are you aware of this report, and would you welcome such a move?

MR RATHKE: Well, I wasn’t aware of that report, so I don’t have a comment on it. But I think our point of view on Assad and his having lost his legitimacy has been clear for some time. So we certainly don’t see a future for him in Syria, and I think our point of view on that hasn’t changed.

All right. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:46 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 12, 2015

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 14:50

Jeff Rathke
Acting Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 12, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

12:59 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Jeff.

MR RATHKE: So I have a couple of things to mention at the top. As you probably are aware, the Secretary will be doing a press availability shortly. His meeting is still ongoing. So we’ll get through as much as we can today, and then once we get word that the press availability is about to start, we’ll cut things short here so folks have a chance to watch that.

So in that connection, the first thing I would mention is the Secretary is traveling today in Sochi, Russia, where he is meeting with President Putin, Foreign Minister Lavrov, and other Russian officials to discuss the full range of bilateral, regional – and regional issues, including Iran, Syria, and Ukraine. This trip is part of our ongoing effort to maintain direct lines of communication with senior Russian officials and to ensure U.S. views are clearly conveyed. Secretary Kerry will travel later this afternoon to Antalya, Turkey to consult with allies and partners gathered for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on May 13th.

The second item is Nepal. I would express our deepest condolences to all of those who continue to be affected by the earthquake in Nepal. Today, a magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck the Dolakha district in the central region of Nepal, approximately 50 miles east/northeast of Kathmandu. The U.S. Geological Survey considers this earthquake to be by far the largest of over 100 aftershocks that have followed the April 25th 7.8 magnitude earthquake. U.S. Government personnel remain engaged in response and relief operations.

Let me highlight the work of our USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team. The urban search-and-rescue personnel who had been preparing to depart but were still in country have gotten back to work, and they are working in coordination with the U.S. military and are conducting aerial assessments of Dolakha and the surrounding areas to view the extent of recent damage. There are also members of the search-and-rescue team on the ground conducting search-and-rescue operations in affected areas in the city of Kathmandu as well.

In that connection, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal will proceed with a previously planned trip to Nepal later today. She will meet there with Nepali Government leaders, with Ambassador Bodde, and U.S. Embassy Kathmandu staff and other U.S. officials to discuss ongoing response and relief operations as well as to review the long-term recovery effort.

And then the last item at the top and then we’ll turn to you. This is Bangladesh. The United States condemns the brutal murder of writer/blogger Ananta Bijoy Das in Bangladesh, the latest in a recent string of attacks against writers and bloggers in Bangladesh. We offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. We hope that the Bangladeshi authorities will find and bring the perpetrators to justice, and that all Bangladeshis strive to ensure space for the peaceful expression of ideas without fear of violence, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

And with that, Nicolas.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can we start with Cuba?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: The President Raul Castro just announced that the two embassies, the U.S. Embassy and the Cuban Embassy, will be reopening after May 29th. That’s what he said. So do you have a date for this reopening?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have an announcement to make about a date or a confirmation of that. Certainly, an exchange of ambassadors would be a logical step once we – but only once we reestablish diplomatic relations. We do not have a fixed time for that. We are still in negotiations, as you all are well aware – negotiations with Cuban authorities about re-establishing diplomatic relations. But we don’t have any announcements to make at this time.

QUESTION: So you don’t have a schedule? Because it was supposed to happen in April during – before the Summit of Americas. You don’t have a schedule?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think we’ve always said that this would be driven by the substance, that we’ve been working through those issues with Cuban counterparts. It has taken a lot of effort thus far and there’s still more work to be done, so we’re not quite ready to announce anything yet.

QUESTION: Jeff, real quickly?

QUESTION: Okay. And just to follow on that – sorry if you talk about that yesterday. But what’s your take on the president – the French president’s visit to Cuba, and especially his meeting yesterday with Fidel Castro? Do you think that it was appropriate?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any comment on the French president’s visit. Certainly, the – it’s – we’ve certainly taken note of it, but I don’t have any specific comment about his visit. He’s welcome to travel to Cuba, but I don’t have any comment to offer.

Ros, did you have a follow-up on that?

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any confirmation that there are going to be another set of talks between the U.S. and Cuba as early as this Friday on normalization?

MR RATHKE: Well, as with the question Nicolas asked, I don’t have any schedule announcements to make. Of course, there will be an upcoming round of talks, but the – we don’t have dates confirmed for that, so we don’t have an announcement to make. As soon as we have anything, of course, we’ll share that with you all.

QUESTION: Would that be here or in Havana?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, nothing has been confirmed yet. You’re aware, of course, that these have alternated location, so that would make Washington the logical choice. But as I say, I don’t have any announcements to make about that. We’ll wait until we have confirmation and then share that.

QUESTION: Are you able to say whether there have been lower-level discussions between the two teams at – apart from these face-to-face meetings? And if so, what issues have they been focused on?

MR RATHKE: Well, there have been a variety of meetings on a number of issues, which there are a number of groups that are getting together to talk about some of the specific issues. Of course, there are the discussions on re-establishing diplomatic relations, which you are familiar with. There have been migration talks and there have been talks about maritime issues and so forth. So those things all continue, but I don’t have a specific update on the talks on re-establishing diplomatic relations.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up. How would this happen? I mean, mechanically, how would it happen? Would it be announced by the State Department and the Cuban foreign ministry at the same time that on this day we are exchanging diplomats? Is that how it would happen?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think we’ll worry about that once we get there. We still have some work to do before we’re ready to make such a step.

QUESTION: Yeah. But the issue that Nicolas raised that – on the 29th, I mean, that’s like a fixed date. Does that --

MR RATHKE: No --

QUESTION: Doesn’t that tell that something is going to happen in the following week or something?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, my answer to Nicolas stands. We don’t – we’re not operating on a set timeframe. We have issues we need to work through. We’ve talked about that in the past. And so we’re going to work on that, but we don’t have a deadline that we’re working toward.

QUESTION: Now, would it be prudent, let’s say, to announce the exchange of diplomats before the – let’s say June 30th, which is the deadline for the Iran deal? Do you know --

MR RATHKE: I’m not sure what kind of connection you’re trying to draw.

QUESTION: Let me – I’m trying to say that maybe this is something that you’re trying to (inaudible) put behind real quick so it can deal with real controversial issues.

MR RATHKE: There’s – no, we don’t have a connection between these two. So I don’t – I’m not going to draw any linkage.

Did you have a question, Sharifat?

QUESTION: Yes, I have a question in Bangladesh. You mentioned that the blogger has been killed. So the blogger – do you have any update or idea or message that who killed him, which group? Because in Bangladesh, there’s so many contradiction in news media; somebody does one thing, and blame goes to other people. So do you have any clue that who killed him and has been killing so many bloggers?

MR RATHKE: Well, this has just happened. There is an investigation ongoing which the Bangladeshi authorities will lead, so I would refer you to them for any information of that sort. Of course, we are in contact with the Government of Bangladesh about the case, but I don’t have any announcements to make.

QUESTION: And could I have another one, a question about – I’ve been – I raised question regarding former State Minister Salahuddin Ahmed. He was the spokesman for BNP, the opposition leader. And he found in India yesterday and he called his wife, and Indian police been caught. It’s like three different (inaudible) morning. So he found in India – he was kidnapped like 63 days ago, so is there any way you have any message that what’s going on with him?

MR RATHKE: I’m sorry, we’re not involved in that case. I don’t have any update to share with you on that.

QUESTION: Iran?

MR RATHKE: Namo, yes.

QUESTION: In Mahabad, the Kurdish region of Iran, there were riots over the past few days over the unexplained death of a woman who had worked in a hotel, a Kurdish woman, and then police crackdown ensued there. The protest seems to have tapered off for now. Do you have any comment on those protests?

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t have any information about that situation.

QUESTION: Okay. And then some Sunni – Iraqi Sunni leaders are here in town in Washington, D.C., including Rafe al-Essawi, who is wanted by the Iraqi court. Can you tell us why they are here and whether they have met any State Department officials?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’re aware that the former Iraqi deputy prime minister and the governor of Nineveh province are visiting Washington this week. It’s an unofficial visit, not organized by the U.S. Government. They have requested meetings at the Department of State, so we expect that senior department officials who work on issues related to Iraq and ISIL will meet with them during their stay, but I don’t have further --

QUESTION: Are they going to meet Mr. Essawi?

MR RATHKE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Are they going to meet Mr. Essawi as well?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have further information on the meetings. As again – as I said, this is an unofficial visit. So they’ve requested meetings here, and we will meet with them. I don’t have a full lineup of exactly who’s going to participate.

QUESTION: Well, when you meet with them, will you be able to share some more information?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any further information. I’d refer you back to their delegation to talk about the details.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Somalia?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, we’ll come to you in a second, Ros. Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Still on Iraq. The Iraqi prime minister --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- apparently signed a deal with the Russians to supply them with Sukhoi fighter jets because they are unhappy with the delivery of the F-16. Do you have any comment on that?

MR RATHKE: Well, first, I’m not familiar with that report, so I’m not going to comment on the details of it. I haven’t seen that. I think we’ve talked quite a bit in the past about the F-16 sale. The – if I recall correctly, the pilots are undergoing training in the United States right now. That’s moving ahead on schedule, so I don’t have any --

QUESTION: But they are being trained for the past seven, eight years. I mean, they have been – sorry. I mean, they are being trained for many, many years, and these deliveries should have taken place a couple years back. So why do they keep holding them --

MR RATHKE: Happy to get you an update on that, but I’m not aware of any specific delay.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that these F-16s might actually fall in the wrong hand?

MR RATHKE: We’ve got a security partnership with the Government of Iraq. We work closely with them. And so no, we’re not --

QUESTION: Then why the holdup on the delivery?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not agreeing with you that there’s a holdup on the delivery. We’ve – it remains on the schedule that we’ve discussed in this briefing room. I’m not aware of a delay.

Ros, go ahead.

QUESTION: Somalia.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: The White House announced on Monday that the career service officer who was supposed to be the new U.S. ambassador to Somalia is withdrawing her name. Can you explain why?

MR RATHKE: Yes. There was a – the nomination was withdrawn. This was a decision made by the nominee for personal family reasons. Our policy on Somalia has not changed, so there’s no news to report on that. This was simply a decision for personal reasons.

QUESTION: Well, it’s curious because the Secretary of State just had his unannounced visit to Mogadishu, where he met with the top leaders in the government and talked about having a U.S. ambassador at least in the country on a day-to-day basis while being based in Nairobi. And we were all told this was a sign of the U.S.’s commitment to helping the new Somali Government stand upright.

MR RATHKE: And that commitment remains.

QUESTION: So what happens now? Who is going to be that face of the United States in Mogadishu on a day-to-day basis until the President nominates another person to be the ambassador to Somalia?

MR RATHKE: Well, we have a unit at our embassy in Nairobi now that covers issues related to Somalia. So we are already – we are following now Somali issues from our embassy in Nairobi. This nomination was with the Senate. It had not been – it had not come to a vote, so I would refer you to the White House on any specific decisions about a new nominee. They will have the lead on that. But this in no way changes the commitment that the United States Government has to Somalia and the specific steps that the Secretary mentioned when he was in Mogadishu.

I think he, as you will recall, he also said at that time that we didn’t have a fixed timeline for having an on-the-ground diplomatic presence in Mogadishu.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: We’re working toward that. We are committed to that. But this withdrawal of nomination, which happened purely for personal reasons is – doesn’t affect in any way that --

QUESTION: Did this just happen in the last five or six days, the decision to withdraw the nomination?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think – I don’t recall the date on the withdrawal that was sent out by the White House; it was just a couple of days ago. So I think it was last – it was either last Friday or it was yesterday. So it’s been in just the last couple of days subsequent to the Secretary’s visit.

QUESTION: And has this – and was the Somali Government notified that the nominee would not, in fact, be the new U.S. ambassador, and what was their reaction?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have information on that, and that would be in the category of our diplomatic exchanges with other governments that we wouldn’t be commenting on. But I think the Secretary’s visit to Mogadishu is a clear testimony to our commitment to the progress that’s been made in Somalia and to continuing to support it, and to doing so by having an enhanced presence in Mogadishu.

Yes.

QUESTION: Is there urgency – this is my final one. Is there urgency in getting a new nominee before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and getting that person confirmed, given the tenuousness of the situation politically in Somalia?

MR RATHKE: Well, I would refer back to the White House for nomination questions. I’m sure they will go to that with deliberate speed, but I don’t have a timeline for – to announce on their behalf.

Samir, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: On Iran.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Did you say – did you comment before about reports that the U.S. and Iran are changing their Interests Sections’ offices in the two capitals to better locations?

MR RATHKE: I think this came up last week, if I’m not mistaken. The – and as – I think – I don’t know if it came up in the briefing, though.

So on – in that regard, the Iranian Interests Section requested last year to relocate to a new address, and permission was granted in accordance with standard protocol. We expect they will relocate soon, but we would refer you to their interests section for any details about the exact address and when they will move.

Let me highlight – this is not connected; this is a long-planned relocation. It is not connected with the ongoing, EU-led P5+1 negotiations. Those, of course, are focused on addressing the international community’s concerns over the nuclear program. The foreign interests section of the Swiss embassy in Iran, which serves as our protecting power there, as you all know, remains at its current location. I know there had been some questions about whether there was a new location. Any new location would be announced by the Swiss embassy in Iran.

QUESTION: But did the U.S. start taking any steps or any action to improve relations with Iran?

MR RATHKE: Again, this was handled according to standard protocol.

QUESTION: Besides this issue, because there are visitors – American and Iranian business people are exchange visiting to improve --

MR RATHKE: I’m not aware – there have been a lot of reports about – where purportedly American businesses have been traveling to Iran and some of this has come up in the last week or two. And in particular, there was a report about – where allegedly oil executives were going. We found no evidence to back that up, and in fact, I think even some Iranian officials backed away from those earlier statements. So I would not put this relocation of the interests section into any other context. It was handled according to protocol, is not connected to other issues.

QUESTION: But there’s a report about Iranian business delegation visiting this week to improve Iran’s image in the United States.

MR RATHKE: I’m not familiar with that report. I don’t have any comment on that.

Michel, did you have a question?

QUESTION: No.

MR RATHKE: No?

QUESTION: On Iran, just --

MR RATHKE: Yeah, same topic, John?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question.

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Very quickly on Iran, is there anything ongoing now? Are technical teams meeting? What is the status of the Six – the 5+1 talks?

MR RATHKE: So as we announced yesterday, talks on Iran’s nuclear program are resuming this week in Vienna. Under Secretary Wendy Sherman and the U.S. – Under Secretary Sherman is with the Secretary right now, but tomorrow she and the U.S. negotiating team will join those negotiations in Vienna.

QUESTION: And do you believe that – well, the talk between the Secretary of State and the Russian president focused a great deal on Iran or partially on Iran?

MR RATHKE: Well, that meeting is ongoing, to the best of my knowledge – at least it was when I came out there. So we’ll let the Secretary speak to his meetings in a few minutes, once those have concluded.

Iran? Or --

QUESTION: No, no.

MR RATHKE: Okay. Then let me go to John and then we’ll come back to you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just have a couple of questions on the summit this week. Do you have any new --

MR RATHKE: You mean the GCC summit?

QUESTION: Yeah, GCC summit.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Right – at this point, do you have any new military sales that you’d be able to announce that might be part of the deal?

MR RATHKE: Well, this is a White House-led summit, so for any deliverables and outcomes, I will certainly defer to them. Meetings get underway tomorrow, so I’m not going to preview anything right now.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. And would these – any negotiations about a potential military sales take into account U.S. law requiring that the U.S. is on guard for Israel’s qualitative military edge?

MR RATHKE: Are you trying to suggest we would engage in negotiations that are outside the scope of U.S. law?

QUESTION: Well, I’d just let you answer the question.

MR RATHKE: Well, I mean, of course, we take all those factors into account, and I think yesterday there was an on-the-record call from the White House where they also addressed some of those issues. So, certainly.

QUESTION: Yeah. Does it appear that that – do you think that might be a factor in these discussions, in the sense of: Is Israel’s qualitative military edge so much vastly superior than gulf allies that we have that the likely sales will probably not even have implication for QME at all?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I’m not going to get into any particular possible deliverables, similar to my answer to your first question. I think I would take a step back, though, and say that this summit is an opportunity for the leadership from the U.S. and the GCC to discuss a variety of ways to enhance our partnership and to deepen our security cooperation. And that holds in a variety of areas. So we certainly expect that political and security issues are going to be high on the agenda, but we’ll wait until the talks have happened before we give any readout.

Michel, you were next.

QUESTION: Can we ask on the summit?

MR RATHKE: Let me – Michel’s been waiting, so – yeah?

QUESTION: On the summit.

QUESTION: On the summit. We already asked on the summit.

MR RATHKE: Pardon?

QUESTION: On the summit.

MR RATHKE: Yes?

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, do you believe that the conversation between the king of Saudi Arabia and the President of the United States put to rest the issue of the controversy over the snub or not-snub? And has there been any change on who is likely to attend? Because there were also some reports that the King of Bahrain might come. Could you --

MR RATHKE: Well, any participation questions I would defer to the White House. They – they’re the organizers of the summit, so they will have the most up-to-date information about participation. But with respect to your first question, certainly I think the Saudi foreign minister spoke to this yesterday as well, Foreign Minister Jubeir. Foreign Minister al-Jubeir was, I think, quite clear. And we share that view that in rebutting any notion of any sort of snub or any other kind of tension in the relationship. I think, as the foreign minister pointed out, the crown prince and the deputy crown prince, the number two and three people in the Saudi hierarchy, the people who are responsible for security issues, are coming to this summit, and we welcome the opportunity to continue discussions.

I would also remind that the Secretary was just in Riyadh, had very productive meetings with the king and with the top Saudi leadership, and that was followed the next day by meetings with the foreign ministers of the GCC countries in Paris, which also were extremely productive. So we see the summit as continuing along those lines. My colleagues over at the White House will be able to tell you more.

QUESTION: Last one on this issue. Back in April, on April 5, the President gave an interview in which he said that there are internal problems and issues that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries must deal with. And he’s talking about political sharing of minorities and so on; he’s talking about liberalizing issue, giving freedom to women and so on. Is this going to be also on top of the agenda that the President is likely and the Secretary of State likely to discuss?

MR RATHKE: Again, I’d refer you to the on-the-record call that the White House did yesterday, where I think they addressed that specific question.

Michel, go ahead?

QUESTION: Yeah. Is Assistant Secretary Nuland participating in the meetings in Sochi with Secretary Kerry, or no?

MR RATHKE: Yes. She’s traveling with the Secretary.

