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Updated: 3 hours 55 min ago

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 30, 2015

5 hours 55 min ago

Marie Harf
Acting Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 30, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:22 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Thank you so much and thank you, everyone, for joining the phone briefing today. I hope everyone can hear me. If you can’t, let me know when you ask your question. We used to do these – folks remember – back when I did the Iran talks in Vienna. So thank you for being flexible with us given schedules this week.

Just a quick travel update: No surprise where the Secretary is, as you know, in Lausanne, Switzerland, with Under Secretary Sherman, Energy Secretary Moniz, and the whole negotiating team, meeting with our P5+1 partners and the Iranians to see if we can get a political understanding. The deadline is obviously tomorrow at the end of the day, so I think these next 36 hours are going to be fairly busy ones for all of us – I’m sure all of you as well.

I don’t have much other to say at the top, so if someone wants to go ahead and get us started – it looks like the first question is fittingly from the Associated Press, from Brad Klapper. Go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: Thanks, Marie. Congratulations on your new title as well. Can you just give us an update on some of the various reports regarding the Iran talks that have come out in the last few days? We just really haven’t had a chance to talk about some of them: One, the issue of enrichment, of the enriched stockpiles that may or may not be shipped out of the country, how much of a setback would it be if Iran refuses to not send that to Russia. And then some of the issues regarding PMDs, Fordow – how confident are you that the parameters of a good deal are still being met?

MS. HARF: Okay. Let me take all of those, and if I forget, I’m sure you’ll follow up. First, on the stockpile question, I’ve talked about this a little bit today already in a couple interviews, but the bottom line is we don’t have agreement on the Iranians – with the Iranians on the stockpile issue. This is still one of the outstanding issues. And the point for us – what’s important to us is that we can get agreement about the path for them to basically get rid of a large part of their stockpile so that the remaining stockpile, when put together with the number of centrifuges, the type of centrifuges, all of the different parts of the equation, gets us to a year breakout time.

So there were a couple things sort of blatantly wrong with that story this morning. First, there had been no agreement up until this point about what the disposition of that stockpile would be. The story said that there was sort of a last-minute – in the last 24 hours – change away from what had already been agreed to. That’s just not true. There hadn’t been an agreement yet. For months, we’ve been talking with Iran about the different ways they can get rid of that stockpile. One is, obviously, dilution in country, as they’ve been doing under the JPOA. One is shipping it overseas. There are others.

But this notion that in the last 24 hours that somehow there’s been a shift in this issue, sort of a hardening of positions, just isn’t true. It’s not accurate with what’s happening inside the negotiating room. This is a remaining issue that we have to resolve but hasn’t, quite honestly, been one of the toughest ones. And so this story was just off on a number of fronts there.

So this is one we have to resolve but we haven’t yet. There’s a number of different ways we can do so. You don’t have to ship it out of the country to get to a year breakout time. You can have some other dispositions for it that get us where we need to be in terms of our bottom line.

QUESTION: Okay. And then --

MS. HARF: What else? We talked about --

QUESTION: -- I think the PMDs and Fordow were kind of two of the other stories that had come up recently.

MS. HARF: So on Fordow, we obviously don’t comment on sort of reports about specifics things that are being discussed inside the room except for very generally. But what we’ve always said about Fordow is it needs to be – it cannot be used to help enrich uranium that could be used for a nuclear weapon. You have to cut off that uranium pathway, that it will have to be converted into something that can’t. So what that looks like we still don’t know.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. HARF: But that sort of what we’ve always said. Obviously, that’s still a topic of negotiation.

On PMD, that’s obviously a big area of concern for us as well. We’re working through that issue. I don’t have much else to say about that publicly at this point. Did you have other questions that I --

QUESTION: Yeah. I have just a couple more. I’m not going to do the extended back and forth just because the format’s difficult, I think, for everyone, and thank you that you’re doing this.

Just – is there any talk about a possibility of extension at this point or is midnight tomorrow, I assume Swiss time, the time it has to be agreed?

MS. HARF: Did everyone know that the Swiss actually had – fell back this week, as well? So we have now lost – leaped forward, excuse me – so we’ve lost two hours of time. I just want everyone to know that – here in Switzerland. We had to do it in the U.S. and here. But we’ve said that March 31st is a deadline; it has to mean something and the decisions don’t get easier after March 31st. And so that’s what we’re focused on right now. If we can’t get to an understanding by tomorrow night, we have to look at the path forward and where we are. We’ll make decisions then. I really don’t want to guess about – I mean, honestly, so much can change in the next 36 hours. I don’t want to guess.

But I would remind people that the JPOA, the conditions of it were extended – at the last extension time until the end of June. So on April 1st it’s not like something happens, right, because it’s already been extended until the end of June in terms of the JPOA and it’s still being enforced. I just want to make that technical point, but obviously we will have to look at where we are and see what it looks like and make decisions.

QUESTION: Okay. And then last one: Do you have any comment on the trips – well, the trip already by the Senate majority leader and the upcoming one by the Speaker of the House to Israel? The timing is a bit curious, perhaps. And are you concerned at all about them speaking against your efforts in a foreign country at the time you may or may not be agreeing to a framework nuclear agreement?

MS. HARF: Well, quite honestly, Brad, we’ve been so busy here at these talks, I haven’t been able to pay too much attention to the details of their congressional delegations and what actually is happening with them. But I would say, obviously, in general we support the concept of congressional delegations. It’s important for members of Congress to get out and see the world and talk to our international partners as well. I think in general the U.S. is strongest overseas when we leave politics at the water’s edge and we speak with one voice, even though we disagree on policy sometimes. But quite honestly, I just – I really haven’t been paying too much attention to it.

Look, we’ve said if we can get an agreement, it’s one we know we can defend publicly. I don’t think it’s any secret what some members of Congress or others feel about these negotiations. That’s certainly nothing new. But what we’re focused on here is the talks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Let’s go to Matt Lee, your esteemed colleague, and then we’ll move away from the Associated Press.

QUESTION: I have a very – my question is very, very short: When are we going home?

MS. HARF: (Inaudible) heard that before, Matt.

QUESTION: That’s it. That’s my only question.

MS. HARF: What did you say? I didn’t hear your question.

QUESTION: When are we going home? (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: I would love to know that answer as much as you would, Matt. We’re going to be here, I think, through tomorrow to see if we can get this done tomorrow, but beyond that, I am being completely honest here: We do not know. I would love (inaudible).

QUESTION: Okay. That’s all I have.

MS. HARF: Great question, Matt. Let’s go to Jo Biddle with AFP.

QUESTION: Hang on a second, I’ve got – where’s the – hello? Can you hear me, or am I on speaker? Can you hear me?

MS. HARF: We can hear you. Speak up a little, Jo.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Marie. I had a couple of questions, quite brief ones. Were you surprised that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov left this afternoon, less than 24 hours after he came? Does that hamper what you’re trying to do going forward?

MS. HARF: Let’s start there. I don’t think so, honestly. The ministers have come as their schedules allowed, and I think his spokesperson said that he can come back tomorrow. So we are pushing forward to see if we can get this done. He was very helpful when he was here. His experts are still here as well, and their political director, Sergei Ryabkov, and they’ve been a key part of this and certainly bring a lot of expertise. So I don’t think people should read too much into that, but he has said he can come back tomorrow, so --

QUESTION: And I had another question. In your calculations as you think about this going forward, is it better for you to stay here and keep negotiating beyond the deadline if you think you can get something in the next couple of days, or is it better for you – the American delegation – to walk away on the 31st of March, bearing in mind, obviously, the political tensions with the Republicans?

MS. HARF: It’s a great question, Jo, and I wish I could answer it. I really think that we just don’t know where we’re going to be at this time tomorrow, quite honestly, and so we will really have to see tactically and strategically what makes the most sense going forward. I think we will know a lot more at this time tomorrow, probably.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Let’s go to Arshad from Reuters. Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: Hi, Marie. There have been a couple of somewhat optimistic public comments lately, one from Foreign Minister Lavrov, who used the word “optimism.” “The main thing that causes optimism is the determination of all ministers to achieve results within the current session,” he said. And --

MS. HARF: I think he also said, “I’m not paid to be optimistic,” as well.

QUESTION: Yes, right, which makes it interesting that he used the word at all.

MS. HARF: It’s because that’s what the reporter said at the spray.

QUESTION: Can I finish? And the Chinese also had a somewhat upbeat assessment about gaps being narrowed. Do you share those assessments, that the gaps are getting smaller and that there’s any reason for optimism here?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think that Foreign Minister Lavrov said he was optimistic, and certainly Secretary Kerry did not either. I think we are working hard. There are some big issues that we are not there yet. So I think it’s always fair to say we narrow gaps on some issues, but if we can’t get those last ones done, we can’t get there.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. HARF: Let’s go to Joy Lin of Fox News.

QUESTION: Hi there. Thanks for taking our question. There’s speculation Iran is maintaining nuclear facilities outside its borders in North Korea or some other location. Can you at least rule out that possibility?

MS. HARF: I’m sorry, you’re asking if Iran has nuclear facilities in North Korea?

QUESTION: Outside its borders, whether – outside its borders. Let’s start there.

MS. HARF: Whether another country would let Iran build a nuclear facility on its soil? That seems like a --

QUESTION: That’s the speculation.

MS. HARF: -- bizarre proposition that I haven’t heard anyone mention.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Seems sort of bizarre. I’m happy to look into it if you have more specifics, but that seems fairly unlikely.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Okay, Mike Lavers of the Washington Blade, go ahead

QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much for your – for organizing this, and congratulations again on your new appointment. I wanted to ask a question about Jamaica, if I could. Last week there were LGBT rights advocates who heckled the Jamaican prime minister in New York over what they perceive is your lack of response to LGBT rights abuses on the island. This was a report that a gay teenager was stoned to death. I’m curious if the Secretary is (a) planning to travel to Jamaica with the President on April 9th to attend the Caribbean Community meeting; and then (b), if he is, is he planning on discussing the LGBT rights with the prime minister while in Jamaica?

MS. HARF: Yeah, it’s a great question, Mike, and thanks for it. At this point, the Secretary is not planning to go with the President. Our schedule is obviously very in flux, as I know you know, and we will be going to Summit of the Americas, which I think is right after the President’s trip. So at this point, no scheduled travel. I can check with our team though and see if (inaudible) in any way or if we have concerns, obviously, which I imagine we may. So let me see more broadly if there’s more specifics we can get you. But in terms of the Secretary, at this point, no plans to travel.

Our next question is from Pam Dockins of Voice of America.

QUESTION: Marie, hi. Thank you so much. I have two questions. First of all, a question about the 31st deadline. There have been some reports that the 31st is really more of a hard deadline for the United States and not so much for the other P5+1 negotiators and Iran; the U.S. is focused on it because of possible congressional reaction. Would you agree with that assessment? And then secondly, do the other negotiators there perhaps not feel as strongly as the U.S. does about reaching some sort of agreement by tomorrow evening?

And then secondly, if I could get your reaction to the creation of this joint Arab military force. This came out of the Arab League meeting, of course, over the weekend, and these are U.S. allies. And in particular, could this perhaps cause strain between the U.S. and Iran at a time when you’re trying to negotiate this nuclear agreement?

MS. HARF: Yes. So taking the first question first – and let me know if I miss anything – the 31st we have said is a deadline. And when we announced the second extension last November with – alongside our P5+1 partners and Iran in that joint statement, all of us said that the goal was to reach a political understanding by the end of March and use the last four – or excuse me, three months to finish the annexes and all the technical work. So all of our partners signed up to the notion that the goal was to have an earlier deadline as really an action-forcing mechanism. We’ve all seen through the way negotiations often play out, many decisions get made towards the end as there is some pressure. And so I think all of us felt like that was a good premise upon which to base the schedule for the negotiations after the last extension.

I think it’s no secret that Congress, our Congress certainly, is interested in acting, and we have obviously said we’re very opposed to that action. That puts sort of an additional pressure on our side. But I do think in general, we and our P5+1 partners agree that the decisions for Iran don’t get easier the more you wait – we’ve all said that, and that now is really the time to make these decisions. We’ve been negotiating since September of 2013 when the Secretary met with Foreign Minister Zarif at UNGA, and it’s sort of time to see whether they can make these decisions. And that’s what we’re focused on, obviously, today. But that being said, we aren’t going to rush to accept a bad deal. And so if we can’t get a good deal, we won’t take one, pure and simple. I think we’ve all been clear about that.

On the joint force, obviously we’ve seen the announcement, are aware of the proposal. I understand the details are still being sort of developed for how this might work. I think the precise structure and operational mandate of the new force will be worked out in the coming months, is my understanding. I think we’ll probably wait to see what shape that takes.

We, as the U.S., obviously have significant security cooperation and support to our partners in the region, so we’re obviously involved separately from this new force with our partners there. And in terms of the talks here, we have been very clear that we need to keep regional issues separate from the nuclear issue and this really has to be focused on the nuclear issue. That issue is a difficult enough one on its own; that’s why we’re focused on that here. And what’s happening in the rest of the region hasn’t impacted those talks.

Okay, Molly O’Toole from Defense One.

QUESTION: Hi. You touched on this briefly, but if I could just kind of follow up. So two parts here. There has been some reporting, particularly with The Wall Street Journal article this morning, that the Administration is expressing some openness to a mechanism by which Congress could weigh in on a deal if an outline is reached. Has there been any shift in that position? I know, obviously, there was the statement that the Kirk-Menendez legislation would be vetoed, but has there been any kind of shift in conversations in recent days with Congress about allowing them to weigh in in some way?

MS. HARF: A couple points. The White House has said the President would veto either the Corker bill or the Kirk-Menendez bill if either are brought to his desk, so that position has in no way changed. We are very clear that Congress should not take action while we’re negotiating. It makes the lives of our negotiators – sorry – it makes the lives our negotiators more difficult, it makes the talks more difficult. And that’s, obviously, I don’t think what Congress wants to do, but that’s what it could have – the results that could come from that kind of action.

QUESTION: So it’s not as if outside of those pieces of legislation another path has emerged over the last few days?

MS. HARF: (Inaudible.) Yeah, so outside of that, obviously – well, first, we have talked to Congress about this issue and consulted with them more than I think any other issue since I’ve been at the State Department, certainly. And if we can get to a comprehensive agreement, then yes, Congress will have a role to play. For starters, they will have a role to play in eventually lifting the sanctions that they put in place that helped get Iran to the table.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: They are the only ones that can lift – ultimately lift, terminate U.S. – the U.S. sanctions that they put in place. And beyond that, we’ll keep talking to them, we’ll keep consulting with them. And I would say that’s a pretty high-class problem if we can get to an agreement.

QUESTION: Right. And --

MS. HARF: So Congress has played a key role in our Iran policy and certainly will continue to.

QUESTION: Sorry, and if I can just follow up with one more – I know I already took a lot of time – regarding – I know you’ve been very adamant that the other issues that are going on in the region, whether it’s Iranian militia’s role in Tikrit or Iran’s role in Yemen, aren’t impacting the talks. But is there any degree to which that is adding pressure to this timeline, given that that could – that that kind of geopolitical pressure in the region could complicate things further if this deadline isn’t reached?

MS. HARF: I really don’t think so. I don’t think it impacts the timeline. I think the fact that Iran, quite candidly, is taking some destabilizing action or supporting people that are in other parts of the region, and the fact that the region is facing a number of challenges right now is one of the main reasons why we actually want to diplomatically prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and that if you can imagine Iran armed with one how much more power they could project in the region and how problematic that would be. So I don’t think it impacts the deadline at all, but I do think that, if anything, it underscores how important it is to resolve this issue and to do so diplomatically.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Justin Fishel from ABC News.

QUESTION: Marie – that’s right. How are you? Anyways, so Marie, what are the consequences of missing the 31st deadline? Aside from threats from Congress, what will happen when – if you miss the deadline, which you appear to be bracing everyone for? You said the JPOA extends through June, so we can expect talks will continue, or what?

MS. HARF: No. Look, I have said adamantly that we have no idea what will happen if we can’t get this done by the 31st. Obviously, we always are planning for contingencies and we will have to have some more policy conversations inside our Administration, look at where we are with Iran, look at where the talks are, and make decisions about what will happen next.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I was simply making the logistical point that unlike the two previous extensions, the JPOA does not automatically expire after the extension because we extended it all the way through June. That’s more of a technical point. It deals with things like sanctions waivers and things like that. Everyone will still be bound by it on April 1st. But in terms of a policy decision, we will have to take a very hard look at where we are and we will have to decide what happens next. And I don’t want to predict what that outcome will be, because I can’t.

QUESTION: For those – okay. For those of us not there, how would you describe the mood of the negotiators? I mean, there seemed to be quite a bit of optimism going into the end of last week. How are these foreign ministers and other high-level negotiators in the room behaving? I mean, do they – is the mood optimistic, or how would you describe it?

MS. HARF: I think the mood is serious. I think that the seriousness of what we’re doing, of the fact that we need to see more decisions from Iran, the fact that the other options we have aren’t great and just aren’t as good from a durability perspective, and those are all, I think, weighing on people. I think people are realistic about the challenges in front of this. I think we still see a path to get a political understanding. I want to be very clear about that. There’s still a path to do this. And there’s – I would probably say 50/50 – I don’t know, I never like putting percentages out there – but there’s a chance we will get it done.

QUESTION: You said 50/50. Are you okay with that? I mean --

MS. HARF: So I think we’re very sober in these conversations, but very committed to seeing if we can find a way to get there. And whether that’s the experts working through different technical pieces that can possibly get everyone to yes, that’s part of it. Whether it’s the political directors or different members of the P5+1 trying to figure out ways to get Iran to yes here while maintaining our bottom line, that’s all happening. So I think it well describe this sort of around-the-clock work – very intense, very focused, very serious. But we don’t yet know the outcome.

QUESTION: Forgive me if Molly asked this question: Did the Iranians bring up the alleged drone strike in Tikrit that they claim killed two --

MS. HARF: She did not ask that question.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: To my knowledge, they did not. I have not heard that they did. I would be surprised if they did, but I have not heard that they did.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: And I know DOD has spoken to that, I think, saying that we can say with certainty that the claims of strikes on March 23rd are untrue because the coalition forces did not initiate airstrikes near Tikrit until two days later. So I know they’ve spoken to it, but just to get that on the record.

QUESTION: If you had to break down in layman’s terms just a few lines, the big sticking points so far, your biggest hurdles, without getting into the painful details, what would you say they are? And that’s my last question, thank you.

MS. HARF: It’s hard to say, because everything is so interconnected. And we can have one or two areas where we just can’t come to agreement and we won’t get an agreement. I think I’ll probably leave it at that. I’m probably not going to get more specific.

QUESTION: Yeah, that wasn’t very specific at all. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: Well, (inaudible) should in no way come as a surprise to you, Justin.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Marie.

MS. HARF: Said, you’re next.

QUESTION: It’s good to hear your voice. We want you to come home as soon as possible. And on that point --

MS. HARF: So do I, Said. So do I.

QUESTION: And so (inaudible) Matt, so come what may, you guys will come back on the 5th of April?

MS. HARF: No, I didn’t say that. I have – we have no idea what our travel schedule is.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I would love to be able to promise that, but unfortunately I can’t.

QUESTION: Okay. And my second question is: Do you think or do you believe that the Iranians are sort of trying to squeeze the last drops, so to speak, at the eleventh hour and maybe at the eleventh hour they are going to agree to whatever needs to be agreed to?

MS. HARF: Look, I don’t want to --

QUESTION: Well, I’m saying that --

MS. HARF: -- (inaudible) negotiating strategy is.

QUESTION: Are they sort of maneuvering to get the – all they want, so to speak, and then agree to whatever everybody else agrees to by the – right before the talks end?

MS. HARF: Well, I think – I do think, Said, that the end of negotiations are often the toughest part, because it’s obviously the toughest issues. If they were easier, they would have probably been addressed earlier in the negotiations. I think that – look, the point of this is to see if we can get to a framework that gives all of us our bottom lines that we need. So we need to get to a year breakout and we need to cut off their four pathways. I don’t know what Iran’s bottom lines are; they can speak to that. But if there is an equation that gets us there, that’s what we’re trying to find. And we don’t know if we will yet. And everyone here is – there’s many conversations going on at all different levels; there’s side conversations, there’s meetings, there’s a lot going on here to try and see if we can get there.

QUESTION: And my last question is – somebody said that the last feet up the summit are the most difficult. What are these points? I mean, since you have been negotiating since 2013, as you said, what are the ones that are really major hurdles, so to speak, just to follow up on Justin’s point?

MS. HARF: Yeah. And I – it’s a valiant effort at following up. Look, we’re not – I’m not going to get into specific details about the sticking points. I think in general, we need to make sure that the combination of nuclear-related activities they are allowed to do under their program assures us that their four pathways are cut off and that they are pushed out to a year breakout time, from about two to three months right now. So what combination that is of centrifuges, stockpile; what type of centrifuges; what sort of all of the different components put together gets you to a year breakout. What kinds of research and development they’re allowed to do – that’s a key part of it as well; that’s a tough issue. And then on the Iranian side, obviously, the pace and timing of sanctions relief – not just U.S., but UN and EU as well. So look, these are all interrelated, and it’s really like moving puzzle pieces around, and we have to see if we can find that right combination, and we’re going to try.

QUESTION: And really finally – and really finally, Marie – now, you said that you encourage congressional leaders to go up and see the world. So you’re all fine – I mean, you’re okay with Mr. Boehner going there at this time and perhaps issuing a statement that may be contrary to your diplomatic efforts?

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly believe in the principle that members of Congress --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: -- should travel overseas and meet with other foreign leaders. That’s something we believe in, obviously. As I said, I haven’t been able to pay too much attention to what’s going on in terms of those co-dels, those congressional delegations, but I think that what we’re focused on here really isn’t the politics of any of this; it’s the technical aspects and the science behind it and seeing if we can get to an agreement.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie.

MS. HARF: You’re welcome. We’ll just do a few more.

Let’s go to Taurean Barnwell from NHK.

QUESTION: Oh hi, Marie. Thank you for doing this in Switzerland at this late hour for us. There’s a lot of talk about deadlines, and there is another deadline coming up tomorrow that I wanted to ask you about, and that’s China’s deadline to become a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. And I just wanted to know if you could provide us any information about if the U.S. has any plans to be a part of this bank, or if there’s any current consultations going on between the U.S. and China about the AIIB.

MS. HARF: Yeah, it’s a really good question. I think our views on the AIIB going forward are going to be informed by its commitments on the standards for governance and environmental and social safeguards that it will adopt and implement. So right now, we’re focusing on meeting our commitments to the existing multilateral development bank. But I think, like the rest of the world probably, the U.S. has a stake in seeing the AIIB complement and work effectively alongside the existing multilateral financial institutions.

So this is something, obviously, we’ll be watching. We welcome new multilateral institutions that strengthen the international financial architecture when they have high standards – the high standards, I think, that the whole world has really built together. So we’ll be watching here and we’ll see. I don’t have anything else to predict, though, for you.

QUESTION: Great. Thank you very much.

MS. HARF: Okay. We’ll do a couple more. Barbara Slavin from Al-Monitor.

QUESTION: Hi, this is a pleasure. I wanted to just ask about --

MS. HARF: It’s fun to do it when you don’t have to be on TV, I can tell you.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask a little bit about the form of an agreement or a framework if one is reached, and in particular on the issue of something like stockpiles. Would it be necessary to actually specify how those stockpiles would be reduced, or is it sufficient for your purposes to simply say that the stockpiles will be reduced through one manner or another to a certain number of kilograms?

MS. HARF: Yeah, it’s a great question, and again, as so many things go with these talks, we really don’t know yet. Obviously, we want to – if we can get to an agreement, we will need to be clear publicly as much as we can about what that looks like. I don’t know what the form of that will take. Obviously, I think the more details that are able to be shared publicly, the better. I think that’s, in general, how we as the negotiating team feel. So we will see. But obviously, I think that we will have to show that we have had agreement or understanding on the major elements that cut off the four pathways and get to a year breakout. So I would imagine you would (inaudible).

QUESTION: And – yeah. And is it fair to say you’re still looking at a – sort of a two-pager, two-three pager?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think we ever – anyone ever confirmed that’s what we were looking at. I think we’re still trying to figure out how we will convey this publicly, to be frank, and we’re talking to our partners and to Iran about that right now. Obviously, we’ll have to share everything with Congress – be very open in closed settings with Congress – but I do think there is a sense here among our team, certainly, and in our conversations with others, that we want to be able to spell out specifically as much as possible publicly as we can.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Okay. I’m going to do one more. Felicia Schwartz of The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION: Hi, Marie. Thanks for doing this. I wanted to see, since the talks are nearing the eleventh hour or are in them, if there’s any readouts of calls between the Secretary and partners in the Gulf or Israel to brief them.

MS. HARF: Let me see. Let me look at my call list here. The Secretary spoke on Saturday with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. I don’t have a complete readout of that call. I imagine it was about Yemen, and the Iran talks as well, I’m guessing. We can see if there’s more to share.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I don’t have any other calls to read out in terms of partners in the region. He did speak with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu last week a couple times as well on – they talk frequently on a range of issues, but I am confident this was one issue that was discussed.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MS. HARF: And we’ll do one last one, and then really, that’s the last question. From the other Matt Lee of Inner City Press, go ahead.

QUESTION: Great. Thanks a lot, Marie. I really appreciate it. I wanted to ask, actually, about Yemen. There’s this report of an IDP camp in northern Yemen called Haradh that was hit, and MSF said that several dozen people were killed by an airstrike. And I wanted – last week, Jeff Rathke said that the U.S. couldn’t corroborate casualties. But does the U.S. have anything to say about the way in which the campaign is being waged and safeguards that should be in place? And do you – is there any – do you see the situation moving closer toward resuming dialogue between Houthis and Hadi, or further away?