QUESTION: We didn’t see her in the picture. That’s why I was curious. (Laughter.)

MR RATHKE: Oh. I haven’t seen the picture. I’m not sure which picture, so – but anyway, yes, she’s part of the delegation.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Will that be her first visit to Moscow since she assumed her --

MR RATHKE: Well, they’re in Sochi.

QUESTION: I mean, I’m sorry, Sochi.

MR RATHKE: I don’t know. I don’t know when her last visit was there.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Jeff, the Pentagon said this morning that there is a Iranian flag cargo ship making its way toward Yemen. Do you guys – are you aware of this ship? Are you concerned that it could be something nefarious being transported on the ship under the guise of relief aid during the ceasefire?

MR RATHKE: Well, so there was a report about that, and I think my colleague, Colonel Warren, over at the Pentagon spoke to that just about an hour or so ago. We are monitoring, on the one hand, Iran’s latest maritime shipment to Yemen, and on the humanitarian side, we expect Iran’s humanitarian support for the people of Yemen to occur within the process established by the UN for all international donors. Donor countries know how to work with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, OCHA, within the framework that they have set.

Now, with regard to the report about Iranian warships, we’ve seen those reports and we are certainly tracking this convoy closely. We would discourage any provocative actions, and for further details about that I would refer you back to the Pentagon, who are certainly following this extremely closely.

QUESTION: Speaking of Yemen --

MR RATHKE: Yes, Ros.

QUESTION: -- is the U.S. confident that the humanitarian pause or ceasefire is going to take effect at 4 p.m. Eastern Time, as had been announced by the Saudi-led coalition?

MR RATHKE: Well, yes. We understand, and we’ve seen no reason to change that understanding, that the five day renewable ceasefire and humanitarian pause should begin at 11 p.m. tonight in Yemen, which is 4 o’clock here, Eastern Time. And we view this Saudi initiative, as well as signals from other parties, that the ceasefire is viewed favorably and will be honored. So yes, we’re expecting the parties to hold to it.

QUESTION: On Friday, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Jubeir both acknowledged that they would be spending what were now the past five days engaged in a lot of diplomacy to try to persuade the Houthis and partisans supportive of the former President Saleh to lay down their weapons and to allow this ceasefire to take effect. Is there a sense going into the final minutes before the ceasefire starts that the efforts were successful?

MR RATHKE: Well, we understand that the Houthis have indicated that they are willing to accept the ceasefire. We’re not in a position to definitively confirm that they have fully done so, but we certainly urge the Houthis and their supporters to welcome this opportunity, to take advantage of this opportunity for a ceasefire and a humanitarian pause which will facilitate urgently-needed deliveries of food, fuel, and humanitarian supplies.

Now, I would highlight in this regard as well the role of the UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. He’s now in Sana’a, and we welcome his active engagement with all Yemeni parties in an effort to try to move the UN-led political dialogue forward. And we encourage the Houthis and their allies and all parties to work with the special envoy to return to that political dialogue.

All right – yes.

QUESTION: Is the ceasefire holding? Is the ceasefire --

MR RATHKE: Well, it hasn’t – it commences in a few hours.

QUESTION: It starts --

MR RATHKE: It’s 4 p.m. Eastern time --

QUESTION: Oh, Eastern time, not their time.

MR RATHKE: -- 11 p.m. time in Yemen, yes.

All right. Anything else? Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:27 p.m.)

DPB #82


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 11, 2015

Mon, 05/11/2015 - 14:15

Marie Harf
Acting Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 11, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

12:48 p.m. EDT

MS HARF: Hello. Welcome to the daily press briefing. I have some travel items at the top, and then, Brad, I’m kicking it over to you.

First, as you saw this morning, Secretary of State John Kerry will travel on May 11th to Sochi, Russia, where he will meet with President Putin, Foreign Minister Lavrov, and other Russian officials on May 12th to discuss a full range of bilateral and regional issues, including Iran, Syria, and Ukraine. The Secretary will then travel on to Antalya, Turkey to consult with allies and partners gathered for a meeting of the NATO foreign ministers on May 13th. He will then return to Washington to join the President’s dinner with the GCC that evening and at Camp David the next day.

And then Secretary Kerry will travel to Beijing, China from May 16th to 17th. While in Beijing, Secretary Kerry will meet senior leaders of the Chinese Government to advance U.S. priorities ahead of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue this summer and the planned visit to the United States of President Xi Jinping this fall. Secretary Kerry will then visit Seoul, Republic of Korea, from May 17th to 18th. He will meet President Park and the foreign minister to discuss a range of global, regional, and bilateral issues, as well as President Park’s upcoming visit to the United States.

On May 19th, Secretary Kerry will travel to Seattle, Washington to deliver remarks on trade, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A lot of travel coming up.

QUESTION: Right.

MS HARF: Yes. With that, Brad.

QUESTION: So --

MS HARF: And we’re leaving very soon for Russia today, so --

QUESTION: I understand. We’ll be quick.

MS HARF: No, it’s okay.

QUESTION: So you said the meeting with Russian President Putin is --

MS HARF: Tomorrow.

QUESTION: -- is tomorrow, and that’s confirmed?

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: There was some indication from the Russians that – at least the Kremlin wasn’t confirming at this point whether there would be a meeting, but --

MS HARF: It’s certainly our understanding that it’s confirmed.

QUESTION: It’s confirmed. Okay.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And then you said you’d talk about Iran, Syria, and Ukraine --

MS HARF: Among other issues.

QUESTION: -- among other issues.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Just on Syria first off, is there any new ideas at a diplomatic approach that are – either you’re presenting or you expect to hear from the Russians?

MS HARF: Well, I don’t know what we expect to hear from the Russians, but I know that, as we’ve talked about before, Secretary Kerry and the team have long been thinking through ways to get back to a diplomatic process here when it comes to a Geneva-like scenario where we get the parties to the table and where we can actually make progress towards a political transition in Syria. So that’s certainly going to be one of the main topics of conversation. I don’t have anything else to preview at this time about what that might look like, but we’ve certainly felt very strongly that we need to get back to that kind of political dialogue at some point, given where we are.

QUESTION: I think the Russian foreign ministry described the meetings as part of an effort to normalize relations again between the U.S. and Russia. Do you see that in these discussions taking place?

MS HARF: I wouldn’t use that term. I think how I would describe it is that we’ve always said where there are areas we can work together, we will, whether it’s the Iran talks, as you know, where we’ve really been in lockstep on this issue; Syria, other issues; but also to discuss ones where we very strongly disagree, like Ukraine.

QUESTION: So you wouldn’t use “normalize” because you feel that the relations are already normalized, or they’re not normalized --

MS HARF: It’s just not a term I would use. That’s sort of a technical diplomatic term – when you talk about normalizing relations with Cuba, for example.

QUESTION: Right.

MS HARF: I just wouldn’t use that term. This is part of our ongoing effort to maintain open lines of communication on all of these issues where we agree, where we disagree, and they thought this was a good time to meet.

QUESTION: Would it be like an effort to defuse the tensions?

MS HARF: That’s not how I would describe it. Again, this is part of our ongoing effort – the Secretary does speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov over the phone from time to time, including recently – but this is part of our ongoing effort to have these lines of communication to talk about all of these issues where we agree, where we’re working together, but also where we disagree, like on Ukraine.

QUESTION: Is this the first high-level meeting between – let’s say, with President Putin in the last couple years?

MS HARF: With – I can check on that. The Secretary has met with Foreign Minister Lavrov, as you know.

QUESTION: I understand, but with Putin, this is the first --

MS HARF: Let me check on that.

QUESTION: Right. You said that he speaks regularly with the Russian foreign minister --

MS HARF: He does.

QUESTION: -- and we know, but he’s meeting the president this time.

MS HARF: Correct, which is different.

QUESTION: What would you – one, why go to Russia and meet with him? What do you hope to hear from him? And two, what’s different that facilitates this trip from the last several months? I mean, the Ukraine crisis has ebbed and flowed, but it’s still raging, essentially.

MS HARF: Well, I’m not sure I have much analysis to do on what’s different. This just was a time that made sense. I think it’s important to hear and to speak to President Putin about all of these issues directly. Obviously, he talks to Foreign Minister Lavrov quite a bit, but these are all very serious issues, and given that we’re going there, we thought it made sense to meet with President Putin.

QUESTION: Was – is the meeting being done at the request of the Russians or the Americans?

MS HARF: We always make these decisions jointly about where we will meet and when.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I change topics?

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: Could I just ask you about Indonesia? Indonesia is turning back hundreds of Muslim Burmese. Do you have any comment on that?

MS HARF: I hadn’t seen that. I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: And you just announced that the Secretary’s going to Beijing. The --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And that’s 16th and --

MS HARF: I think the 16th and 17th. Let me check. Yes, the 16th and 17th.

QUESTION: And the Indian prime minister is going to be there also.

MS HARF: At the same time?

QUESTION: I don’t know. On Thursday, I think he’s going to be going onward.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Is there any possibility of Secretary stopping in India on the way back?

MS HARF: I have not heard that any stop – additional stops will be made. The Secretary was just in India, as you know, not too long ago.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Speaking of China --

MS HARF: We’re stopping in Seattle on the way back, actually. Yes.

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

QUESTION: Speaking of China, Marie, the president of Djibouti just announced that the Chinese are welcome to build a military base in Djibouti. Do you have any information on that or any reaction?

MS HARF: I hadn’t seen that, but during our meetings in Djibouti, certainly we had very good and positive conversations about our military presence there. The Secretary spoke publicly about this, as did the Djiboutians, so this is a partnership we care deeply about, and certainly, they’ve been very close partners in the fight against counterterrorism that we use that base for.

QUESTION: If this is proven to be true, would that alarm you or disappoint you? Would you pressure the Djibouti Government to take back its welcome?

MS HARF: Given I haven’t heard the reports, I’m probably not going to delve into analysis on that.

Yes.

QUESTION: With regard to the trip tomorrow – or today and tomorrow, you said it made sense given where we are now to have this meeting now with President Putin. What are the conditions about where we are right now that prompted a meeting with the president of Russia?

MS HARF: Yeah, trying to tease out what the colloquial means there more specifically. Well, as I said, this is – given the fact that we’re going to Sochi, we thought it makes sense – made sense to meet with the president. I think given where we are in Syria and the fact that we believe that we need to get back to some sort of political transition dialogue, that we believe we need to get back to a diplomatic process, that we haven’t seen a lot of movement there in the past months, I think this is one of the reasons. Also, given we’re close to the Iran deadline on the nuclear negotiations and the Russians have been in lockstep with us on that issue, but also given what’s going on in Ukraine – the continued violations of Minsk, the continued aggression by the Russian separatist forces – these are all topics that we thought it made sense to discuss now.

QUESTION: Could I ask about the summit?

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Now there’s a lot of talk around town, I’m sure that you are aware, that there has been a snub of the United States --

MS HARF: I know.

QUESTION: -- that nobody’s attending --

MS HARF: I’ve seen some of that talk.

QUESTION: -- and all this. And do you have any comment on that?

MS HARF: Well, I think that nothing could be further from the truth that there was some “snub,” to use the cable news talking point. The Secretary had really good meetings with King Salman and other senior Saudi leaders in Riyadh, and also had very good meetings with the GCC foreign ministers in Paris, where we walked through in detail the Iran negotiations. These were very positive discussions, both about the Iran talks and where we are, but also about the Camp David summit and leading into this, which is really designed to enhance our security cooperation, as you know.

And to that end, we never expected every head of state would attend, never had that expectation. For example, Mohammed bin Zayed is the one that tends to represent the UAE. He’s been in the Oval Office multiple times. He tends to be the one that represents them. King Salman made this decision given what’s going on in Yemen. He’s sending the crown prince and the deputy crown prince who are fully empowered. They run intel, they run defense, they run a lot of the areas that we’re actually going to be talking about in detail at Camp David. So we believe that the right mix of people will be there. We’re looking forward to the summit. And again, it comes on the heels of very positive discussions we had both in Riyadh and in Paris.

QUESTION: Certain bloggers from the area are suggesting that King Salman might be quite ill, actually. Can you confirm or deny that?

MS HARF: Well, I think I’ll let the Saudis speak to that. As I noted, we just had a very productive meeting with the king in Saudi Arabia, and they’ve spoken to his decision-making on why he won’t be attending.

QUESTION: Okay. And aside from the – say, the missile shield that the United States is apparently suggesting, the suggestion to combine the Gulf state armies together, what else is the United States prepared to do?

MS HARF: Well, I don’t think I’m going to preview the summit before it happens, but in general, we’re talking about increased, enhanced, deepened security cooperation. We’re talking about that both in the context of the Iran negotiations and what Iran is doing in the region, but also more broadly. So this is really building on years of cooperation we’ve had in talking about the way forward here, and I think we’ll probably have more to say as we get into the summit.

QUESTION: And my last question on this: Now I know that at least the Kuwait – I mean, Kuwait and Bahrain have some sort of special – some sort of defense pact with the United States, and apparently Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates want to elevate that. That’s what the ambassador said the other day. What kind of relations do you see? What kind of military relations could come out of this?

MS HARF: Well, we have very strong military-to-military relationships with all of these countries, whether it’s arms sales, whether it’s training, whether – each country’s a little different, right. But coming out of this, I think we’ll be talking more specifically about what even more we are going to be doing. Again, I just don’t have much to preview for you.

QUESTION: On the --

QUESTION: Marie.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

QUESTION: On this, you said that you didn’t expect that every Gulf leader will be in town, but the White --

MS HARF: We didn’t, no.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the White House was expecting King Salman to be here, and they put on the schedule for next Wednesday a meeting with – between the President and King Salman.

MS HARF: Right. Well, we learned of the king’s possible change of plans from the Saudis on Friday night, I think after that schedule had already gone out. This was confirmed by the Saudis on Saturday. Given what’s going on in Yemen – the imminent start of a ceasefire, hopefully, if the Houthis agree to it there – the king made this decision, as the Saudis have spoken to. And again, they’re sending their crown prince, their deputy crown prince. They’re in charge of intelligence, defense. Mohammed bin Nayef has had Oval Office meetings, certainly, with the President. So we think that we’ll have a good mix of people at the summit to get done what we need to get done.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the meeting with the Russians?

MS HARF: You can.

QUESTION: The Russian foreign ministry put out a statement and it includes their interpretation, again, of this meeting. It notes that the White House has – I think it says the White House has groundlessly blamed Russia for the Ukraine crisis when, in fact, the United States largely provoked it. Given that you said this was – it makes sense to meet Russia at this time --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- I mean, are these the type of comments that augur well for a meeting when --

MS HARF: Well, just because we disagree strongly on something doesn’t mean we shouldn’t meet and talk about it. So obviously, Ukraine will be a huge topic of conversation here. And we’ve seen statements like this from the Russians repeatedly. We’ve made clear what has happened here and that the Russians are the ones who are responsible for de-escalating and pulling back. We only took actions in response to their actions.

QUESTION: But given that we’re – after 18 months, you’re saying we’ve seen this repeatedly. Nothing seems to have changed. They’ve taken over a part of another country and they’re saying it was your fault. Why are you meeting now? I don’t understand why --

MS HARF: Because --

QUESTION: -- what makes sense. You keep saying it makes sense --

MS HARF: Right.

QUESTION: -- but to me, this – nothing has changed. Why --

MS HARF: Because you can’t deal with diplomatic issues if you don’t do diplomacy, Brad.

QUESTION: Then why didn’t you meet him last year?

MS HARF: Well, we have met with --

QUESTION: Why didn’t you meet him six months ago or three months ago?

MS HARF: We have met – we’ve met with the Russians --

QUESTION: Nine months ago?

MS HARF: Secretary Kerry has met with the Russians multiple times.

QUESTION: Not with the president of Russia.

MS HARF: Not with the president. Given that we are going to Russia for this meeting, we thought that it made sense to meet with President Putin. Again, it’s not just about Ukraine; it’s about Syria, it’s about Iran, it’s about a number of issues. And just because you strongly disagree with what a country is doing --

QUESTION: Right, but how does --

MS HARF: -- doesn’t mean you shouldn’t meet with them. In fact, it actually means you should to try and make progress.

QUESTION: Exactly, so why – which begs the question why haven’t you been setting up this type of meeting months or even a year ago --

MS HARF: Well, we’ve been meeting with --

QUESTION: -- if it was so important.

MS HARF: -- Foreign Minister Lavrov repeatedly, as you know, and they’ve spoken on the phone repeatedly. And again, I don’t have much more – there’s not sort of any more mystery to the timing. This is just what made sense in our schedule, on our travel schedule, what made sense in terms of where we are on a number of policies. There’s not much more to it than that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Marie, do --

QUESTION: Sorry.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MS HARF: Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, I just wanted to ask you --

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said they will discuss Syria and other issues. Will they discuss the Middle East peace process?

MS HARF: I don’t know. We’ll see.

QUESTION: Because Abbas was just meeting with President Putin. So would that be --

MS HARF: I don’t have much more to preview for you. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did, but I just can’t predict.

QUESTION: Do you see sort of a more energized role for Russia in this process, perhaps, to sort of --

MS HARF: I’m not sure I would --

QUESTION: -- inject some life into the Quartet that is really moribund, so to speak.

MS HARF: I’m not sure I have much to say on that right now.

Yes.

QUESTION: Did you get to hear any hints from the Russians that now they are willing to be cooperating on Syria?

MS HARF: Well, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov have talked about Syria for many, many months now, and I think we have worked together in terms of setting up the first two Geneva conferences. We worked together on that. We worked together on the chemical weapons agreement, as you know. And I think that there is a sense – and hopefully we’ll see that borne out in the discussions – that we need to try and make progress to get back to some sort of diplomatic solution here. I wouldn’t expect any concrete sort of announcements or anything to be made out of this meeting. This is just the first step in a process here to sit down with the Russians, to talk about how we might eventually all get back to the table. It’s really the first step to that.

QUESTION: Can I go for a second --

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on the Indonesian thing? You said that you don’t know about --

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- Indonesia turning back refugees. Okay. So you have no comment?

MS HARF: Yeah, I’m sorry.

Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: A couple ethics questions. I know ethics are very important to the State Department. The first one is a policy question. Do you know if a State Department employee or spouse gives a speech and is offered an honorarium in exchange for that, do they have to report it if they decide to direct that honorarium to charity?

MS HARF: I am happy to check with our lawyers.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: How would I have that at the tip of my fingers?

QUESTION: You might. You never know what’s in that booklet there.

MS HARF: It is a large book, but not that large.

QUESTION: It could be anything. And a couple related, specific questions regarding some records the State Department released last week about the Clintons’ ethics review process here. Those records suggest that when President Clinton wanted to give paid speeches to – that were paid for by government agencies or entities from China or Turkey, he was turned down, and when paid for by government agencies or entities from Canada, the UAE, and Thailand, that that was authorized. Can you explain any distinction there?