MS. HARF: Well, that’s certainly the goal, right, to get on a path back to political dialogue. So even through the military action that we’re supporting, that is the goal. I think it’s a challenge at the moment given the Houthis’ actions, quite frankly, but we’re trying.

I just saw the report before I got on the phone about the IDP camp, so let me look into that and see if there’s more we can share. I just don’t know the facts on it. But in every conflict, we’ve always been clear that all sides should avoid civilian casualties. That’s certainly – I mean, it’s important for us. We’ve called on all sides in conflicts, including here, to take feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians, so that’s obviously important to us. But let me check on the specifics and see if we can anything back to you after the briefing.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks a lot.

MS. HARF: Thanks, guys. It looks like those are our questions. We will stay in touch about tomorrow’s briefing. Depending on what happens here, obviously, I’m happy to do a briefing over the phone, but we’ll just keep in touch given we have really no idea what the next 24 hours are going to look like. So appreciate everyone’s patience and for hopping on the phone today, and with that, the daily briefing is over.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:56 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 16:16

Jeff Rathke
Acting Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 27, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:02 p.m. EDT

MR. RATHKE: All right. Good afternoon, everybody. I have a few things for you at the top, so if you’ll bear with me.

First of all, Secretary Kerry is in Lausanne today, where he continues to meet along with Energy Secretary Moniz, EU Political Director Helga Schmid, and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Dr. Salehi.

Second item: We welcome the decision of the prime minister of Israel to release withheld tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority. This is an important step that will benefit the Palestinian people and help stabilize the situation in the West Bank. We hope that both sides will be able to build on this and work together to lower tensions and find a constructive path forward.

Nigeria: On the eve of the historic elections in Nigeria, the United States reiterates its support for credible electoral processes in Nigeria and renews its calls for all candidates, their supporters, and Nigerian citizens to reject election-related violence and refrain from activities that undermine the democratic process. In the latest example of our support, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield has traveled to Nigeria to lead our official diplomatic observation mission. We commend President Jonathan and General Buhari for their renewed pledge against violence and welcome their signing of a second peace accord ahead of the election.

The next item: Foreign fighter legislation. We applaud our European partners who are improving or introducing new laws to go after foreign fighters, including most recently Montenegro’s criminal code amendments on March 18th, Kosovo’s law signed on March 25th, and Spain’s new reforms passed on March 26th. Also Albania, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Latvia, Macedonia, Portugal, and Serbia – all in one breath – have also signed or implemented new foreign fighter legislation, and it is now illegal throughout the western Balkans, for example, to travel to fight in a foreign conflict or to recruit, organize, and finance the participation of citizens in foreign military formations. These efforts are an important contribution to our broader strategy to mitigate the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, as discussed in February at the ministerial here in Washington.

An internal update: On Wednesday of this week, Secretary Kerry sent a letter to State Department Inspector General Steve Linick requesting that he undertake a review of our efforts to date on improving records management, including the archiving of emails, as well as responding to FOIA and congressional inquiries. Secretary Kerry also asked that the IG make recommendations on how to improve our systems. The Secretary is committed to preserving a complete record of American foreign policy. Doing so is required, but it is also good government.

And in the letter, Secretary Kerry wrote that we must, “adapt our systems and policies to keep pace with changes in technology and the way our personnel work.” He also noted that we are “focused on improving the way we search for and produce documents in response to requests, whether through the Freedom of Information Act, inquiries from Congress, or access to historians and researchers. We’ll be sharing this letter with you later this afternoon. This is an important step in improving how we communicate at the department and in ensuring that we are preserving records, and we are committed to following through on this process.

And then finally, if I might, we have some guests here today. We are pleased to have with us in the briefing room today several Afghan Government spokesmen, including a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah. They are in Washington for follow-on meetings after this week’s successful visit of the Afghan president and CEO to the United States.

And lastly, we welcome as well three guests from the University of Kansas Law School who are here for the Thurgood Marshall Moot Court Competition: Alice Craig, Gretchen Rix, and Emily Barclay. So welcome. My apologies if I jumped the gun. I may have been – come out a little earlier than --

QUESTION: We didn’t get the warning, but that’s not your fault.

MR. RATHKE: Okay, so apologies for that. Anyway, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on the--

MR. RATHKE: By the way, I spoke about these – I don’t know if you heard the first two. One was about Israel tax revenues just in case you --

QUESTION: Okay, I’ll check the transcript. We’ll come back to that. Just on the last thing you raised before you welcomed the guests, the letter --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- the letter that was sent to the IG, that didn’t mention former Secretary Clinton particularly. So I mean, explain – will the IG – has the IG been instructed to actually look at how she handled records and archiving instructions?

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I said, we’ll be releasing the full text of the letter later. We expect that the inspector general will take whatever actions they deem appropriate. This is focused, again, on our systems and policies that are in place and reviewing those in light of changing technology and improving our archiving.

QUESTION: But he’s not --

MR. RATHKE: It’s not --

QUESTION: He’s not instructed --

MR. RATHKE: It’s not specific.

QUESTION: He’s not instructed to look at her particular case of records and management?

MR. RATHKE: Again, this is about the department’s processes. It’s not specific to that.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you have any plans to ask an inspector general to look at that?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything to announce about that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: Again, we’ll share the letter on this. You can see in more detail.

QUESTION: Any update on when those emails are going to be released?

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. I don’t have an update on timing. The process is, as we’ve discussed, we have two tranches, if you will. The first are the documents, the emails that were released to the select committee, and so we're working through those. Those will be made public first on a publicly available website and then the 55,000 pages will be the second tranche, but I don’t have an update on that.

QUESTION: Jeff, when was that letter sent by the Secretary to the IG?

MR. RATHKE: That letter was on Wednesday.

QUESTION: Wednesday. Thanks.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject back to Israel?

MR. RATHKE: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Obviously – I wasn’t here, so you obviously welcomed that move.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Did Netanyahu actually call and advise the U.S. about that move or was it just made? And then how were you informed on that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, look, we’ve been in touch with all the parties. We’ve also been clear from this podium as well as elsewhere in urging the key stakeholders to take steps along these lines. So we’ve been discussing this with the Israelis and the Palestinians, but I’m not going to characterize those conversations further.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. view this as a kind of a way of rebuilding bridges between the two?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we certainly hope that both sides will be able to build on this and work together to lower tensions and find a constructive path forward. That’s certainly our hope, and we think it’s an important step that this will benefit the Palestinian people, it will help stabilize the situation in the West Bank, and therefore we welcome the decision that the prime minister made.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that this transfer will now continue in perpetuity, or this is a one-off transfer to ease the crisis?

MR. RATHKE: Well, as for the particulars of the arrangement and the modalities, we’d refer you to the parties concerned. It was the Prime Minister’s decision. We’d let them speak for the specifics.

QUESTION: You, of course, want it to be in perpetuity, correct?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve said that having a functioning Palestinian authority in place is important. I’m not going to get into the particulars of this detail; but yes, of course, we consider the functioning of the Palestinian Authority to be important for stability in the West Bank.

QUESTION: Do you know how much was transferred?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have the amount. Again, we refer to the Israelis and Palestinians about the specifics.

QUESTION: So just coming back, you’re not prepared to say who informed you if you were informed by – directly or if this is something you’ve seen from news reports?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve been engaging with the Israelis and Palestinians over the last few weeks on this issue. I think I’d leave it at that.

QUESTION: So are you responding to press reports, or do you know this happened?

MR. RATHKE: No, we certainly know it has happened and that’s why we’re welcoming the decision.

QUESTION: But how do you – and how do you know it was –

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve been – as I said, we’ve been in touch with the Israelis and Palestinians.

QUESTION: But it just happened today.

MR. RATHKE: That’s right, and we’ve been in touch with them about it.

QUESTION: Today?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Jeff –

MR. RATHKE: Is this the same topic, Michel? Yeah?

QUESTION: Yeah. So can you --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) been in touch with them today, who made that communication?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have a – the specifics of exactly who communicated the decision to whom, but we’ve been talking to the Israelis and the Palestinians regularly about this.

QUESTION: Yeah, but – all right, fine. I mean, we’re not interested in your regular – like we’ve known that you’ve talked to Israel and Palestine in the last years and decades. They just made an announcement. We want to know how you know about this. So if you had discussions today, that’s interesting, not that you have –

MR. RATHKE: Right. And I think I’ve said –

QUESTION: -- diplomacy with these –

MR. RATHKE: -- we have had discussions with them today. Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, it took a long time. Go on.

MR. RATHKE: Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah. French foreign minister has announced today from New York that France plans to start discussion with partners in the coming weeks on a United Nations Security Council resolution to lay out the parameters for ending the Middle East conflict. And he hoped that partners who were reluctant will not be reluctant anymore, referring to the United States. How will the U.S. deal with any plan regarding the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians and the Security Council? Will you be cooperating with friends and with others?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’re aware of the comments by Foreign Minister Fabius, but I’m not going to speculate about a hypothetical resolution or get ahead of decisions about what we might do at the Security Council.

QUESTION: But in principle, have you changed your stance toward any move at the Security Council?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I think we’ve spoken quite a lot about that in here and elsewhere in recent days. I don’t have anything new to add, and nor to speculate about a possible resolution that might be introduced.

QUESTION: Is there any discussion with the French foreign minister or with France in general about such a resolution?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we continue to talk to key stakeholders, including France, to find a way forward that advances our interest and the interests of others in a two-state solution. But I won’t go beyond that.

QUESTION: And what about specifically on any resolution? Are you in discussion with --

MR. RATHKE: Again, I’m not going to speculate about a possible resolution.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MR. RATHKE: Just a moment. Same?

QUESTION: No. Can we go to Yemen --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- before we go to Turkey? What can you tell us about the level of U.S. assistance at this point in the Saudi-led intervention? I know in the statement it talked about doing thing – has that actually begun, the things you spoke about yesterday?

MR. RATHKE: That has begun. For the details on that, my colleagues from the Defense Department will have more detail to offer. But yes, we are supporting the operations that Saudi Arabia is carrying out. I can – I think some of you may have seen or heard that Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir, met today with Assistant Secretary of State Anne Patterson as part of our regular diplomatic discussions. They discussed, of course, Yemen and other political and security-related issues. I think some of you may have been out there or seen as the ambassador came in.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. supporting a ground invasion by the Arab countries?

MR. RATHKE: Well, there’s been some speculation in some reports about that. I’m not going to speculate about what the Saudi-led coalition might do --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE: -- but we’ve said that we don’t want this to be an open-ended military campaign. The Saudis have said the same, I believe, and so we keep it – we’re going to keep in close contact with Saudi Arabia and our GCC partners on those military actions.

QUESTION: I’ll repeat my question since I didn’t ask you to speculate on anything: Is the U.S. supporting a ground invasion of Yemen by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I’m not going to comment on what their plans might be. We remain in close contact with the Saudis and our Gulf Cooperation Council partners. But I’m not going to comment on that.

QUESTION: I’m not asking – I’m asking on what the U.S. is doing.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. No, I understand. I understand your question.

QUESTION: Are you supporting that?

MR. RATHKE: And I’ve said I’m not going to comment on what their plans might be. I’ve said that we don’t want this to be an open-ended military campaign.

QUESTION: Are you supporting them in – regardless of what they plan to do?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve – again, we’ve supported the steps that they have taken thus far, and our – we see this as an opportunity. The basis for our support is our support for the political process in Yemen. We see a return to the GCC initiative process, of course, with President Hadi as the legitimate president of Yemen, but also with Houthi participation as the goal. And so we see that as the outcome that we’re striving for.

QUESTION: Are you --

MR. RATHKE: Same, on Yemen? Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you in contact with the Houthis?

MR. RATHKE: I think I spoke to this yesterday. I don’t have any direct contacts to read out. In the past we’ve had ways of communicating, but I don’t have any direct contacts to read out.

QUESTION: One more. The Yemenis are complaining that the strikes are targeting the harbors and civilian infrastructures. Do you have anything on this?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve always been clear that in every conflict, all sides should avoid civilian casualties. I don’t – I’m not able to corroborate those reports that you’ve mentioned, but clearly, we think it’s important to act in a targeted way in any kind of military conflict.

Jamie, did you have a question?

QUESTION: Yeah, just – I think it was (inaudible) Egyptian media was reporting that President Hadi has arrived in Egypt for the Arab League summit. I just wanted to see if you have any update on U.S. understanding of where he’s been over these last 24, 48 hours and whether there are any conversations you’re able to read out which happened in the last --

MR. RATHKE: I haven’t seen those reports about his arriving in Egypt, so I don’t – I’m not – be able to confirm that. He was in Riyadh, as we understand, so – but again, I haven’t seen that particular report.

QUESTION: Jeff, can I (inaudible) for a moment?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE: Just a moment. Yeah, go ahead, Nicole.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up on Michel’s question. You say you don’t have any direct contacts to read out between this Department and the Houthis. That’s not the same as not having any direct contact. Could you tell us whether you guys are in direct contact? I’m not asking you to read anything out.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Right, no, I understand. But I think also we talked about this yesterday. We haven’t had any direct contact with the Houthis or with President Saleh. We’ve consistently called on them to return to peaceful dialogue and to return Yemen to a peaceful political transition. I think we spoke at some length yesterday about President Saleh as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Did U.S. request – did any Gulf countries requested for U.S. to make any military support for Yemen operation?

MR. RATHKE: Do you mean beyond what we’ve already announced? I’m not --

QUESTION: Yeah, any request for military support, U.S. military support in --

MR. RATHKE: Well, we put out a statement on this a couple of days ago which covers the areas that we’re – in which we’re supporting. We’re providing support of a logistical nature --

QUESTION: Only logistical?

MR. RATHKE: -- intelligence support, and so forth. Intelligence sharing, targeting assistance, as well as advisory and logistical support.

QUESTION: No, I’m just asking – a military operation. Did you receive any request from any Gulf countries for military support, not logistic?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, our support is of the nature that I just outlined, so I don’t have any further --

QUESTION: So no request you guys are --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to speak to our diplomatic communications with them.

Pam, go ahead.

QUESTION: Has there been any direct contact with President Hadi within the past 24 hours, and if so, can you provide an update on his status and his intentions?

MR. RATHKE: Well, as for his status and intentions, would refer you to him. We have not been in touch with him today. So the last contact we had with him I believe was two days ago. That would have been – yeah, it was Wednesday that we were last in contact with him.

QUESTION: But when you talk about logistical support, what do you mean specifically?

MR. RATHKE: I’d refer you to my colleagues at the Pentagon to give more detail about what logistical support precisely.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: May I? Thank you. So in Iraq, the U.S. is fighting alongside Iran against ISIS. In Yemen, the U.S. is helping the Saudis bomb pro-Iran forces. Now former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine said, “Yes, it is messy, it is contradictory. That’s foreign policy.” Would you agree with that description?

MR. RATHKE: No, no. I think it’s quite clear that in Yemen we’re acting in support of the Saudi authorities with their coalition partners and they are responding to a request from President Hadi, who is the legitimate president of Yemen. So they, of course, are responding to a situation in which the military advance of the Houthis has caused – has been destabilizing and has also led to a situation where there is instability and the threat of chaos in Yemen, and that has – that is also a threat for the wider region. So it’s in response to that that they’ve taken action. I think we – you weren’t here yesterday, but we talked quite a bit about our support in Iraq to the Iraqi central government and their operations to retake Tikrit. So there’s no contradiction between those at all.

Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: Sure, thanks a lot. I have one on Yemen, one on Middle East process. On Yemen, has the U.S. had any contact with Jamal Benomar, the special advisor who’s supposed to be mediating? And how do you think that the – what’s the process from bombing to getting the Houthis back to the table? Is anyone actually reaching out to them?

And just on Middle East peace, I wanted to ask you: What is the status of Tony Blair as the Quartet representative? Does the U.S. think that he should continue in that role? Where do things stand with that?

MR. RATHKE: Right. I think the question of Tony Blair – I think we spoke to that last week, so I’d refer you back to that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: On – I can check and see if we have any contact with Benomar. I don’t have any information in front of me. It’s possible we’ve been in contact; I’d just have to check.

QUESTION: But if you’re calling for these – for talks to resume, what’s the process? Is he still the sort of center point for that, or is there some other process? What should – what’s the next step?

MR. RATHKE: Well, there are a variety of ways through which the Houthis and other groups in Yemen can convey their and express their readiness to return to a political process.

QUESTION: A couple more on Yemen.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any more to read out from Secretary Kerry’s conversation with the Iranian foreign minister about Yemen yesterday?

MR. RATHKE: No, I don’t have any additional detail to share. He – the Secretary raised it at – in one of their meetings yesterday. They had a couple of meetings. So the Secretary raised our concern but the discussion, of course, focused on the nuclear issue.

QUESTION: He raised our concern. What would our concern be in Yemen?

MR. RATHKE: Well, he raised Yemen. I think we’ve talked about what our concerns in Yemen are.

QUESTION: With this – okay. (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE: Again, I’m not trying to add anything to what I said yesterday. The Secretary raised Yemen in one of the conversations.

QUESTION: I got that. Can you just explain why there is no U.S. direct contact with the Houthis? Given that you’re saying the Houthis would have a place at the table in any mediation effort, why would you not speak to them then?

MR. RATHKE: Well, it’s a UN-led mediation effort, so that’s I think the principal reason.

QUESTION: So?

MR. RATHKE: So we’re --

QUESTION: That doesn’t preclude you from having a conversation or talking about things with people if the UN’s involved, does it?

MR. RATHKE: No, it doesn’t preclude it, but it also – but my point is that this is a UN-led dialogue process, so the dialogue process would be conducted through the UN special representative and their staff. I don’t – we don’t have any direct contact at this point with the Houthis.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m asking you why you don’t have any contact with them. I mean, there’s UN-led processes all over the world and you speak to people involved in those processes. Why the decision not to make any direct contact with the Houthis?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve had ways of communicating with them in the past when necessary, but we haven’t changed that and we haven’t had any direct --

QUESTION: You’re not answering the – you don’t want – it’s a secret reason why not? I mean, do you have a reason why not?

MR. RATHKE: No, I don’t have any further information to share about that.

QUESTION: And you just said that you’ve had ways to directly contact them in the past. Can you – do you know when the last time this direct --

MR. RATHKE: I didn’t say “directly.” I said – what I meant is we’ve had ways of communicating indirectly in the past.

QUESTION: Communicate indirectly, okay. And you won’t – you can’t say why?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to outline our --

QUESTION: There’s no principle at stake here or anything U.S. foreign policy?

MR. RATHKE: I’m happy to check and see if there’s more to say about that. I don’t have a --

QUESTION: On Yemen --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- too – from your talks with the Saudis, when do you think this military operation will achieve its goals?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, the Saudis are in the lead. You can ask them. But they’ve said themselves, as I think I referred to, that they want to see this end quickly. But --

QUESTION: But how and what are the goals?

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: If you are supporting them now in this military operation, what goals do you want them to achieve?

MR. RATHKE: I think I spoke to our goals a couple of minutes ago, and that is that the basis for the United States is the political process and a return to that political process. So that’s what we want to see is a return to the GCC initiative, which would include President Hadi as the legitimate president but in which the Houthis also would play a role.

QUESTION: That means the military operations will be there till the Houthis come back to the table?

MR. RATHKE: Well, this is a Saudi-led coalition, so about those details of when – how they see the operation proceeding, I’d refer you to the Saudis.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Staying with Secretary Kerry in Lausanne, I wanted to ask – I’ve heard about Foreign Minister Lavrov flying over on Sunday. I was hoping you could preview the bilateral meeting that supposedly is taking place between Kerry and Lavrov the very same day and tell us what the Secretary is planning to speak about with his Russian counterpart.

MR. RATHKE: Well, the talks in Lausanne are focused on the Iran nuclear issue. I don’t have meetings to announce. The ministers who will be coming to Lausanne will be announcing their schedules as they make those plans, so I’ll let them speak for themselves. And certainly, there will be a variety of bilateral and multilateral meetings that will happen as these talks proceed, but I don’t have a schedule announcement to make about that.

QUESTION: And if I may stay with Russia for a second longer, there is another issue I wanted to ask you about. There is a peacekeeping – UN peacekeeping conference taking place in New York these days, yesterday and tomorrow. Chief of the Russian ground forces, Lieutenant General Oleg Salyukov, was planning to take part in that and speak at that conference. He wasn’t granted visa on time – at least, that’s what the Russians are saying. The Russian mission to the UN is accusing you of violating your obligations under the ‘47 – 1947 agreement on basement of the UN headquarters in New York. I was hoping to hear your response to that.

MR. RATHKE: I wasn’t familiar with those reports or that allegation. We’re happy to look into that and come back to you --

QUESTION: I really appreciate it.

MR. RATHKE: -- but I don’t have anything on that.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just returning to Yemen for a second – you’re calling for a return to peaceful dialogue; obviously that’s the end state that the U.S. is stating right now. But at the same time, doesn’t it seem that by supporting a Saudi bombing campaign that this is really counter to that direction that you’re trying to go to? Does that not make an already desperate, impoverished population more hostile to U.S. interests?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, the situation in Yemen – the – what we’ve seen is the rapid advance of the Houthis into southern Yemen, a military takeover in Aden which forced President Hadi to flee. And so, in that situation, Saudi Arabia has explained the reasons for their decision to take military action in response to President Hadi’s request. And so we certainly – the way we see the situation, the Houthis have had many opportunities. They signed the September 21st Peace and National Partnership Agreement along with a security annex which called for them to withdraw from government institutions, to remove checkpoints and armed groups from the capital, to return seized military equipment. And that’s just one example of the stages where the Houthis have decided to continue an armed campaign and seize control of additional territory rather than abiding by the efforts that were made to try to keep the situation under control.

QUESTION: But how does the U.S. see itself returning diplomatically if it’s currently supporting a campaign to target inside Yemen? How does it see that it’s building a receptive situation for it to return?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I think this is similar to the question that was asked earlier. We want to see a return to the dialogue process. The UN is in the lead, but --

QUESTION: But if you want to, it seems like the U.S. actions currently are counter to that desired goal.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I would say that the Houthis’ actions have been, which came before the Saudi military actions, are the reason that we’ve got this unstable and chaotic situation in Yemen.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. understand perhaps maybe some of the reasons that the Houthis may feel unreasonable – perhaps the ongoing drone campaign inside Yemen, the ongoing shortage of electricity, food, water? I mean, what does the U.S. say to that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, there has been a GCC initiative and a UN-led process to address political issues in Yemen. The United States has supported it, the international community has supported it, the UN Security Council has supported it. So the way to address any concerns the Houthis may have is through that UN-led process, and it’s that which they have spurned and they have taken continued military action, which has brought us to this point.

Yes, Lesley.

QUESTION: Going to back to Michel’s question on – that the U.S. and the Saudis don’t want this to be an open-ended conflict, is it the U.S. view that the situation needs to be stabilized in Yemen before there can be this political process – meaning military stabilized, before the political process can kick in too? I mean, how do you bring the Houthis to the negotiating table?

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, again, there is the GCC initiative and the UN-led process which we need to return to. I think at this point it’s difficult to outline precisely exactly when that will happen, but that is our goal.

QUESTION: And do you have any further readout on the discussion between the Saudi ambassador and Patterson today?

MR. RATHKE: No, and the focus of the discuss was Yemen and our views on Yemen. I think we’ve been talking about, but I don’t have more specifics from the meeting.

QUESTION: Just --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- that you’re talking about a GCC initiative, and this military intervention has been enshrined as a GCC intervention – Saudi-led.

MR. RATHKE: Well, Saudi-led; I would say the participation --

QUESTION: Saudi-led, but five of the six GCC countries signed on to it and it’s got the imprimatur of a GCC operation now. So how do you reconcile a GCC military operation to support GCC talks. I mean, the Houthis don’t have much at stake in that, do they?

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: They’re at war with all these countries that are running the initiative that you’ve talking about.

MR. RATHKE: Well, it’s a GCC initiative, but there is a UN-led process. So it is Benomar who is the special representative who is in charge of the process. The initiative came about as a result of GCC proposals, but the process itself is a UN-led process.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: But you shouldn’t have a bigger say in this operation since you are supporting this military operation?

MR. RATHKE: Saudi Arabia is in the lead and they’ve assembled --

QUESTION: But you are supporting.

MR. RATHKE: -- the coalition and we are providing support, some particular support to them. But it’s a Saudi-led operation.

Yes.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Actually, could I just follow up on Michel and --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Of course, of course.

QUESTION: Apologies. But so you’re just telling Saudi Arabia that you don’t want it to be open-ended? There’s no drawing of lines or deadlines? There’s no --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to characterize publicly the diplomatic discussions we’ve been having with Saudi Arabia about that.

QUESTION: I know. But it does sound like you’re basically giving them a green light to go on for as long as they’d like.

MR. RATHKE: Well, no --

QUESTION: And as Brad point’s out --

MR. RATHKE: -- I wouldn’t take it that way. I’ve said that we --

QUESTION: How should we interpret that? You – telling them that you don’t want it to be open-ended is very different from saying, “This can’t go on very long. This can’t go on for more than a week. This can’t go on if you start destroying civilian infrastructure,” which we already see happening.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It’s coming across as rather --

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve stressed the importance of avoiding civilian casualties, as we would in any military operation. We’re also saying we don’t want this to be an open-ended operation. I – we’ve been – I’m not going to characterize publicly further our diplomatic discussions with the Saudis about it.