MS HARF: I’m not familiar with the documents you’re referring to. I’m sorry, I’m happy to check. I do know that we reviewed every request submitted by the foundation, which primarily did consist of speeches and consultancies of former President Clinton. I’m not exactly sure which documents you’re referring to. I’m happy to look.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: And you may not be able to answer this if you don’t know about the documents --

MS HARF: I’m going to go 0 for 3 today.

QUESTION: -- but the last one is – so part of this ethics advice process was to give the Secretary advice on how to deal with potential conflicts of interest created by or potentially created by her husband’s business dealings or speech practices. Do you know if the State Department ever advised that one way to cure such a conflict would be to have the money given to the Clinton Foundation rather than have the Clintons or – accept them?

MS HARF: I have no idea. I’m – I mean, again, these were internal processes many years before I certainly got here and we certainly got here. I’m happy to check and see if there’s anything to share, okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: Yeah. Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: A Turkish cargo ship had been attacked off the coast of Libya’s port Tobruk. One official had been killed as well. Do you – any comment on it?

MS HARF: Yes. We are concerned by these reports. We’re seeking additional information. We send our condolences to the family of the Turkish crew member who was killed, hope for the quick recovery of those who were injured in the attacks. As we’ve said when it comes to Libya, we remain committed to supporting the UN process and the special representative of the Security Council – or, excuse me, of the secretary-general – his efforts to establish a national unity government. So in general, that’s what we’re focused on, but we’re trying to get more details about this.

Yes.

QUESTION: On North Korea --

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- if that’s okay. So North Korea announced that on May 9th, it launched an SLBM, and I wondered if you had a comment about that.

MS HARF: Yes. We’ve seen the reports. As you know, we tend to comment on intelligence-related matters, but again call on North Korea to refrain from actions that further raise tensions in the region and to focus instead on taking concrete steps to fulfilling its international commitments and obligations. And I don’t have much more to share than that.

Yes, right behind you.

QUESTION: Colombia?

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: President Santos announced that Colombia was stopping the U.S.-backed aerial spraying of coca crops. Do you have a reaction to that decision?

MS HARF: Yes. The – this decision – the decision whether to I think use a certain type of spray to eradicate coca is Colombia’s to make. As we’ve always said, we’ll respect whatever conclusion Colombia reaches. We’ve developed a number of approaches as part of a comprehensive effort to confront narcotrafficking, and if aerial eradication isn’t possible for some reason, we’ll continue our efforts to use other tools by working with our Colombian allies on this.

Yes.

QUESTION: I had a question about Secretary Kerry’s trip to Beijing.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you know if he’ll be discussing historical issues at all, or relations with Japan at all?

MS HARF: I don’t have much more of a preview for you than I read out at the top. We’ll get you more as we get closer.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Well, basically the same question, about the topics in --

MS HARF: Oh, will we be discussing North Korea? I can guarantee you that we will be discussing North Korea, yes. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And same in Seoul?

MS HARF: In Seoul? Yes. Yes, I can guarantee you that will be on the agenda both places.

QUESTION: Maritime issues as well, the same?

MS HARF: I can almost guarantee that as well. I’m just setting up all the meetings for the Secretary today. Yes, but those are issues we talk about with the Chinese quite – and the South Koreans quite regularly.

QUESTION: Cyber security?

MS HARF: I would guess we will, but again, we just announced the trip, so we’ll get you more as we get closer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: After Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit where he announced visa on arrival – which is not actually on arrival; it’s something with an E visa – I had asked and from this podium I was told that the U.S. is also working to provide some kind of expedited visa or relief like – something like global entry and then some visas for businesspeople. Do you have any updates, or you can take the question?

MS HARF: I’m happy to check with our team, yes.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MS HARF: Go ahead.

QUESTION: At the GCC summit, they said they’d be talking about security cooperation. Is there an expectation at all that there’ll be some sort of, like, weapons deal that would come out of it?

MS HARF: Well, we have ongoing weapons deals with many of these countries. I don’t have anything else to preview for you in terms of what may come out of it.

QUESTION: And this year, of course, there’s speculation that King Salman is skipping because he’s not getting the weapons that he wants.

MS HARF: Well, I addressed that at the top, I think. I don’t know if you were here or not when I said nothing could be further from the truth. We just had a series of very good meetings with the king and other Saudi leaders in Riyadh, very positive about our policies. Obviously, they have questions, as we know they do, but the tone and tenor was very much of working together on this and having shared interest and answering those questions, and I think had very positive meetings on Paris after Riyadh. So I would roundly discount those reports.

QUESTION: Do I have time for a couple more questions?

MS HARF: Go for it.

QUESTION: Okay, very quickly. Today Federica Mogherini spoke before the Security Council and she laid out a plan to save the refugees --

MS HARF: Yes, she did.

QUESTION: -- and to save all the lives and so on. Are you part of that?

MS HARF: Am I – are we what? Sorry?

QUESTION: Are you taking part of that? Are you aiding them?

MS HARF: Well, we’re certainly – we saw the comments. We’re certainly aware of the EU interest in UN action on this, particularly I think in UNSCR probably. She briefed the Security Council this morning, as you said. We’re reviewing options for addressing this issue at the United Nations, so we don’t have much more on that. But more broadly speaking, we believe that any response should impose consequences on criminal smugglers and their assets; it should avoid putting migrants in further danger. These are sort of principles that guide how we respond to these issues, and we’ll keep working with the EU on what the next steps will be.

QUESTION: But seeing how the United States maintains a robust naval presence in the area, would it use its – these facilities or these abilities and – to sort of aid --

MS HARF: That’s not something I’ve heard, but let me check with our team and see if there’s more.

QUESTION: You have – you do have a large presence in the --

MS HARF: We do. But I think --

QUESTION: -- in the Mediterranean.

MS HARF: I think those – that presence is for certain missions, and I’m happy to check with our folks.

QUESTION: If I understand correctly, you’re going with the Secretary to Moscow --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- to Russia and to Turkey?

MS HARF: Yes. And then to --

QUESTION: No. In Turkey --

MS HARF: -- Beijing.

QUESTION: -- will that question come up or not?

MS HARF: What question?

QUESTION: The tweet about you.

MS HARF: Will the – will that come up? I would – I’m surprised anyone even there still would even care about it. I doubt it, honestly. We’re going to meet with our NATO allies. I don’t think that the mayor of Ankara is part of that discussion. It’s really at a different level.

QUESTION: The headline of the meeting in Turkey is the NATO partners?

MS HARF: This is a NATO ministerial. Obviously, there’s a lot going on that NATO is heavily involved in. We’ll have just come from Russia, and NATO obviously is very focused on the situation in Ukraine but many other issues as well. So this is a check-in with our other ministerial colleagues at NATO – obviously, something that’s very important to us.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: Quick briefing, guys. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:11 p.m.)

 


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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 8, 2015

Fri, 05/08/2015 - 12:55

Jeff Rathke
Acting Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 8, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

11:12 a.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good morning, everybody.

QUESTION: Good morning.

MR RATHKE: So I have two things to mention at the start. The first is a short update with regard to Nepal.

The USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team reports that the Government of Nepal and humanitarian partners have now reached all earthquake-affected districts and are refining information on the needs of affected populations, especially in remote areas. I know some of you have been following that.

And the second item at the top is an update on the Secretary’s travel. He’s in Paris today. This morning, he met with Foreign Minister Fabius. He then laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and attended President Hollande’s ceremony for Victory in Europe Day’s 70th anniversary. He also participated in a meeting of the GCC foreign ministers – I believe that may still be going on right now – where they discussed regional security issues, including the nuclear negotiations with Iran, as well as discussing Yemen.

The Secretary will return to Washington tomorrow, and he will be holding a press availability shortly. So we’re keeping an eye on when that will start, and we’ll wrap up here before that starts so that you have the opportunity to watch that as well.

And with that, over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. In the interests of being quick, do you know – what is the – your understanding of what happened with this helicopter crash in Pakistan that killed two ambassadors?

MR RATHKE: We extend our condolences to those killed and injured, and the families of those killed and injured in this accident. Our thoughts are with the diplomatic community in Pakistan. I’d also highlight no American embassy personnel or U.S. citizens were affected.

On the question of what happened, I believe the Pakistani air force has already said something about this. They described it as a technical fault that they believe was responsible. So I’d certainly refer you back to them for their investigation and the details. We don’t have reason to doubt what they’ve said. We refer you to them for their investigation.

QUESTION: So when you say you have no reason to doubt what they said, you presumably have no reason to believe the TTP – I think there’s at least a TTP claim of responsibility for this?

MR RATHKE: Again, yeah, we have no reason to doubt what the Pakistani authorities have said. But of course, it’s just happened so they’re investigating.

All right. Any other topics? Yeah, David, and then we’ll go to the back.

CHINARUSSIA">QUESTION: Sure. I was just wondering if you had any comments or reaction to – I understand that President Xi and Putin met early today and that they came to a $6 billion loan agreement. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any specific reaction to that. Of course, we were aware of the meeting and of the visit, but I don’t have any more specifics on that.

Go ahead, sure. Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, on Omar Khadr, would you have some more reaction on that today? Is the State Department concerned about the precedence this might set for the other former Guantanamo detainees?

MR RATHKE: Right. There were questions --

QUESTION: More reaction?

MR RATHKE: There were questions yesterday, and I --

QUESTION: You mean any – any reaction.

MR RATHKE: -- I’d like to follow up to respond to your questions from yesterday. As – of course, as everyone is aware, Omar Khadr, a Canadian national convicted of various crimes by a U.S. military commission, has been released on bail after a Canadian court denied the appeal of the Government of Canada. We would also point out that the arrangement governing Mr. Khadr’s transfer to Canada was clear. After transfer to Canada to serve the remainder of his sentence, Mr. Khadr is subject to Canadian law pertaining to detention.

Also, we would point out the Canadian public safety minister’s statement yesterday that the Canadian Government intends to appeal the decision to release him, so we will follow that process as it proceeds. And it goes without saying, but I’ll reiterate the United States supports the Government of Canada in its efforts to combat terrorism.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean you support their efforts to keep him in prison?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we’ve been cooperating with the Canadian authorities. I’m not going to detail those diplomatic discussions. The Canadian – it was --

QUESTION: I’m not asking about the diplomatic discussions.

MR RATHKE: It was a subject of – as I said, the subject – or the transfer agreement was such that he is subject now to Canadian law on detention.

QUESTION: Yeah. But you’ve just opened up a whole can of – another can of worms, right, with that. I mean, I realize – I appreciate the fact that you’re trying to get something after being asked about it for three, four days in a row and not having anything. But do you support – when you say that you support the Canadian Government in its efforts to fight terrorism, does that mean that you support the Canadian Government’s attempt to prevent Omar Khadr from getting – from being released on bail?

MR RATHKE: Well, the – Canada is a sovereign country. They make their decisions about how they approach this, so I’m not --

QUESTION: That’s great, but that’s not my question.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. support Canada in its sovereign decision making to decide to oppose or to try to prevent the release on bail of --

MR RATHKE: Well, the Canadian Government has decided to appeal, and we support them.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. So you do support --

MR RATHKE: But I don’t want – I don’t want to draw the conclusion that the Canadian authorities are doing this at our – at our request. The Canadian Government is --

QUESTION: I was not intending to do that.

MR RATHKE: No, no, I didn’t suggest you were.

QUESTION: The implication was not --

MR RATHKE: But I want to make sure that’s clear.

QUESTION: All right. And then the other – just the other thing is “convicted of various crimes by a U.S. military commission.” I mean, he was convicted – one of those crimes is killing a U.S. soldier, no?

MR RATHKE: He was convicted of several crimes. He pled guilty, including to throwing a grenade that killed Army Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Right, but it’s not like it was a parking ticket or something.

MR RATHKE: As well as provide – no not at all.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: I’m not diminishing in any way the seriousness of those crimes.

QUESTION: All right.

MR RATHKE: Michel.

QUESTION: One final question. On Yemen, yesterday Secretary Kerry was talking with Saudis about a ceasefire, a five-day ceasefire in Yemen. And in the evening the Saudis decided to escalate the military operation in Yemen and asked the Saada population to leave the area because they will bomb it starting this evening. What happened, and do you support this Saudi move?

MR RATHKE: Well, I wouldn’t accept that characterization of their moves, but let me – let’s go back to where we left things yesterday. First of all, yesterday there was an announcement by Saudi Arabia of their intent to establish a five-day ceasefire and humanitarian pause. I think that they were clear, as was Secretary Kerry at that time, that that humanitarian pause and ceasefire would not commence immediately, that it depended on the Houthis agreeing to honor the same commitments. And as they both said, that this would be one of the topics to be discussed in Paris today in the Secretary’s meeting with the GCC foreign ministers. So we’ll wait to hear from the Secretary the outcomes of that meeting shortly.

Now as far as to the reports of any specific Saudi actions that have taken place since yesterday, I’d refer you back to them. But I think that Foreign Minister Jubeir, as well as the Secretary, were quite clear that the intent to establish this ceasefire and humanitarian pause depends on the Houthis agreeing to honor the same commitments.

QUESTION: Are you on the same page with the Saudis regarding what’s going on in Yemen and their military operations?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, they had extensive conversations yesterday in Riyadh and those conversations are continuing today. So we’re in very close contact. I’ll let the Secretary speak to the particular outcomes of today’s – of today’s discussions.

QUESTION: But that doesn’t mean that you are on the same page if you have discussions with them.

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not sure what specific differences you’re trying to suggest.

QUESTION: Are you – no, no. Are you in full agreement with them on their military operations and on their strategy and plans in Yemen?

MR RATHKE: Look, this is a Saudi-led coalition, as we’ve said many times. We welcome the intention of Saudi Arabia to – and their announcement of the ceasefire and the humanitarian pause. We’re in agreement on that. And the Secretary spoke to that yesterday.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Okay? Good. Please, go ahead, Cindy.

QUESTION: A different topic. Do you have any comment on China’s use of the so-called “Great Cannon” and on the broader topic of what appears to be elevated levels of media censorship?

MR RATHKE: So the United States is committed to protecting the internet as an open platform on which all people can innovate, learn, organize, communicate, free from censorship or interference. And we believe a global, interoperable, secure, and reliable internet is essential to realizing this objective. And we view attacks by malicious cyber actors who target critical infrastructure or U.S. companies and U.S. consumers as threats to national security and to the economy of the United States.

Now in the case of the cyber attack to which you’re referring, we are concerned by reports that China has used a new cyber capability to interfere with the ability of worldwide internet users to access content hosted outside of China. The cyber attack manipulated international web traffic intended for one of China’s biggest web services companies and turned it into malicious traffic directed at U.S. sites. We have asked Chinese authorities to investigate this activity and provide us with the results of their investigation. At the same time, we’re working with all willing partners to enhance cyber security, promote norms of acceptable state behavior in cyber space, and to protect the principle of freedom of expression online.

All right.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: No other – oh, yes.

QUESTION: I have a question.

MR RATHKE: Okay, come on.

QUESTION: Sorry, I was late. I don’t know if anyone has asked this question regarding The Washington Post article about the U.S. and Iran sort of renewing their interest sections in each other’s capital – Iran’s interest section moving to a new location outside of the Pakistani embassy and the U.S. interest section with the Swiss in Tehran being relocated as well.

MR RATHKE: I believe we provided a comment to that story. I don’t have it in front of me. I’m happy to get that to you right after the briefing.

QUESTION: So nothing more than what’s in the article?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I don’t have the article in front of me. I know we – I’m aware of that report, and we’ll give you – we’ll come back to you shortly after the briefing with our view on that.

All right. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:23 p.m.)

 


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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 7, 2015

Thu, 05/07/2015 - 15:53

Jeff Rathke
Acting Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 7, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

12:25 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. I have two things to mention at the top. The first is with regard to Nepal. The U.S. Pacific Command has activated Joint Task Force 505 to support the Government of Nepal and the overall U.S. Government and international response to the April 25th earthquake. The joint task force consists of approximately 500 personnel, and its headquarters will coordinate U.S. military relief efforts working in support of the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team, which is coordinating the overall U.S. Government response, as well as with senior representatives from the U.S. State Department and other U.S. agencies.

And with the monsoon season fast approaching in June, USAID is focused on addressing the critical needs of shelter and medical care. They are airlifting 2,190 additional rolls of plastic sheeting to Nepal to be transported to critical districts identified by the government. This is in addition to the emergency medical supplies USAID is also in the process of airlifting that will help 40,000 people for three months. Both commodities are scheduled to arrive this weekend.

And lastly before we get started, Secretary Kerry was in Riyadh today where he met with Saudi King Salman, Yemeni President Hadi, Saudi Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir, and other senior Saudi leaders. As you may have seen, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir announced that the Saudis agreed to a five-day ceasefire and humanitarian pause to cover all of Yemen, to start at a date to be decided very soon. They will discuss more details of how the ceasefire will work in Paris tomorrow, and of course, this is all dependent on the Houthis agreeing to it as well. Secretary Kerry’s on his way to Paris as we speak.

So with that, over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: And we’ll get back to Yemen in a second, but I just want to start with something that just happened, which is that a judge in Canada has just ordered the release on bail of Omar Khadr. I have been asking about this case for the last several days, attempting to find out if this government, which one presumes, would have an interest – whatever that interest might be, but an interest in it – in the case – if you have any position on it. And you and your colleagues have not – have responded by saying – by referring me to the Canadian Government for any comment on it. Now that he has been released – this is a guy who has been convicted of killing a U.S. soldier – what, if anything, do you have to say about it?

MR RATHKE: I saw the report of that, Matt, just before I came out here. So I don’t have a comment right away, but we’ll look at that and we’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Can you please --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Does – can I just ask in general --

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: -- does the U.S. have any – have an interest in what happens to this guy?

MR RATHKE: Well, of course, we have an interest in working with the governments in countries to which Guantanamo detainees have been transferred. We work carefully on a case-by-case basis on each of those. So we certainly have an interest in mitigating the risks that these detainees could represent. As to a specific comment on that one, we’ll come back to you after we’ve taken --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then --

MR RATHKE: -- a look at the ruling and had a chance to --

QUESTION: Well, can you say, then, that – if you expressed your concern or your interest in this case to the Canadian Government prior to today?

MR RATHKE: Well, we have a close partnership with the Canadians – not a surprise to anyone. I’ll see if there’s more we can say about our consultations.