QUESTION: Are you asking Saudi to make diplomatic outreaches, even in the course of this campaign? Or I mean, are you pushing them to do more than just not be open-ended?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’ll see if we have more to say from that, but --

QUESTION: You – has there ever been, in recent times, a military campaign that was open-ended? Has anybody gone in and said this war will go on forever potentially? No – I mean, the Saudis, by the very definition of this campaign, they want to restore the legitimate government. When they’ve restored it, it’s done. So I mean, I don’t understand that counsel.

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: I mean, isn’t that obvious that there are no open-ended conflicts, are there?

QUESTION: It doesn’t seem to mean much.

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, it’s – the Saudis are in the lead in this operation. I’d refer you to them for questions about their plans.

QUESTION: But are you suggesting that they are considering this an open-ended conflict?

MR. RATHKE: No. I haven’t said that.

QUESTION: Can --

MR. RATHKE: We – they’ve said they don’t want it to be open-ended. We agree with that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: I’m not putting a time – a specific timeline on it.

Ilhan.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: But that’s like your sole counsel? That what you’re already saying you don’t want to do, don’t do, essentially?

MR. RATHKE: Well, no. It’s – again, we’ve spoken about the civilian casualties, we’ve spoken about the goal that the United States has in Yemen, and I don’t have anything further to add.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Turkish president yesterday talking about the Yemen – he was also talking about the Iranian influence in the region, and he was saying that basically Iran is replacing when the ISIS leaves. Does the U.S. Government also sees Iranian domination as a problem in the region?

MR. RATHKE: Are you speaking about Yemen or are you speaking more generally?

QUESTION: More generally right now, but it was basically – he was talking about Iranian influence in Yemen, and then talk about the regional term.

MR. RATHKE: Well, with – we’ve spoken quite a bit about the – our view of Iran’s role in the region. We have concerns in a number of areas about Iran’s role. We’ve also said that with respect to Yemen, we have concerns about Iranian support for the Houthis. So – but I’m not going to draw a sweeping conclusion of the sort that you posited.

Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: I got couple other questions. Yesterday, Director of the National Intelligence – on Wednesday, Mr. Clapper – at the House committee, he was saying that because of the different ways of approaching the Syrian crisis, there is a tension rising between Turkey and U.S. bilateral relations. Would you be able to comment on this? How this tension is arising at the moment?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I haven’t seen those comments, so I’m not going to – I’m not sure that’s what the Director of National Intelligence intended. We’ve been cooperating for months in the fight against ISIL with Turkey across all the lines of effort. That includes, on the one hand, trying to stop the flow of foreign fighters, includes on the financial side; also includes on the delegitimization of ISIL as well as on train and equip. So we have a productive relationship with Turkey in the fight against ISIL, and we expect it to continue.

QUESTION: There is a letter sent from Congressman Keating’s office to Secretary Kerry, also joined by Ed Royce, Mr. Engel, the ranking members of the House Foreign Relations Committee. It is about establishing a platform. Have you seen the letter, first of all? Do you – establishing a platform between Turkey and U.S. regards to human rights problems and rule of law in Turkey. Have you seen that letter?

MR. RATHKE: Well, yes, we’re aware of the letter, which I think is dated today --

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: -- from a – from several members of Congress.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RATHKE: As we’ve – you’ve asked about other letters from Congress in recent days. And we’ve made clear, first, that we will, of course, be responding to the letter. But more generally, as we’ve said in the past, we remain concerned about freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly in Turkey and so we have raised those concerns in addition to questions about due process.

QUESTION: There is a specific resolution or – asking State Department establish this permanent platform between Turkey and U.S. Would you join or would you agree with this idea?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we just received the letter today.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: We’re going to look at it and we will, of course, be responding to it.

QUESTION: And my final question: Have you seen the security bill that passed the Turkish parliament just yesterday? It is criticized by human rights groups across the world that it is very damaging to Turkish democracy, and it gives these new powers to police. Do you have a comment? Have you seen that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve – we’re aware of the Turkish security legislation. We’ve – as we’ve said, we believe curbs on freedom of assembly weaken rather than strengthen democratic societies. And we share the concerns raised by civil society actors and others about Turkey’s security legislation, that it would reduce space for diverse points of view. And we will continue to discuss with Turkish Government officials the importance of taking steps to safeguard due process as well as renew confidence that legal changes will not erode fundamental freedoms.

QUESTION: So that --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- legislation just passed, and that was the comment of yours before the legislation passed, I think. Now that it’s passed, and how do you see from yesterday to today the change in the democratic standards in Turkey?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to comment in that way. What I’ve said is our point of view on the situation in Turkey and on this legislation, and we will continue to discuss with Turkish officials the importance of safeguarding due process.

Brad, did you have a question? Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, just staying in Europe --

MR. RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: -- have you had any conversations, the United States and Italy, regarding the looming decision in the Amanda Knox trial?

MR. RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of. There is an Italian legal process underway, so that’s where the situation resides.

QUESTION: Would any – has there been any discussion regarding extradition if that were demanded by the Italians?

MR. RATHKE: No, we haven’t had any discussions of that kind.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Nigeria elections.

MR. RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: It’s tomorrow. We know that the assistant secretary’s – Thomas-Greenfield’s going to or left for Nigeria.

MR. RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: There’s been a lot of warnings for calm, including from President Obama. What is your – what is her role going to be in the election? Is she going to be prepared to make a judgment if it was free, fair, and that everything remains calm?

There’s also discussions that she’s going to meet some high-level officials. Do we know who those are?

MR. RATHKE: Right. So I think you may have missed this bit at the start, so I’ll just mention it --

QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry.

MR. RATHKE: No, no, no, I didn’t get into all those details, so I’ll come to that.

QUESTION: Oh, good. All right.

MR. RATHKE: Let me just say we certainly commend President Jonathan and General Buhari for their renewed pledges against violence. They also signed a peace accord ahead of the election, which we also welcome. You’re familiar with President Obama’s message from earlier in the week, of course.

Now with respect to Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield, her visit is a show of our direct support for a credible and peaceful electoral process in Nigeria. We’ve been calling on all candidates to reject violence and refrain from activities. This is also something that we’ve done in the past. Previous assistant secretaries – her predecessor in particular, Johnnie Carson, led an official observation delegation to Nigeria in 2011. And in this case, the assistant secretary has been accredited as an official election observer by the Government of Nigeria.

Now it’s not the United States alone that is observing the elections. Also the European Union, the African Union, ECOWAS, and the Commonwealth, as well as some other international observation teams are there. I don’t have more detail about where specifically she will be, but they’re there to observe. And so we’ll let the elections proceed, and they, along with the other international presence, will be observing.

QUESTION: And is her discussions with officials going to include Goodluck Jonathan, or --

MR. RATHKE: I --

QUESTION: Is it going to be with election officials? It wasn’t clear.

MR. RATHKE: Well – right, I understand the question. We will check and see if we have more on her schedule. I’m not aware of meetings with senior politicians, but we’ll check and come back to you if there are any.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: Same topic?

QUESTION: No, Syria.

MR. RATHKE: Pam.

QUESTION: Different topic.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Pam, I don’t think you’ve had one yet, so why don’t we go there and come back forward? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Cuba. There’re reports that next week there’s going to be a human rights dialogue meeting between the U.S. and Cuba led by Under Secretary Malinowski. Can you provide details on that? And also, are there going to be any public events related to this?

MR. RATHKE: Right. So there will be a planning meeting with the Cuban Government next week – that’ll be on March 31st – taking place here in Washington. And the purpose of that meeting is to discuss the structure and the methodology of future human rights talks. On the United States side, the leader will be Assistant Secretary Tom Malinowski, and we’ll wait to see the outcome of those talks. I’m not aware of a media component to them. We can check and let you know if there’s any --

QUESTION: Is it (inaudible) or is it --

MR. RATHKE: March 31st.

QUESTION: Just – okay.

MR. RATHKE: March 31st. Again, these are – this is a planning meeting to discuss the structure of future human rights talks.

QUESTION: What does that – I mean – sorry, I didn’t get a PhD in literary – what does “methodology of talks” mean? Can you break that down into something I understand, at least?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I – the way this – the way I would take it is this is a meeting to discuss how we’re going to structure what we’re going to talk about in our human rights dialogue. So it is getting the human rights dialogue underway.

QUESTION: So what does “structure” mean? Like what the --

MR. RATHKE: I imagine that would be the composition of delegations and topics to discuss.

QUESTION: Who’s going to be there and what they’re going to talk about?

MR. RATHKE: I would imagine. I’m happy to see if there’s something additional.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: And so --

MR. RATHKE: But this is – the human rights dialogue has been one of the areas that we’ve agreed with Cuba that we will be discussing, so this is getting that process moving. We had the discussions about information technology and communications, which happened this week. So this is another element in moving forward our dialogue with Cuba.

QUESTION: I was going to say, how does this fit into restoring of diplomatic ties? Is it somehow tied to that? Can you really have that discussion before there’s even a deal?

MR. RATHKE: Well, yes, we can.

QUESTION: A deal, yeah.

MR. RATHKE: And so this is all part of the same policy. But the question of reestablishing diplomatic relations and opening embassies is moving in parallel with these other dialogues. So we’ve had the dialogue on internet and communications. We have the human rights dialogue. But we’ve also had one – we’ve had migration talks. So these are all components in our policy as we move forward, but they don’t depend on the conclusion of the talks on reestablishing relations or reopening embassies.

QUESTION: And is the meeting here at State?

MR. RATHKE: It’s in Washington. I’ll have to check and see if it’s at State. I don’t know that detail.

QUESTION: What is the – is there any update on removing Cuba from the terrorism list?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any update on the deadline. Again, we’re – there’s a six-month process that the President announced. We’re working on that. I don’t have a new deadline.

Yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you clarify something on that? The plan, at least as you announced it a bit earlier, was to have the embassies reopen before the next Summit of the Americas.

MR. RATHKE: No, that’s – that was not the plan. But go ahead. What’s your question?

QUESTION: Okay, my question was – and I would appreciate if you can clarify that --

QUESTION: Your stated it on the record.

QUESTION: Does that mean – is restoring bilateral diplomatic relations means only that – reopening the embassies? Or does that entail anything more than that?

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: It’s pretty technical. I apologize.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think Assistant Secretary Jacobson has talked about the details, but we’re going to reestablish diplomatic relations. This is – this goes hand in hand with reopening embassies. Of course, reestablishing diplomatic relations is more than simply having an embassy; it is an ability for us to engage with the Cuban people and we’ve been talking with Cuba about reaching an understanding that allows that to go forward.

QUESTION: On Syria?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: Sorry, I just have one more on that.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is there a new date for the fully-fledged negotiations?

MR. RATHKE: No, we don’t have a new date to announce today.

Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah. In an interview with CBS, President Assad said that he would be open to a dialogue with the United States but that it must be based on mutual respect. Are you ready or are you open to a such dialogue with President Assad?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think we should be clear. As the President has said, as Secretary Kerry has said, Assad has lost his legitimacy. I think the brutality of his regime toward the Syrian people, which has aided and abetted the rise of violent extremists such as ISIL, is clear. And we’ve said for a long time that Assad and his close associates with blood on their hands cannot be part of a political solution. President Assad could stop the conflict in Syria right now by demonstrating a willingness for his regime to engage in meaningful dialogue with the opposition that would lead to a genuine political solution, consistent with the Geneva communique. He has the ability to stop the torture, the systematic murder, sexual violence, detainment, barrel bombings, airstrikes, and chlorine attacks. He could stop rejecting the calls of his people for reform and freedom and dignity. So I think that it’s quite clear what needs to happen for progress in Syria.

QUESTION: How can we translate that, that you’re not open for such dialogue or you are open?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, we’ve said that we need to get back to the negotiations consistent with the Geneva communique. But I think it’s important to respond to the suggestion from President Assad that somehow he’s not responsible for the situation when, in fact, the situation in Syria stems precisely from his actions and his choices.

QUESTION: Assad can --

QUESTION: But it’s getting confusing on this because he was answering a question regarding Secretary Kerry’s comment on the dialogue with the Syrian regime and President Assad. And that’s why he said that he’s open to a dialogue with the United States.

MR. RATHKE: Right. Well --

QUESTION: Are you ready for a dialogue with him or not?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, as we talked about last week, there is a need to return to a diplomatic solution consistent with the Geneva communique principles. Of course, there would be a need for representatives of the Assad regime to be part of that process, but we’ve seen no indication of any readiness on the part of the regime to engage consistent with those principles.

QUESTION: He’s insisting on mutual respect. Do you respect President Assad?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I think our views on President Assad are pretty clear. And there is a path that he could take forward consistent with the Geneva communique principles, and that’s what’s needed. And I don’t think there was anything in that interview that indicated acceptance of the Geneva communique principles.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) statement in that comment? Sorry. And maybe it’s just old boilerplate, but is – do you really believe that Assad can stop this conflict right now? I mean, if he were to, whatever, disband his army or whatever, how would that solve the Islamic State?

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: The conflict’s moved beyond just him at this point. Is that not true?

MR. RATHKE: Well, certainly the conflict has become worse because of Assad, but it is in President Assad’s hands to move forward if he wants to, and there’s no indication that he desires a meaningful dialogue with the opposition that would lead to a genuine political solution.

QUESTION: That’s true, but do you believe it’s in his capacity to end the conflict right now with everyone, including the Islamic State?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think his role is the essential part of the rise of the Islamic State, and as well as the repression of the Syrian population.

Yes, Nicole.

QUESTION: Yeah, but if he says I’m no longer going to launch any military operations, how would that uproot the Islamic State from the areas that it controls at this point?

MR. RATHKE: Well, look, that’s --

QUESTION: I mean, you said he has the power to end this conflict right now, and that’s why I ask.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm, right. The conflict stopping – that is, there’s military violence and then there is ending the conflict. I’m not suggesting that within 24 hours upon his word everything would be fine in Syria, but his role is fundamental to the situation that has arisen in Syria. And so therefore he has the ability to make decisions that would return to a political dialogue process. Would that resolve – would that erase the difficulties in Syria overnight? Of course not. But it would be – it is essential for moving forward.

Nicole.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask about Tikrit --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- and whether you have any comment in general, especially about the militias putting down their arms, but also if you have any contacts between the Department and Iraqi officials to read out about what’s going on there.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Your first question, you were – can you be more specific? You said about militias? What particular --

QUESTION: I apologize for not being here yesterday.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. No, but --

QUESTION: I don’t know if you commented on some militias who have stopped fighting basically to protest U.S. involvement, U.S. --

MR. RATHKE: Okay, all right. So maybe take the second one first. The United States is taking action in support of the Iraqi central government in their operations to retake Tikrit. And so we are destroying ISIL strongholds through precision strikes – again, taking every step to protect innocent Iraqis and minimize damage to infrastructure. And we are coordinating with the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi Security Forces through our joint operations center.

I don’t have new meetings to read out from our announcement of our actions in support of the Iraqi operations. But we remain in close contact with President Hadi and the command of the Iraqi Security Forces and we will continue to do so because --

QUESTION: Abadi.

QUESTION: Abadi.

MR. RATHKE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Abadi. Hadi, the --

MR. RATHKE: Oh, I’m sorry. President – we’ve talked so much about Yemen today. Yes, sorry. Prime Minister Abadi and the leadership of the Iraqi Security Forces. We consider it important that this be in support of Iraqi Security Forces and forces acting under Iraqi command and control.

QUESTION: And Tikrit --

MR. RATHKE: Now with respect to the other question. Now, there have been reports of some militias expressing unhappiness that the Iraqi Government and the United States are cooperating. We talked a little bit yesterday about the so-called Popular Mobilization Forces, which the Iraqi Government has organized – into which the Iraqi Government has organized volunteers. These volunteers, both Shia and Sunni, who have been called on to help protect Iraq’s sovereignty – I think it’s important to distinguish between those forces broadly, which are composed mainly of Iraqi nationalists who have volunteered, and some elements within those forces such as Khattab Hizballah, and Asaib al-Haq, which are more problematic because they don’t answer to an Iraqi chain of command. So those – some forces have been expressing their concerns. We’ve said all along that Iraqi forces, as the prime minister and as Ayatollah Sistani have called for, that they should work under a unified Iraqi command.

QUESTION: Pardon me. On Syria, on Syria --

QUESTION: Well, keeping the --

MR. RATHKE: Wait just a moment. We’re talking – we’ll – one more about Tikrit and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you already spoke about this, but do you think that reportedly Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani’s presence in Tikrit and in that operation is helpful or hurtful for the Tikrit issue?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any update on him in particular. We are coordinating with the Iraqi central government and with the Iraqi Security Forces. That’s whom we’re working with.

QUESTION: So you couldn’t confirm that he is in Tikrit, around Tikrit? There are many pictures are coming out of --

MR. RATHKE: I’m not – I’m not commenting on his whereabouts. I’m not in a position to comment on his whereabouts.

QUESTION: You said – you said Assad can stop the conflict right now. Those were your words.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Really? With ISIS and all, can he?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I think you may have heard my discussion with Brad about the same topic.

QUESTION: But the way you explained it was different from what you said. And the word “right now” means right now, right? Or what else does it mean?

MR. RATHKE: I think we’ve talked about this in quite a bit of detail.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: But let’s – one more question. Even if he leaves office, do you think the conflict is going to stop in Syria?

MR. RATHKE: Look, what I’ve said is that there needs to be a political dialogue process consistent with the Geneva principles. That’s what the international community supports and that’s precisely what President Assad has refused to engage in.

Matt.

QUESTION: Did the conflict in Libya stop when --

MR. RATHKE: I’m sorry, we’re going to move on. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sure. It’s something a little different. I wanted to ask you about in Maldives the former defense minister has just been sentenced to 11 years. And I know the State Department has expressed some concern about former President Nasheed’s trial. There’s also a situation in which migrant workers there are being told if they demonstrate about their rights they’ll be deported. So I’m wondering, is the State Department monitoring this? Do you have any comment on developments in the Maldives?

MR. RATHKE: Certainly, we are. I don’t have a comment in front of me. We’re happy to look into that and come back to you. Jamie.

QUESTION: Just circling back to Turkey real quickly, there were Turkish media reports that Turkish and American officials had come to some sort of agreement to allow armed drones to be based at Incirlik to be used against the Islamic State. Do you have anything on those reports?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to comment on any operational issues from here.

QUESTION: Can I have one more Turkey?

MR. RATHKE: Just a moment. No, just a moment. Your colleague here hasn’t had a question today.

QUESTION: On Somalia?

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any response to reports of an al-Shabaab attack on a hotel in Mogadishu?

MR. RATHKE: Right. We’re aware of reports of an attack today carried out by al-Shabaab on a hotel. We strongly condemn this terrorist attack. We extend our condolences to the family and loved ones of those who may be affected. We continue to support the Somali people and their government. I don’t have further updates beyond that.

QUESTION: Just yesterday, Turkish foreign minister said that there’s a delay on the U.S. side about the train and equip program. Do you have an update on that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, the timing of the – it’s a DOD program, so any questions about the timing of that program I would refer you to my colleagues at the Pentagon. But my understanding of the foreign minister’s comments, he referred to it as minor and said that everything is fine politically and technically from Turkey’s perspective. So I think for the details on that I’d refer you over to the Pentagon.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, a quick one on Japan. Do you have a readout of the meeting between Deputy Secretary Blinken and Japanese LDP Vice President Komura from this morning?

MR. RATHKE: Yes. Yes, I do. Deputy Secretary Blinken met with the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party Vice President Masahiko Komura on March 27th. They discussed the full range of bilateral, regional, and global issues that reflect the strong partnership that we have between the United States and Japan. So that was the meeting that happened this morning with the Deputy Secretary.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I have a question on China.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: There was a nongovernmental organization’s headquarters --

MR. RATHKE: Oh, right.

QUESTION: -- I think it’s Yinren or – I don’t – excuse the pronunciation.

MR. RATHKE: Right. We are concerned about reports that Chinese authorities have raided the offices of the Beijing Yirenping Center. The Yirenping Center is a human rights NGO that fights discrimination against people with HIV, hepatitis, and physical disabilities. They are an important civil society organization in China that gives a voice to marginalized groups, and we remain concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in China, including the numerous arrests, detentions, enforced disappearances of human rights activists and others who peacefully question official policies and actions.

QUESTION: I think one of the things that members of this organization wanted to do was stick stickers on buses as part of an anti-sexual harassment campaign.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is that something you would think – you would see as particularly subversive or criminal in nature?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t know the details of how they carried out their campaigns, but again, we see them as an important organization that plays an important role.

QUESTION: I have one last one –

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- on – and this you might not know. Did the Secretary get in touch with Senator Harry Reid since his announcement that he’ll be retiring in a couple years, being that they worked closely together for so many years?

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. I understand – yeah, I understand the question. I think that announcement was – came out just this morning, so I’ll check and see if –

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: -- they’ve been in touch and we’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:02 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 26, 2015

Thu, 03/26/2015 - 17:23

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 26, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

12:56 p.m. EDT

MR. RATHKE:  So I just have one thing to mention at the start.  As you all know, Secretary Kerry is traveling in Lausanne, Switzerland.  He is accompanied by the U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz; also Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman; NSC Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, and the Gulf States Rob Malley; Chief of Staff Jon Finer; and Marie Harf, Deputy Spokesperson.  Secretary Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif one-on-one, as well as with Secretary Moniz and Dr. Saleh on the Iranian side; and from the EU side, Helga Schmid is there representing them.  So that’s my only update at the start. 

Brad, I’ll turn it over to you.

QUESTION:  Can we start with Yemen?

MR. RATHKE:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Can you explain what’s changed in the last 24 hours for U.S. policy?  I think yesterday you were still talking about the dialogue efforts and mediation approaches, and now the U.S. is supporting what by all accounts is an active military intervention by Saudi Arabia and others.

MR. RATHKE:  Sure.  Well, let me just, for those who haven’t seen it, you’ve – there was an announcement last night by the Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel Jubeir – announcement from Saudi Arabia that Saudi Arabia and GCC states and others undertook military action to defend Saudi Arabia’s border and to protect Yemen’s legitimate government, and they’re taking this action at the request of Yemini President Hadi. 

Now, I’ll come to your question in one second, but one additional bit of information that is probably of interest – Secretary Kerry spoke by conference call this morning with the GCC foreign ministers about the situation in Yemen.  He commended the work of the coalition taking military action against the Houthis, and noted the United States support for those coalition efforts, including intelligence sharing, targeting assistance, and advisory and logistical support for strikes against Houthi targets.  The ministers all expressed their support for political negotiations as the best way to resolve the crisis, but they also noted that it is the Houthis who have instead waged a military campaign.  And they all agreed to stay in close contact going forward.

So that’s a somewhat roundabout way of coming to you question, but I think, Brad, the – we still believe that there is no purely military solution to the situation in Yemen.  And we, along with the GCC ministers whom the Secretary spoke to today, support political negotiations as the best way to resolve the crisis.  However, we also understand the Saudis’ concerns, especially given the Houthis’ failure to engage meaningfully in the political dialogue process.  And so in that regard, we understand and we support the action that they’ve taken.

QUESTION:  So what changed that led you to announce last night that you were supporting this military campaign?  Was it the rapid advance of the Houthis that led you to reassess?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, this was – this is a Saudi-led and Saudi-organized coalition.  So as far as the reasoning behind the particular timing on their side, we would refer you to them and to their partners.  But we’ve certainly been in discussions with our Saudi partners over recent days.  We’re well aware of their concerns.  And so when they reached the point that they decided to take this action, in our consultations with them, we decided to be supportive in the ways that we’ve outlined – through some logistical and intelligence support and so forth.

QUESTION:  So essentially you were waiting for them to make the move, and then you would support it?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, this is a decision that they’ve taken and the Saudis are in the lead.

QUESTION:  That’s fine.

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And then you said there is no purely military solution, but I guess now you believe there are at least military tactics that could lead to a non-military solution?  I mean, obviously you wouldn’t be supporting this if you thought it wouldn’t help get to the solution you want, right?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, our goal is political negotiations, as we’ve – as we and the international community and the UN Security Council have been supporting and trying to promote for quite some time.

QUESTION:  You feel this military action will lead you closer to these political negotiations?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, we would refer you back to the statement that the Saudis have made.  They have their own concerns about security --

QUESTION:  I’m not asking --

MR. RATHKE:  -- on their border, as well as the situation inside Yemen.

QUESTION:  That’s fine.

MR. RATHKE:  So we’re hopeful that it will lead to that.

QUESTION:  That’s not a question for the Saudis.  You have a stated goal in Yemen, and now you have a policy that you’re supporting a military intervention.  Do you feel this military intervention will achieve your stated goal, and if – or at least help toward that?  And if you don’t, that’s – raises questions.

MR. RATHKE:  Well, again, we understand the Saudis’ concerns.  We understand the threat that they perceive on their border to which they are responding.  So – and we’re supportive of their efforts to address that.  Our ultimate goal remains a political negotiation process.

QUESTION:  And just one last time:  So you can’t say that you think this will help in any way to achieve your ultimate goal?

MR. RATHKE:  Well --

QUESTION:  Which would beg the question:  Why are you then supporting it?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I’m not going to – I can’t predict what the response is going to be --

QUESTION:  I’m not asking you to predict.  I’m just --

MR. RATHKE:  -- to the Saudis’ actions.  But yes, we see this as consistent with our goal.  We wish that there were a political negotiation – a meaningful political negotiation process happening now, but the Houthis have not engaged in one.

QUESTION:  Jeff, isn’t the fact that you are supporting this military action – that you are really taking sides in this fight?  I mean, you no longer, at least on practical – just to follow on Brad’s question --

MR. RATHKE:  Right.

QUESTION:  -- you’re not following that the best solution is a political solution.  In fact, you are taking sides, or your allies are taking sides, in basically a sectarian civil war.