QUESTION: You can’t say that you were in touch with them about this case? Because you certainly didn’t – weren’t making – saying anything publicly about it. Were you privately in touch with the Canadians? I’m not asking what you might have said to them. But were you – was the U.S. Government or the relevant agencies of the U.S. Government in touch with the Canadians about this case as it proceeded along in terms of this bail hearing?

MR RATHKE: I understand. I don’t have a timeline to offer. Of course, we’ve been in touch with the Canadians about the case, as we are when we have transfers. I’ll see if we can say more about timing of those.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go to Yemen?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I’m not sure I quite understand what it is exactly the Secretary and Foreign Minister Jubeir announced today in Riyadh. It seems to be a bit of a novel approach to announce a ceasefire that no one has agreed to – or that the other side hasn’t agreed to, to be more specific – in the hopes that they will agree to it. Is there any indication at all that the other side to this conflict is prepared to take the Saudis up on this offer? And if not, why come out and claim to have accomplished something that has not been accomplished?

MR RATHKE: Well, the Secretary welcomed the Saudi initiative, and this initiative is to implement soon a five-day ceasefire. And both he and Foreign Minister Jubeir urged the Houthis and those backing them to – not to miss this opportunity. This, as they’ve said today and as we’ve said all along, the source of the current instability in Yemen is the aggressive unilateral actions of the Houthis, the support of former President Saleh. And so that is the reason for the situation that exists in Yemen. The Saudis have responded to that. They are, of course, as are we, concerned with the humanitarian situation. They spoke about that at some length as well in their press availability, and so in an effort to address that, the Saudis have announced their intention to carry out this ceasefire. But of course, as they’ve said before, this depends on all the parties abiding by a ceasefire.

QUESTION: Right, but my question was whether there’s any indication that you – whether or not you have any indication that there – this is anything more than an empty gesture.

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t think it’s an empty gesture at all. It’s quite clear --

QUESTION: You stop fighting, lay down your arms, and allow it and don’t move, and then that – I mean, is there any indication that the Houthis are willing to take the Saudis up on this?

MR RATHKE: Well, it’s up to the Houthis to make their position known.

QUESTION: Well, Minister Jubeir said there hasn’t been any contact between them and the Houthis. The Secretary – or it has been alluded to that the Secretary spoke to Foreign Minister Zarif this week, earlier this week, about the situation in Yemen. I mean, who is it that’s putting the pressure on the Houthis, or who is it that is trying to convince them to accept this ceasefire offer, if anyone?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’ll let the Saudis speak for themselves. We have not had – we don’t have any contacts with the Houthis to read out. We’ve made clear, both publicly today, that we think this is an offer the Houthis should take up, and that this is an opportunity to – on the one hand, to address humanitarian issues through this pause, and also to get back to a political dialogue process.

QUESTION: And can you talk about Secretary Kerry’s call with Foreign Minister Zarif?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any calls to read out in recent days.

QUESTION: So he didn’t make a call or you just don’t – or --

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any – is there something more specific you are referring to?

QUESTION: Well, my understanding is that they spoke, and that the Secretary’s intention in making the call – at least one of them, I don’t know if it was on more than one issue – but was to ask the Iranians to use their – whatever influence they might have with the Houthis to agree to whatever the Saudis might propose in the way of a ceasefire. Maybe that is incorrect, but – I might be wrong, but you can’t tell me that I’m wrong?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any calls this week to read out. Again, our point of view on Iran is – and their role is that those who back the Houthis should use all their influence to get the Houthis to agree to the ceasefire.

QUESTION: Okay. I’ll stop after this. You don’t have – you don’t have any calls to – the Secretary did not call a single person this week?

MR RATHKE: No, you were asking about Foreign Minister Zarif. That was the point.

QUESTION: You don’t have any (inaudible) with him.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Stay on this.

MR RATHKE: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Was this ceasefire, in a way, coaxed by the Secretary of State? Because it seems that the idea of a ceasefire or a temporary ceasefire was floating around, but it took effect today. Would you say that the Secretary sort of pushed for this?

MR RATHKE: Well, the Saudis have been talking about their readiness to consider a humanitarian pause for several days. We’ve welcomed those indications of interest, and so naturally, the situation in Yemen was a topic of discussion today. But I think it would be a mistake to suggest that – to characterize it the way you did. This is something we both have an interest in.

QUESTION: But would it be a mistake not to assume that the presence of the Secretary of State of the United States of America actually placed some pressure on them to agree to that ceasefire?

MR RATHKE: Again, I don’t think we’re talking about pressure. I think this is an issue in which the Saudis and the United States both have a very keen interest.

QUESTION: Okay. What is the likelihood that this temporary ceasefire may actually take hold and go on for longer? Was it something that you’d like to see?

MR RATHKE: Well, we certainly – the – what was announced was a five-day ceasefire that would be, then, renewable. So that’s – certainly, it needs to start, and again, that depends on the Houthis to abide as well by a ceasefire --

QUESTION: And in his meetings --

MR RATHKE: -- throughout all of Yemen.

QUESTION: Yeah. In his meetings with President Hadi, was this ceasefire talked about in a way that this is it? I mean, “We have five days, we’ll do all we can from a humanitarian point of view and then the fighting will resume,” or was it a prelude or perhaps some sort of political talks between the two sides? And was Hadi ready to say, “Okay, we will – we want to assume – we want to resume the talks”?

MR RATHKE: Well, so President Hadi, as you know, is going to be convening a dialogue conference in Riyadh on May 17th. This is to support the political transition in Yemen. This is a conference that’s referred to in the UN Security Council resolution 2216. And so we support – as the Secretary said today, we support the conference and we support it in the context of a – the efforts to get Yemeni parties to engage in peaceful dialogue in the UN-led negotiations.

Now yes, the Secretary did talk to President Hadi today and they covered, again, our interest in, on the one hand, addressing the humanitarian situation; also our support for Saudi Arabia and for the legitimate government in Yemen; and the need for all parties to get back to the political dialogue process.

Yes, go ahead. Same topic?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR RATHKE: Please.

QUESTION: Do you wish that this ceasefire, if it takes place, to develop into a negotiation, political negotiation? And if so, do you support Iranian participation in such negotiation?

MR RATHKE: Well, there is a framework for talks and political dialogue in Yemen, and that’s a UN-led process. It’s consistent with the GCC initiative and the national dialogue in Yemen. So that’s the framework. Again, there’s going to be a conference soon in Riyadh, which Saudi Arabia supports, which we support, which President Hadi is convening. And we see that as part of the larger process to have political dialogue that leads to a resolution of the situation in Yemen. We’ve – as we’ve said over and over again, this depends on the Houthis engaging. That’s something they haven’t been doing up to now.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you know that the Iranian play a major role in terms of trying to push the Houthi to negotiation, and they expressed their willingness to participate in the negotiation. So my question is: Do you support – I know that the GCC don’t like to hear about that. Do you support their participation if it would lead to a negotiation?

MR RATHKE: Well, this is a UN-led process, so any questions about the process I’d encourage you to talk to the UN. In particular, there’s a new special envoy whom we support.

Now with respect to Iran and its influence on the Houthis, we’ve – we strongly urge all those who back the Houthis to use their influence to get the Houthis to agree to the ceasefire and the humanitarian pause. That’s what’s – that’s what needs to happen first, before any of these other scenarios that you were describing.

Same topic?

QUESTION: Well, Iran-related.

MR RATHKE: Anything else on – yeah, okay. Let’s go to that.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if you have anything to say about the Iranians releasing the ship that was detained and whether or not the U.S. had any role in securing its release.

MR RATHKE: Right. As we understand it, the Rickmers Group, as the manager of the ship, has announced that the ship has been released and is continuing toward its originally scheduled destination. The company would have more information on the details of that. Our role over the past week has been focused on maintaining communications with the Republic of the Marshall Islands as the flag state and with the private companies involved. So we’ve remained engaged in the ways that we’ve been talking about.

QUESTION: So no U.S. contact with the Iranian authorities about --

MR RATHKE: No, our contacts have been with the – with the companies and with the Marshall Islands.

QUESTION: And then Saudi-related --

QUESTION: Wait. But just on that, did they pay out to get released? I mean, did – was there a financial transaction that occurred?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think I would refer you back to the Rickmers Group.

QUESTION: But you were in communication with them, so that’s why I’m asking.

MR RATHKE: Well, they’ve, I think, put out a statement about this and they referred to a bond having been posted or a security having been posted. I’d refer you back to them for any details of that as far as how exactly that transpired.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: But originally, on – the ship was apparently detained because they did not pay their dues. I mean, they apparently used Iranian facilities and failed to pay whatever fees they were required to pay, so it was --

MR RATHKE: Well, there have been --

QUESTION: It was not --

MR RATHKE: There have been a variety of explanations from Iran about it.

QUESTION: But have you been able to determine why they detained it to begin with?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we’ve been in contact with the companies involved. We’ll let them speak to the particular details.

Samir.

QUESTION: But the U.S. didn’t do anything to defend and protect the ship according to the security compact with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, did you?

MR RATHKE: Well, we do have a security compact with the Marshall Islands, which we’ve discussed in a bit of detail here. We have remained in close contact with the Republic of the Marshall Islands Government. And I think our commitment to free commerce and freedom of navigation and safe passage in the Straits of Hormuz and in the region is beyond question. I think the steps that we’ve taken after this incident took place, including escorting some shipping, shows that we maintain a robust presence in the region and the ability to deter destabilizing activities.

QUESTION: So you think you implemented the agreement, the compact, in this case?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we’ve – we have that responsibility under the compact. We immediately engaged with the Republic of the Marshall Islands. We have – we’ve had ongoing diplomatic discussions with them about addressing the situation. So we’ve been working to implement the compact.

Yes.

QUESTION: I just want to know if – is there any question or concern about whether this bond that was posted is legit? I mean – or it’s not a violation of any kind of sanctions?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. So again, we’re aware of the ship’s having been released. We’re still seeking more detailed information. It’s not even clear that money necessarily changed hands here, so we’re seeking more information about that. That would be – our Treasury colleagues would be the experts on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I wanted to go to a Saudi-related thing.

MR RATHKE: Okay. No other questions on that? Then please go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: The Turks are saying that – or announcing or revealing or whatever you want to use the word – this new arrangement that they have with the Saudis to train Syrian rebel groups, including some that the United States has particular concerns about. I know the Pentagon announced today that the training in Jordan has begun, or at least some kind of training in Jordan has – but I’m just wondering in general what the U.S. thinks about this Saudi-Turkish initiative.

MR RATHKE: Not clear to me there’s a new initiative there, but we’ll let them speak for the details. We’ve been clear that Assad must go, and we continue to appreciate our cooperation with our partners in the region, including through hosting the train and equip program and working to advance the conditions in which a negotiated political solution which would stop the violence and address all dimensions of the conflict would become possible. But I don’t have a specific comment on that report.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on the --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- Syria issue? Yesterday, I think, the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Carter, said that they are – and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also – they talked about safety zone. Is that something that is being discussed again, that the United States is considering establishing a safety zone that is consistent with Turkey’s demands?

MR RATHKE: Again, I don’t have any new position on that to outline. Our position on that remains as – the same; that is, to have that kind of military-enforced zone would be – would have lots of complications and implications. We have remained in dialogue with our partners to hear their views, but I don’t have any new position to outline.

QUESTION: And yesterday, you talked about Ambassador Rubinstein meeting with Mr. de Mistura.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did this meeting take place?

MR RATHKE: No, that hasn’t happened yet. It – we expect it to happen May 15th in Geneva.

QUESTION: Okay. So that’s a long ways out.

MR RATHKE: Well, as we described, the way these consultations are working, they are first of all organized and led by the UN Special Envoy de Mistura.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: And he is consulting with the relevant parties. So that is – and these are happening sequentially. They’re not – these aren’t negotiations where everyone is around a table.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: He’s consulting with the relevant parties. So we’ll talk to him soon.

QUESTION: When you say the --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Right. When you say “the relevant parties,” for instance – I mean, there are militant groups in Syria that really have no political representatives and so on. Who are they meeting with? I mean, there’s --

MR RATHKE: I’d refer you back to --

QUESTION: With the Saudis or the Qataris and – or the Kuwaitis and so on?

MR RATHKE: I’d refer you back to the special envoy and his staff about the specific details of participation by Syrian parties in the negotiation – or the consultations, pardon me.

QUESTION: He said today that he will not meet with representatives or supporters of Jabhat al-Nusrah or ISIS, and obviously something that you do support him in this rejection, right? He will not meet with al-Nusrah --

MR RATHKE: Well, I think – again, I’d refer you back to him, but our views on Nusrah and ISIL should be crystal clear.

QUESTION: Follow-up on Syria?

MR RATHKE: Samir, on the same topic?

QUESTION: Syria, on Syria.

MR RATHKE: Okay, and then we’ll come to you, Ilhan. Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any update about the situation in the city of Qalamoun in Syria? It’s on the northern border of Lebanon, where a big battle is expected to take place between the Assad regime and its allies and the opposition. And if it happens, it’s going to have a big negative impact on Lebanon.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any --

MR RATHKE: Well, I think – I don’t have a battlefield analysis there. But what I can say is that Hizballah’s support for the Assad regime has prolonged the war inside Syria, it’s brought extremism including ISIL and Nusrah, which we were just talking about, as well as direct security threats to the Lebanese – to Lebanese territory because Hizballah has joined Assad’s fight against his own people. Hizballah has dragged Lebanon into a war against the will of the Lebanese people. So we support Lebanon’s – the Lebanese Government’s policy of dissociation from the conflict in Syria. Hizballah has agreed to that policy in the Baabda Declaration but has violated it. And that’s to the detriment of the Lebanese people’s interests, so certainly, we are against that.

Ilhan.

QUESTION: Thank you. A previous question, Turkey-Saudi partnership or this military agreement.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Many reports tied in recent northwest gains by the rebels in Syria to this specific partnership between Turkey and Saudis. Would you concur with that? Do you think these rebel gains which you see extreme – extremist elements are tied to this Turkey-Saudi close relationship?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I’d refer you back to the governments for the specifics of their policies. But I’m going to decline to do a battlefield analysis and to link it to those things.

QUESTION: On train and equip program, is this still this weekend in Turkey – Turkish version, is these plans are still same this weekend starting?

MR RATHKE: Well, as you know, Ilhan, the train and equip program is a program led by the Department of Defense, so I’ll let them make any additional information known about that.

QUESTION: Final question.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Just today, Turkey’s main opposition party’s vice chair stated that Turkey is – Turkish troops about to intervene in Syria, northern Syria. Do you have any information or have you communicated with Ankara? Do you have an explanation?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any information to share about that. We’ll go to Justin and then come around the room. Yes, go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION: Thanks, Jeff. The next round of Cuba talks, is that May 19th? Is that right?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have an announcement to make about the next round.

QUESTION: It was just – yeah, I don’t know that – I wasn’t clear if that had been announced or not. I just saw a tweet on that. But – so you can’t confirm?

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t – I’m not able to confirm that.

QUESTION: All right. And Matt, I know, has been asking you a lot about Omar Khadr. I know he already asked today.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: But just to go back to that, do you – do you believe that Khadr at this point poses a security threat to the United States?

MR RATHKE: Well, with – again, the Khadr case we’ll come back to you with any comment on the decision today. Khadr was – as you know, he is appealing his conviction before a U.S. Court of Military Commission. That’s an ongoing matter of litigation. But it’s, I think, just worth pointing out, so I’m not – I’m not going to comment on that ongoing litigation. And beyond that, I think I’ll wait to come – till I come back with a response to Matt’s question --

QUESTION: He is out on bail now.

MR RATHKE: -- to address that as well.

QUESTION: He’s free now. He’s out on bail. So I mean, I guess the question is: Is this person a worry? Is this person a security threat?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we have --

QUESTION: Aside from the case itself, I mean, do you consider him a security threat?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we have a very strong and cooperative relationship with Canada on security and law enforcement issues. I think I’ll leave it at that to comment on that.

QUESTION: And you’re just leaving us with – you will not condemn this decision in any way? I mean, this is --

MR RATHKE: Again, as I said to Matt, the decision came out just a couple of minutes before I walked out here, so --

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: -- we’re looking at it and we’ll come back to you with more.

Matt.

QUESTION: The White House has already put out a statement about the formation of the new Israeli Government, but I’m wondering if the State Department has anything to say, to add.

MR RATHKE: Well, you’ve seen – yes. You’ve seen the White House statement, and of course we subscribe to the White House statement. We look forward to working with the prime minister in his new government. I think the President has emphasized and the White House statement today also reiterates the importance we place on our close relationship – military, intelligence, security cooperation, as well as regional issues such as preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and the importance of pursuing a two-state solution.

QUESTION: At least one member, and perhaps more, of the cabinet – that would be the new justice minister – has something of a colorful past, at least in terms of statements that she has made. There has been some concern expressed from the Palestinian side – or the Palestinian community about this choice, and I’m wondering if the U.S. shares any of the concerns that have been expressed by the Palestinians, or if you have your own opinions about the comments that she’s reported to have made in the past.

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to comment on specific ministers in the new government. Now, with respect, we obviously condemn any statements that are offensive or derogatory. But I’m not going to get into commentary on specific individuals.

QUESTION: So you have no concerns, specific concerns, about this member of the government?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to comment on specific ministers.

QUESTION: Okay. You don’t have any concerns?

MR RATHKE: I’m simply not – not going to – I don’t have any – any comment on the cabinet lineup to offer.

QUESTION: Okay. And that would apply to governments in every country everywhere? Because I’m going to hold you to it.

MR RATHKE: You asked a question about this one, and --

QUESTION: I’m going to – I’m going to hold you to it. Thanks.

MR RATHKE: I’m sure you’ll find opportunities to comment.

QUESTION: I mean, it may be that you don’t have any concerns. I’m just trying to – I don’t know why it’s pulling teeth to get you to say --

MR RATHKE: No, you’re not pulling teeth; I just don’t have a comment. I don’t have comments on the specific cabinet ministers to offer.

Said.

QUESTION: Let me just follow up on this point that Matt was raising. The minister is the Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and last June she basically called for the extermination of the Palestinian people. Are you not concerned that such a high-level portfolio, the minister of justice, who has called for the extermination of a people – you’re not concerned that it is a member of a cabinet that you are saying you want to work with on issues like the two-state solution and perhaps arriving at a deal with Iran?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we look forward to working with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his new government. Matt asked a similar question. I said we obviously would condemn any statements that were offensive or derogatory, and certainly any that would incite.

QUESTION: But she also has – Matt mentioned the colorful past, but she led, actually, a settlement movement, I mean, for a very long time, basically initiating settlements, doing all kinds of things, provoking the local population. I mean, she – she’s really quite effective or active within the settlement movement. That wouldn’t bother you?