MR. RATHKE:  Well, no.  We’ve said all along that President Hadi remains the legitimate authority in Yemen and so don’t see that as having changed.

QUESTION:  Now, do you believe that Saudi Arabia borders were threatened?  Do you believe that the Houthis were actually on their way to the Saudi border and therefore this is a defensive action and not an offensive action?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, again, I think the Saudis have spoken to the concerns they’ve had about threatening activity by the Houthis, and we understand those concerns.

QUESTION:  Yeah, but the statement coming out of Washington is very strong in support of the Saudi and the Gulf – the GCC and Jordan – countries.  I mean, we can see almost an entrenchment of Sunni countries waging a war against what are perceived to be a Shia militia in Yemen.

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I’m sorry, what’s your question?

QUESTION:  My question is that you are taking sides in this civil war that is basically between Sunnis and Shias.

MR. RATHKE:  Again, we – there has been a – there have been efforts at dialogue for a long time.  We support President Hadi, who – indeed, who came into office as a result of a dialogue process that was supported by the international community.  And the Houthis have been trying to seize power by force, and it’s that and the threats the Saudis have perceived that they have – has led them to respond.

Justin, your question.

QUESTION:  Sorry, didn’t mean to step on you there.

MR. RATHKE:  No, that’s okay.

QUESTION:  Is he in Riyadh today?

MR. RATHKE:  Who?

QUESTION:  Hadi.

MR. RATHKE:  I don’t have an update on his whereabouts.  We understand he’s outside the country, but I don’t have any specifics to offer about his precise whereabouts.

QUESTION:  Has anyone spoken to him since yesterday?

MR. RATHKE:  We don’t have any new contact to readout.  Of course, we remain in contact broadly, but not – we don’t have any contact to read out with Hadi.

QUESTION:  Yesterday Jen said that she would seek a fuller readout of that conversation, including – I think one of the questions were who spoke with him, what did they speak about.  Do you have anything on that?

MR. RATHKE:  I don’t have that detail.  I apologize.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MR. RATHKE:  We’ll get that.

QUESTION:  Is this an issue about his safety, or is it that you just don’t know?  What’s the deal?  Like, why can’t we say he’s – it’s being reported that he’s in Riyadh.  What’s the problem with just sort of revealing that?

MR. RATHKE:  Mm-hmm.  Well, again, we’re aware there are reports out there.  We don’t – we’re not able to confirm those reports, so I’m not going to give information that I’m not certain of.

Yeah.

QUESTION:  And then just to go back to Said’s question, this notion that the Saudi borders were in danger or the Saudis were concerned about destabilizing activity on its border – I mean, it seemed to me the Houthis have been in the north of Yemen for hundreds of years, and they are moving south now.  So how does that necessarily threaten the border on the north with – I mean, the Houthis have always been on their border, and their action has been to push southward.

MR. RATHKE:  Well --

QUESTION:  So if you look at a map, it’s hard to understand that.  Maybe you can explain.

MR. RATHKE:  Well, there have been reports as well about Houthi military activity in the region of the border.  I’m not in a position to confirm that, but simply to highlight that while, yes, the Houthis have been in the north, I think it’s relevant that there are also reports of military activity near the border with Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION:  That’s inside Yemen.

MR. RATHKE:  Mm-hmm.  Yes.

QUESTION:  So what – how does that necessarily compel a Saudi Arabian military response?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, as to the tactical considerations on the ground, again, refer you to the Saudis for more detail.  But the reports of Houthi military activity near the border with Saudi Arabia – there have also been reports of possible rocket fire into Saudi Arabia.  I’m not in a position to confirm those, but those are certainly relevant factors that I think our Saudi partners have been responding to.

QUESTION:  They’re only relevant if they’re true, and if you’re not confirming them, what – I mean, then they might not be true.  If – obviously, if they’re untrue it’s not relevant, correct?

MR. RATHKE:  Right.  Yes, naturally.

QUESTION:  All right.

MR. RATHKE:  I don’t have the detail to --

QUESTION:  Okay.

MR. RATHKE:  -- affirm on behalf of the U.S. Government each of those reports.

Yes, go ahead, Jamie.

QUESTION:  Just to follow up, the justification of the U.S. support for this operation in Yemen:  We’re not in open conflict with the Houthis, and there’s coups or governments are deposed from time to time around the world.  I’m just curious about this specific situation in Yemen, the reason that we are supporting this mission.  What is it about this situation in Yemen that is driving the United States to support the actions of the Saudis and --

MR. RATHKE:  Well, we have a close partnership with the Saudis, with other countries in the GCC, and clearly this is a situation that they view with concern.  It’s also a situation that the United States views with concern.  Clearly, as all of you know, I think, there are extremist groups that have designs on attacking the West.  I think this is something that Josh Earnest spoke to this morning.  And there is certainly the possibility that groups could try to take advantage of chaos in order to advance their goals.  So this is also something that has relevance for us in addition to for our partners.

Justin.

QUESTION:  Forgive me if this was already asked, but – or mentioned at the briefing yesterday from the ambassador, but was this decision made in consultation with the U.S. ahead of time?  Or was this – I mean, you weren’t first learning about this yesterday, right?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, we’ve been in discussions with the Saudis.  They’ve made clear their concerns.  The decision to take military action was a Saudi decision.

QUESTION:  And have there been cross-border attacks by – to Brad’s question, have there been cross-border by the Houthis in Saudi Arabia from Yemen?

MR. RATHKE:  Again, I’m not in a position to confirm that.  I’m simply saying that there have been reports of that.

Elliot, go ahead.

QUESTION:  You have seen reports that Saudi Arabia and Egypt are planning to launch a ground invasion into Yemen.  Is that a step that you would support?

MR. RATHKE:  I’m not familiar with those reports, so I don’t have a direct comment on them.  Again, I think the goal of restoring the legitimate authorities in Yemen is what the Saudis and their partners have outlined.  We’re providing logistical and intelligence support to the actions they’ve taken.  I’m not going to speculate about further future actions.

QUESTION:  Is it fair to say that you’re not drawing a line as to what actions you wouldn’t support in order to achieve that goal?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, again, this is a situation that, as far as the action, has begun only over the last less than 24 hours.  So we remain in contact with our GCC partners, and that was a key element of the Secretary’s conversation with his counterparts, is that we remain in close contact.  So I’m not going to read out every detail of those diplomatic discussions.

QUESTION:  Jeff?

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  You’re aware that there’s a task force on its way now, I mean, steaming towards Aden as we speak, with probably 5,000 troops, Egyptian and other troops going into Yemen.  Would you support that effort, just to follow up on (inaudible)?

MR. RATHKE:  Again, I’m not in a position to confirm those reports, so I appreciate the observation from your part but I don’t have a response to it.

QUESTION:  Okay.  There is also reports that the Houthis were able to take – to capture some documents and intelligence material and so on, left behind by the Americans.  Can you share anything with us on that?

MR. RATHKE:  No, I don’t have any comment on any intelligence-related matters from this podium.

Same topic, Lalit?

QUESTION:  Yes.

MR. RATHKE:  Yes.

QUESTION:  There are reports that Saudis have requested several other Islamic countries, including Pakistan, to join them in the effort against Yemen.  Do you support their move?  Also other countries --

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I’ll let the countries – I’ll let those countries speak for themselves.  We’re certainly aware of the coalition that the Saudis have put together, and I think our support for the Saudis and the coalition has been clear ever since the statement last night.

QUESTION:  Would you support other countries joining the coalition?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, yes, we – again, the Saudis have organized the coalition, so we let them and the coalition members speak to their participation.  But of course, we’re supporting the overall effort.

QUESTION:  Jeff?

QUESTION:  The timeline of the statement --

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  -- that was issued by the White House, it says that they “will undertake” – I mean, that’s what the statement said, as if it came before the military action was taken.

MR. RATHKE:  No, it didn’t.  It came – well, it came --

QUESTION:  It says “will undertake.”

MR. RATHKE:  It came after the announcement by Saudi authorities.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) before.

MR. RATHKE:  So I don’t think there’s any question about the chronology.

Any questions on this?  Yeah, same topic? 

QUESTION:  A couple more on Yemen.

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah, go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION:  Did this come up in – on the sidelines of the Iran talks today?

MR. RATHKE:  So the Secretary had, as I mentioned at the start – Secretary Kerry and Secretary Moniz met with their Iranian counterparts.  And then following that meeting, the Secretary met one on one with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif.  Secretary Kerry did briefly raise Yemen with his Iranian counterpart, but let me stress this was not and is not the focus of the talks.  The focus remains squarely on our and the international community’s concern over the Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION:  Fair enough.  Can you give us just a sense of – the gist of the Secretary’s brief intervention on Yemen – oral intervention on Yemen, if you will?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I’m not going to get into details about it.  He raised it briefly, but I’m not going to characterize it further.  That was – his conversation with the GCC ministers happened this morning before the Iran meetings got underway, so he was fresh from that conversation as well.  But I’m not going to read out further.

QUESTION:  And then can you describe any other U.S. efforts, direct or indirect, to convince Iran not to make this a broader proxy war here in Yemen, to not ramp up its assistance to its Shia brethren in response to the Saudi intervention?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I would say, first of all, for starters, I’ve been in touch with our team on the ground in Lausanne, and the situation in Yemen is not having an impact on the talks.  So – and naturally, for quite some time we’ve been stressing the importance of a political resolution, a dialogue process in Yemen, and so forth.  So our views on that have not changed and they’re well known.  We continue to make those points, but I don’t have any – I don’t have a diplomatic sort of game plan to read out right now about that.

QUESTION:  I’m just asking if you – if anyone has spoken to the Iranians on this matter to kind of caution them against making the situation more volatile either in – directly or indirectly.  And you mentioned Kerry brought it up but you wouldn’t read it out.  Maybe --

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Some – maybe you’ve spoken to the Omanis who’ve spoken to the Iranians, maybe you’ve spoken to some – I don’t know.

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah.  I can check if there are other conversations to read out.

QUESTION:  Are you doing anything to make sure this doesn’t become a terrible, terrible war that lots of people die in or --

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I think it’s fair to say we are in contact with all of our partners in the region to explain our view and to stress the importance of a political resolution to the situation in Yemen.  I’ll see if there’s any more detail we’re able to provide, but yes, certainly that’s our goal.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE:  Same topic?

QUESTION:  No. 

MR. RATHKE:  Anything on this --

QUESTION:  Yes. 

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE:  Hang on just a moment.  Pam, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Jeff, I have several questions, and if you’ll indulge me, I’ll just give them all to you at one time.  You said at the top that the U.S. still considers Hadi the legitimate authority, but is the U.S. considering measures that would enhance diplomatic communications with Houthi leaders?  In that the U.S. is concerned about al-Qaida in Yemen, is it looking at ways to reach out more and collaborate more with the Houthis in case Hadi is not able to return?

MR. RATHKE:  Is – oh, I thought there were more. 

QUESTION:  There are more.  That --

MR. RATHKE:  Oh, okay.  (Laughter.)  All right.  That pause came earlier than I expected.  So, yeah.  On the question of contacts, we have not had direct contacts with the Houthis.  However, I think we’ve spoken to in the past that we have ways to make our views known, and we have consistently called, in a variety of fora, for the Houthis to refrain from violence, to join a peaceful dialogue with all of the parties in Yemen.  Again, the goal ultimately is to return Yemen to a peaceful political transition that’s in line with the GCC initiative and the NDC outcomes.  But I don’t have more specifics to provide about these channels.

QUESTION:  Does the U.S. support for the Saudi-led initiative against the Houthis drag the United States in sort of a sectarian conflict in the region?

MR. RATHKE:  I think this is very similar to Said’s question, so I’d refer you back to my answer to that.  No, we don’t see it that way.

QUESTION:  What kind of message, then, do you think the U.S. support for this effort sends to Shiites in the region?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, again, I think there is – we were pretty clear in the statement last night from the White House, as was the White House spokesman this morning, that we have been in close contact with our partners in the region and with Yemen, and we urge the Houthis to halt destabilizing military actions.  We have spoken out in favor of a political dialogue process.  We’re not taking sides against Shia – a Shia faction against a Sunni faction.  We’re trying to promote a dialogue process in which the views of all Yemenis can be taken into account, and it’s the Houthis who have refused to engage in that dialogue.

Yeah.

QUESTION:  And one final question.

MR. RATHKE:  Yes.

QUESTION:  At a Washington forum today, some analysts said that the U.S. focus on al-Qaida in Yemen has been at the detriment of development projects in the country, which they say is the core of the country’s current problems.  Does State believe that Yemen’s current unrest, at its core, is an economic-social development issue?  And if so, has the U.S. not been focused on this issue as much as it should be?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, our partnership with Yemen is broad.  It covers political-security but also development cooperation.  We’re happy to get additional details to you about the scope and the figures involved, but --

QUESTION:  It was broad.  I don’t think it’s broad at the current --

MR. RATHKE:  Well, we don’t have – we don’t have U.S. personnel in the country right now, naturally.  So – but we would – I’m not going to get into an analysis of all those details from this podium. 

Yes, go ahead, (inaudible).

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Earlier this week, the United Nations said Yemen was at the edge of the civil – a civil war.  And in the statement by the National Security Council, the spokeswoman says the Houthis have created widespread chaos and instability.  So do you believe that the airstrikes are aimed at restoring calm and stability in Yemen?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, again, we’re supportive of the actions by the Saudis and their coalition partners, and that’s – testimony to that is the fact that we’ve got a joint planning cell which is providing assistance and support.  So our goal remains --

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE:  Our goal remains the same; however, recognize the Saudis’ concerns and support the actions they’ve taken. 

Yeah, go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION:  Jeff, do you have an announcement about the third American killed in the Germanwings airliner crash?

MR. RATHKE:  Okay.  Yeah, I can give you a bit of an update on that. 

Our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims of the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525.  We remain in touch with French and German and Spanish officials.  There were two names that we provided yesterday.  We also mentioned that there was a third American citizen who was a victim in the crash.  So we are able to confirm the death of U.S. citizen Robert Oliver, who was also on the plane.

QUESTION:  Is that Robert Oliver Calvo?  I’ve seen it written with his third name.

MR. RATHKE:  According to my information, Robert Oliver is the name I have.  I can’t speak to whether there might be additional permutations of it in use.  But yes, we are able to confirm that.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MR. RATHKE:  Same topic?

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MR. RATHKE:  Wait, wait, just – wait just a minute.  Same topic? 

QUESTION:  It was reported that Robert Oliver was living in Spain.  Can you tell us any more details about his residency or his citizenship?

MR. RATHKE:  No, I’m not going to comment on any of the – on any kind of personal details.

QUESTION:  Was he born in Barcelona, as reports have indicated?

MR. RATHKE:  Also not going to get into those kinds of – those kinds of details.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  What about the mother and the daughter?  She’s living in Virginia.  So how (inaudible)?

MR. RATHKE:  I’m sorry?

QUESTION:  Do you have anything on information that the mother and daughter, she’s living in Virginia?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, again, we’re not going to comment on the personal details of the three American citizens who died in the crash.  I would also highlight, as Jen did yesterday, that we are continuing to review our records to determine whether any other U.S. citizens might have been on board the flight.  Matching up data and being sure about that is something that’s, of course, important to us.

Elliot.

QUESTION:  I have a different topic, if that’s all right.

MR. RATHKE:  Okay.  Anything else on the airplane?

QUESTION:  One more on Yemen?

MR. RATHKE:  Okay, we can come back to that in a second.  But anything else on the plane?  No.  Okay, we’ll go to Elliot and we’ll come back to you.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  I’ve been asked to ask a few questions about this report out of Japan which is based on U.S. archival documents that show Korean forces in Vietnam during the war operated a number of brothels for their troops.  I was wondering if you’ve seen this report. 

MR. RATHKE:  I’m familiar – I am aware that there is such a report.  I can’t say that I’ve studied it or read it in its entirety.  But what’s your question?

QUESTION:  I guess – well, first, I was wondering if you can confirm the validity of the documents that the report is based on.

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I’m not in a position to confirm the documents.  I have not reviewed the documents.  I don’t know whether they – where they stem from or they – do they purport to be State Department documents?

QUESTION:  They are letters that were written from U.S. Forces Command during the Vietnam War and they were from the National Archives.

MR. RATHKE:  Well, then I think it would not be this building that’s in a position to speak to those documents.

QUESTION:  Okay.  In terms of the issue that the report talks about, do you see it as an instance of human trafficking?  Do you see a need to investigate it at all?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, we’re aware of the article.  We don’t have any specific comment on the article.  I think our policy on the trafficking of women for sexual purposes remains well-known, and so I don’t have anything to add to that.

QUESTION:  Given that this is an issue that President Park has focused on, including mentioning it prominently in her UNGA address last year, would you like to see an address by the Korean – would you like to see it addressed by the Korean Government?

MR. RATHKE:  I don’t have anything further to add on this at this time.  You wanted to go back to Yemen?

QUESTION:  I did, if I could.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah, go ahead.

 

QUESTION:  Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press.  I wanted to know what the U.S. thinks of the role of former President Saleh, and do you think that he has any role to play in the negotiations that are trying to be had?  And also, you said repeatedly that the U.S. supports Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, and it’s said that Sudan is one of the partners and that they’ve offered three air force planes.  And I wanted to know, would the U.S. support Sudanese participation in bombing Yemen?

 

MR. RATHKE:  So I’ll take the second one first.  We are aware that the Government of Sudan has announced that it is taking part in the actions organized by the Saudis.  We’re not in a position to confirm the details of or the nature of their participation.  Again, this is a Saudi-organized and Saudi-led coalition, so I don’t have more to say on that aspect.

You asked about former President Saleh.  And so we have long made clear our concerns about the obstructive role that former President Saleh plays in Yemen.  He has consistently sought to undermine Yemen’s political transition.  This is widely recognized by the international community, which, in fact, sanctioned former President Saleh under UN Security Council Resolution 2140 just a few months ago.  That was in November 2014.  And the reason was for his obstruction of the political transition and undermining the government.

The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned former President Saleh on November 10th, 2014 for engaging in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security, and stability of Yemen.  So our position on him and his role, I think, is quite clear. 

 

QUESTION:  To Yemen.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yes.  Yes, go ahead.

 

QUESTION:  So the LA Times report that Houthis have obtained U.S. intelligence and informants –

 

MR. RATHKE:  I think I’ve already spoken to that, so –

 

QUESTION:  Yeah.  But are you still confident – is the U.S. still confident in our ability to conduct counterterrorism operations?

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah.  I think Josh Earnest spoke to this just this morning, as did Jen Psaki here yesterday.  We continue to have the capacity and the reach to make strikes inside Yemen, and so we are in a position to do what we think is necessary to keep Americans safe.

 

QUESTION:  On Iran?

 

QUESTION:  Could I – one quick question on Yemen.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah.

 

QUESTION:  Who controls Yemen?  I mean, from your view now, who is in control in Yemen?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, it’s a very fluid situation, Said, as you’re well aware.

 

QUESTION:  Well, actually, not very – given their water shortage, I think that’s probably not the best term.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Okay.  We’ll score one for you on that topic.

 

QUESTION:  Iraq?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yes, yes.

 

QUESTION:  Iraq?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Move to Iraq.  Go ahead.

 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  On the airstrikes in Tikrit, first of all, why did these airstrikes come so late?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, the decision by the United States to conduct airstrikes was a decision we reached after consultation with the Iraqi authorities and in response to an Iraqi request.  These strikes are designed to destroy ISIL strongholds with precision.  And we are trying to minimize damage and enable Iraqi forces, under Iraqi command, to continue their operations – offensive operations against ISIL in the vicinity of Tikrit.  And so that’s – and we’ve gone through a careful process of coordinating those strikes through our Joint Operation Center in Baghdad with Iraqi authorities.

 

QUESTION:  Are you saying that you haven’t carried out airstrikes for three weeks because the Iraqis didn’t want it themselves so far?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I’m not going to get into our exchanges –

 

QUESTION:  But you said (inaudible) just came now.

MR. RATHKE:  Well, no.  I said that we have gone through a careful process of determining targets and determining the capabilities that we could bring to bear and we’ve acted in response to an Iraqi sovereign government request.

 

QUESTION:  And one more quick question.  There are a lot of concerns that with having so many Shia militias around Tikrit, and as the U.S. officials, including General John Allen have said it, most of the Iraqi forces are also Shias.  So aren’t you worried that your airstrikes could be seen as taking sides with those Shia militias who are mostly backed by Iran?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, no, because again, the – Prime Minister Abadi as well as other authorities in Iraq have been quite clear about their efforts to generate cross-sect and inter-ethnic agreement on the way forward, and they’re acting on that basis and we’re acting in support of the Iraqi authorities.

 

QUESTION:  Same –

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah, I think Jamie had a question.  We’ll come back.

 

QUESTION:  I just had a follow-up on that.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Same topic?

 

QUESTION:  Same topic, yeah.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah.

 

QUESTION:  In his testimony this morning, General Austin up on the Hill said that Shia militia are no longer engaged in Tikrit, they’ve pulled back, that sort of thing.  Is that part of the condition for airstrikes to continue, for U.S. support to continue, that Shiite militias and their supporters need to stay back, pull back from the Tikrit area?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I think General Austin has spoken to some of the tactical considerations on the ground, and I think I’d let his remarks in that regard speak for themselves.  We’ve, of course, been concerned about – again, about protecting innocent Iraqis, minimizing damage to infrastructure, and enabling Iraqi forces to continue the offensive effectively as we’ve discussed with them possible U.S. support, including the airstrikes that we’ve just carried out.

Yes, Elliot.

QUESTION:  On the same lines, there are reports that Shiite militias are pulling out of the fight for Tikrit in protest of the U.S. bombings.  I was wondering if you have a concern that U.S. military action could drive a wedge between the Shiite militias and the government forces.  That’s my question.

MR. RATHKE:  Mm-hmm.  Well, we’ve said all along that our goal is to assist the Iraqi Security Forces to degrade and defeat ISIL, and so we’re working with the Iraqi Security Forces to that end.  If that’s not the goal of some others in the fight, then that would be a great concern.  But again, we go back to the statements from some Popular Mobilization Forces, which are Sunni as well as Shia, that they have said that they will continue to fight alongside the Iraqi Security Forces in Tikrit.

QUESTION:  What was that?  Popular --

MR. RATHKE:  The Popular Mobilization Forces.

QUESTION:  Does that mean militia in simple English?

MR. RATHKE:  I don’t know if that captures all of them, but certainly some of them.

QUESTION:  That’s the --

QUESTION:  That’s the Iranian-supported militia.

MR. RATHKE:  So again, we think it’s important to distinguish, though, between the Popular Mobilization Forces, many of which are Iraqi nationalist groups that have volunteered to participate in the defense of Iraq, and other Iranian-backed militia groups.  And I think perhaps that – those statements today are some indication of where those groups view --

QUESTION:  Is that a U.S. term or an Iraqi one?

MR. RATHKE:  No, no, that’s an Iraqi term.

QUESTION:  That’s an Iraqi term?

MR. RATHKE:  To the best of my knowledge.

QUESTION:  Can you --

MR. RATHKE:  I can check on that.

QUESTION:  Yeah, it’s an Iraqi term.

MR. RATHKE:  It’s an Iraqi term, yeah.

QUESTION:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Jeff, can I --

QUESTION:  So I mean, sorry, just to follow up.

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Insofar as the groups that are peeling off from the fight are not those mobilization, those forces, you don’t see it as an issue?  Is that what you’re saying?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, again, I’m not in a position to speak to or to confirm particular statements or particular decisions by any of those groups.  I’m simply pointing out that there are many groups of the popular – in the Popular Mobilization Forces --

QUESTION:  There are reports --

MR. RATHKE:  -- who have spoken to their willingness to continue participation.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Perhaps you heard that Qasem Suleimani, the Iranian commander, is no longer in the area, in the vicinity of Tikrit.  Can you confirm that?

MR. RATHKE:  No, I’m not going to speak to his whereabouts.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION:  Just to follow up on General Austin’s statement about the popular committees on (inaudible) pulling back, and the timing of the bombing – the participation of U.S. bombardment in Tikrit:  Could it have taken this much time to negotiate perhaps a pullback by the Shiite militias for the United States to intervene?

MR. RATHKE:  I’m not going to get into details of that sort.

QUESTION:  I mean, that’s on the question of why not – why is it too late or why now.

MR. RATHKE:  No, I think we’ve been involved in discussions with the Iraqi central authorities about the operation in Tikrit --

QUESTION:  Has there been any change in --

MR. RATHKE:  -- and these discussions take time to work through, especially when you’re talking about carrying out military operations.

QUESTION:  Has there been any change in the status on the ground since the intervention of U.S. bombardment?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, it’s only been a few hours so I’m not going to offer a battlefield analysis from here.

QUESTION:  On South Korea?

MR. RATHKE:  Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  South Korea made the decision to joint AIIB.  Why the United States has not decision to make – join AIIB yet?

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I think we’ve talked quite a lot about that from this podium in the last week or 10 days.  We agree in the United States that there is a pressing need to enhance infrastructure investment around the world, and we would welcome new multilateral institutions that strengthen the international financial architecture and that incorporate the high standards that the international community has collectively built.  And therefore, we encourage the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to follow those high standards, but the United States has not decided to join the bank.  We have concerns about those standards and transparency, as we’ve outlined in great detail from here over the last week or two.

QUESTION:  So you considering to join in the future with AIIB?

MR. RATHKE:  No, we’re not considering joining any new institution at the moment.  But we, of course, see – have a stake and we stress the importance of the AIIB meeting the current international high standards.

Yes.