MR RATHKE: Again, our views on settlements, I think, are pretty well known.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, speaking of settlements, today the Israelis announced the building of 900 new housing units in a settlement in the West Bank – in East Jerusalem. Do you have a comment?

MR RATHKE: Which – wait. Which are you referring to? I just want to make sure I --

QUESTION: I’m referring to Ramat Shlomo.

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Ramat Shlomo. Today the – yeah.

MR RATHKE: Right. Well, we have consistently said that we oppose – we strongly oppose steps by the Israeli authorities to advance construction in East Jerusalem. This is a disappointing development, and we’re concerned about it just as a new Israeli Government has been announced. Israel’s leaders have asserted that they remain committed to a two-state solution, and we need to see that commitment in the actions of Israeli – the Israeli Government. Moving forward with construction of housing units in East Jerusalem is damaging and inconsistent with that commitment. We continue to engage with the highest levels of the Israeli Government, and we continue to make our position clear that we view this as illegitimate.

QUESTION: And one final question on the formation of the Israeli Government. Prime Minister Netanyahu is keeping the foreign ministry portfolio to himself, perhaps hoping that he could entice Herzog into joining his government later on. But for the time being, is this something that you have no issues or no problems with if he keeps the foreign minister portfolio?

MR RATHKE: It’s up to Prime Minister Netanyahu to form his cabinet. We’ll let him do that.

QUESTION: So are you satisfied --

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I just wanted to go back to what you just said. You said that you’re disappointed in this decision on Ramat Shlomo and the Israeli Government has continued to say that it wants a two-state solution. You say that this is – runs counter to that. And then you said something like “We need to see that in” – what did – what was that?

MR RATHKE: We need to see that commitment, I said, in the actions that the Israeli Government takes.

QUESTION: We – that commitment to --

MR RATHKE: That commitment to a two-state solution.

QUESTION: And if you don’t?

MR RATHKE: Well, we remain in contact with – at the highest levels with Israeli Government officials, including on these matters. I don’t have --

QUESTION: Well, then what is the point of saying we need to see that commitment? If it becomes the case that you don’t ever see that, or you don’t see the commitment and you don’t do anything about it, what good is saying that we need to see that commitment?

MR RATHKE: Well, this is a longstanding U.S. policy. We’re reiterating that policy in relation to this specific development that Said asked about. This is our view and it hasn’t changed and --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so if you’re disappointed in this decision, you’re saying – you’re in effect saying, I think – correct me if I’m wrong – that this new Israeli Government is not really off to a very good start, at least as it – at least in terms of what the U.S. Administration thinks about it. Is that correct?

MR RATHKE: Well, look, our policy on this is longstanding. I’m not --

QUESTION: But in your response --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- to the question, you mentioned that it happened – that this is – comes as the new Israeli Government --

MR RATHKE: Whether this decision was in train and – because I think Said had asked about this same issue earlier in the week.

QUESTION: Okay. Because it was not --

MR RATHKE: I wouldn’t characterize this as the first action of the new Israeli Government.

QUESTION: This predates the formation of --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- the government, right?

MR RATHKE: I believe so, yes, because again, Said asked about this earlier the week before --

QUESTION: But in the answer – in the answer that you gave, I think that you said that it – you mentioned the fact that the new government had taken over. So --

MR RATHKE: No, I said that this is a disappointing development just as a new Israeli Government has been – has been announced.

QUESTION: Right. But this is not a decision by the new government or --

MR RATHKE: I believe the decision was made – I believe – that’s correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: That’s right.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, Iraq and then we’ll --

QUESTION: Iraq, very quick.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Yesterday at an event at the Atlantic Council, the KRG President Massoud Barzani – I asked him a pointed question about the independent --

MR RATHKE: I’m sure you did.

QUESTION: -- Kurdistan. And he said that for sure, it’s coming. So you guys are fine with that? So we are likely to see an independent Kurdistan and you are likely to support it?

MR RATHKE: You’ve made several leaps there from the question to our policy. There’s been no change in U.S. policy, as I think we’ve talked about in advance of the visit. We believe that a united Iraq is a stronger Iraq. We continue to support an Iraq that is federal, democratic, pluralistic, and unified, as envisioned by the Iraqi constitution. So there’s been no change in the U.S. view. And I think also – President Barzani spoke to this as well – Iraq’s territorial integrity is under threat from ISIL, and the only effective way to address this threat is for all communities – Sunni, Shia, Kurd – to work together and address these security needs as well as in the political realm. And I think President Barzani also stated yesterday that the fight against ISIL needs to be the priority.

QUESTION: Well, once that priority is handled and taken care of, or Mosul is liberated and and ISIL is defeated, then the independence of Kurdistan would be fine, wouldn’t it? Would be --

MR RATHKE: That’s – again, I’m sure you were listening to my answer --

QUESTION: Are you – okay --

MR RATHKE: -- but I’m going to repeat it because it’s important: There’s been no change in U.S. policy. We believe that a united Iraq is a stronger Iraq, and we believe in an Iraq that is federal, democratic, pluralistic, and unified, as envisioned by the Iraqi constitution.

QUESTION: Would you sort of support a more robust autonomy in the northern region of Kurdistan?

MR RATHKE: Again, we support the Iraqi constitution and an Iraq that is federal, that is democratic, it’s pluralistic. I don’t have any further comment on it than that.

Goyal.

QUESTION: Jeff, a couple of question on South Asia, please. As far as the earthquake or natural disaster in Nepal is concerned, Nepalese are still crying for U.S. help. Of course, U.S. was the first one to reach the need, but also thousands of Nepalese in the U.S. – many of them wants to help and go back to their loved ones, but they cannot because they have no proper visas. And they are seeking U.S. help to make exception one time for them so they can visit and help the loved ones, and a couple congressmen or senators also – including Senator Schumer, I believe – is trying to help if this possible. State Department does support this policy, one-time exception for these needy?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not familiar with that specific concern having been raised. Of course, the United States is doing a lot for the people of Nepal and to help both in the rescue and now in the recovery phase. If there were any questions about visas and so forth, those – depending on where the person is, those are a shared responsibility between the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security. But I don’t have any new programs or announcements to make about that.

QUESTION: And one on India: Mr. Arun Kumar – Arun Singh is back now – who was the DCM, deputy chief of mission, at the U.S. Indian Embassy in Washington – as the full-fledged ambassador of India to the U.S. And yesterday he was speaking at U.S.-India Business Council, just like Ambassador Richard Verma was speaking at Carnegie.

Ambassador Arun Singh said that – because he played a big role in U.S.-India relations as DCM in Washington, and including civil nuclear agreement and other many economic issues and all that. Yesterday, he spoke with these 500 Fortune companies, and he said his mission will be here to foster further the U.S.-India relations, as President Obama and Prime Minister Modi both initiated so many issues.

My question is: How you think this new ambassador of U.S. in India and new ambassador for India in the U.S. will play these relations between the two countries?

MR RATHKE: Well, the – of course the ambassadors both play extremely important roles. We’ve talked a lot about the relationship between the U.S. and India, how it has been receiving high-level attention from the President, from Prime Minister Modi. We certainly see those relations as improving and we want to keep that trajectory going, and so of course the ambassador’s going to play key roles in doing that across the broad spectrum of our relations.

Taurean.

QUESTION: And finally, one more quickly?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Please, thank you. So much going on in – around South Asia, like China-Pakistan relations and now India and China relations, and Prime Minister Modi is going to visit China for the three days next week. And you – do you have any concern because of the U.S.-Pakistan and U.S.-India, and now those – China is trying to get the business from these countries and they are getting closer and closer?

MR RATHKE: We support good relations between China and India, so I don’t have any comment on that travel.

Go ahead, Taurean.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: Yes, I have one on China.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: So yesterday, the State Department called for the release of human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, and the Chinese foreign minister – foreign ministry responded basically saying that the U.S. should stop being the world police and it’s really none of your business. On what basis does the State Department feel it can call for a release of this lawyer in China?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think we’ve talked about the fact that human rights – international human rights – are not bounded by borders. And we of course make the promotion of human rights one of our priorities in our foreign policy, and so we speak out about human rights, and that’s part of who we are as Americans, it’s part of our foreign policy, and it’s something we do around the world.

QUESTION: And the ministry also said that the U.S. should focus more on its own issues, I guess making a reference – oblique reference to Baltimore. How would you respond to that criticism?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think it’s clear, if you look at the U.S. Government’s response to the situation in Baltimore from the very top – from the President to the Attorney General and on down; also at the state and local level – we have focused on that situation, and both at the federal – again, at the state and local level are – they’re taking steps to address those concerns. So I think that it’s a situation where the United States recognizes when there is a situation that requires attention and we take all steps to do it. So I don’t think – I think, as we’ve said before, we are happy to put our record in dealing with difficult domestic issues up against any other country in the world.

Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, you would reject the foreign ministry’s allegation that weighing in and calling for this guy’s – this guy to be released is interference or meddling in the Chinese judicial system?

MR RATHKE: Oh, absolutely. Certainly, we would. Yes, we would.

QUESTION: Okay. So you want him – you still think that it would be a good idea for him released? You have --

MR RATHKE: I – we stand by the statement that we have made.

QUESTION: So you have a position on this guy’s continued imprisonment, and yet you don’t have a position, or you’re unable or unwilling to say whether you have a position, about a guy in Canada who has just been released on bail, who’s been convicted of killing an American soldier and served a lot of time in Guantanamo Bay.

MR RATHKE: Well, Matt, first of all, they’re completely different --

QUESTION: It would seem to me that the U.S. Government might have even a more significant interest in that case than it has in the case of a Chinese person who’s been incarcerated for what you believe to be --

MR RATHKE: Matt, as --

QUESTION: I’m not saying you should call for his release, but I would think that you would have some kind of position that you could enunciate publicly. No?

MR RATHKE: As I said, Matt, you asked this question. We did not comment on the ongoing judicial proceedings. They have just concluded about an hour or so ago. We’re going to look at that and come back to you.

QUESTION: I have two brief ones, but --

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Ilhan, and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: Just one quick question on Syrian refugee – refugees. Do you have any updated information regarding how many of the Syrian refugees have been taken by the U.S.? The last time I check about six months ago, it was about less than 200. Do you have any updated information on that?

MR RATHKE: I can look and see if we have updated numbers. As I’m sure you recall at that time, the – although there has been a large number of Syrian refugees, it is only recently that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has begun referring them for resettlement in other countries, which is why the numbers have been low. That’s one factor, of course. The United States admits more refugees than the rest of the world combined, and we’ve said that we will be admitting greater numbers of Syrian refugees. Of course, there – this is a process that takes some time as individual cases move through the pipeline. So we’re happy to look and see what the updated number is, but I just wanted to put it in that context.

Yeah. Said, and then we’ll go over, yeah.

QUESTION: Very quick.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Today the Russian embassy is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the defeat of fascism. Are you sending anyone to the embassy from the State Department?

MR RATHKE: I wasn’t aware that they were doing an event today. I don’t really have information about the event or our participation.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute complained that he knows very little about what’s happening in Donbas, saying that he gets more information from social media than from, quote, “official intelligence networks. Because networks do not exist today,” he said. Would you say that social media are a reliable source of information for a top U.S. official?

MR RATHKE: I’m, sorry. I’m not familiar with the comments that you’re attributing to Ambassador Lute. I’d like to see those comments before I respond.

QUESTION: But generally, social media, what would you say?

MR RATHKE: No, I’m sorry. I’m not going to respond to that question until I see exactly what Ambassador Lute said and the context in which he said it. I’m not going to be drawn into that.

Matt, what did you want to say?

QUESTION: I didn’t want to say; I wanted to ask.

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you guys – and this is kind of off the beaten track a little bit, but you remember the case of the prosecutor who was found dead in Argentina, the whole rigmarole over that?

MR RATHKE: Yes, I remember.

QUESTION: The discussion is continuing down – there are medical teams talking about what – is the – does – is the U.S. Government following this at all or is it --

MR RATHKE: Following in what sense?

QUESTION: Well, the continued discussion, debate in Argentina over the circumstances of the prosecutor’s death and what he was – and aside from that, what he had been investigating and what he had alleged. Or is this a – is this water under the bridge for the U.S.?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I don’t have an update on the particular situation. Again, we’ve followed the case, but I don’t have a comment on the latest developments.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: I haven’t seen recent developments in the last few days about that.

QUESTION: And the last one goes back to the questions about the donations to the Clinton Foundation and whether or not the State Department is going back, at least – has – whether or not the questions that have been raised and the numerous reports that have come out over the course of the past couple of weeks, whether or not the State Department has the same questions, whether or not the department --

MR RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: -- is looking into them, in particular about the donations that were talked about in the Boston Globe story to the health foundation that were not disclosed as they should have been under the MOU. Is this an issue for the State Department?

MR RATHKE: Okay. You and Arshad both asked about that earlier in the week, and I have a little bit more to say about that. I would start by saying I think it’s important as a baseline to recall that the same rules that apply in terms of ethics apply to every employee in the Executive Branch, and they also apply to secretaries of state. Among other things generally, this means that employees must not participate personally or substantially in matters with a direct or predictable effect on the employee’s or on his or her spouse’s financial interests and should recuse from particular matters involving a spouse’s employer as a specific party. So that applies to all.

And in addition to those requirements, before taking office, Secretary Clinton – there were three undertakings. One was an ethics letter from Secretary Clinton. The second was a memorandum of understanding, which dealt with the Clinton Foundation. And third was an ethics letter from former President Clinton. Now these were all steps that were taken voluntarily in the interest of transparency and went beyond the existing ethics requirements.

Now as we’ve discussed, the department reviewed every request submitted to us under the terms of those. That primarily consisted of speeches and consultancies by former President Clinton. And over the course of her tenure, the State Department reviewed dozens of entities each year. You’ve mentioned the foreign government donations; we regret that we did not have the opportunity to review all new and increased foreign government donations. We’ve spoken about that. Now --

QUESTION: Those are the two?

MR RATHKE: Hmm?

QUESTION: The two?

MR RATHKE: Yes. There has also --

QUESTION: There aren’t any more that have come to light.

MR RATHKE: No, not that I’m aware of.

There’s been discussion about private donations, and that I think was what brought us to the question you raised earlier in the week. The idea that the foundation and its affiliates would publish all of their private donors, which was one of the two terms of the MOU, was intended to provide additional public transparency – but I would note that even if all of the private donations had been publicized, there was no expectation under the MOU that the State Department would be reviewing those. We agreed in the MOU – or committed in the MOU to review the new or materially increased foreign government donations. So there’s a distinction there.

Going back to the private donations, the Clinton Foundation appears to have published online now all the donations from this period, and I believe they’ve announced plans to do so each quarter. And the Clinton Health Access Initiative has said they are undertaking reviews of past tax filings as well. We welcome these steps to ensure that all foreign donations are public.

Now at this point, our role has changed. Secretary Clinton is no longer at the department, for questions about the foundation or the health access initiative or any of the offshoots and their funding, we’d refer you back to them. The State Department has not and does not intend to initiate a formal review or to make a retroactive judgment about items that were not submitted during Secretary Clinton’s tenure. The department’s actions under Secretary Clinton were taken to advance administration policy as set by the President and in the interest of American foreign policy.

And to be clear, coming back to something that has come up earlier this week, we aren’t aware of any actions taken by Secretary Clinton that were influenced by donations to the Clinton Foundation or its offshoots, or by speech honoraria and consultancies of former President Clinton.

QUESTION: Okay, but why not? I mean, why do you not intend to --

MR RATHKE: Again, we aren’t aware of any actions taken --

QUESTION: Oh, I know you’re not aware, because you haven’t looked into them, right? (Laughter.)

MR RATHKE: Well, but again, let’s go back to what we did do during her tenure. Over the course of her tenure, we reviewed dozens of entities each year. The Clinton Foundation also is a charitable organization, so we would not have had the obligation to review their donation beyond what was committed to in the MOU.

QUESTION: Right. But the – but what they committed to in the MOU in terms of the – listing the private donors, whether or not the State Department had to review them or was supposed to review them beforehand to see if they were okay or not, it would seem to me to make sense that if they didn’t live up to their end of the MOU you would at least go back and take a look at the private donations and see whether that might raise any questions. But maybe not. I mean, I don’t – it seems like you’re not aware of anything, and there may not be anything there, but the reason that you’re not aware of anything is because you’re – not you personally, but the reason you’re not aware of anything is because the building is refusing to go back and look at it to see if there’s anything that might raise a flag.

MR RATHKE: Well, again, these private donations were – there was never any expectation that they would be reviewed.

QUESTION: Right. But there was an expectation that they would be made public and so that you could go and look and see, well, hmm, and then they weren’t made public. And so now that they are being made public, wouldn’t it make sense – and tell me if I’m wrong, maybe it doesn’t make sense – but wouldn’t it make sense to go back and take a look at them and see whether there – that there’s any – any questions raised, any red flag that might get raised? I don’t understand why you would just close your eyes to it, because they have admitted that they didn’t live up to their end of the MOU on this.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. And they’ve – but they have subsequently --

QUESTION: I know. But you’re not --

MR RATHKE: -- taken steps to address that.

QUESTION: Right. But you’re not going and looking at what they’ve done to address that to see if it brought them into compliance. It’s almost as if they had an agreement that they didn’t follow through on, but since she’s no longer the secretary of state you’re saying, well, that doesn’t apply anymore and so it just doesn’t matter. But --

MR RATHKE: Look, what we have --

QUESTION: You don’t know if it doesn’t matter or not because you’re not looking into it.

MR RATHKE: I think what we’ve seen – what we’ve seen is speculation. We haven’t – we’re not aware of any actions taken that were influenced by those donations.

QUESTION: Right. But you – but you’re not aware --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Yes. What has been put out there is – are questions. But you’re saying that the State Department doesn’t – either doesn’t have the same questions or isn’t interested in finding out what the answer to those questions is. That’s what it sounds like you’re saying because you’re saying that you’re not going to go back and look to see whether the violations of the MOU might raise questions or raise red flags about what was going on, right?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we have – I think I don’t have anything to say beyond what I’ve said. We have – we are not aware of any – of any indication that there was influence by these donations. We have reviewed entities – as I described, under the MOU, these private donations would not have been reviewed by the State Department in any event, and we are not going back to do a retroactive examination of each of those – of each of those cases and we’re not going to make a retroactive judgment on those items. So that’s – yeah.

QUESTION: All right. I’ll defer to someone else. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

QUESTION: That was my question. It was the same as Matt’s. You’ve said this multiple times now; you’re not going to make a retroactive judgment. Why not? What is the reasoning besides – that follows up on that decision? Because that decision is important and makes it look like, as Matt is pointing out, that you don’t want to find something that would look bad on the secretary who’s running for president.