QUESTION:  What’s your reaction to Korea’s decision?  Are you disappointed that an ally, Korea, has decided to join this bank?  Or --

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I’m not going to react or comment on their decision.  I’d say in general, we’ve seen a number of countries make decisions to join the bank.  That is their decision.  We certainly hope that, as we stress the importance of international standards and transparency, that they will also be voices for those same values.

QUESTION:  Jeff?

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  The countries that have joined the bank are also countries that espouse the same standards of transparency that you were concerned about.  So I mean, I think there’s a question as to whether that’s the only reason that the U.S. is refusing to join the bank.  I mean, UK, France – these are countries with very high standards for these kinds of things, and I think it’s a valid question as to why the U.S. is not joining only based on those reasons.

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I think, again, that’s – those are the reasons for our position.  We’ll let other countries make their own decisions and explain the reasoning behind those decisions.

Brad, did you have –

 

QUESTION:  I don’t have anything on this.

 

MR. RATHKE:  No?  You have anything else?

 

QUESTION:  I have another Asia question, though.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Okay, happy to take another Asia question.

 

QUESTION:  Do you have any reaction to kind of comments by the Thai leader suggesting the possibility of executing journalists?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Is that a recent comment?

 

QUESTION:  It is recent.

 

MR. RATHKE:  I had not seen that.

 

QUESTION:  Okay.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Although we’ve certainly been following developments in Thailand and naturally, as we’ve spoken about, in regard to many situations the importance of freedom of speech and the right of journalists to do their jobs.

Oh, I’m sorry.  I –

 

QUESTION:  You have something.

 

MR. RATHKE:  I do have a little bit more on this.  So we are, of course, troubled by reports that General Prayut spoke of executing journalists who do not report the quote-unquote “truth,” and we sincerely hope that this threat was not a serious one.  We have repeatedly called for lifting restrictions on freedom of expression in Thailand, and in our view, statements like these, even if not serious, contribute to an atmosphere where those freedoms could be suppressed.

 

QUESTION:  Will the U.S. be seeking clarification with him, or do you expect him over the course of whenever to clarify what he meant by that statement?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I don’t have any diplomatic contact to read out about it, but naturally this is something we take seriously and have concerns about.  So we will certainly be discussing it further.

 

QUESTION:  Completely separately.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah, go ahead.

 

QUESTION:  I’m just wondering, on Cuba, there’s been some suggestion that a date for the Human Rights Dialogue has been established, maybe March 31st in Washington?  Can you confirm that?

 

MR. RATHKE:  I don’t have a date to confirm for that.  I think some of you may be aware, but I’ll mention it just so you’re aware of another track of the dialogue, that our Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications Daniel Sepulveda visited Havana and is finishing up his visit today – March 24th through 26th – and there focused on telecommunications issues and the meetings took place in a positive atmosphere focused on developing telecommunications and internet connections between our two countries.  We believe that expanding internet access to support the free flow of information is a critical focus, of course, of our policy.

 

QUESTION:  So no date?

 

MR. RATHKE:  But I don’t have a date to announce for the human rights dialogue, which I can see if there’s anything more to share.

 

QUESTION:  Thank you.

 

QUESTION:  Just a follow-up on Cuba.  I visited –

 

MR. RATHKE:  Just – yeah.  Same topic?  Go ahead.

 

QUESTION:  I’m sorry?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah, go ahead.  Same topic?  Yeah.

 

QUESTION:  Yes, Cuba.  My apologies.  Does it appear that the talks could still result in the opening of the embassies by the Summit of the Americas?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I’m not going to put a date on it.  Again, we’ve always said we want this to move as quickly as possible.  We remain in contact with Cuban authorities, but I don’t have any dates for a new round of talks to announce, so I don’t have any comment on that specific date.

 

QUESTION:  Also on Cuba.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Also on Cuba?

 

QUESTION:  Yeah.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah, go ahead.

 

QUESTION:  Okay.  The – Cuba has complained that its diplomats accredited to the UN in New York are not allowed to go more than 25 miles outside of the city or from Columbus Circle.  And I wanted to know whether this restriction is one of the things that’s being negotiated.  Is it considered being lifted?  Is it – where does it stand, and how do – and what’s the U.S. – given that generally people accredited to the UN can travel freely, how does the UN – how does the U.S. justify it?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, we’ve said from the very start of our rounds of talks with the Cuban Government that one of the topics we want to discuss is the ability of American diplomats in Cuba to move around freely and, of course, the Cubans have a similar concern.  I’m not going to get into the state of those discussions, but that’s clearly a topic that we’ve been talking about over the last few rounds.

 

QUESTION:  It’s more than a topic.  You’ve made it a condition, I think, for reestablishment of embassies, correct?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, again, we’ve – it is a key concern for the United States.  I’m not going to get into the –

 

QUESTION:  And anything you would agree would in theory be – you wouldn’t expect to get that privilege and restrict it to the Cubans in return, would you?  I mean, it’s reciprocal.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I won’t get into our sort of negotiating position, but we recognize –

 

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

 

MR. RATHKE:  -- we recognize, of course, that it’s a similar interest on the Cuban side.

 

QUESTION:  And you want –

 

MR. RATHKE:  But these are reciprocal arrangements in place, so –

 

QUESTION:  And you want to end them, correct?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Oh, yeah.  We – certainly we want our diplomats to be able to move around, of course.

 

QUESTION:  And you would like to extend that to them as well, correct?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, that’s what we’re negotiating about.

 

QUESTION:  You’re in talks?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah.

 

QUESTION:  That’s what I was going to ask about.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Go ahead.

 

QUESTION:  Could you update us on what’s going on in their statements that much progress has been made?  Could you update us on this?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I’m not going to give an update minute-by-minute, but of course, our team is on the ground.  We’ve – Secretary Kerry has had his first meetings today.  The focus of these meetings, as we’ve said, is closing the gaps that remain and coming to a framework understanding by the end of this month as part of the nuclear negotiations.  I’m not going to give a readout of the meetings that have happened today, however. 

 

QUESTION:  What are the gaps?  What are these gaps?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, again, I think –

 

QUESTION:  Are the on centrifuges or –

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I appreciate the comment, the opportunity to negotiate in public, but we’re not going to do that.  We’ve said all along that closing down the four pathways to a nuclear weapon is the focus of our efforts, and that’s what we remain engaged on with our international partners.

 

Yeah, Justin.  Go ahead.

 

QUESTION:  There are reports today that the Fordow facility, which is obviously one of the big sticking points here, would be allowed to keep some centrifuges running.  And as you know, this is the deep-buried facility.  Would it be – would it not be a major concession on the U.S. side to allow Iran to keep any of those centrifuges running at Fordow?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, look, I think there probably will be a lot of reports over the next week that claim to address any – some specifics about what’s going on in the negotiating room.  We’ve been clear all along that we’re not going to negotiate in public and we’re also not going to comment on specific reports about specific details that purportedly are coming up in the talks.  Our bottom lines remain the same, that we want to come to a framework that cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, and that’s what we’re working towards.

 

QUESTION:  There’s rumors that Sunday the 29th could be deal day, if there’s a day to put on it.  Is that true?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, we’re working toward a deal.  I’m not going to put a specific date on it.  Clearly, our goal was to achieve it by the end of this month, but I’m not going to refine that –

 

QUESTION:  Are you optimistic?

 

MR. RATHKE:  -- any further.

 

QUESTION:  Can you use the word “optimistic” to describe –

 

MR. RATHKE:  No, I’m not going to apply a label of that sort to it.  We’ve – Secretary Kerry has just gotten on the ground late last night.  He’s had his first meetings today, but I’m not going to characterize that in a greater degree.

 

QUESTION:  The Iranians are saying that they want the sanctions lifted or no deal.  Anything on that?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, again, that’s certainly their point of view, but we’re not going to negotiate this in public.  So the timing of sanctions relief is certainly one of a number of issues, but we’re working those through with our P5+1 partners in the negotiating room with Iran.

 

QUESTION:  Do you think that what’s happening in Yemen is somehow impacting the negotiation?  I think Brad asked –

 

MR. RATHKE:  I think I spoke to that.  No, we haven’t seen any indication of that. 

 

QUESTION:  That’s a completely separate –

 

MR. RATHKE:  I’ve been in touch with our team on the ground in Switzerland, and I – our sense is that it hasn’t had an impact. 

 

Same topic?

 

QUESTION:  Different topic.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Okay.  Anything else on the Iran talks?

 

QUESTION:  I’m just wondering how this would not have an impact on those talks.  Is this kind of a contradiction of U.S. policy?  Because on the one hand you have this effort to work with Iran to reach a negotiated limitation to the nuclear program, but at the same time you have U.S. policy then supporting Saudi Arabia and actions against the Houthi rebels that are supported by Iran.  It seems like almost a contradiction of U.S. policy. 

 

MR. RATHKE:  No, there’s no contradiction and we have made clear throughout the process of the nuclear negotiations with Iran that we have serious concerns about Iranian behavior in a number of areas – talk about terrorism, talk about human rights, talk about the fate of American citizens who are inside Iran in detention.  And so – but the focus of the nuclear negotiations is on the nuclear issue.  So that’s what we’re focused on achieving in these talks.

 

QUESTION:  I have just one more follow-up question –

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah.

 

QUESTION:  -- with regard to Yemen.  You said that you were in very close consultation – the United States has been in close consultation in recent days with Saudi Arabia.  But the U.S. Army General Lloyd Austin is testifying on Capitol Hill in the Senate Armed Services Committee that, in fact, the U.S. found out about these strikes from Saudi Arabia the day of, just before.  So what does that say about those discussions that were taking place?  I mean, is there a deteriorating relationship here?  That seemed to be something that John McCain intimated.  Is this signifying a lack of trust in that relationship?

 

MR. RATHKE:  No.  As I said, we’ve been in discussions with the Saudis for a number of days about their concerns about the situation in Yemen.  So that’s –

 

QUESTION:  But didn’t you know when this was going to take place?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I haven’t seen the transcript of what General Austin said, so I don’t want to speak directly to that.  But certainly, our – from this building we’ve been talking with the Saudis for a number of days and they’ve been quite clear about their concerns.

 

QUESTION:  So the State Department was aware of when this was going to occur?

 

MR. RATHKE:  I’m not going to get into the details of those diplomatic discussions, but –

 

QUESTION:  Were you surprised by it?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, again, we’ve been aware of the Saudis’ concerns.  We’ve been talking to them about those concerns, but I’m not going to get into further details of those discussions.

 

QUESTION:  That suggests they did tell you about it, and Austin is saying that they didn’t hear about it, which suggests a little bit of mixed messaging there.  Yeah?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, again, I haven’t – I think he was testifying this morning.  I haven’t seen a transcript of exactly what he said.

 

QUESTION:  Can I just ask when were these –

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah, go ahead.

 

QUESTION:  You cited before these reports about rockets going into Saudi Arabia.  Were those recently, or were those several days ago?

 

MR. RATHKE:  I don’t have a specific timeframe on them.  We can look and see what more we can say.

 

QUESTION:  Well, if it hasn’t been for several days, if you don’t even know when they happened, when they allegedly – I don’t quite understand why you raised them, firstly, if you can’t confirm them, and then you don’t even know when they happened.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, it was in response to your question about –

 

QUESTION:  No, I never asked about rocket attacks and –

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, you asked about activity near the border and the question of north –

 

QUESTION:  And you cited something you don’t know about and you can’t confirm.

 

MR. RATHKE:  No, I simply – well, I simply said that there have been reports of this.  As to the specific timing of the reports, I don’t have that in front of me.  We’re happy to look into that and come back to you with more detail on that.

 

QUESTION:  But you – so when you cited these reports, these – are these cited reports somehow part of the justification for supporting the Saudi military intervention?

 

MR. RATHKE:  I didn’t mean to portray it as somehow a crucial and decisive matter.  I’m simply – but you asked a question about what the security situation was and whether it was actually in the vicinity of Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen.  And it was in response to that that I alluded to that.

 

QUESTION:  Very quickly, a follow-up on Yemen?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah.

 

QUESTION:  Since now it’s been confirmed that President Hadi is in Saudi Arabia and he’s on his way to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt and so on, are we likely to expect some sort of a meeting or a phone call between him and American officials?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, we’ve been in contact with him as recently as yesterday and throughout the crisis, so I’m sure we will remain in contact with him.  But I don’t have any specific plans for a phone call or a meeting to read out at this point.

 

QUESTION:  Are you talking about Hadi?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yes, that’s right.

 

QUESTION:  So you’re in contact with him, but you don’t know where he is?

 

MR. RATHKE:  I said we’ve been in contact with him as recently as yesterday.

 

QUESTION:  But we didn’t know where he – couldn’t say where he was.  Yeah?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, no, it was subsequent to our conversation with him yesterday that he left his presidential palace.

 

QUESTION:  Do you still believe that he left voluntarily, as expressed yesterday?

 

MR. RATHKE:  I’m not going to get into an adverb –

 

QUESTION:  An adverb?  Okay, that’s a new – that’s a new restriction. 

 

MR. RATHKE:  It’s – I don’t have anything to add to yesterday’s –

 

QUESTION:  There’s a new adverb policy now?

 

MR. RATHKE:  No, I haven’t said that, but I don’t have anything to add to yesterday’s discussion on that.

 

Yes, go ahead.

 

QUESTION:  Yeah.  What is in place to prevent the Taliban Five from going back to Afghanistan after the one-year deal is over?

 

MR. RATHKE:  So you’re referring to the five detainees who were released from Guantanamo and transferred to Qatar.  We remain in continuous communication with the Qatari authorities.  We’re not going to comment on the specifics of those – of those conversations.  However, we’ve – we are confident that by working closely with our Qatari partners, we are in a strong position to mitigate substantially any potential threat or risk those individuals might pose.

 

QUESTION:  Because members of Congress say there’s nothing in place.  Are you saying that discussions are underway to make sure that they don’t go back after –

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, we’ve been in constant communication with the Qatari authorities since the transfer.  And again, the standard for us in making decisions about transfer of individual detainees is our ability to continue to mitigate the threat that they might pose.  I don’t have further details to announce publicly about how we do that in the case of Qatar or in the case of any other place where people are transferred.

 

QUESTION:  And on a separate topic on Tikrit, the State Department has no concerns at all that U.S. will become Iran’s air force in Iraq?  I mean, basically, hasn’t the U.S. become a functional ally of Iran since we’re providing air support?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, no.  That’s the short answer.  We are acting in Tikrit at the response of Iraqi Government request.  We are – we are focused on supporting the Iraqi Central Government.  We’re working with them.  We’re working through our established Joint Operations Center, and this is a step we’ve taken after careful consideration and careful planning with the Iraqi partners.

 

QUESTION:  I have a –

 

QUESTION:  Switching to –

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah, go ahead.

 

QUESTION:  I have a different topic.

QUESTION:  A follow-up on yesterday’s – I had a couple questions about a Mexican who was trying to enter the United States to go to the Mayo Clinic for a double transplant.  I think Jen said at the time that the team was looking into it or something to that effect.  Do you have anything you can add to yesterday’s no-comment on him not being allowed into the country?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, this may not please you, but we have a – not just a principle, but in the law, visa records are confidential.  So our ability to comment on individual visa cases is extremely constrained.  So we make visa decisions on a case-by-case basis, and we certainly take every step to facilitate travel by international visitors.  But we also have our responsibilities under the law, but I’m not going to get into that particular case.

 

QUESTION:  The young kid and his family say that he was instructed – he’s been denied twice now – he was instructed to apply for a tourist visa, not a humanitarian parole, and that this is what he was instructed by the consulate.  I’m not asking you to talk about the decision –

 

MR. RATHKE:  Right.

 

QUESTION:  -- but isn’t it the responsibility of the consular official to guide an applicant toward the correct application?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, as a general matter, individuals seeking to come to the United States for medical treatment fall under the category of – we call it B-2 or a visitor visa.  Now that permits a traveler to engage in a variety of visitor activities, including medical treatment.  And it is the responsibility of the applicant to demonstrate qualification for that type of visa.  Applicant – but --

QUESTION:  That’s the general tourism visa?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Right, but to come to the other part of your question, if applicants are ineligible to receive a visitor visa under U.S. immigration law, they may apply for humanitarian parole, which is the thing you alluded to, from the Department of Homeland Security.  That’s a matter for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at DHS.  They deal with questions of humanitarian parole.

 

QUESTION:  In a case like this, without getting into the reason why you denied him the right to come for the surgery, isn’t it the – shouldn’t it be the responsibility of the consular official to explain to that individual, “Hey, if your life might end, you might want to apply for this humanitarian parole”?  Shouldn’t he be guided or made aware of this separate track?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, again, that’s – it’s hard for me to comment about that without getting into the case.

 

QUESTION:  Just as a general rule, shouldn’t he be made aware of, like, the various pathways to get the medical treatment he’s seeking?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well –

 

QUESTION:  Or is it – should it be a secret?

 

MR. RATHKE:  It’s not a secret.  I’m not going to speak to the particulars of that case, but it’s certainly –

 

QUESTION:  Well, he’s a 20-year-old from a Mexican town.  He might not know the intricacies of the B-2 visa versus other codes and letters, whereas a consular official would, in theory, right?  Shouldn’t he provide that information?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, again, I don’t know what the –

 

QUESTION:  I’m not asking you to say what he –

 

MR. RATHKE:  -- I’m not able to speak to what the conversations were in that case.

 

QUESTION:  Right.

 

MR. RATHKE:  You’re sort of suggesting that it didn’t happen.

 

QUESTION:  Well, maybe it did happen.

 

MR. RATHKE:  It’s hard for me to comment on that, and I don’t know that.  And even if I did, I would be getting into the particulars of the case.

 

QUESTION:  Should that happen as a matter of course?  That’s what I’m asking.  Should you provide information to an applicant on what ways he can apply to enter the country, especially if he’s been – well, just that one.  Or is it – no?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, we have lots of ways of making information available about traveling to the United States.  I haven’t reviewed our websites to find –

 

QUESTION:  It’s not the job of a consular official to say, “Hey, this didn’t work for you, but maybe you can try this way”?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Again, I don’t have anything further to comment on that.

Go ahead.

 

QUESTION:  Yeah, changing topics, the – Speaker Boehner announced that Prime Minister Abe will address a joint meeting of Congress on April 26th.  I was wondering if State has any reaction.

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, earlier this week, of course, the White House announced that Prime Minister Abe is coming for an official visit, and so that will be a – certainly a celebration of the strong partnership that the United States and Japan have developed since the end of the Second World War, and to underscore the common values and principles that have made this relationship so enduring. 

 

I don’t have a particular comment on the decision with respect to addressing a joint session of Congress, but we certainly see this as an important visit by the prime minister, and I would refer you to the White House for any further comments about Prime Minister Abe’s program while he’s here.

 

QUESTION:  Okay.  As you may know, there have been groups mobilizing against Prime Minister Abe’s visit, and especially the address to Congress, citing concerns of statements made by him and other Japanese officials on Japan’s wartime past.  Are you sympathetic to those views?  Is there anything that you would like to see Prime Minister Abe address in his speech?

 

MR. RATHKE:  Well, I think we’ll let Prime Minister Abe speak for himself.  We’ve certainly welcomed his comments, most recently his February 12th policy speech to the Japanese Diet, in which he included a very positive message about history issues and Japan’s contributions since the war to peace.  We certainly support strong and constructive relations between countries in the region.  We talk about that a lot in this room.  And we continue to emphasize the importance of approaching historical legacy issues in a way that promotes healing and reconciliation.

We got time for just a couple more. 

 

QUESTION:  Can I have one more –

 

MR. RATHKE:  Yeah, go ahead.

 

QUESTION:  -- on Japan?  Do you know if the White House was consulted on this joint address to Congress?

 

MR. RATHKE:  I’d refer you to the White House.  I don’t have information on that.

 

QUESTION:  You don’t?  Was the State Department consulted?

 

MR. RATHKE:  I don’t have – that would normally be something, I think, between the

Congress and the White House.  I’d refer you to them –

 

QUESTION:  Okay.

 

MR. RATHKE:  -- for those particulars. 

 

Yes, go ahead.

 

QUESTION:  (Inaudible), anything – two things, and I apologize if you’ve answered either of them.  One is, earlier this week, the U.S. ambassador to Libya sort of very publicly disengaged with Twitter, saying she’d received threats after having tweeted that there were eight Tawerghans killed there.  So I wanted to know, were they real – I mean, has any security change been made, and do you have any – is there anything that you want to say about the – what’s the policy of the State Department in terms of its diplomats using social media to communicate?

And just separately, have you – has the State Department decided whether to replace Russ Feingold’s – to name a new special envoy on the Great Lakes, and if so, by when?

MR. RATHKE:  I don’t have any personnel announcements to make.  With respect to the use of Twitter, of course it’s something that many U.S. officials use to communicate, but I don’t have the details of that particular situation, so I’m not going to comment more specifically on that.

Thanks.

QUESTION:  And on Feingold?

MR. RATHKE:  No, I don’t have any personnel announcements to make.

 

(The briefing was concluded at 1:57 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 25, 2015

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 17:24

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 25, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:44 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS. PSAKI: A full house. Lucas is back. Exciting. I have a couple of items for all of you at the top.

As you know and we’ve said in a couple of statements before, we are deeply saddened by the news that Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed in southern France on its way from Barcelona, Spain to Dusseldorf, Germany yesterday. At this time, we can confirm the deaths of U.S. citizens Yvonne Selke and Emily Selke. We are in contact with family members and we extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the 150 people onboard. We can also confirm that a third U.S. citizen was onboard the flight. We are in touch with the family but are not releasing the name at this time out of respect for the family. And if I may, given we often provide public service information here, Lufthansa and Germanwings have established a telephone hotline. The worldwide number is 407-362-0632. It’s available to all the families of the passengers involved for care and assistance. If you believe a U.S. citizen family member was on the flight, we encourage you to call the Department of State at 888-407-4747 from within the United States or 202-501-4444.

On Yemen, we strongly condemn the recent offensive military actions undertaken in Yemen that have targeted President Hadi. The actions of the Houthis and former President Saleh have caused widespread instability and chaos that threatens the well-being of all Yemenis. The international community has spoken clearly through UN Security Council resolutions and in other fora that the violent takeover of Yemen by an armed faction is unacceptable and that the only legitimate transition can be accomplished through political negotiations and a consensus agreement among all of the political parties based on the GCC initiative and national dialogue outcomes. The future of Yemen should be determined by the Yemeni people from all communities. It is the people of Yemen who will feel the effects if all the parties do not immediately cease military actions and return to Yemen’s political transition.

And then if I may, since this is my last briefing with all of you, which I am pretty sad about, I just wanted to say I had a moment yesterday – or at the end of the briefing, I had an opportunity to thank all of you and just say a little bit about the public service that all of you play in reporting not just to the American people but what’s so great about the State Department is to people around the world. But I also wanted to say a few things, if you don’t mind, about some of my colleagues here, just because they are as committed to this in a different way that all of you are.

And first, obviously working for the Secretary has been this amazing adventure and amazing experience for me. And I had worked for him when he ran for president about 10 years ago, but it’s really rare to work for someone who has the combination of the energy and enthusiasm and commitment to his job as a public servant but also as the nation’s chief diplomat as he does. And I think we all know that about him; he’s tireless and it’s hard to keep up with him. I think those of us who work for him, but those of us who have traveled with him know as well.

But he’s also somebody – and I see this every day and through the months and actually now years I’ve worked for him – who has a vision about where the United States and where our role in the world can go moving forward over the long term. And it’s not just about what happens day to day but about how we can invest in important relationships around the world, whether that’s with the Western Hemisphere or whether that’s with many countries in Asia. And I have been just so proud to be here for a number of things that he has led on, and that’s the CW deal, the effort to form a unity government in Afghanistan, which obviously we’ve seen the benefits over the last couple of days, the Middle East peace effort, climate change – which I think he has played a significant role putting on the map, and certainly, building the anti-ISIL coalition, which was a sleepless couple of days for many of us who were on the trip early this year.

So I just wanted to say a few words about him but also about many of the people who are in this department. And you all know them very well, but I think most of the American people and perhaps people around the world don’t see what diplomats do every day and kind of what the role is that they play. And the Foreign Service – which I’m not a part of, as many of you know, but I’ve learned a great deal about over the last two years – is a group of people who dedicate their lives to really being the glue that holds international diplomacy together. And they spend rotations of two years or three years in different places; it’s amazing the number of languages they speak and their dedication to representing the United States around the world. And I have been so blown away and just really impressed by this group of people. And it’s not every day that you get to – although it has been every day for me for the last two years – call up people like Bill Burns or Toria Nuland or Anne Patterson, Robert Ford. I mean, some of these people are no longer here, but who have had inspiring careers and are – and you can call them about Ukraine or Syria – it’s kind of a unique briefing that you’re able to get. And that combined with some of the people that I’ve been able to work with who are political appointees – Dan – the Dan Feldmans of the world, the Frank Lowensteins, the Martin Indyks – it’s really been a huge honor.

And then last thing I would say is that I’ve had this incredible team of people here that I am just so grateful for. And all of you know Marie Harf and Jeff Rathke because they’ve been up here briefing, and they’ve been incredible and you will remain in excellent hands with them. But I also – there are a number of people that you all don’t know and – or you may know a little bit – but the PAOs who work in the bureaus every day who put together guidance, who get calls from us at 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., or from you guys. And the people from – so they’re obviously from the bureaus. And just the team of great people just in my small little office. So I know this is lengthy, but I just felt I would take the opportunity since I have the forum for a moment, and I know we have a lot to cover, so we can now move on to the business of the world.

QUESTION: Before – congratulations again on your move and --

MS. PSAKI: Thank you.

QUESTION: -- thank you for the long hours and great commitment you’ve shown to your job and your patience and indulgence at times with us, as well as your professionalism and how you’ve handled yourself --

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Brad.