MR RATHKE: No, no. Again, these private donations which were the reason these questions arose in this briefing room were not to be reviewed by the State Department under the terms of the MOU and --

QUESTION: But that’s if the MOU was adhered to, and it wasn’t. And again, I don’t think – no one’s saying that there is – that there is – certainly that there is something wrong, but there are questions out there that have been raised, and not just raised by opponents of – political opponents, but by many others as well. And if the State Department isn’t interested in finding out the answer, I mean, is there a reason why the State Department is not interested in finding out whether there was even a question of or an appearance of any kind of impropriety?

MR RATHKE: Again, we’re not aware of any --

QUESTION: Well, you’re not aware of any because you’re not looking – you’re not looking back into it. (Laughter.)

MR RATHKE: I think the --

QUESTION: I mean, I can understand why you would say, okay, if they didn’t – if they had agreed – if they had complied with the MOU and published these donors every year as they said they were going to do, I can understand why then that wouldn’t be an issue. But the fact of the matter is they didn’t publish those things, so you don’t know. You would have had the opportunity to know even if you weren’t required or even if you weren’t going to review them. But you would have had the opportunity to look and see the list and see – and see if there were any issues there, and you didn’t have that opportunity, just like the public didn’t have that opportunity. And now we’re in a position where you are going to have the opportunity to do it because they’re going to comply ex post facto with the MOU, but you’re not going to take the opportunity to do it. And I guess that’s just – that’s what is the – is puzzling to me.

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have much more to say beyond what I’ve said. All right, thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:20 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 6, 2015

Wed, 05/06/2015 - 14:23

Jeff Rathke
Acting Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 6, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

11:59 a.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good morning.

QUESTION: Good morning.

QUESTION: Afternoon.

MR RATHKE: I don’t know. We may need to synchronize our watches, Matt.

I just have two things to mention at the start. First of all, the Secretary is on his way to Riyadh right now. This morning he traveled from Nairobi to Djibouti, where he held a bilateral meeting with President Guelleh and a press availability with Foreign Minister Youssouf. The Secretary also participated in a youth engagement event at a mosque, where a group of Djibouti young men and women talked about their efforts to combat violent extremism. And finally, he participated in a consular event at our Embassy in Djibouti, where he personally provided consular services to American citizens and their family members who have fled Yemen for Djibouti. He also did a tour of Camp Lemonnier and a town hall event with U.S. military personnel stationed there.

And the second item before we get started, Nepal, a brief update. Yesterday, an Air Force contingency response group arrived in Nepal to work with the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team and the Government of Nepal to improve efficiency at the international airport. The CRG will help streamline airfield operations and speed up cargo flow so that relief supplies can be delivered more quickly to places in need. Also yesterday, May 5th, the U.S. military deployed one additional helicopter to Nepal, bringing total U.S. military air assets to four V-22 Ospreys and two UH-1 Huey helicopters.

And with that, Matt, we will turn it over to you.

QUESTION: I just have one very brief one. It’s a follow-up from yesterday, and it’s just to find out if you have decided that you have an opinion one way or the other on the Omar Khadr case, which we – was delayed yesterday.

MR RATHKE: Right. So on that case, we are aware that the Government of Canada is appealing the Canadian court’s April decision to grant bail. Our line remains the same as yesterday: We refer you to the Government of Canada to comment on the decision that will be made by Canadian courts. We, of course, have a strong and cooperative relationship with the Government of Canada on security and law enforcement issues, but I don’t have a comment to make on the case that’s before the Canadian courts.

QUESTION: Okay. But I just want to make sure you understand the question. I am not asking for the Canadian --

MR RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: -- version of – for the Canadians’ opinion on this. I’m asking for the U.S. opinion on this, to which – are you suggesting that I ask the Canadians to find out what the U.S. position is on this?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m simply saying that we respect the independent processes of the Canadian judiciary, and we respect Canada’s sovereignty. I’m not going to make a comment about the case that’s before the Canadian courts.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you’re okay with anything that the court decides? Because there are many cases in many countries where you’re not okay with what a court decides.

MR RATHKE: I simply have nothing further to offer on this one.

QUESTION: All right.

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: That’s it for me.

MR RATHKE: That’s it from you. Okay.

Other topics? Please.

QUESTION: My name is Hillery Gallasch. I’m with ARD German Television.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I have a question in regards to – the German administration is under fire right now, being pushed to release lists of search terms that were apparently given to the German intel service by the NSA. They’re playing on time, saying there are negotiations with the United States on what to release and not release. Is the United States blocking or working with the Germans trying to block any release of search terms given to them?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’d make two comments in response. The first one is that we work closely with Germany on all matters of international concern and we value Germany’s engagement on the entire range of global issues. But the second point is we don’t comment on intelligence matters, and I’m not going to comment from this podium on that.

QUESTION: Has Germany approached you in any way?

MR RATHKE: Again, I’m not going to offer a comment on that.

New topic? Michel.

QUESTION: Yemen. Do you have any update from Aden, especially that the Houthis are on the offense now and the news reports talk about having 42 civilians died?

MR RATHKE: Well, first thing I’d mention with respect to Yemen, I think you probably have seen a couple of fact sheets that we released this morning. One is about the additional humanitarian funding that the Secretary announced today when he was in Djibouti. And the second was about our services to American citizens, so just to bring those to your attention.

With respect to the situation on the ground, I don’t have a battlefield update. Our position remains, as it has been for quite some time, that we call on the Houthis to cease their unilateral military aggression and to find a way back to the negotiating table, but I don’t have a – I’m not going to confirm those details that you’ve referred to.

QUESTION: Will the Secretary meet with the Yemeni president in Riyadh?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a schedule update to announce for the Secretary in Riyadh. I expect later today or tomorrow morning we’ll have a fuller list of his activities, but the schedule’s still coming together, so I don’t have anything to share right now.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR RATHKE: Yes, Taurean.

QUESTION: I have one on Russia’s Victory Day parade.

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: So the North Korean Government announced on Monday that Kim Jong-un would not be attending that parade and instead would send its nominal head of state. Do you make anything of that seemingly reversal by the Kim Jong-un regime?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to try to interpret that decision. I don’t have any comment to offer on it.

QUESTION: And then on – the Chinese media also reports that its honor guard will participate in the Victory Day parade. Do you have any comments to say on that?

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t have a comment on China’s participation.

QUESTION: No particular concerns or --

MR RATHKE: No. I think we’ve spoken about our representation there. We are – will be represented at the military parade by Ambassador Tefft, and that’s the nature of our participation.

QUESTION: Jeff.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: On Syria, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has said yesterday that if Assad falls, Hizballah falls. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR RATHKE: Not a specific one. I’m not going to respond to all of Nasrallah’s comments. We’ve been clear that Assad has no future and no legitimacy inside Syria. We also have spoken out repeatedly against the destabilizing role that Hizballah has played, which has to stop. But I don’t have a specific comment for (inaudible).

QUESTION: Will you help in this case in the fall of Assad?

MR RATHKE: I think our policy, again, is quite clear. We, on the one hand, support the Syrian people and the Syrian opposition. We do that in a variety of ways. And of course, we also support the Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, who right now is in Geneva having consultations with all relevant parties about finding a way to implement the Geneva principles.

QUESTION: And any date for Special Envoy Rubinstein, Rubinstein’s meeting with de Mistura?

MR RATHKE: Well, the consultations have just gotten underway this week. So the U.S. is participating in these UN-led consultations, and the U.S. – from our side, our Special Envoy Daniel Rubinstein will attend, but I don’t have a date to announce for his participation in the consultations.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Hello, my name is Grigory Dubovitsky. I’m from Russian Information Agency RIA Novosti. So do you have any updates on Secretary Kerry’s schedule next week, and can you confirm information about upcoming meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Sochi on May 11th?

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t have any schedule announcements to make for the Secretary.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:10 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 5, 2015

Tue, 05/05/2015 - 15:50

Jeff Rathke
Acting Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 5, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

12:53 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon, everybody. You’re holding down the front row today.

QUESTION: Looks like it’s just me.

MR RATHKE: Great, so I have a few things at the start. The first: the Secretary’s travel. The Secretary is still in Africa and this morning in Nairobi he met with Kenyan civil society leaders. He then traveled to Mogadishu to reinforce the United States commitment to supporting Somalia’s ongoing transition to a peaceful democracy, and this was the first-ever visit by a Secretary of State to Somalia. Secretary Kerry met with Somali President Hassan Sheikh and Prime Minister Sharmarke. They discussed security cooperation and Somalia’s progress towards meeting its reform and the development benchmarks in view of its 2016 elections. Before returning to Nairobi, Secretary Kerry also met with Somali civil society leaders and discussed the importance of a vibrant NGO sector. He also thanked African Union troops for their role in stabilizing Somalia.

Second item: Ukraine. We are deeply disturbed by the Russian Government’s callous and outrageous extension by six months of the detention of Ukrainian member of parliament Nadia Savchenko. We reiterate our serious concerns over her treatment in detention and reports that she is gravely ill while she remains a hostage to Russian authorities. We call on Russia to release Nadia Savchenko and all other Ukrainian hostages immediately, a commitment Russia made when it signed the Minsk agreements in September of last year and again on February 12th of this year when it signed the Minsk implementation plan.

Third item: Nepal. USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt wrapped up his visit to Nepal today with an announcement of an additional $11 million in assistance for Nepal earthquake response and recovery efforts. This brings total U.S. humanitarian assistance for this disaster to nearly $26 million. This includes 2.2 million of logistical support from the Department of Defense. Acting Director Lenhardt, Ambassador Bodde, and Lieutenant General Wissler met with Prime Minister Sushil Koirala to discuss use of the U.S. military’s air – excuse me – air capabilities and the broader disaster response effort. Our Disaster Assistance Response Team and U.S. military conducted aerial assessments of earthquake-affected districts and they are also working with the Government of Nepal on how best to streamline airfield operations, speed up cargo flow, and improve efficiency at the airport. The United States in coordination with Nepal flew three missions to a region 80 miles east of Kathmandu to deliver urgently needed emergency shelter kits. And more than one week after the April 25th earthquake, international foreign rescue teams are starting to leave Nepal as the country shifts from the rescue phase to relief and recovery efforts. USAID is demobilizing the urban search and rescue members of its Disaster Assistance Response Team and preparing for their return to Fairfax County, Virginia and Los Angeles County, California in the coming days.

And the last thing to note at the start – we have visitors here with us today. They are George Washington University students studying international affairs and global media, visiting the department to see how this theory plays out in reality, to which we turn to you, Matt, for the opening contribution.

QUESTION: I hope they’re not disappointed. Can I, just briefly before we go onto other things, on the Russia-Ukraine – your comments on that.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Under the – it’s my understanding that under the Minsk accords, both sides or all three sides or all sides that are party to it, agreed to release what you refer to as hostages, but I think is referred to as prisoners or detainees in the agreements. Is it your understanding that Ms. Savchenko is the only person who has – covered by this in your --

MR RATHKE: By the Minsk agreements?

QUESTION: -- in your opinion who has not been released, or do – are there others? And not just others held by the Russians or the separatists, but by the Government of Ukraine?

MR RATHKE: Well, the --

QUESTION: And if there are, would you also call for their immediate release?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm, okay. Well, a couple of points in that respect. First of all, just to go back to the commitments in Minsk, this includes the release of all hostages, which includes Nadia Savchenko. I’m happy to check and see if there are any other outstanding known cases of individuals who have not been returned. I would say that the case of Nadia Savchenko is unique in that she is being subjected to a legal proceeding and has been held in detention for quite some time, and that’s why we’ve been drawing attention to that particular case.

QUESTION: You’re not aware of anyone else that’s subject to legal proceedings that has been held for quite some time, who may or may not be ill?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I think our view of this is that her case is unique. She’s a member of parliament, I would remind, and she’s been taken --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- she’s been taken back to Russia and is being held there.

QUESTION: I mean, a member of parliament is one thing, but there are other people who are not elected, people who are not members of parliament, who are also --

MR RATHKE: Well, we certainly call for the release of all hostages.

QUESTION: Thank you. Okay.

MR RATHKE: That’s – we’re not trying to suggest that she’s the only one.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: But we’re drawing particular attention --

QUESTION: Well, she’s the only one you talk about, so --

MR RATHKE: No. As I said in my statement, we call for the release of all hostages. I don’t – I haven’t named --

QUESTION: Sorry, held by whom?

MR RATHKE: All hostages back to --

QUESTION: No, no. Go back to your statement. All --

MR RATHKE: The statement? We certainly call for the release of everyone who has been --

QUESTION: What does the statement say?

MR RATHKE: -- detained, in particular, in this case – I’ll go back. We call on Russia to release Nadia Savchenko and all other Ukrainian hostages immediately. Certainly – and certainly we --

QUESTION: All right. I’m missing the bit in the statement about Ukraine releasing any hostages --

MR RATHKE: Certainly we urge all parties to implement all parts of Minsk. And --

QUESTION: Okay. Can I just --

QUESTION: May I – just a quick follow-up on this? Can you share with us the circumstances of her arrest? Where was she arrested? Was – I mean --

MR RATHKE: Said, we’ve been over this many, many times. I’m not going to rehash this.

QUESTION: I understand, but just refresh my – but was she detained --

MR RATHKE: You can do the research if you want to research that.

QUESTION: Okay. She – I mean, just a simple question: Was she detained in eastern Ukraine, or was she taken? Because you said she was taken back to Moscow and so on. I just want to know what are the circumstances under which she was --

MR RATHKE: We’re happy to get that for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: This is a totally different subject and a little off the beaten track, although it is a – there’s a court proceeding, I believe, in – today in Canada – Omar Khadr, former Guantanamo inmate.

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m wondering what – if the U.S. has a position on whether he should or should not be released.

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: The Canadian Government is trying to keep him in. Do you think that’s a – what do you think about that?

MR RATHKE: This is a – this is an internal Canadian proceeding. We’ll leave it to Canadian authorities and the Canadian judicial system to make their decision.

QUESTION: So you don’t have any opinion one way or another about what happens to a former Guantanamo --

MR RATHKE: We’re not going to express a view on that. We leave this to the Canadian judicial system.

QUESTION: In Uruguay, former Guantanamo residents – detainees, shall we say – have been – were protesting and calling for assistance. You had a position on them. You certainly have a position on the five detainees who were released in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl and sent to Qatar. Why is it that you have no opinion one way or another about whether this guy should be released or should be held?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, this is – there – he was transferred to Canada. We can go back and update with some of the details from that time. If you’d like, we can come back to you with more on that. But we see this as an issue that the Canadian judicial system and the Canadian Government are dealing with. We don’t have a comment on it.

QUESTION: So you’re going to be happy with whatever the court decides?

MR RATHKE: We’ll leave it to the court to make its decision.

QUESTION: Well, that’s not my question. I’m wondering what you’re --

MR RATHKE: Well, as I said, we’re --

QUESTION: Do you not have a – you don’t have any position on whether he should be freed or whether he should remain in prison? So you’re happy with whatever the court decides?

MR RATHKE: The Canadian Government and the Canadian judicial system are dealing with this issue, and we don’t have any further comment on it.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: I doubt it, but – (laughter). You may not have anything you want to say from the podium, but I cannot believe – wouldn’t it be irresponsible of this government not to have a position on whether this guy should be freed or held, continued to be held?

MR RATHKE: Look, I don’t have anything more to say on this case right now.

QUESTION: Clearly. Okay.

MR RATHKE: Yep.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Okay. Said.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) topic. Israel-Palestine?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. The Israelis announced plans to build 1,500 housing units in the occupied West Bank. Do you have any comment on that?

MR RATHKE: Which --

QUESTION: It’s a new settlement. The Israelis announced on Sunday that they are – they have approved – the Israeli Government has approved the building of 1,500 housing units in occupied Palestinian territory. Do you have any comment on that?

MR RATHKE: I haven’t seen that specific report. I think our position on construction is well known.

QUESTION: Have you – to the best of your knowledge, has anyone contacted the Israeli Government to express displeasure?

MR RATHKE: Well, as I said in response to your first question, I was not aware of that press report, so I don’t have the details of it.

QUESTION: Okay. And yesterday a group of Israeli veterans released a report in which they documented in last summer’s war on Gaza, they documented severe human rights and war crimes, as a matter of fact – like killing people on the highway, demolishing homes knowing that they – exactly they were civilian areas, and so on. Are you aware of the report?

MR RATHKE: I’ve seen reports that they’ve --

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on this report?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think the United States has made – we made our views at the time of the conflict in Gaza known --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- and I think those were well reported on. I remember discussing them with you back then.

QUESTION: If you find these abuses as severe as they are alleged to be in the report, would you have something to say about this particular report?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’re --

QUESTION: Would you issue a --

MR RATHKE: -- aware of the report. I don’t have further comment to offer --

QUESTION: So you have no further comment?

MR RATHKE: -- on it. I think again, Said, at the time of the conflict in Gaza, we, the United States, made our views quite clear.

QUESTION: So would you depend on the Israelis to – the Israeli military to investigate itself if it comes to you or if it’s --

MR RATHKE: I think the – I think Israeli authorities are --

QUESTION: Okay, all right. And since you --

MR RATHKE: -- going to investigate that.

QUESTION: -- spoke about Ms. Nadia Savchenko --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I believe that’s the proper pronunciation. There’s also a Palestinian parliament member, a legislator that has been detained by the Israelis, forced to be exiled from one part of the West Bank to another of West Bank, Khalida Jarrar. I asked about her in this room before. Have you found anything about it?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything for you --

QUESTION: Would you please --

MR RATHKE: -- on that case. I’m not drawing a connection between those two cases. I’m not familiar with --

QUESTION: Well, she’s --

MR RATHKE: I’m not familiar with the details of that one, Said.

QUESTION: She was illegally detained, I mean, for belonging to a political organization and placed under arrest. I mean, you are calling on --

MR RATHKE: Again, I’m not drawing a link between --

QUESTION: You’re calling on the Ukrainian Government to release Ms. Savchenko.

QUESTION: No.

MR RATHKE: No, it’s the Russian --

QUESTION: Right? I mean, you’re calling --

QUESTION: Russia.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I take it back. You’re calling on the Russians to release a Ukrainian parliament member. Do you call on the Israelis to release a Palestinian parliament member?

MR RATHKE: Again, I’m not drawing a connection between these two cases. I’m happy to look into the details of that one and come back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: All right. New topic? Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: I want to talk about Bangladesh right now. The prime minister’s advisor, Mr. H.T. Imam, accused U.S. Ambassador Bernicat in Dhaka for disturbed recent city poll in Bangladesh. He also --

MR RATHKE: For what? For what? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear. For what?

QUESTION: For recent city poll, the three-city poll in Bangladesh.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So Mr. H.T. Imam, the advisor of Prime Minister Hasina, accused U.S. Ambassador Bernicat in Dhaka for disturbing the election. And also he blamed U.S. embassy officials as well. What is your comment on that?

MR RATHKE: Well, I haven’t seen those comments. I’m happy to look into that and come back to you with a comment.

QUESTION: Thank you, please.

MR RATHKE: But I haven’t seen those, so I’d like to look at them first before offering a response.

David.

QUESTION: ISIS claimed responsibility for the shootings in Texas. Do you have any comments on that?

MR RATHKE: So this investigation remains in its early stages. Law enforcement authorities are looking into all aspects of it, and so we from here will refer you to law enforcement authorities for any information about their investigation and the circumstances surrounding the attack.

Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah. On GCC summit, how do you view the participation of French president in this summit for the first time for a Western leader?

MR RATHKE: Well, our understanding, President Hollande was in the region and then joined the meeting. I don’t have any specific comment about that. He’s been traveling there. I don’t have any further analysis to do of that for you.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry will be in the region and will be in Saudi Arabia tomorrow, and the summit will be there too. Is he invited?

MR RATHKE: Well, Secretary Kerry is going to Riyadh to have discussions with our Saudi partners on a wide range of issues, as I announced yesterday from here, and I think we put out a statement on it as well. And that will cover the range of our partnership with Saudi Arabia, but also important regional issues.

QUESTION: Do you think that this participation reflects a mistrust in the U.S. from the GCC leaders?

MR RATHKE: I’m not drawing any conclusion from his participation there.

QUESTION: Yeah. It looks like they are concerned about the upcoming nuclear deal with Iran and they talked about the threat that Iran pose on the region. What can you tell them, especially that they are coming next week to the U.S.?

MR RATHKE: Well, as you said, the Secretary will be meeting with his GCC foreign minister counterparts in the next few days in Paris and then, of course, next week. So the upcoming summit is, from the United States point of view, an important opportunity to enhance our partnership with the GCC countries, to deepen security cooperation, and also to discuss ways to address many conflicts that have caused hardship and instability throughout the Middle East. If you look at some of the particular things that will be on the agenda, it reflects the breadth of our partnership. We’ll be talking about common approaches to resolving the conflicts in Yemen, in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria. And this is also an opportunity to reaffirm our strategic partnership with the Gulf states, as well as our shared concern about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and our mutual commitment to take the steps necessary to enhance stability in the Gulf and to de-escalate tensions.

QUESTION: And their statements today reflect that they are concerned about the impact of the nuclear deal with Iran on the GCC countries. What guarantees can you give them before getting to this deal or before getting this deal done?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think we’ll leave that to the Secretary to discuss with his counterparts and to the President as well. I’m not going to get ahead of the meetings that we’ll be having at high levels with GCC partners in the coming days. But clearly, we’ve remained in close contact with the Gulf countries to talk about the Iran negotiations, to talk about the importance of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and how that benefits the security of the entire region if Iran is prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon. So I think our commitment in that regard as well as our security partnership with the countries in question is a key aspect of our diplomacy in the region.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Yes, Jeff, would you say --

MR RATHKE: Same topic?

QUESTION: Yes. No, no, same topic. Would you say that the Secretary’s meetings in Riyadh on Wednesday and Thursday, they will focus on the Camp David summit that is coming up next week? Is that the thrust of his visit?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think I just laid out some of the issues that they will be talking about. I would refer you to the White House for what they will have on the agenda for the meetings here. But clearly, we have a broad range of shared interests, including regional crises, as well as our security partnership with them.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. As Michel mentioned, the GCC countries are worried what might happen as a result of the Iran deal, and there are either rumors or whatever you want to call them – reports – that suggest that perhaps you have some suggestions on new security arrangements with these countries. You already have it with Kuwait and Bahrain as non-NATO allies, special security arrangement with non-NATO allies with Kuwait and Bahrain – that you would extend this to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Is that something in --

MR RATHKE: Well, this is, I think, the same question that Michel just asked and that I answered. I don’t have anything to announce at this time.

QUESTION: But that --

MR RATHKE: Of course, our security partnership with the Gulf countries is important to us, and we see the upcoming meetings as a way to talk about issues of mutual security interest. But I don’t have any announcement to make.

QUESTION: And my last question on this: Do you know who is attending? I mean, will King Salman, for instance, be attending the summit next week in Camp David?

MR RATHKE: I’m happy to come back to you with any information, but I would refer you to the White House for information on participation in a presidential event.

Did you have something, Matt?

QUESTION: I just wanted to shift gears --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- and go to Africa, back to Africa.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts on the latest developments in Burundi, specifically the ruling by the constitutional court on the president’s candidacy?

MR RATHKE: Yes. Well, the ruling of the constitutional court does not impact the United States position on President Nkurunziza’s third term. The United States has consistently maintained that the only way to respect both the terms of the Burundian constitution and the Arusha agreement is for President Nkurunziza not to seek a third term. And the Arusha agreement – Arusha agreement, excuse me, continues to be an important foundation to maintaining the still-fragile stability in Burundi only 10 years after a civil war that resulted in thousands of deaths.

QUESTION: Do you think that the constitutional court in its current composition – the deputy of it having fled the country – is capable or able to make such a determination?

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: Whether or not you – whether or not you agree with it or not, do you think that it is, in fact, a functioning and credible court?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we are deeply concerned by reports that the vice president of the constitutional court fled to Rwanda yesterday, claiming that he and other members of the court were pressured to rule in favor of the constitutionality of a third term. Judicial impartiality, of course, is a key element of a healthy democracy, and so we urge the Burundian Government to quickly and fully investigate these claims of undue influence and of intimidation.

QUESTION: The government of the current president?

MR RATHKE: That’s --

QUESTION: Yeah?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, that’s correct.

QUESTION: What do you think the chances are of that happening?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to affix a percentage term to it.

QUESTION: And are there any consequences for Burundi should this continue the way that it appears to be continuing, or appears that it will continue?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have any announcements to make. We remain in contact --

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to. I’m just asking --

MR RATHKE: No.

QUESTION: -- if there’s going to be any – I mean, are you going to do anything or are you just going to say that you think this is bad?

MR RATHKE: Well, we remain in contact with Burundian authorities, and I’m not going to spell out any specifics --

QUESTION: Well, can they expect something other than a nasty remark from the podium if, in fact, the president does run for a third term?

MR RATHKE: Again, we remain in dialogue with the Burundian authorities. I don’t have anything more to say on that at this point.

Yeah, we’ll go back to – go to the back. Cindy.

QUESTION: Yes, does the U.S. plan to reopen its embassy in Somalia? And what has changed in Somalia to spur these openings and changes that we’re seeing?

MR RATHKE: Well, the Secretary spoke to this when he was in Mogadishu today. After meeting with the president and the prime minister and also talking with civil society leaders, the Secretary in his remarks said that the department would begin the process to re-establish diplomatic premises in Mogadishu. There’s no fixed timeline for re-establishing an embassy, but this would mean that U.S. Government officials would have a more enduring presence there.

I think with respect to Somalia and the changes that have happened there, I think his – he went into some detail in his remarks about this as well. He talked about the resiliency of the people in Somalia and their determination to reclaim their country and their future from terrorists and pirates and militias who have been attempting to steal it; that Somalia has made progress in turning things around, including a new provisional constitution that was adopted and a new parliament; the critical role played by AMISOM, the AU mission; the forces that have pushed out al-Shabaab and put the pirates out of business.

So clearly, there has been – there have been a lot of positive developments, and so the United States remains committed to Somalia, and we are taking the steps he mentioned. We’ll be – so this is the start of upgrading our diplomatic representation. Of course, we’ve nominated an ambassador that is before the Senate, and then – originally when that announcement was made, that was to be based out of our embassy in Nairobi, and until diplomatic premises were established, that would still remain the arrangement. But the Secretary was clearly describing a stepped-up commitment on the part of the United States to Somalia.

QUESTION: One more on that, if I may.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: How would you characterize the current status of al-Shabaab?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I think, as the Secretary said, the Somali forces with international help have pushed al-Shabaab out of major population centers. Al-Shabaab remains a dangerous terrorist organization. They’ve carried out attacks in Kenya most recently, and so that is an issue of continued vigilance and concern by the United States, by Somalia, and by our international partners. But clearly, we see the people in Somalia rejecting al-Shabaab’s vision, if you want to call it that, and taking steps to push them out.

Same topic?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I had a question on – you mentioned that’s the first time a Secretary has been to Somalia. Is there any reason why now, or do you have any comment on what’s taken so long?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think, in response to the last question, we’ve talked about the positive developments that have happened in Somalia. And I think that was a recognition by the Secretary that we want to keep that momentum going, we want to show our support for Somali authorities, and for the Somali people. And yes, it is the first visit by a secretary of state, but I think that’s another reason to be proud of this visit. I’m not going to judge decisions about where secretaries have gone or not gone in the past.

QUESTION: Change topic?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Syria.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. First of all, what is your assessment of the current status of the Bashar al-Assad regime? There is a lot of reports that say that he’s finally losing his grip. Do you agree with that assessment?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to analyze the regime’s stability from here. There have certainly been reports of gains by some opposition elements. We are – and we are also concerned about the role that Nusrah has played in much of the combat in northern Syria. They have an extremist ideology that’s at odds with Syrians’ desire for a safe and prosperous future. But also the – as we’ve said many times, the situation in Syria is a result of the actions of the Assad regime, which has not met the desires of the Syrian people for a greater voice. And that’s why we’re supporters of the Geneva principles and supporters of the UN special envoy.

QUESTION: Now today there were announcements by the Syrian regime forces and Hizballah forces that they are ready to battle al-Nusrah in an area called al-Qalamoun. Do you have any comment on that, or do you find that these are two bad groups fighting each other?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a comment on battlefield developments.

QUESTION: Right. But you --

MR RATHKE: So again our views on the Assad regime, our views on Hizballah and its negative role, I think, are quite clear.

QUESTION: But you don’t have a feeling either to argue what would that outcome is likely to be between two --

MR RATHKE: No, I’m not going to make predictions about developments on the battlefield.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comment on Mr. de Mistura’s points on Geneva? He suggested some points – he said these are points of for talks, not for negotiations. Do you have any comment on that?

MR RATHKE: Well, as you mentioned, Special Envoy de Mistura began yesterday a period of consultations in Geneva on Syria. These are expected to last several weeks, and the special envoy has invited as many of the parties as possible, as well as regional and international stakeholders and the purpose is to discuss individually with the special envoy. These are not negotiations, these are --

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: -- not talks together. These are individual consultations to discuss the situation in Syria today, and to see where we stand about implementation of the Geneva communique, which was concluded about three years ago.

QUESTION: Is the United States meeting with Mr. de Mistura as part of the international community?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. The United States will participate in these UN-led consultations.

QUESTION: Okay. And --

QUESTION: Jeff, will this – sorry, Said – do you have any reservation that Iran will be part of these consultations or not?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we’ve talked about this recently. We are aware that Iran has been invited to attend these discussions. We’ll let the special envoy’s office speak about any particular details in that regard. If Iran wants to play a constructive role in peacefully ending the Syrian conflict, we think the way to do so is clear: immediately to cease support for the Assad regime and Hizballah’s activities in Syria, and also to endorse the principles of the Geneva communique.

QUESTION: But nothing happened since the Geneva II and the Montreux meeting – or Geneva I, too. At that time, you were against the participation of Iran in these two conferences. What’s the difference now? And Iran is still supporting the Syrian regime and Hizballah.

MR RATHKE: Well, I think Marie spoke to this in a fair amount of detail last week, so I’d refer you back to her comments about the specific question of Iran. But again, I think, as I’ve said, our point of view is if Iran wants to play a constructive role in Syria, the way to do so is clear. We’ve been quite clear about that.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: Mr. de Mistura is quoted by a report by Reuters suggesting or calling for the – for an update to the Geneva communique, because the situation on the ground changed after the appearance of ISIL/Daesh. Do you agree with that?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t think that’s what he said, so I would refer you first of all back to the special envoy to – for exactly what he said. The reports that I’m aware of talked about the special envoy talking about the implementation of Geneva and not talking about any kind of repudiation or change to it. So I would refer you back to him for clarity on that. But our understanding is that that was not – that he did not refer to that. So that’s what I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Jeff?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Could I get – clarify on this point: For Iran to participate they would have to announce their agreement with the principles, right? Not any particular interpretation of those principles. They can say that we agree with the statement that came out on June whatever, 2012?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to get so proscriptive, Said. I would refer you again to de Mistura’s office for questions about the nature of Iran’s participation. What I’ve laid out for you, though, is our view of how Iran can play a constructive role if Iran wants to play a constructive role, and that’s quite clear: Support for the Assad regime should stop, support for Hizballah’s destabilizing activities in Syria should stop, as well as support for the Geneva principles.

Yes, Atsushi.

QUESTION: On Japan, on the Prime Minister Abe’s state visit last week.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: As you know, the South Korean President Park criticized yesterday on Prime Minister Abe’s speech on joint session of Congress with regards to historical issues because there was no apology. And she also mentioned United States also share this thought and criticism. Is it true, or are you sharing this thought?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think we talked – during the very successful visit of Prime Minister Abe last week, we talked a lot here. Also, my colleagues at the White House talked quite a bit about the importance of that visit. We thought it was a great visit. We appreciated Prime Minister Abe’s constructive message about reconciliation, and we’ve also talked about the important achievements during that visit: the revised defense guidelines, the reaffirmation of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the joint vision statement that was issued by the prime minister and the President. So I think we’ve been pretty clear about that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Yemen.

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: The president – or Yemeni president has announced yesterday that the talks or the peace talks between the Yemenis will resume in Riyadh on May 17th. Houthis have refused to participate in these talks. How do you view these talks without the participation of the Houthis?

MR RATHKE: Well, President Hadi, with the support of the Gulf Cooperation Council, has organized, as you said, a conference in Riyadh to support the political transition in Yemen. I would recall that UN Security Council resolution 2216 urged all Yemeni parties to respond positively to President Hadi’s request for them to participate in a conference in Riyadh that would complement and support the UN-brokered negotiations. We continue to put great importance on the – on rapidly shifting from military conflict to UN-brokered all-party negotiations. We don’t see this as supplanting the UN-led effort; we see this as complementary to it, and indeed, it’s envisioned in Security Council resolution 2216.

QUESTION: Do you mean that you call the Houthis to participate in these talks?

MR RATHKE: Well, the UN Security Council called on all parties to participate in a conference that would be arranged by President Hadi at his request.

QUESTION: But they already said that they won’t participate.

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we’ve been quite clear that the Houthis need to cease their unilateral, aggressive actions that have caused so much instability in recent weeks in Yemen. And if they intend to get back to negotiations, as they’ve said on a couple of occasions, that they need to demonstrate that through stopping the aggressive actions and then getting back to the table for negotiations. So that path is open to them, and they need to follow it.

QUESTION: One more on this. Saudi Arabia has been talking about creating security zones inside Yemen to provide humanitarian aids to the Yemenis. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’d refer you back to the Saudis for details about those reports.

QUESTION: Would you support such --

MR RATHKE: We’re aware of those reports. We support initiatives to facilitate the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance to Yemen, including humanitarian pauses to allow badly needed food, medicine, and other supplies to enter the country and to be delivered safely consistent with UN Security Council resolution 2216. But on the particulars or the specifics of those plans, I’d refer you back to the Saudis.

QUESTION: Jeff, as most --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- humanitarian deliveries were conducted via air, by airplanes and so on, and the Saudis – or the Saudi-led coalition bombed the airports and depriving flights from landing, do you have any comment on that? I mean, how would you get humanitarian aid if the Saudis keep bombing these airports where these humanitarian flights (inaudible)?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think you’re referring to one specific instance at one airport, if I’m not mistaken. Is that --

QUESTION: No, I think most airports are inoperable today.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, again, we take seriously the humanitarian situation in Saudi Arabia[1]. We urge all steps to facilitate deliveries. I don’t have more specific details to offer you than that.

QUESTION: The Saudis also announced that they want to conduct limited land incursions. Do you have any comment on that (inaudible)?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not aware of that. Is that a recent announcement you’re referring to?

QUESTION: Yesterday. Yesterday they said they want to conduct – perhaps conduct limited land – or boots-on-the-ground kind of incursions into Yemen.

MR RATHKE: Is this question different from the one Michel just asked me?

QUESTION: I think it is. I think that this has military purpose. They said they want to attack Houthi positions, not to secure any kind of humanitarian or safety zones.

MR RATHKE: Okay. Well, I’m not familiar with that announcement, so I don’t have a comment on it.

Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: Is there any update on the ship?

MR RATHKE: On the – oh, you’re talking about the Maersk Tigris. No, I don’t have any update on that.

QUESTION: Is it still in Iran, do you know?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, the status remains as it was yesterday. It remains in – under – the Iranians have brought it into Iranian waters. It remains where it has been. No change, no development that I have to report.

Yes, Atsushi.

QUESTION: Yeah, Sri Lanka. As I asked yesterday, it was the first visit by the U.S. Secretary of State in the last 10 years, I believe. And they discussed the regional – important regional issues, including maritime security. So could you clarify what the maritime security – is that the Indian Ocean? Or can you explain in a little bit more detail what they discussed?

MR RATHKE: Well, yeah. The United States supports efforts of the Indo-Pacific region countries to provide maritime security. That includes counter-piracy and counter-trafficking operations as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. This includes fundamental international principles such as freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, and other lawful uses of the sea and air space, as well as the peaceful resolution of territorial or maritime claims. So we support Sri Lanka’s efforts to contribute to maritime security and to fulfill its important role as a leading maritime nation in the Indo-Pacific region.

QUESTION: Discussed particularly about Indian Ocean issue or including the South China Sea or other ocean?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think if you look at the Secretary’s remarks, he talked about U.S. leadership on maritime security in the Indian Ocean, in association with our friends and allies across the region. And the United States and Sri Lanka are working together to oppose intimidation or the use of force to assert territorial or maritime claims. And we also are working – we support, sorry, the legal uses of sea and air space, and also the rights that are granted to all states, big states and small states. So I don’t have a geographic signifier to attach to that.

QUESTION: One thing. As you know, the Chinese submarines stopped by the port of Colombo last September. Are you – do you concern these kind of Chinese effort --

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any specific comment on that to offer. Any other – yes, go ahead, Cindy.

QUESTION: I have a question on Azerbaijan, and forgive my pronunciation. Does the U.S. State Department specifically call for the unconditional release of journalist Khadija Ismayilova from prison?