QUESTION: -- in all aspects.

MS. PSAKI: Very kind of you to say.

QUESTION: Thank you. I just wanted to start with Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You touched on it briefly. What – who is the U.S. speaking to? For a long time we heard about you were in touch with Hadi. Now you may be – I don’t know – but you let us know. And for a while we heard about how you still had communications at – whether it was special forces level or however, but now that seems to no longer exist. So who are you in touch with? How are you actually engaging the process on the ground?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, specifically on President Hadi, we were in touch with him earlier today. We – he is no longer at his residence, which you’ve seen in reporting, but we can certainly confirm. I’m not in a position to confirm any additional details from here about his location. We have been in touch with him over the last several days. And as all of you know, Ambassador Tueller has seen him in person and has traveled from Jeddah to go see him.

In terms of our counterterrorism cooperation, as my colleagues at, I believe, DOD said yesterday, there’s no question our preference would be to have a presence on the ground. And that’s certainly – that’s why we have diplomatic – diplomats in embassies around the world, is to have that on-the-ground coordination. But we maintain means of working with, monitoring, going after some of the threats that face us, and that’s ongoing. And even if you look on the diplomatic side, though Ambassador Tueller and his close team are not based in Yemen, they have been able to continue to communicate with President Hadi and communicate with others and, obviously, with the UN about the political process moving forward.

QUESTION: This call this morning – who made that telephone call with him? And I assume this is while he was still at the residence?

MS. PSAKI: Let me see if there are more details I can get into for you, Brad. I’m happy to check on that.

QUESTION: This is the punishment of your last day – you can’t take follow-up questions. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say that there was a State Department briefing long before me and there will continue to be. I just don’t want to get ahead of providing details I don’t have at this point.

QUESTION: And so you have no information about where he is, or you’re just choosing at this point not to share that for security reasons?

MS. PSAKI: There have been a range of reports. I don’t have more details – I don’t have more details to share, I would say, even if we had more level of specificity.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Did the U.S. consider withdrawing him at some point? There were reports that he was going to get on board a U.S. military aircraft, and that ultimately – that was not – that didn’t happen, and now that he’s on a boat somewhere.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been reports; that’s one of them. I don’t have confirmation of that report. We’ve obviously been in close touch with him, as have many GCC countries. So I just don’t have more details from here about his plans or what actions we’re prepared to take.

QUESTION: Jen, does the U.S. believe that he’s still in Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have more details on his whereabouts at this point.

QUESTION: And what time did the official speak to him? Was it in the morning?

MS. PSAKI: It was in the morning.

QUESTION: And was there any other thing that’s – anything else that was said?

MS. PSAKI: I mean, I think, obviously, we’ve been touching base on a regular basis. I don’t have any more to read out of the discussion, but we’ve been in regular contact.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the Houthis have actually – how close they are to Aden? Can you give any update on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an on-the-ground update. Obviously, as you have seen in reporting but I can certainly confirm that they have seized the Al Anad airbase located between Sana’a and Aden. We’ve seen an incredibly volatile but also fluid situation on the ground, which is why we just don’t have kind of confirmation of the specifics of their movements.

QUESTION: So just one more question. They got the airbase. Are any U.S. planes on that airbase?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to DOD. I don’t have more specifics on what may or may not still be there.

QUESTION: Jen? First of all, thank you for indulging us all this time. We appreciate it.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Said.

QUESTION: And second, the Saudis are saying that they are going to propose some sort of an Arab force that will go into Yemen during this Arab summit that begins, I guess, on Saturday. So do you have any information on that? Are you coordinating with them? Have they shared any kind of plans with them? Would you support such an effort?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t have details on that at this point in time. I don’t think that those reports are that new. They may be refreshed. We’ve worked closely with Saudi Arabia and our partners in GCC countries to promote a peaceful political transition and share their concerns about the aggressive actions of the Houthis. Saudis have legitimate concerns about the possible impact of current events in Yemen to their security, given their proximity. And we understand that they’re taking appropriate precautions to ensure the security of their border.

Obviously, you’re talking about an upcoming meeting. We don’t have more details on any proposal that may or may not be proposed.

QUESTION: Who’s sharing in the meeting? Who’s going to the meeting on the American side? There is normally an American diplomat or an American high-level official and so on that goes to this Arab summit. Do we know who it is? Could there be the – could it be the ambassador to Yemen, for instance, in this case?

MS. PSAKI: Not always, Said. But I can see if there’s a specific plan at this point in time.

QUESTION: Jen, on this, do you support any military intervention from Saudi Arabia or Arab states in Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, we’re talking about a hypothetical at this point in time. Obviously, as I mentioned, we believe that the Saudis have legitimate concerns about the possible impact of current events in Yemeni – in Yemen on their security, and given their proximity. But I don’t have any predictions for you on what they may or may not do. I would point you to the – their government for that.

QUESTION: And they’re doing a press conference at 4 p.m. today, so --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But they haven’t given you a heads-up about what’s --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details. We certainly wouldn’t get ahead of a government of our – one of our partners.

QUESTION: So how does the State Department assess this? The army in Iraq falls apart, then Mosul; the army in Yemen, after all this training and so on, falls apart; all these agreements that in many ways were under the auspices of the Americans and so on. How do you interpret that?

MS. PSAKI: Are under the auspices of --

QUESTION: Well, not – I mean, you helped a great deal. I mean, you supported the Government of Iraq; you supported the Government in Yemen, and to have a centralized authority of sort. And there are apparently no centralized authorities, and they fall apart at the first challenge. Why do you think?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, you’re making a sweeping statement here, Said, which is not applicable to all those countries you mention. There’s no question that --

QUESTION: I only mentioned two --

MS. PSAKI: Well, okay.

QUESTION: -- Iraq and Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: It’s not applicable to both countries you mentioned. I would say the Government of Iraq is continuing to move forward on not just important reforms, but on steps to – on inclusivity steps, on steps to bring in unregulated militia. That – I wouldn’t put them – I would definitely not put them in anywhere near the same category.

QUESTION: After a period of moving backwards.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, that’s right. But we’re talking about right now. On Yemen, I think we’ve been pretty clear about the fact that we view the situation on the ground as volatile, as challenging, as one that’s incredibly fluid. And the Houthis’ actions have consistently undermined Yemen’s transition. Recent actions are but the latest in a series of violent actions perpetrated by the Houthis since they overran Sana’a, took over government institutions, and attempted to govern by unilateral decree. Clearly, there is an effort that’s being led by the UN to try to get all parties to the table to pursue a political process and a process that can help bring parties together. We certainly support that. We moved our personnel out, as all of you know. So we’re certainly not naive about the challenges, but we’re continuing to work with a range of partners about how to address things moving forward.

QUESTION: Has there been, at any point, any deliberations about U.S. action, military or otherwise, to halt the Houthis? I mean, this is all happening in a place that’s heavily watched. As you said, you’re not naive; you know what’s going on. Yet nothing’s really happened to stop them. I mean, has there been any discussion to nip it in the bud?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on that, Brad. I think, obviously, I’m not going to get into deliberations and certainly any action anywhere would be something the Department of Defense would speak to.

QUESTION: Jen, how is State characterizing Hadi’s departure? Are you saying he fled, he left voluntarily? And then secondly, earlier he had a plan to attend the Arab summit in Egypt. You mentioned there was a phone call this morning. Was there any indication on if ultimately he still plans to make his way to that summit?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on his plans and whether or not he’ll attend the summit. In terms of the call this morning, I just don’t have more to read out from it and the specifics of the discussion. I just wanted to make clear that we had been in touch as recently as this morning. In terms of his departure, I think it’s pretty clear he left voluntarily. I don’t think I need to put a new characterization on it.

QUESTION: He left --

QUESTION: I’ve got a follow with Yemen.

QUESTION: Sorry, he left voluntarily?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, obviously he left given the circumstances --

QUESTION: I mean, just --

MS. PSAKI: -- but I don’t think I need to – I think we all know what happened here.

QUESTION: He’s leaving because the city is about to fall, right? I mean, that’s hardly a voluntary departure.

MS. PSAKI: Correct, but I will let all of you characterize what that means. I don’t think I need to characterize whether it means fled or departed voluntarily or what it means.

QUESTION: Sorry, Jen, but I wanted to ask --

QUESTION: Just real quick, first, on behalf of the Fox News Channel I wanted to say thank you for all your hard work.

MS. PSAKI: This is a statement I thought I would never hear. (Laughter.) But thank you, Lucas.

QUESTION: I speak on behalf of my colleagues and our viewers. We thank you and we will miss you.

MS. PSAKI: It has been a pleasure working with you and your colleagues, all kidding aside. You’re always professional and I always enjoy having you in the briefing room.

QUESTION: Thank you. Is Yemen still a model for counterterrorism operations for the United States?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, Lucas, I think we still have a number of successes to point to in terms of our efforts to push back on al-Qaida and our successes in doing that in coordination with authorities. We’re continuing to work to push back on counterterrorism threats that we face. Now, we’ve never said – or I don’t believe we’ve said – that – or held up Yemen as a country where a political transition has been an easy road. But we have had success working on counterterrorism operations and we expect and hope that will continue.

QUESTION: The President in September mentioned Yemen as a successful counterterrorism operation.

MS. PSAKI: Correct, and we stand by that.

More on Yemen?

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up very quickly --

QUESTION: Just following up: At the moment, are you successfully combating terror in Yemen? Because it looks by all account that al-Qaida is expanding territory under its control and operations; ISIS is now getting a foothold in the country. So what is the measure of that success right now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, I’m not in a position to kind of evaluate on the counterterrorism front publicly, but my point I’m making here is that we have means of monitoring, we have means of continuing to coordinate. We’re continuing to push back on a range of efforts. You can’t possibly know – nor can anyone – what the range of threats are. Obviously, it’s a difficult situation, it’s a volatile situation on the ground for a range of reasons.

QUESTION: What is the measure of counterterrorism success, then? Is it not to have less of a threat than before? Are you willing to say at this point Yemen is less of a terrorism threat than it was, I don’t know, a few years ago?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think that’s the question we’re posing here.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, yeah. I mean, if it’s a model of counterterrorism success, it must be something that it’s been successful at.

MS. PSAKI: Which is something the President said in September, and the fact is that we continue to have means of pushing back on al-Qaida in Yemen. We’re continuing those efforts. We typically can’t outline those efforts publicly.

QUESTION: But continuing efforts doesn’t quantify a success.

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: I mean, a success has to do something.

MS. PSAKI: -- understood, Brad.

QUESTION: What is the --

MS. PSAKI: But typically, we can’t outline our counterterrorism efforts publicly.

QUESTION: Well, you’ll understand, given that criteria, that people will look at that with a raised eyebrow at the least, given that you can’t explain why you think it’s a success.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I was saying that. I have explained that it’s a success and it has been a success for many years because of our efforts to push back and counter al-Qaida in Yemen. That’s something we’ve been doing for some time now. Now, there’s no question the situation on the ground has changed over the last several months as it relates to the volatility, as it relates to what our staffing is on the ground. These are all things we’ve talked about publicly. But we continue to have means of monitoring what the threats are and pushing back on those threats. We don’t give day-to-day evaluations of that.

QUESTION: Staying on the same --

QUESTION: Jen, would you – the base --

QUESTION: Staying on the same --

MS. PSAKI: On Yemen? Go ahead. Okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. The base that has fallen into Houthi hands is purported to be the launching for all the drone attacks and so on. Can you speak to whether some drones may have fallen into hands of the Houthis?

MS. PSAKI: No.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s on the same lines, but Yemen has been projected as the center point from where the operations were being carried out against al-Qaida. Now where are these operations will be? Are they moved to another country? Have they moved to offshore ships? Where are those – center of those operations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I’ve mentioned, again, there are means of – there are many ways that we can continue to monitor and work on counterterrorism efforts and pushing – including pushing back on al-Qaida and threats posed from Yemen. It’s not the only place we do counterterrorism operations from. We do them from around the world, but I’m not going to outline that from here.

QUESTION: For the al-Qaida in northern Africa, this was one of the central points. So it means that either that point doesn’t exist and we are --

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say – are you listening to what I’m saying or I’ve answered in response to this question?

QUESTION: Yes. I always listen to you.

MS. PSAKI: We have continued to have a range of means of not only monitoring the threat on the ground but continuing to work on counterterrorism operations in Yemen. I can’t outline those publicly from here, but that is ongoing. Is it more challenging because we don’t have a diplomatic presence on the ground? Of course it is, but we continue to have means to do that. There are also other places around the world where we certainly have counterterrorism operations from. Yemen is not the only place.

QUESTION: And thank you for a great time we had and your patience with us.

MS. PSAKI: My pleasure.

QUESTION: On Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Okay, let’s finish Yemen, and then we can go to Ukraine. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Do you still consider Hadi is the president of Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: That is what the constitution considers, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. And then for the new reality, which was – you talk about some contact with Saudi Arabia and GCC countries. I mean, are you talking about – which countries are you in touch with it? I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Which countries are we in touch with?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re in touch with Saudi Arabia. We’re in touch with a range of countries. We’ve had several meetings with the GCC and GCC countries over the past couple of months where Yemen has been a topic of discussion.

QUESTION: During this, like, the last few weeks, because it was coming – a new reality is coming out, are you in touch with Houthis or – by any chance?

MS. PSAKI: We are in touch with all parties, but I don’t have anything more to read out for you on that front.

Yemen, or --

QUESTION: Jen, when you said he left voluntarily, are you saying he left the residence voluntarily or the country?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more on his location. I can confirm he left the residence.

QUESTION: Voluntarily?

MS. PSAKI: Yes – (laughter) – however you want to characterize it.

QUESTION: What does that mean, left – I mean, every time he leaves his home you would confirm that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I guess the question is what did Pam mean by the question. I mean, I don’t have more specifics to characterize it.

QUESTION: But you said that unprompted earlier, so --

MS. PSAKI: No, I said it in response to her question.

QUESTION: You first said it when I asked the first question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: It wasn’t about his whereabouts per se. You mentioned that he had left the residence but you couldn’t confirm any further details.

MS. PSAKI: Typically, it means someone wasn’t forcibly carried out of their home, which we know wasn’t the case, so --

QUESTION: So you’re confirming the president has left his home.

MS. PSAKI: If that’s of interest to all of you, given you’ve asked the question.

QUESTION: Well, you – no, you offered that, but I mean, what is the significance of you reading out that a president is no longer in his home?

MS. PSAKI: It was a question of interest to the media, so I was being responsive to that, Brad.

QUESTION: That he wasn’t kidnapped is what you’re saying.

QUESTION: So, I mean, probably he’s not going to return?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more to read out for you in terms of his plans.

QUESTION: Not going to --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Change of topics?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, and any more on Yemen before we continue?

QUESTION: On Ukraine.

QUESTION: Can we talk on – about the Palestinians?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, can we go to Ukraine? I promised we’d go to Ukraine next. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sure. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jen. Last days there were reports about some sort of tensions between president of Ukraine and government – governor of Dnipropetrovsk region, and there were also reports that U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt met with – once or twice with Dnipropetrovsk region governor, Igor Kolomoisky, and finally he resigned – I mean, Ukrainian official resigned yesterday in the evening. Do you have any additional details?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have additional details. Our view is this is an internal matter for Ukraine. Governors in Ukraine are appointed by the president. Removing a governor from power is well within the authority of President Poroshenko, and obviously, as we’ve seen from reporting, that’s the case here.

QUESTION: Yeah, but there were some armed people who were blocking offices of state oil company and --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen conflicting reports about armed men entering certain businesses partially owned by Mr. Kolomoisky. Mr. Kolomoisky and the Ukrainian Government have stated these individuals were private security guards for him. I don’t have any additional confirmation or details for you.

QUESTION: And since this is your last briefing and you know you had some controversial popularity in Russia – (laughter) – so I just wonder, do you have any final say or final adios to Russian people or Russian audience? (Laughter.) Maybe “I’ll be back” or – I don’t know.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m still working in the federal government, so I will still be around.

QUESTION: Yeah, but we will not see you every day on --

MS. PSAKI: That is true. Well, one, I would say that I have – it’s been an honor to speak on behalf of the United States positions and views as it relates to Ukraine and the illegal intervention of Russia and Russian-backed separatists, which I – we will continue to do from the podium and from many sources here in the government.

The second thing I would say is people shouldn’t believe all of the propaganda out there. The United States, myself, as silly as that sounds, there is no desire – we want to see Russia thrive, we want to see the people thrive, we want to see the economy prosper, and suggestions otherwise are simply propaganda.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

QUESTION: Thank you, thank you. And just thank you. Can I just --

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Ukraine? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Russia?

QUESTION: Can I just thank you for --

QUESTION: Yeah. What’s your most memorable moment with respect to Russia as you (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) My most memorable moment? I will say that one of them is – was working on the deal on chemical weapons, and that was something that came together over the course of a week or 10 days, if even shorter. We came back to the United States, we went back quickly after about 36 hours. It was something we worked closely with the teams on, and clearly, now 100 percent of declared chemical weapons are out of Syria. So that was certainly a successful outcome from our collaboration together, and hopefully we’ll have successful outcome from work on the nuclear talks.

QUESTION: All right. It was time when you got a present with this pink ushanka, right – pink hat?

MS. PSAKI: I have my pink hat at home. It’s coming with me to the White House. Should we go to a new topic? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: In reference to the previous question, the governor who was fired was fired as a result of a probe into corruption, and this of course is coming at a time when the United States and European Union is looking at pumping more money into Ukraine to help stabilize the government. Do these types of scandals – how do they impact the U.S. in terms of its view of the government? And does it make the U.S. a little bit more hesitant to provide this type of funding when this corruption is still underway?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are certainly aware, as you referenced, of a dispute involving new laws designed to bring further reform and transparency to businesses in Ukraine. Certainly, efforts to bring more transparency and reform that the government are putting into place is a positive step. We support the government’s continuing efforts to ensure that the rule of law is applied in all sectors, including the operation of partly or fully state-owned companies. There can be no return to the laws that existed – the prior laws that existed in this regard under former President Yanukovych. And so what we’re seeing here is efforts to put reforms in place that can crack down on issues like corruption and put greater transparency in place, and we see that as a positive thing.

QUESTION: Do these types of corruption probes have an impact as far as the U.S. is concerned on efforts to stabilize the country and U.S. efforts to be a part of that in terms of the separatist movement?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t see it that way, Pam. Obviously, there are internal matters that Ukraine, just as any government, is working through. But our commitment remains to supporting a sovereign Ukraine, one where not only are they working to push back on the intervention of Russia and Russian-backed separatists, but also putting in place economic reforms and reforms that will help their country prosper over the long term.

QUESTION: Jen.

MS. PSAKI: On Ukraine or --

QUESTION: A follow-up on --

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine, sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. President Poroshenko stated after this conflict and that armed people blocked offices of state oil company, that no governor should have a private puppet army. Would you support – as you know, in Ukraine there are many groups, armed groups that work – they aren’t complete controlled by Kyiv, they are privately financed. Will you support disarming these private groups?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think – I don’t have more information – we don’t have more information from here on some of these individuals. We’ve certainly seen a range of reports. They’ve been identified as private security guards. There are a range of laws. And again, I can’t confirm that. It’s just what they’ve been identified by as the local parties. Beyond that, obviously, the Government of Ukraine takes their own steps, which we certainly support, to maintain and work to make sure kind of all military are part of the official effort.

QUESTION: So you would support this particular statement on – that no government – no governor should have a private puppet army?

MS. PSAKI: Look, I think there are internal matters for Ukraine to work through in their laws. I don’t have any particular comment on that.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian issue --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- real quick?

QUESTION: No.

MS. PSAKI: Go – Justin’s been very restless up here, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, not restless.

MS. PSAKI: It’s okay, go ahead. Why don’t you go, and then we’ll go to Said?

QUESTION: Eager.

MS. PSAKI: Eager.

QUESTION: Let’s just say I don’t have the same patience that you have displayed all these years, and you’ve been doing a great job at that, as we’ve gone over. So today, Ashraf Ghani was in front of Congress talking about, among other things, ISIS and saying that Afghanistan is now on the front line. He said Daesh “is already sending advance guards to southern and western Afghanistan to push our vulnerabilities.”

I just – I guess what I’m seeing is that this doesn’t exactly match what we’ve heard in the past from Kerry and others about sort of aspirational goals there. What is the status, in your assessment, of ISIS in Afghanistan?

MS. PSAKI: Well – and Secretary Kerry, or Secretary Carter – maybe both of them – spoke to this on Monday a little bit. And we’re aware, of course, that some members of the Taliban have rebranded themselves as ISIL, and we’re certainly monitoring closely to see whether they will have – that will have a meaningful impact on the ground – is it operational, is it propaganda? But the ISIL presence in Afghanistan is still fairly nascent, and we – and if its fighters, whether ISIL or otherwise, threaten U.S. and coalition forces, our forces have the ability to address that threat. But right now, it’s something that we are watching closely. We certainly communicate closely with President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah and many other officials in the Afghan Government about this presence, how concerned they are, and what needs to be done.

QUESTION: Do you think he’s hyping this at all?

MS. PSAKI: Look, I wouldn’t – obviously, he’s the president of his country and he watches what happens closely. But what our evaluation is – and I think it’s true just in terms of how long this has been around – is that this is fairly new, and we need to watch and see what it means and what the intentions are and whether there’s an operational connection or not.

QUESTION: Is the decision to keep the troops there or slow the pace of the withdrawal related to the ISIS threat?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t characterize it in that way. I mean, the President spoke about this yesterday. And what he spoke about is certainly that – and simply because, Justin, it’s nascent, it’s new, and obviously, this is a discussion that’s been ongoing for some time and one that President Ghani and others have been requesting for some time, for months now, as you know, because you’ve been covering this closely.

But the flexibility allows us to support Afghanistan through the upcoming fighting season, to provide core-level advisory support through 2015, and to continue to target remnants of al-Qaida. And our effort here is to certainly maintain the gains but also to prevent an al-Qaida resurgence while thwarting external plotting against U.S. targets. Obviously, we will continue to watch and work with the Afghan Government on what the nascent threat from ISIL presents.

QUESTION: Are there more ISIS or more al-Qaida in Afghanistan?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think al-Qaida has been around for, as you know, some time now, in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: This is --

QUESTION: But their numbers have always been, like, what, less than 100 or something lately. They haven’t been – it’s more of a Taliban issue there.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, sure. Taliban, absolutely. In terms of the ISIL threat, I don’t have an assessment of that --

QUESTION: You don’t. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- we don’t, as the U.S. Government, have for you.

QUESTION: You mentioned a lot that it’s nascent at this point. Wouldn’t that mean it’s the best time to try to actually eliminate the threat before it’s bigger?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as we are, unfortunately, in other places where some have claimed connection to or allegiance to, we are evaluating what it means and what the intentions are and whether there is actually the direct connection.

QUESTION: If a group of fighters declare allegiance to the Islamic State, don’t you have the authorities then to do what you need to do to eliminate that threat?

MS. PSAKI: It’s more than just pledging allegiance, Brad, and there --

QUESTION: Is it?

MS. PSAKI: There are – we – obviously, if they threaten U.S. troops, if there are threats posed, that’s something different. But obviously, we look to more than just a propaganda connection.

QUESTION: At Camp David, Secretary Kerry mentioned some recruiting that’s been taking place from the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Can you expand on that?

MS. PSAKI: I think he answered that in response to a question about offers that had been put out there about financial incentives, which clearly is something that we’re watching and we’re concerned about.

QUESTION: Just one would assume that in order to recruit you need a recruiter. And are these recruiters – is this online? Is this in person?

MS. PSAKI: We just don’t have an assessment of that, Lucas. It’s something we’ll continue to watch and, obviously, will continue to work with the Government of Afghanistan on.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday the President during his press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said – talked about the importance of having a process, a framework, that will lead, ultimately, to a two-state solution. I know that the Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat met with Mr. Lowenstein also, the day before. Is there any kind of a process that is in the offing? Is there a restart of the negotiations from your point of view?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think right now, Said, the Israeli Government – Prime Minister Netanyahu is forming a government. Obviously, that can take some time. I don’t have any prediction of that. And clearly it’s going to be up to the parties to determine what the path is moving forward. So I don’t have anything to read out for you in terms of any plans. Obviously, our belief remains that an agreement and a two-state solution is the best way to have security and lasting peace in the region.

QUESTION: But the Israeli Government – every two years they go in to forming governments, and that process is really lengthy and so on. So your strategy or your policy is not really based on the formation of Israeli government, is it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it – you need to have the parties negotiating, and obviously, it’s natural that the focus in Israel right now is on the formation of a government. Clearly, we’ll see what actions are taken. And beyond that, I don’t have an assessment of what’s --

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to freeze 1,500 housing units in the settlements? Do you think this came as a result of, perhaps, a stronger American position on the issue?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to look at the specifics, Said. I haven’t had a chance to talk to our team about that specific report.

QUESTION: And finally, I’m going to borrow from my colleague here and ask you: What do you have to say to the Palestinian people? I mean, you’ve dealt with this issue --

MS. PSAKI: Oh goodness. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So, I mean, that’s a --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, you know --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: In like 30 seconds or less. It’s okay. So yeah, go ahead. Take your (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Wow, okay. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) involved in this process for so long.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: No, he gave me the idea right there, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I think I would say, Said, since you gave me the opportunity, that the United States continues to support the aspirations of the Palestinian people, that we believe that having two states living side by side is the best way to have a peaceful environment in the region, and that I know that Secretary Kerry, himself, personally remains committed to seeing what is possible on this front.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Yesterday – just following up – yesterday when the President spoke, he mentioned that the – very similarly the U.S. supports a two-state solution. But then he said something along the lines of president – Prime Minister Netanyahu thinks otherwise. What did he mean by that? What is your understanding of the prime minister’s position in terms of support or nonsupport for a two-state solution?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s up to – we’ve seen a variety of comments from Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I think what the President or any official in the United States Government has been getting at is that clearly we saw his statements prior to the election; we’ve seen his statements after. We have to see if there is actually a path to make the hard choices toward negotiations, and we don’t know the answer to that yet. So we’ll be looking for actions and policies that demonstrate genuine commitment.

QUESTION: I’m not going to re-litigate what you guys – what’s the last few days of briefings have been over, so essentially just to understand, you’re not saying that you – and the President wasn’t saying that he doesn’t think the prime minister supports a two-state solution. He was merely saying you don’t know if he supports it. He has to prove that, essentially.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Change topic?

MS. PSAKI: Any more on this before change topics? No? Okay. Israel? No, no. Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Could we go to Elliot? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. There’s a report in Chinese state media that China has sent a list of I think over a hundred high-profile targets for charges on corruption that they want sent back to China. I was wondering if there’s anything you can tell us about this, where the list was sent, whether it was received, what kind of consideration you’re giving it.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can say, broadly, Elliot, that the U.S. and China regularly engage on law enforcement matters and mutual concerns such as repatriation and anticorruption through the U.S.-China Joint Liaison Group on Law Enforcement Cooperation. The Chinese – at the most recent meeting, the Chinese delegation agreed that they would supply us more evidence regarding their priority fugitive cases so that we can increase our focus on the location and prosecution or removal of these fugitives. And we continue to encourage China to provide strong evidence and intelligence to ensure that our law enforcement agencies can properly investigate and prosecute cases related to the alleged corruption. So they have provided lists in the past, and certainly that’s something that is ongoing. Obviously, there are certain requirements, and we have a discussion through our – through often legal channels, but also state channels on what information is needed and what steps can be taken.

QUESTION: Do those requirements include things like guarantee of – that they would get a fair trial --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- with due process when they get back? Because that’s something you’ve expressed concern about in the past with --

MS. PSAKI: That’s right. As a general matter – well, let me go through a couple of details on this --

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. PSAKI: -- if that’s okay. In considering whether to commence negotiations for an extradition treaty, which is what this would require, the United States takes a number of factors into consideration. We must be satisfied that an individual extradited from the United States to another country would receive a fair trial and not be subject to torture or other forms of mistreatment in that country. We also would not consider an extradition treaty unless the other country commits to extradite its own nationals.

As a general matter, we can return fugitives to other countries even when there is no extradition treaty or when none exists, including through immigration proceedings, but there’s a number of steps that need to be taken. And obviously, we don’t, as you know, speak to the plans or preview what internal discussions are happening.

QUESTION: Would it be the DOJ that sort of takes the lead on that process of deciding that or is it the State Department (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Well, yeah, the DOJ is – as I understand it, has the lead. We certainly work with the Department of Justice as well, though.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Jen, a follow-up. So you were saying that in the past, the United States received such list from China.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, what is – when was that in? Because yesterday, I guess Chinese officials said that they just handed a priority list that contains 150 fugitives. Is this the same thing?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into the specifics of past lists or, obviously, speak on behalf of China and what they have or haven’t done in the past. But what – the point I was trying to make to Elliot is that they have presented lists in the past. This isn’t new. And obviously, there are certain requirements that I’ve outlined that would be required in order to proceed with certain extradition processes or other steps.

QUESTION: Under ACT-NET, how does the State Department facilitate a request from foreign countries to extradite fugitive?

MS. PSAKI: How do we facilitate a request? I’m not sure what you mean by that exactly.

QUESTION: I mean, I suppose this is a jurisdiction under DOJ. When – for example, does the Chinese Government need to clear any diplomatic channel with the State Department and then proceed with other federal agencies? How does that work?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would start with the certain requirements that I just mentioned in response to Elliot’s question. And obviously, the Department of Justice is best positioned to answer specific questions about how it works.

QUESTION: Last October in Washington, U.S.-China has a bilateral legal advisor consultation. Was this even being raised or discussed?

MS. PSAKI: As I understand it, there have been discussions for some time about individuals that they would like to see returned. That shouldn’t come as surprise to anyone. I don’t have any specifics to confirm from a meeting last year.

QUESTION: Do you know if there will be a next legal advisor consultation before the next round of S&ED?

MS. PSAKI: At this point in time, I don’t think we have anything to report on future plans for meetings.

QUESTION: New topic --

QUESTION: I guess, following suit with my co-workers --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- do you have any most memorable moments with China?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, goodness. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Okay. We’ll do this one – last one, because you’re a frequent guest in the briefing room, but I know there’s a lot to cover today. Let’s see. I have been to China now, I think, two or three times. And I would say one of the most memorable visits – actually, this wasn’t in China, but was when we hosted the Chinese delegation in Boston. And it was really a great – it was very small and personal and we had a great time doing a tour there when they were here as well. And so I remember that because often, you take – having an opportunity to get to know officials and take everybody from our side and other sides sort of out of the typical boardroom meetings provides an opportunity to learn more about them, and so that’s one of my most memorable times.

All right. New topic? Go ahead.

QUESTION: New topic. Can we go to Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: First of all, to Switzerland --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- before Iran.

MS. PSAKI: It’s the same thing – (laughter) – as for this week.

QUESTION: Before leaving this morning, the Secretary sent a pretty strong warning to critics to an agreement saying basically that there was no alternative to an agreement. Is the United States worried – to follow up on the question asked yesterday by Lesley, is the United States worried about a possible coalition or axis between the Congress, Israel, the Saudis, and the French to try to sink the deal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think for those of you who didn’t pay as close attention as Nicolas this morning, the Secretary addressed the Chief of Mission Conference. He talked a little bit about his trip to Iran. And what he said is that as – if what happens if, as our critics propose, we just walk away from a plan and that the rest of the world were to deem reasonable, and that could happen, well, the talks would collapse, Iran would have the ability to go back spinning its centrifuges and enriching to the degree they want, if they want, if that’s what they choose.

And what he was referencing there was the fact that what we’re trying to achieve here is a long-term, comprehensive deal that will prevent that from happening. And nobody wants to go back to the status quo that existed before the Joint Plan of Action, where Iran was continuing to take steps forward towards acquiring a nuclear weapon. He was not referring to disagreements or tensions between parties. In fact, we’ve remained united with the P5+1; we will be united. Certainly, any deal will be judged on the content and there will be a vigorous debate about it both here and around the world. But he was talking about what would happen if there’s not an agreement.

QUESTION: What is this vigorous debate? You’ve mentioned it before, but if there’s no vote and there’s no check to the Executive Branch’s authority to seal this agreement, vigorous debate is wonderful but it doesn’t – it doesn’t ratify or anything; it’s meaningless.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as historically has been the case, Brad, with any international agreement similar to this, what we’re referring to is certainly that there’ll be public discussion, there’ll be many members of Congress who have views on what a final deal is --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- and we’ll have a discussion about that. And obviously, Congress will be in a position when we – if we were to get to the point of putting in place legislation that would roll back sanctions where they would need to take that vote.

QUESTION: That could be in 15 years potentially. So I mean, the vigorous debate seems to me a straw man argument because you’re saying while everyone will get a chance to talk about it and maybe everyone doesn’t like it, but they don’t get to do anything about it anyway. So I just don’t think that it’s very honest, in a sense, to kind of cite that as a lever of – on this agreement.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what you mean by citing it as a lever.

QUESTION: I don’t know, you’re saying, well, a lot of people may have opinions but there’ll be a vigorous debate later. But that doesn’t – they don’t get to control whether the agreement happens.

MS. PSAKI: There’s been a vigorous debate to date about it. What I mean is that certainly, as soon as we have a – even as it relates to a framework understanding, if we reach one, we’ll be making as much information public as possible as part of a framework understanding. So what I mean is I don’t mean a legislative vote. We’ve gone through that, and I think we all know when there would be a vote and when there wouldn’t be. I’m referring to a discussion about what a framework looks like, what a deal looks like, what the content is. And certainly, there will be countries who have feelings about that, as there will be members of Congress.

QUESTION: But they wouldn’t have a chance to open up that agreement no matter – once this agreement is reached between the P5+1, it’s an agreement; and Congress can’t open it, the Israelis can’t open it, the Saudis can’t open it, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, what we’re talking about here – I know this isn’t your exact question, but just for accuracy’s sake – we’re talking about working to achieve a framework understanding. Obviously, you know our timeline for that – by the 31st, which is next week – and then there would be a period of time of several months where there would be components of the annexes and technical details that would be worked through towards an agreement. Right?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI: So just for the purposes --

QUESTION: So we can call it now a framework understanding rather than a political agreement? What would be the format of what will be announced by Tuesday?

MS. PSAKI: Well, if we get to a framework, we expect, as I mentioned, to take the remaining time to work through the annexes. As to what a framework understanding would look like if we reach one – that’s still being discussed – obviously, our objective would be to share as much information publicly as we can.

QUESTION: So you would say the vigorous debate – sorry, I may have misinterpreted you. The vigorous debate would be in this period between a political framework understanding --

MS. PSAKI: That will certainly be a period --

QUESTION: -- and the final agreement?

MS. PSAKI: -- certainly be a period of time for it. Sure.

QUESTION: So that would give people who may have reservations a chance to raise them publicly or with you to have those views hopefully incorporated into a final accord?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say though, Brad, that that’s a continuation of what we’ve been doing. And so that, we expect, will continue.

QUESTION: Except that it’s – the details aren’t public yet, so --

MS. PSAKI: As more details become public, sure, there’ll be more of an opportunity to speak to the details, of course.

QUESTION: But doesn’t that put an obligation on you to kind of make as much public as possible, to give groups that don’t have --

MS. PSAKI: Which is our priority.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Which is our preference.

QUESTION: So – but if you don’t, that would kind of be unfair to groups that may not have high-level security clearances and are able to somehow weigh in on it. I mean, the public would want to weigh in and so --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Brad, that it’s hard to – and I understand why you’re asking the question. It’s just hard because we’re not at the point where we have a framework, so I can’t tell you how much of it is public and how much wouldn’t be, right?

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: There are components to date that have been classified. That certainly, I would expect, would continue to be the case. We will do briefings with Congress on those classified components, but we would like to make as many details public as we can.

QUESTION: Right. It’s just that for some people, when they try to understand it, the message they’re hearing is, “You shouldn’t judge a deal until there is a deal.”

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But once there is a deal, it’s too late for you to do anything about it, because no one can change the deal once there is a deal. So they – people say, “Well, what good is that, then? I would like to know what’s in it before it’s done so that -- ”

MS. PSAKI: Although to be fair though, Brad, I think there have been several components that have been public in terms of what our principles and our objectives are here and what we’re trying to achieve. And that has obviously been information that we have built over the course of time. And as more information becomes public, we will continue – we won’t start; we will continue a public discussion about it.

QUESTION: Are you requiring that this deal be put in writing?

MS. PSAKI: I think, again, if information – I can’t tell you at this point in time and perhaps over the coming days, we will be able to – what the format will look like, Lucas. But certainly, we’d like to make as many details public as we can. I don’t know what format that will take at this point in time.

QUESTION: Could you explain to us what is the difference in diplomatic terms between a framework agreement and an agreement in this particular case?

MS. PSAKI: A framework understanding and an agreement?

QUESTION: A framework understanding versus an agreement.

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Meaning what --

MS. PSAKI: -- an agreement would include all of the components like annexes and specific technical details. A framework, which is what we’re talking about, would outline the path forward to reaching that. So there’s – it’s a step in the process.

QUESTION: So if there is, let’s say, a framework agreement, we --

MS. PSAKI: A framework understanding.

QUESTION: A framework understanding, okay. So there would be like a statement saying that we have the understanding that we will do such and such that --

MS. PSAKI: It would outline the major elements of a final deal, and then we’d use the remaining time through the end of June to finish the technical annexes.

QUESTION: And my last question on this: How would the lifting the sanctions play into this? Would this begin right away after the statement of understanding or framework agreement, or how is it going to play out?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re talking about an – when we’re talking about an agreement, there are annexes that have lots of technical details.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get ahead of what’s being negotiated, Said. But obviously, as we’ve talked about, there are several components of this – and as Brad actually referenced – that would be over the course of the long term.

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: How should we be characterizing this if eventually there is a framework understanding? Is this harder to get than the – you would say than the agreement itself once the understanding is reached? I mean, is this the true hurdle? Is this the biggest hurdle there is? Or I mean, once you have this, is there some general acceptance that you will – that the agreement will be inevitable, in other words?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I --

QUESTION: Or could there be a serious drop-off between the framework understanding and the agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are technical details and technical annexes that would need to be worked through, and those are not without challenge, right, Justin?

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: But obviously, having an outline for the major elements of a final deal would certainly be overcoming a significant hurdle.

QUESTION: You’ve said several times – or you and others from this department – that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Is that good for the framework as well as the final agreement? As in, if you have something outstanding on March 31st, there cannot be a framework because nothing would be agreed, in theory?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – it’s a good question, Brad. I think it’s hard because they’re still negotiating what a framework understanding will look like. But obviously, having every major element – the major elements outlined would assume that you do touch on all of the major elements. But I think that’s something we’ll have to just keep talking about.

QUESTION: So you could have agreement on a section even if there’s space that hasn’t been closed necessarily? I mean, if everything is agreed, you have a deal, essentially, except for the technical parts. But you’re saying maybe not. I don’t know.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we have to see where we land in a week. Stay tuned. News happening before your eyes.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just – this is just going off your public comments, right?

MS. PSAKI: I understand, Brad, but I think we have to just let the negotiators negotiate over the next five or six days.

QUESTION: There’s just – we’re just trying to temper our expectations, because I think there’s going to be quite a urge within observers to say, if something is reached next week, that this is like – we’ve got something really big here. But I just want you to put this in perspective.

MS. PSAKI: I think it would be safe to say we have something really big here, or however you want to characterize that on ABC. But again, we’re not there yet.

QUESTION: I’m looking for your guidance.

MS. PSAKI: We are not there yet. Obviously, depending on what the details are and what is made public, I’m sure everybody will evaluate it from there.

QUESTION: I’ll ask it a different way. You’ve said many times nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Does the inverse apply? If something is agreed, does that imply that everything is agreed?

MS. PSAKI: I think, Brad – (laughter) – my head hurts a little bit.

QUESTION: Yeah, (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Does any else’s head hurt? I understand what you’re asking. Obviously, we are all familiar with what the components would need to be and what it would need to address, but let’s let them negotiate. I don’t want to get ahead of what we may or may not land on in a week.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Iran or --

QUESTION: New topic?

QUESTION: This issue please?

MS. PSAKI: Iran? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Because you are repeating the words “framework of understanding,” what’s the difference between framework of understanding and memorandum of understanding? (Laughter.) What’s the difference?

MS. PSAKI: We’re referring to this – what we mean by a “framework understanding” is we mean it’s an outline for the major elements of a final deal. So if you want to talk about what we’re working towards over the next week, that’s what it is. Different deals have different components. That’s what we’re working towards in this case.

QUESTION: Also Iran.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So the Secretary talked about what might happen if the U.S. walks away from a deal that the rest of the world considers reasonable. But I just want to be clear, the U.S. will walk away from a deal that doesn’t guarantee a year breakout time, correct?

MS. PSAKI: That is something we’ve been talking about for some time now.

QUESTION: No matter what the rest of the world thinks if that’s reasonable or not.

MS. PSAKI: I think the rest of the world is in a similar place as us and has spoken to that as well.

QUESTION: And does that one-year breakout time accord to what the U.S. considers would qualify for one year, or is it a corporate discussion amongst the partners of what a one-year breakout time would entail?

MS. PSAKI: A corporate discussion? It’s – there’s agreement among P5+1 partners on what that means.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Iraq. Before I ask my question, since everybody made it an emotional departure --

MS. PSAKI: Uh-oh.

QUESTION: -- thank you for your cooperation, and it’s been a short time being here but it was good. So I gather kind of a response from the people when I put on Facebook yesterday, I said Jen is leaving, some of them, they said, can you ask her this question – that sometimes we see that she’s not feeling comfortable with the questions related to the Kurdish issue or Kurdish region, so – but that will – I will leave it to you. But the question is --

MS. PSAKI: What question do you think I haven’t felt comfortable with?

QUESTION: No, that’s what – their impression. I mean, that’s not mine. That’s what I get from them.

QUESTION: The unspoken masses.

QUESTION: But I – (laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: An unspoken person on Facebook. Maybe they don’t like the answer that I’ve given, and that may be a different --

QUESTION: Maybe that’s the case.

MS. PSAKI: That may be the case. That may be the case in other places as well.

QUESTION: If you have anything for – yeah, if you have anything for them.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But the question is going to be about the Tikrit operations.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: We heard different, like, responses from Pentagon and then yesterday, I think, from the Iraqi President Masum, he said that the U.S. will help Iraqi Government in the operations – Iraqi army, of course – around Tikrit. What is the latest update on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the latest – and I can confirm – is that the Government of Iraq has formally requested, as I think many of you have seen, ISR support for their operations in Tikrit, and the U.S. is now providing ISR support. On airstrikes, as you know, the coalition has continued to provide air support in the fight against ISIL with multiple airstrikes on ISIL targets in various locations. I would note multiple airstrikes in the last several days, but I’m not going to speak more specifically to tactical or strategic operational decisions or actions beyond that.

QUESTION: There are airstrike support for the Iraqi army in Tikrit. That’s what you are --

MS. PSAKI: I’m referring to around Iraq. I can confirm the ISR support. I’m not going to predict additional action.

QUESTION: But I think that so far it hasn’t been done, any, like, effort – airstrikes around Tikrit, so --

MS. PSAKI: Well again, I’m not going to predict, and I think the Department of Defense would be the appropriate agency to speak to that.

QUESTION: Okay. One more on Iraq. It’s going to be on the Kurdish oil problem with Baghdad. So what is the position of the United States? We heard that several times, but if there is any change on that – on the Kurdish oil dispute with Baghdad. Are you against any oil sale of – by the Kurdish Government in United States and elsewhere?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve had the same position for years now. Nothing has changed about that. Obviously, both sides have conveyed that they are continuing to work on this deal. There have been some payments made, as we’ve seen reported from last year. The budget just passed, as you know. But our position remains the same.

QUESTION: Which is the same – you mean as what? Like, as like you are not supporting the independent oil sale?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: I have a couple of boutique issues, if you will.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: One – and I sent some queries around, so maybe you have that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Hopefully I have information you’re looking for.

QUESTION: One, we had a long investigation regarding slave labor in Thai seafood industry, including products that make their way into the U.S. market.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I saw that report.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on this? Is this something, one, you’re pressing the Thais to improve labor standards; two, working with industry to ensure cleanliness, let’s say, in the supply chain?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, the Secretary and the State Department are deeply concerned about human trafficking in the seafood sector and aquaculture operations globally. It has become increasingly clear that workers in the fishing industry, many of whom are migrants, are exploited at multiple points along the supply chain from harvesting to processing. And I think your story, or the AP story, referenced some of this. The Trafficking in Persons Report from 2014, as well as previous reports, have long identified the problem of forced labor in the fishing industry around the world. And a significant – as it relates to Thailand, a significant portion – proportion of trafficking victims are found in the seafood industry. So for several years, the international community, including the United States, has expressed concern publicly – also directly, of course – over the forced labor of foreign migrants in the Thai fishing and on-land seafood industries. And we continue to call on the Thai Government to take significantly greater steps to protect foreign migrants in the fishing and shrimp industries and to punish those who are enslaving workers.

QUESTION: Yeah, is this something that might come up in the trans-Pacific trade talks that are ongoing, the standards for labor rights within the seafood sector?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that level of specificity, Brad.

QUESTION: And then has there been any talk, given not just this report but ongoing concerns by others and human rights reports about the role of forced or indentured servitude in the Thai industry, about lowering the Thai’s rating in terms of protection of labor rights?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Brad, as you know, we don’t make predictions like that. We do note concerns where we have them, and certainly the issue of fishing practices – excuse me – in Thailand has been noted in previous reports.

QUESTION: Okay. And then --

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: Jen, can we go to --

QUESTION: And then I just have one more if I could get it out of the way.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Are – there’s a – reports in Mexico about a 20-year-old youth – youth – man who had hoped to go to the Mayo Clinic for a double transport but was denied an American visa. Can you explain – is there any effort to help him out now, now that his visa’s been rejected?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we don’t as a policy speak to visa applications and adjudications. I know you posed – you’ve posed this question earlier today. Our team is looking into it, so we’ll see if there’s more information we can provide.

QUESTION: So is there – he would have the opportunity to apply for something like humanitarian parole, or is that something you guys can refer yourselves?

MS. PSAKI: We’re looking into the specifics of the reported case.

QUESTION: And I mean, this is obviously not general practice to deny people the right to emergency health interventions. I mean, is there a possibility that somebody simply screwed up, without getting into the details?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: I mean, you guys make mistakes sometimes too, right?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. But Brad, I think, one, in these particular reports, as you know, cases are adjudicated case by case. There are a range of factors that go into making determinations.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI: So I don’t know the details of this particular case. And our team is looking into it. But I don’t have more, really, I can speculate on at this point in time, but we’ll get back to you with more we can offer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go to Ethiopia?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: First of all, Jen, I would like to congratulate you on your new promotion.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you.

QUESTION: And thank you so very much for being patient. And I asked you yesterday --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Did you get the information regarding the recent argument between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt over – on sharing water from the Nile River?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. We congratulate Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan on the signing of the agreement on declaration of principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project. This is an important step forward. We look forward to working with the countries to reinforce this spirit of cooperation and ensure the sustainable development of the Nile for the benefit of all countries.

QUESTION: And also I have one more question. According to the recent report from the United Nations Human Rights Council, they came out a report on Eritrea. The report --

MS. PSAKI: On Eritrea?

QUESTION: Yes. I don’t know if you get that information. The report say that most Eritrean have no hope for their future, and the report say that there is an (inaudible) in Eritrea. And what’s your comment regarding this human rights report? And also, what is the current relationship, the United States relationship with Eritrea and its foreign policy with the Eritrean Government?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we do our own annual report, human rights reports. And I think that is due to come out relatively soon, so I’d point you to that and what comments are made in there. Beyond that I can check with our team and see if we have any particular comment on the human rights report.

QUESTION: Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: In October we heard Marie Harf – she’s talking about the – my colleague, (inaudible), he asked here about the PYD. And she said the PYD is not PKK to United States and it’s not a terrorist organization. Is that still the case?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. If it’s the case, the leader of this organization, of this political party, applied for the visa, and he got refused. And the category of the refusal, which they shared with some media organizations, is 214(b), which is tourist admissibility, which is no waiver also will be requested. Is that related to PYD or to his past?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t speak to visa adjudication publicly as a matter of policy, so there’s nothing I can offer for you on this case.

QUESTION: Is there anything like why his visa was refused?

MS. PSAKI: Again, we don’t speak to visa adjudication for any individual as a matter of policy.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: On South Korea?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jen. You may already know about this or may not. It is reported today that two Russian nuclear bomber fly close to the Jeju Island in South Korean territory. Can you comment on this?

MS. PSAKI: I have actually not seen those reports, so I don’t have any comment on them. I certainly don’t have confirmation of them. We can check into it for you.

QUESTION: Can you take?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Afghanistan?

MS. PSAKI: Afghanistan, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yeah. With the Afghan president’s visit here, can you elaborate on the role that India, Pakistan are going to play in this new equation? Like, the Afghans are asking for the U.S. troops to stay back. And it’s changing equations, so has there been anything discussed about the role that India and Pakistan will play?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, certainly, as countries in the region, they have a stake in a successful outcome and the stability and prosperity of Afghanistan. And we have said before, but it’s worth repeating, that we certainly support efforts of President Ghani and others to incorporate neighboring countries into their efforts, whether that’s reconciliation with Pakistan or their needs moving forward. So I don’t have any readout of the meetings from yesterday. I would point you to the White House for that.

QUESTION: Thank you. And I just want to ask you a separate question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I know you have been working as spokesperson for State Department. Just to know, how many language you speak? (Laughter.) How many? Curious.

MS. PSAKI: Do not tell my high school and college professors, but I do not speak other languages at this point in time. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on Qatar.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: The Taliban Five --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- I know in the past you said the – all five former Gitmo suspects have not left the peninsula.

MS. PSAKI: Qatar, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Have not left Qatar. But is there any evidence you have that they are re-engaging with their Taliban colleagues?

MS. PSAKI: I think we spoke about a report several weeks ago, Lucas, and I’d point you to that. And I believe what we said at the time was that because we have means of tracking and staying in close with the Government of Qatar, it shows that the process is certainly working. But I don’t have any particular update on it from there beyond that.

QUESTION: Do you know, how would you – would the State Department define re-engagement?

MS. PSAKI: How would we define re-engagement? I think we’ve talked about this extensively. I don’t have a new definition for you today.

QUESTION: Well, if they were to be emailing or on Facebook or anything like that or the like?

MS. PSAKI: We look at a range of details, Lucas, but obviously, going back on the battlefield, that’s – there are a range of criteria we look at, and I’m sure we can get you specifics of the criteria.

QUESTION: And last one, just because this might be my last question to you --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- from the podium: Before you check out and go to the White House, will you be turning in all of your classified materials or BlackBerry or anything like that? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: I knew you’d ask this. Of course I will be signing all the forms and turning in all of the materials that I am required to turn in, I can assure you.

QUESTION: Would that --

QUESTION: Will that include personal emails? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Would that include this form, the 109 – 109 – separation statement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m staying within the federal government, so I don’t know what the policy is. And if I am somebody who’s required to sign it, I will happily sign it.

QUESTION: It says it’s required for State Department employees.