MR RATHKE: The United States is deeply concerned by the incarceration of all of those detained in connection with exercising their fundamental freedoms, including journalist Khadija Ismayilova, and we have called for their release. We urge the Government of Azerbaijan to respect the universal rights of its citizens to ensure they are afforded all the fair trial guarantees to which all citizens are entitled, and to allow them to freely express their views.

QUESTION: When was she detained?

MR RATHKE: That detail I don’t have. I’d have to check and come back to you.

QUESTION: Was it recent or is it somewhat old?

MR RATHKE: Not in the last few days.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: This is – this case has been ongoing.

QUESTION: It’s not a new case?

MR RATHKE: Not – no, not a new case.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: A very quick question on Iraq.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: KRG president is in Washington. Are there any plans to – I know that the Secretary is not here, traveling, but --

MR RATHKE: The Secretary is not here, but he will meet with the Deputy Secretary tomorrow.

QUESTION: So he’s meeting – oh, tomorrow? Okay.

MR RATHKE: Yes, that’s right. Today, this afternoon, he’s having meetings at the White House.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: Tomorrow, he will meet at the State Department with Deputy Secretary Blinken.

QUESTION: What time? Do we know (inaudible)?

MR RATHKE: I don’t know the time off the top of my head. I’m sure it’ll be in tomorrow’s schedule that we point out.

Okay --

QUESTION: One more quick question --

MR RATHKE: Okay. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- on North Korea. The South Korean diplomat, the director of the North Korean issue, Mr. Hwang Joon-kook, visited this town and had a meeting with Ambassador Sung Kim. Could you update what did they discuss yesterday, maybe today? I’m not sure, but --

MR RATHKE: Right. The – you mean – I’m sorry, you’re referring to the Republic of Korea’s special representative?

QUESTION: Yes, yes. (Inaudible) yes.

MR RATHKE: So the Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim met with Republic of Korea Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Hwang Joon-kook yesterday. They had a very productive discussion on a wide range of issues related to the DPRK. The United States and South Korea agree on the fundamental importance of a denuclearized North Korea. Special Representative Hwang’s visit reflects the close cooperation between our countries and our continued focus on pursuing the verifiable denuclearization of North Korea in a peaceful manner.

Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:34 p.m.)

[1] Yemen


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 4, 2015

Mon, 05/04/2015 - 15:57

Jeff Rathke
Acting Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 4, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

12:40 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Happy Monday.

MR RATHKE: May the 4th.

QUESTION: Such as it is.

MR RATHKE: I expected you to pick up on Star Wars Day there, Matt.

QUESTION: I think that that is discriminatory against people with speaking problems.

MR RATHKE: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: No, people with speech impediments. It’s not very nice to them, is it?

MR RATHKE: I got it. Okay. Well, I actually --

QUESTION: It’s the 6th, actually, May the 6th, right? Sith, sixth – that’s the --

MR RATHKE: It depends on which movies you’re most a fan of.

I have three things for you at the top. The Secretary is in Nairobi, Kenya, today. He met separately with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta; the cabinet secretaries for foreign affairs, interior, and defense; members of the Coalition for Reform and Democracy; and with Chief Justice Willy Mutunga. He also participated in a refugee event at UNHCR headquarters. Additionally, after meeting with staff and families at Embassy Nairobi, he attended a wreath-laying ceremony in honor of the victims of the 1998 embassy bombing. Right now, Secretary Kerry is participating in a Kenya private sector alliance dinner with business leaders.

Second item is about his onward travel. On May 6th and 7th, Secretary Kerry will visit Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He will meet with senior government leaders to discuss a variety of issues related to regional security. Secretary Kerry will then travel to Paris to meet with foreign ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to discuss shared regional priorities and security cooperation, as well as participate in Victory Day commemorations marking the Allied victory in Europe. While in Paris, the Secretary will also meet with French Foreign Minister Fabius to discuss regional and global issues.

And last issue is Nepal. The USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt traveled to Nepal today to survey damage from the April 25th earthquake, to help in the distribution of USAID commodities, and to meet with Nepal government officials and agency staff involved in the disaster response. Embassy-chartered helicopters have rescued a total of 17 U.S. citizens from remote areas of Nepal impacted by the earthquake, and the embassy has coordinated with the Nepal army to rescue others as part of the Government of Nepal’s rescue operations. Embassy personnel continue to focus on the remaining U.S. citizens missing in areas particularly hard-hit by the earthquake. And I would highlight that our team on the ground there is still working around the clock, led by Ambassador Bodde, to deal with all the consequences of the earthquake.

The U.S. Department of Defense provided more than $1.7 million for logistical support, and this brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance to 14.2 million. And the last point on this: Five U.S. military aircraft – four V-22 Ospreys and one UH-1Y Huey helicopter – arrived in Nepal yesterday, May 3rd, to help deliver USAID commodities to remote villages and to support USAID’s humanitarian assessments to ensure that shelter materials and other critical supplies get to people in need. Today, a U.S. military Osprey, in coordination with the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team and the Nepal army, delivered emergency shelter kits containing ropes and tarps to Dolakha district. Also, joint USAID DART and U.S. military aerial assessments began today to view areas made inaccessible by landslides and debris since the April 25th earthquake.

With that, over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. I’m sure we’ll get back to Nepal and also the Secretary’s travel, but I want to start with something that I believe now there is a response to, and these are the questions that I and others have been raising for the course of the past couple weeks over whether or not the State Department has any concerns about the questions raised by numerous stories in the media about donations to the Clinton Foundation and various other subsidiaries I guess you would call – affiliates. Whether or not there are questions or concerns in this building about whether or not the questions about potential conflict of interest have any --

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’ll end there.

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Is there any concern in this building about the questions raised by these stories?

MR RATHKE: Well, we are not aware of any evidence that actions taken by Secretary Clinton were influenced by donation to the Clinton Foundation or speech honoraria of former President Clinton. So that’s our view of that situation. And a review of private-firm donations was outside the scope of the MOU and was not something that the Department was vetting.

QUESTION: Okay. When you say that you’re not aware of any evidence, does that mean that there – that you undertook some kind of – or that the building undertook some kind of review in the aftermath of all these stories that have been coming out over the course of the last month or so?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’re certainly aware of the reports that have been – that have come out after a variety of statements made or a book published, in one case. And I don’t have a systematic or an organizational effort to outline for you, but we’re not aware of anything in those reports that, again, suggests that there’s any evidence of Secretary Clinton’s actions having been influenced by donations to the Clinton Foundation.

QUESTION: Right, but if you haven’t looked into it – I mean, some of these things weren’t known before. So if you haven’t looked into it, of course there’s not – I mean, there’s not going to be any evidence one way or another, right? So --

QUESTION: To just ask the question simply: Have you looked into this or not?

MR RATHKE: Well, yes, we’ve looked at these reports. We don’t – we are not aware of any evidence to suggest that there was any influence.

QUESTION: But have you actually looked at not just the reports, but then gone back and looked at the Secretary’s decisions on various matters and donations that the foundation received to see if there is any relationship between them? Have you actually conducted an investigation or an inquiry or just a quick look to figure it out? Or not? Or did you just look at the reports and say, “Well, there’s no evidence of anything – of an action that she took in response to donations”?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve looked at the reports that have been out there publicly, and we don’t have any evidence, any internal evidence to suggest that there was that kind of influence.

QUESTION: So you didn’t look?

QUESTION: But did anyone look?

QUESTION: Have – you both looked at the reports and at the Secretary’s actions and found that there’s no evidence to suggest that her actions were related to donations? I mean, have you looked at both sides of the coin, the reports and then her actions as Secretary of State? Or have you not looked at the second part of the coin?

MR RATHKE: Again, we’ve looked at these reports, we’ve compared them to the information available. If you want a more detailed --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- readout of that, I’m happy to look at that.

QUESTION: Well, that suggests that, in fact – that suggests – what you just said suggests that, in fact, you have looked at the reports and also at --

MR RATHKE: Yeah. But your questions were about the scope of that. I’m happy to look into that and come back to you.

QUESTION: Okay. And what about the – well, let me just draw a fine point on this. So you’re saying that the Department has looked into the questions that have been raised about potential conflict of interests and found no evidence to support them. Is that correct?

MR RATHKE: We are aware of the reports that have been – that have come out from various publications, and we are aware of no evidence to support the suggestion that there was a – any kind of influence on the actions of the Secretary.

QUESTION: All right. And then on – in terms of whether the MOUs – the two MOUs, the MOUs were actually adhered to at the time specifically related to the stuff that was in this health initiative, where they were supposed to publish the lists of donors and didn’t? Is that an issue for the Department?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, if – let me just give one bit of context in answer to your question, because I think these three things come together. There were three undertakings and commitments when Secretary Clinton took office. There was an ethics undertaking, which was a letter in which Secretary Clinton committed, consistent with ethics law, not to participate personally and substantially in matters where the Clinton Foundation or the Clinton Global Initiative were specific parties, or matters that would have a direct and predictable effect on President Clinton’s compensation. That was the first element. The second element is the memorandum of understanding which set out commitments – one, that the foundation agreed to publish annually the names of new contributors; and second, that the foundation committed to submit information to the State Department about foreign government donations when they increased materially or when they were new government donations; and then thirdly, the arrangement regarding the speeches and consultancies of former President Clinton were identified in a letter from President Clinton’s attorney where he stated that the identities of speech hosts and entities seeking President Clinton’s consultation services would be provided to Department ethics officials for review. So those are the three elements of the undertaking.

QUESTION: In the second one, it talked about the release – public disclosure of all the donors. That apparently was not done. Is that correct?

MR RATHKE: So the memorandum of understanding, along with the others, was set up to avoid potential conflicts and appearances of potential conflict between the duties of the Secretary of State and the activities of the foundation and of President Clinton. Again, we are aware of media reports that the foundation did not meet some of the obligations to publish annually the names of new contributors. However, I would also highlight that over the course of Secretary Clinton’s tenure, the State Department received requests to review dozens of entities each year, primarily for proposed speeches. And also, I go back to what I said at the start, that we are aware of no evidence that there was undue influence --

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: -- on the Secretary’s decisions.

QUESTION: But is it a problem for the State Department that there are these reports that they did not follow through on that part of the MOU in terms of disclosing – the annual disclosure of the donors?

MR RATHKE: We’re back now to where we were on Friday.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: And again, we would say that --

QUESTION: And I don’t know. Maybe there isn’t – maybe it’s not a problem for the State Department. I just want to know yes or no, is it?

MR RATHKE: We welcome the new commitments from the Clinton Foundation to disclose the donors and from the Clinton Health Access Initiative to review their past tax filing, and we welcome the additional efforts to ensure that all those donations are public. So I don’t have any problem to outline.

QUESTION: Okay. So the Department is not going to go back to the foundation and say, “Hey, you didn’t comply with this; why not?” You’ve just --

MR RATHKE: Well, they’ve said they’re going to put out that information, so --

QUESTION: And you welcome it, but --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- you’re not – there isn’t any kind of consequence or any kind of concern in this – from this building about what happened back in --

MR RATHKE: They’re going through and doing that. We’ll let them do that.

QUESTION: Jeff, what is the utility of an agreement or a memorandum of understanding, a commitment, if it is not adhered to?

MR RATHKE: I’ll let you continue. What’s the --

QUESTION: What is the usefulness of a memorandum of understanding designed to avoid conflicts of interests or the appearance of conflicts of interest if it is not adhered to?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, these were transparency measures that were undertaken. As we’ve talked about before, these undertakings went well beyond, in some respects, what was – what would have been required. And so we welcome those. Again, we are not aware of any evidence of influence, undue influence on decision-making.

QUESTION: But what is the usefulness of an undertaking that is not – of a promise that is not kept? I mean, if they promised that they would disclose all --

MR RATHKE: Well, Arshad, as I’ve described, there were dozens, each year dozens of --

QUESTION: Let’s not mix oranges and apples. What you’re doing now is what you did before, where I think you’re talking about President Clinton’s speech honoraria, right?

MR RATHKE: No, as well as foreign government donations to the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Health Access Initiative.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: So these aren’t apples and oranges.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I’m talking about the failure of the Clinton Health Access Initiative to disclose on an annual basis from 2010 all new donors. They didn’t do it. They said they would do it. They publicly acknowledged that they didn’t do it and they publicly acknowledged that they were bound by the terms of the memorandum of understanding. So what is the usefulness of having a memorandum of understanding that is designed to promote transparency if the people who make the commitment to be transparent fail to do so?

MR RATHKE: Well, okay, and I think you’re trying to draw a – again, what I’m trying to point out is that the MOU contained two different commitments, one of which was – had reviews by the State Department of the government donations, and we receive dozens of such requests for review and we reviewed every case that was submitted to us. So I don’t think that justifies the conclusion you seem to be trying to get at, which is that the MOU wasn’t implemented. And so --

QUESTION: Well, I’m not drawing a conclusion. I’m asking a question.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And as you’re aware, there are two instances in which the MOU was not adhered to with regard to foreign donations, correct?

MR RATHKE: Right, which has subsequently been --

QUESTION: Subsequently, but not real time, not as it was promised to be done under the MOU. So the question is: If somebody says, “I’m going to be transparent,” and then then they fail to be transparent, does that not call into question the utility of the agreement in the first place?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I think the foundation is making efforts now to provide that information that wasn’t provided. And I go back to what I said at the start: We’re not aware of any evidence of undue evidence – influence coming – stemming from those, so --

QUESTION: Let’s forget about the whole --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Let’s --

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: For the time – let’s set aside whether or not there’s evidence – or you’re saying that there is no evidence. Is – and I think I got the answer to this question before. You’re saying that the fact that they did not disclose – the health initiative did not disclose these donors on an annual basis, even though they said they would do that, it is not a problem for the State Department?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I said – what I said is they are --

QUESTION: I’m just – it’s an easy – I think it’s – is it a problem for the State Department or not that they didn’t live up to their – their pledge?

MR RATHKE: So we aren’t aware of any evidence of undue influence. So we’re not aware of a problem in that regard.

QUESTION: So the fact that they – the fact that they signed off on this MOU to publish the donors annually – even if that wasn’t required that they be vetted, just publish them – the fact that they promised to do that and then didn’t is not an issue for the building? Is that --

MR RATHKE: I think I’ve said all I’m going to say about this, Matt.

QUESTION: All right, one more.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: President Clinton – former President Clinton this morning in an interview said that there is this attempt to vilify the foundation and that nothing it does is sinister, that – and denied any impropriety – I mean, I believe on either his behalf or his wife’s behalf. You’re giving – I just want to make again clear you are giving Secretary Clinton a clean bill of health here on the questions about whether there was any improper or undue influence as a result of these donations.

MR RATHKE: Again, as I said at the start, we’re aware of no evidence of undue influence.

New topic?

QUESTION: Can we go to Afghanistan?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Yeah, go ahead, Arshad. We’ll come back.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Afghanistan.

MR RATHKE: Please.

QUESTION: So I’m sure you’re aware of the reports that Taliban and Afghan government officials met and that they have reached some kind of an agreement with regard to the reopening of the famous Taliban representation office. What does the U.S. Government think about this?

MR RATHKE: Well, what we think about the process of reconciliation and talks between Afghan authorities and the Taliban is we believe an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace effort and reconciliation process is the best way to end violence and to ensure stability in Afghanistan and in the region. We are not in communication with Afghan representatives on any side who are participating in these talks in Doha, so I would refer you to those parties first and foremost for any kind of a readout on what the outcome of their discussions has been. But we certainly support Afghan-led peace efforts.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, surely you’re in contact with the Afghan Government about this, even if you’re not talking to the participants who are there, right?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’re – these are talks they are conducting. I wouldn’t – I don’t want to suggest that we’re in some kind of real-time coordination with the Afghan Government. Of course, yes, we are very interested in being supportive of reconciliation efforts, but these talks that are going on in Doha between Afghan representatives and Taliban representatives are their own initiative.

QUESTION: Right. But surely part of the SRAP’s job is to keep on top of what’s going on in talks like that, even if you’re not a party to them, so that you understand what are the prospects, if any, for reconciliation, right?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to comment on their ongoing talks, so we’ll wait to see the outcome --

QUESTION: And do you have anything to say, then, about what is reported to be an agreement on reopening a Taliban office?

MR RATHKE: Again, I haven’t seen the details of those, so we’ll wait to see from – to hear from officials what they may have agreed, but I’m not going to get ahead of that process.

Same topic?

QUESTION: No.

MR RATHKE: New topic? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, cross-strait relations.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: The secretary general of the Chinese communist party, Xi Jinping, just had a meeting with Kuomintang’s chairman, Chu Li-luan. I’m just curious about the reaction of the U.S. Government to this highest-levels talks between cross-strait political parties.

MR RATHKE: Well, we welcome steps on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to reduce tensions and improve cross-strait relations. We encourage authorities in Beijing and Taipei to continue their constructive dialogue which we believe has led to significant improvements in the cross-strait relationship. And of course, as to the content and the pace and the scope of those interactions, that should be – it should be acceptable to people on both sides of the strait, but we’ll leave those details to the people participating in those talks.

QUESTION: And also --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. Also Chu Li-luan said he hoped Taiwan can take part in the AIIB, and Xi Jinping welcomes that. So will the U.S. support Taiwan’s bid to join AIIB?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have any comment about the decisions of anyone to participate in the AIIB. The U.S. view on the AIIB has been made quite clear. We consider it important that high standards of transparency be part of the AIIB’s approach. I think the President also commented on this just last week, so I don’t have anything to add to that.

QUESTION: A follow-up.

MR RATHKE: Yes, yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: And Xi Jinping also mentioned that he has seen some new and important point in cross-strait, and which has impacted Chinese nation and the country’s future. I just wonder: Does U.S. have the same point of view?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we welcome improved cross-strait relations. I’m not going to get into kind of characterizing them further than that. We’ve seen progress and we welcome that and we encourage continued dialogue.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jeff. The ’92 Consensus seemed to be the basis for the two sides to actually make the meeting possible. Would the United States think that this may serve as a point of reference for Taiwan’s opposition party, the DPP, so that it would be able to open its own dialogue with the mainland some way, particularly when the DPP chair is about to visit the United States? Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to comment about how internally these issues are approached. Again, I think our support for improved cross-strait relations is clear.

Yes, go ahead (inaudible).

QUESTION: North Korea announced yesterday they – they say it’s the two student of New York University. Do you have anything on that, about two student --

MR RATHKE: We’re aware of those reports, but I don’t have any further detail to share. I would refer you to the Government of the Republic of Korea.

QUESTION: Also, North Korea allowed to CNN interview with the student, so they are New York student, but why is that (inaudible)?

MR RATHKE: I simple don’t have anything further to share. I’d refer you to the South Korean Government in that regard.

Yes, new topic? Samir, please.