QUESTION: For records-keeping, will you be transmitting all personal emails to the State Department?

MS. PSAKI: I have done that through the process, Brad, even when some of you have accidentally emailed me on my personal email. I won’t call out names. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: One more. Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: One more on China.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: First of all, thank you so much for last two years. Appreciate it.

MS. PSAKI: My pleasure. It’s been great working with all of you.

QUESTION: Thank you. And one thing on China: As you know, the Chinese Government invited the foreign leader to 70th anniversary ceremony on this --

MS. PSAKI: Invited who?

QUESTION: Seventieth anniversary.

MS. PSAKI: Secretary Kerry or who?

QUESTION: No, no, no, no. Chinese Government invited foreign leader to the 70th anniversary ceremony.

MS. PSAKI: Foreign leaders, foreign leaders, okay.

QUESTION: Foreign leaders, yes.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, okay.

QUESTION: The ceremony and the military parade which is held in this September. That’s – some U.S. official is going to visit or attend this ceremony or military parade?

MS. PSAKI: I know you’ve asked this question before. We don’t have anything to preview at this point in time on attendance at this particular function.

QUESTION: And as Chinese Government also invited Park Geun-hye, the South Korea president, and maybe Japanese prime minister, do you think these foreign leader, like your ally, will visit and attend the military parade? It’s a good idea?

MS. PSAKI: We will let, of course, other countries make their own decisions about what events they may or may not attend. We certainly support increased cooperation and dialogue between countries in the region.

All right. Thanks, everyone. (Applause.) All right.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:50 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 24, 2015

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 15:55

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 24, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:21 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Hello.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS. PSAKI: How is everyone today?

QUESTION: Lovely.

MS. PSAKI: Lovely. All right.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything at the top. I just wanted to make sure you all had seen the statement we put out expressing our condolences and expressing that we are saddened by the news that Germanwings flight 9525 crashed in southern France on its way from Barcelona, Spain to Dusseldorf, Germany. We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the 100 – or approximately 150 people on board. We are currently reviewing whether any U.S. citizens were aboard the flight. We stand ready to offer assistance and support to the governments of France, Germany, and Spain as they investigate this tragedy.

QUESTION: Okay. Before we move on to other things, just is there – do you – is there any indication that there might have been American citizens on board the plane?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, this tragic crash just happened this morning, so we’re reviewing the manifest. And I can’t confirm or rule out American citizens at this point. As soon as we have more information, we’ll make it available.

QUESTION: Is there some reason to suspect that there might have been?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it just takes some time to do this, as you know. So I just don’t want to get ahead of what we do as a typical process.

QUESTION: And then secondly, has there been any requests for help?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe at this time. I’m certainly happy to check.

One thing before we continue. My brother-in-law, David Mecher, is in the back with his girlfriend Hannah, so I just wanted to welcome them to the briefing. Hello. Welcome guys.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well done. Got the family obligations over with.

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m excited they’re here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sure you are. So let’s go to this Wall Street Journal story.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Is it correct that the Administration is upset, to say the least, with the Israelis for spying on the talks and then going to Congress and telling them what they’ve learned?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not going to comment on intelligence matters, whether that’s ours or any other country’s. I can say that we continue – and we will continue – our close military intelligence and security cooperation with Israel. That has not changed.

And without giving any merit to the claims in the story, I do want to be clear that it’s absurd – an absurd notion that Congress would have to rely on any foreign government to gain insight into the nuclear negotiations with Iran. We have briefed Congress on the nuclear talks as much, or perhaps more than, any other issue. Since October of 2013, we have conducted more than 230 meetings, hearings, and calls with Senate and House members and their staffs on Iran; more than 60 of these engagements have taken place in the last four weeks. And we even offered to brief the Hill this week. So point being they receive quite a bit of information directly from the United States and senior United States officials.

QUESTION: Well, your point that it’s an absurd notion I think is exactly the point that your critics are making. Why should Congress feel that it has – that it’s not being briefed fully?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure --

QUESTION: You don’t know?

MS. PSAKI: Well, no. Matt, I think, one --

QUESTION: Well, you – hold on. You have said that – you, yourself, in fact, have said that the U.S. is not providing Israel with the complete details of this.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: You have also said that you are – the Administration is not providing, at least to other than certain, very select members of Congress, the full details of the negotiations.

MS. PSAKI: And there have been full details provided in classified settings on several occasions.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that --

MS. PSAKI: Obviously there’s not a deal yet, though.

QUESTION: You’re saying that Congress knows everything about what’s going on?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Congress has been briefed extensively, thoroughly, and frequently. So my point is that it’s absurd that they would need information from a foreign country.

QUESTION: Well, I think – but that’s the whole point of what the critics are saying, that the situation is absurd, because they do need – or feel the need, at least – to get information from a foreign country because they don’t think that they’re getting it all from the Administration.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just would disagree with that notion, Matt, that that is the point.

QUESTION: Well, okay.

MS. PSAKI: I think there are many members of Congress who have received – and again, we’ve done extensive briefings with many of the details, most of the details, all of the details that we have to offer.

QUESTION: Well, yeah. But all the details that you have to offer does not mean, necessarily mean, all the details, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s not an agreement at this point.

QUESTION: Right. Well, the fact that you – it – can you speak to whether the Administration is upset that it suspects – at least suspects – Israel of doing this?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to those reports or the intelligence activities of any question – country.

QUESTION: Well, given the fact that you have said that you are not giving them the full story, that you’re withholding some details, why would you be surprised or shocked that the – that Israel, which has a vested interest in the outcome of these talks, would go to find information elsewhere?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think we’ve spoken in the past to our concern in the past has been about leaks of certain sensitive information. And obviously we’ve taken steps to ensure that the negotiations remain private. But we still have ongoing conversations that are continuing with Israel and a range of countries. Under Secretary Sherman has met over the past month with Israeli National Security Advisor Cohen and Minister for Intelligence and Strategic Planning Steinitz. Secretary Kerry continues his conversation. Those discussions are ongoing.

QUESTION: Yeah. But I don’t understand why people are claiming to be surprised or outraged or shocked that if you’re not – that Israel or other interested parties are trying to find out the full details, because you’re not giving them the full details.

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: I don’t get why you’re – why there’s this outrage.

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I think now we’re talking about a range of things beyond the story, which is absolutely fine. But I think, one --

QUESTION: No, I – no. I don’t think we are, but go ahead.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. One, I think there will be a discussion, briefings. There will be a public debate if there’s a deal on – with Iran, and certainly we look forward to having that.

QUESTION: Well, so you’re saying that the story is wrong. Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not speaking to the intelligence activities of any country, whether it’s the United States, Israel, or any other country.

QUESTION: We know. But that’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking if you’re upset, if the Administration is upset, outraged.

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more comment on it, Matt.

QUESTION: I don’t understand what the – I mean, it seems to me that if this is not the position of the Administration, what is outlined in the story, then someone from the Administration – and I pretty sure that the author of the story, who’s a very good reporter --

MS. PSAKI: He is.

QUESTION: -- called and sought some kind of official, on-the-record reaction, and I didn’t see any in the story. So that suggests that it is correct.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think, one, we can’t – I can’t speak to just, as I never can, anonymous sources in any story. I can’t speak to who they are, what level they are, what they’re speaking to.

QUESTION: Well, but then what is the – I don’t understand what the Administration is hoping to accomplish here by this anonymous whining about something that it shouldn’t be surprised is happening because you’re not giving Israel or anybody else, most people for that matter, the full details.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t speak to the reasoning or the motivation of an anonymous source. I think in the past we’ve expressed steps we take in order to ensure that the talks remain private. We’ve continued that.

QUESTION: Right. But – well, but I mean this is – this kind of anonymous carping seems to – I mean, is the Administration interested in improving the tense relations with the Israeli Government? Because if it is, this doesn’t seem to be a very good way of going about it.

MS. PSAKI: Again, Matt, if I had the anonymous source, I’d be happy to have them up here with me.

QUESTION: Well, someone --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more information on the anonymous source quoted in the story.

QUESTION: Yeah. But someone is – someone in the Administration is saying – it’s the fact that whoever the – well, soon you will be the White House communications director. Perhaps you can get people --

MS. PSAKI: Unless I have a magic wand, I still may not know who anonymous sources are.

QUESTION: -- into line. It just seems to be – to the point – to use a phrase, it seems kind of JV, no, for the – especially if you’re going to – if this – whoever these official or this official or officials are come out and say these kinds of things, and you’re not – and if you disagree with them, you’re not prepared to say that. Just --

MS. PSAKI: Matt, what I’m conveying from here is that our focus is on continuing to do the tough work of negotiating with the Iranians, our P5+1 partners. That’s what our focus is on. We’ve had regular briefings and consultations with the Israelis – that will continue, same with Congress.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, can I follow up on this?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Did you – did this – did the Administration, did this building at all suspect that Israel or someone like that was spying on these discussions from what was revealed through Israeli intelligence or though intelligence? There must have been suspicions that something was going on.

MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand why all of you are asking. I’m just not going to speak to reports about intelligence matters from the podium.

QUESTION: But I think the question is did you suspect it, not – you don’t have to talk about the intelligence, but do you suspect – the report makes an allegation that Israel was spying on these negotiations. From your podium, on the record, could you tell us whether the Administration suspects Israel to have done that or not?

MS. PSAKI: From here on the record, I’m not going to comment on the intelligence matters of another country or the United States. That hasn’t changed from five minutes ago.

QUESTION: Can I follow up? I’d like another follow-up, please.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You said you were briefing – well, let’s go back on this one. Are there concerns, as Secretary Kerry heads into another round, that the opposition and criticism from the French, the Israelis, the Saudis, could in any way scupper this deal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, separate question. I think now we’re – which is fine. Our view, and just – it’s been shown through the negotiations – that the P5+1 are united in our goal, our approach, our resolve, and our determination to ensure that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon. As you know, there have been ongoing consultations, meetings, discussions with a range of parties. As part of that close coordination, Energy Secretary Moniz will be discussing some of the technical aspects of any potential deal via a secure videoconference today with European counterparts and the P5+1.

As you all may know, the President had the opportunity to speak with President Hollande on Friday. And President Hollande was in complete agreement with the President on the type of understanding we are seeking. Obviously, we’re all looking towards the same goal. We all want to have a strong deal, a good deal. That’s what we’re all working toward. And the P5+1 has been united, and we anticipate they will be moving forward.

QUESTION: Did the President, during that discussion with President Hollande, actually raise the issue of France’s criticism of – public posturing and criticism of this --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak more to that call. The White House did a readout. You can certainly ask them if they’d like to discuss it further.

QUESTION: And then just a last question. On – has Secretary Kerry spoken to Netanyahu about the article from today in The Wall Street Journal?

MS. PSAKI: He’s spoken with him over the last couple of days, but it’s really about the fact that they’re going through a process and a transition now. We work with Israel on a range of issues, including security issues, and that’s been the focus of their discussion.

QUESTION: So they didn’t talk about the Iran – they didn’t discuss the --

MS. PSAKI: That’s all I have to read out from his discussions.

QUESTION: But independent of the circumstance under which the spying allegedly took place, is it, I mean, cause for outrage that an ally would really spy on the United States?

MS. PSAKI: Said, I appreciate your effort, but I just have nothing more to add to this line of questioning.

QUESTION: Do you find it underhanded? Do you find that the effort in this particular case was actually conducted to somehow sabotage efforts that you are conducting in these negotiations to --

MS. PSAKI: Again, Said, as I mentioned --

QUESTION: -- or set it back?

MS. PSAKI: As I mentioned, we have ongoing consultations and briefings that we provide to the Israelis. I’m not going to speak to reports of the intelligence matters of another country or of the United States.

QUESTION: Do you think that these spy allegations somehow compromise the discussions that are ongoing?

MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your effort and your enthusiasm here, Said, but I have nothing more to add.

QUESTION: Have the Iranians --

Do you have another topic to discuss?

QUESTION: Have the Iranians discussed this with you?

MS. PSAKI: I have nothing more to add for you, Said.

QUESTION: But isn’t it self-evident that if the U.S. had made a decision several weeks, a couple of months back not to share some of the details of the negotiations with the Israelis, that there was a suspicion among members of this Administration that somebody somewhere was acting like a sieve, somebody somewhere was getting information to people who were not entitled to have that information for whatever reason?

MS. PSAKI: Ros, as just broadly speaking, there’s a range of information we provide in briefings, whether it’s to Congress or other governments. That doesn’t mean that all of that is for public consumption. So I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion you’ve jumped to. I have nothing further on the report.

QUESTION: But it does raise questions though, Jen, about whether or not people felt in this Administration that they were able to participate in this multinational negotiation with the Iranian Government in a way that would be most productive, if only everyone felt that they could discuss very sensitive information without fear of it landing on the front page of this newspaper or that. Isn’t there this ongoing sense that someone was trying to compromise the ability of these governments – not just the U.S. Government – to actually carry out this negotiation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Ros, every time sensitive information about sensitive negotiations is leaked, that puts things potentially at risk. I can’t speak to the source or the reason that that has occurred in any of the instances.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry. Elliot and then – does that work? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Just the Israelis for their part have completely denied the report and they’ve said that it’s clearly intended to undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship. I was wondering if you have – if you think that that’s a reasonable assessment or if you have anything to say about it.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to speak to comment on their claims or their public comments. I think, obviously, there are areas where we have had disagreements as it relates to how we can prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. But again, Israel is an important partner, a strategic and security partner, and we’ve continued our consultations. And I think that speaks to our commitment to the relationship.

QUESTION: So it doesn’t seem to you like this is an attempt to further deepen the gap between the U.S. and Israel on the part of --

MS. PSAKI: The story in The Wall Street Journal?

QUESTION: Yeah. Or the leak, but --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think the motivation of news organizations is that, but --

QUESTION: Not the story itself, but the statements by the senior official who is quoted in the story.

MS. PSAKI: Again, I have nothing more to add on the statements of an anonymous official.

QUESTION: Jen, is the Administration interested in easing the tensions with the Israeli Government?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt --

QUESTION: We all know they’re there. You can’t pretend they’re not there. Are – is the Administration interested in – it certainly appears from his recent comments that Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to back off on the things that you – on some of the things that you said that are – that you found to be problematic.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Stories like this and comments like from this whoever-it-was official don’t seem to suggest that – as well as the fact that you’re not willing to give the prime minister of Israel the benefit of the doubt when he says – when he tries to – when he apologizes for comments that you found offensive and says that he is, in fact, still in favor of a two-state solution.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, what people are looking for is more than just words. Obviously, we’ll be looking for actions and policies that demonstrate genuine commitment to a two-state solution. We’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Okay. And then this has been raised before by other people, but I’ll ask it again now in this same context: When the Supreme Leader of Iran is continuing – in the middle of these negotiations is continuing to make statements like “death to America,” how is that not problematic for you? How is that not something – why are you just willing to let that – let it slide, basically, and you are holding the prime minister of Israel to comments that he made and has since changed?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think we’d hardly put the Supreme Leader and the leadership of Israel in the same category. Israel is a strategic partner, a security partner --

QUESTION: Well, the Iranians can be trusted and the Israelis can’t?

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish.

QUESTION: Is that what you mean?

MS. PSAKI: No. I’m actually trying to convey that our relationship with Israel is abiding; it’s strong; it’s a security relationship; it’s one that we’re committed to. Do we have disagreements on some issues, like how we should proceed with preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon? Yes. Have we – can we – do we believe that it isn’t possible to just forget what the prime minister says when it’s conflicting with past precedent and past policy for some time? Yes. But obviously, we’re continuing our discussions. The Secretary has been in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu. We remain committed to our relationship. Remember, we’re not evaluating our relationship with Israel. We’re evaluating how to proceed as it relates to pursuing a two-state solution.

QUESTION: All right. And all of that is well and good, but the Supreme Leader of Iran represents a regime that took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held hundreds of American hostages for a long time, is what you say is a leading state sponsor of terrorism, has --

MS. PSAKI: And remains, and will be even if there’s a deal.

QUESTION: Right. And yet you’re willing to take – you’re willing to let his words slide, but not that of a country with which you say you have this great security relationship.

MS. PSAKI: No, I would disagree with that. I would say, one, as a reminder, even if there is a deal with Iran, it doesn’t mean we let slide or forget, whether it’s the comments, the – or more importantly the actions, state sponsorship of terrorism, their human rights record, the fact that they’re holding American citizens – they remain – they continue to hold American citizens, including a Washington Post reporter in their jails. I mean, these are all issues that we remain very concerned about. Those concerns are not going to be soothed by a deal.

But we also feel that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is not only in our interests, it’s in the interests of the international community, and that’s why we’re pursuing it. It’s not about trust. Our relationship with Israel is one that’s strong, abiding, and --

QUESTION: So is it correct that you’re not concerned at all that someone or some people’s personal animosity – what appears to be personal animosity – towards the Israeli prime minister is hurting the relationship?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, anonymous quotes are – there’s a long history of anonymous quotes. It wasn’t as if the President or the Secretary of State spoke on the record and made those comments. There’s a difference.

QUESTION: Well, the language is more problematic in some cases. But there’s also a long record of anonymous quotes being – of assertions made by officials speaking anonymously being denied or being repudiated in some way, and the fact that you can’t or aren’t doing that now on the record – and I guess the President will have a chance to address this question himself later – suggests that there is truth to the story.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the fact is that our actions – typically, we don’t speak to anonymous quotes. If we did, we’d spend all of our time speaking to anonymous quotes. But our actions speak to what our position is, which is that our consultations are continuing. We’re continuing to keep Israel updated, just as we are Congress. And obviously, as a policy, we have not confirmed the intelligence activities of the United States or other countries.

QUESTION: Can we stay on --

QUESTION: But – yeah, just a minute.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: One last effort on the spying allegation.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you believe or do you suspect that Israeli officials were staying at this gorgeous hotel in Lausanne last week?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any comment on that, Nicolas.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: When was the last time that you actually updated Israel? Since the – have you updated them since the negotiations – since the Secretary came back or during the negotiations last week?

MS. PSAKI: We typically do after every round, Jo, and typically, Under Secretary Sherman does that. I can certainly see if they’ve had a chance to do that post the last round.

QUESTION: So – but she didn’t travel to Israel like she has in the past this time.

MS. PSAKI: Correct, and – but she often does via videoconference or secure conference call, so that’s typically how we’ve done it. Otherwise it would be a lot of travel for Under Secretary Sherman.

QUESTION: So these reports don’t make you hesitate as to whether to continue to update? You just said, “We’re going to continue to update the Israelis.”

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: And these reports don’t give you really any cause for pause?

MS. PSAKI: That’s right.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, can we stay on the statements made by the Israeli prime minister, but regarding the two-state solution? Now I --

QUESTION: Well, I want to clarify one more on Iran, and that is that an Iranian official said today or very recently that snap inspections are no, they will not accept any snap inspections. Is it still the position of the Administration that, in order for there to be an agreement, that there has to be snap --

MS. PSAKI: Transparency, access, verification.

QUESTION: Does that mean snap inspections?

MS. PSAKI: I mean, I don’t want to put new terms on it before an agreement has been made, Matt. I think, clearly, in the JPOA, which is, I think, a good roadmap for us, given it’s based on that --

QUESTION: Don’t use the word roadmap. That is – you’re dooming yourself to failure.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, fair enough. The JPOA is a good basis for us.

QUESTION: There you go.

MS. PSAKI: There is increased access, increased transparency, the ability to see what’s happening. And clearly, our efforts are to increase that. So that’s one of the premises of the discussions.

QUESTION: Does that mean snap inspections?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to put new terminology on it, Matt, while they’re still negotiating.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know – so it’s something that’s still being negotiated?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re negotiating every component of how this will work.

QUESTION: But isn’t – I was under the impression that having these inspections, intrusive inspections that can be conducted very quickly --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- so they can’t hide anything is a --

MS. PSAKI: And conducting inspections very quickly, yes. That’s part of what we would like to see. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Well, is it not – well, that’s what I mean by snap inspection. So I don’t want to – it’s not a new term; it’s been used all over the place.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: But that was – that used to be a hard and fast position.

MS. PSAKI: It remains; that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: But there are still negotiations going on.

QUESTION: So if there are no snap inspections, there is no deal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, again, this is a component of what’s being negotiated. Obviously, transparency and verification is an important component of that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) readout of the meeting between the Secretary and Mr. Amano this morning?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I have a few things I can offer on that. So as you know, they met this morning during General Amano’s visit to Washington. He met with Secretary Kerry as well as other officials. I believe he also had a meeting or has a meeting with Department of Energy Secretary Moniz. He’s also scheduled to have meetings at the National Security Council.

In his meetings, they discussed issues of mutual interest, including safeguards issues, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference that’s upcoming, nuclear safety, peaceful issues – peaceful uses, and Iran. And clearly, we have ongoing discussions with them as well. So this was just an opportunity to meet in person, since he was in Washington.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, can we go to the statement made by the Israeli prime minister?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Now – about the two-state solution and the renunciation of that two-state solution. Yesterday, the White House chief of staff said that the 50-year-old occupation must end. Now, I ask you if you consider the West Bank to be occupied territory last week. So is that now a word that can be used --

MS. PSAKI: I think as I said last week, we’ve had a position on this for quite a long time. It’s not new; it’s been a longstanding position of the United States Government these are occupied territories.

QUESTION: Okay. So these are occupied territories and that occupation must end, must be brought to an end?

MS. PSAKI: I think the chief of staff speaks for the Administration, but --

QUESTION: Okay. Excellent. Now, in the absence of direct negotiations, would you support a Palestinian effort at the United Nations to pursue the end of this occupation that has gone on for 50 years?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we discussed last week, Said – and I don’t have a new update for you – obviously, we have a range of options. I’m not going to prejudge what position the United States would take if – with any UN Security Council action.

QUESTION: Now let me ask you just quick follow-ups on this issue. You said that the Administration is going to re-evaluate or look at different approaches and so on. And this was interpreted to mean perhaps not so much total diplomatic support at UN forums. Now, last week during the meeting of the women’s commission --

QUESTION: We talked all about this yesterday.

QUESTION: I understand, I want to ask it anyway. So – but that really is not exactly consistent with at least the message conveyed by the White House that there is going to be an evaluation.

MS. PSAKI: Said, as Matt mentioned, and just in the interest of getting to as many topics as possible, this is something Marie addressed yesterday. There’s ample precedent for this. We don’t believe it’s right the forum, so I’d point you to what she said yesterday.

QUESTION: Jen, my last question: So we’re not likely to see any kind of change of attitude by the United States of America in the United Nations as far as Israel is concerned, are we?

MS. PSAKI: Again, Said, I think I spoke to this yesterday. I just answered the question. I’m not going to prejudge what action we would take.

Any more on Israel before – or Iran before we continue?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a reaction from the U.S. on reports that Israel is now working on approaching European officials more to affect the outcome of the Iran nuclear talks.

MS. PSAKI: Are you referring to the French visit, perhaps, or --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think --

QUESTION: I believe the report said they’re working closely to affect the European partners in all of this.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not aware of more specifics. I mean, I think many P5+1 countries have been consulting with Israel and other countries throughout this process. The parties that are directly involved in these negotiations are united in our goal of effectively closing off all of the possible pathways to a bomb for Iran. We expect that to remain the case. We’re quite familiar with the views of some Israeli officials. And frankly, P5+1 partners have been making trips or consulting with Israeli officials for some time, as has the United States.

QUESTION: Could I ask about Saeb Erekat being in town? Did he have any meetings with any officials?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Said, but I can certainly check --

QUESTION: Thanks. Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: -- if there are any senior officials or any officials meeting with him.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, there is an article in the Associated Press today; it’s about the Syrian Kurds that have not been fully embraced by the United States in the war against the Islamic State. What do you – do you agree with that conclusion?

MS. PSAKI: I have not had a chance to read the article, but if there a specific question about a claim or --

QUESTION: Yes. Specifically, for example, it says Syrian Kurds are not included in a new U.S. training program. Is that true? And why?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d point you to the Department of Defense. They’re overseeing the train and equip program and any of the training and the process of evaluating that.

QUESTION: And it also says that, unlike Iraqi Kurds, the support that the United States has given to them has been very limited, to basically just “sporadic coordination on coalition air strikes” – quote/unquote. Is there any political relationship with the Syrian Kurdish groups, namely the PYD in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve spoken to this in the past. I really don’t have any updates for you. As you know, we have done – taken a range of military action that have benefited many different groups in Syria in the fight against ISIL. That has continued. We’ve also had ranges of contact, but I’d point you to DOD for any questions about their train and equip program.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. An anonymous official – another one – tells the reporter --

MS. PSAKI: Uh-oh.

QUESTION: -- tells the reporter that the United States doesn’t want to upset Turkey. That’s why it hasn’t developed its relationship with Syrian Kurds, like it has with Iraqi Kurds. Isn’t that true?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t speak to an anonymous quote, again, who obviously wasn’t speaking to positions of the United States. There, as you know, are steps – ongoing peace process steps. We certainly welcome steps in support of a peaceful resolution to the conflict. We encourage the Government of Turkey and all parties concerned to continue working towards a lasting peace. But beyond that, I don’t have any specific comment.

QUESTION: They are Syrian Kurds, not Turkish Kurds. I’m saying your relationship with Syrian Kurds is also not going forward because of your longstanding ties with Turkey.

MS. PSAKI: Again, I --

QUESTION: Can you say that is true?

MS. PSAKI: -- think we’ve taken action, including military action, that conflicts with that claim.

Any more on Syria before we continue?

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Oh, wait. I have one of these --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: There – there’s a report out that there is – there are negotiations going on right now with the Syrians over the detained American there. Know anything about that?

MS. PSAKI: Don’t have anything on that, Matt, but I’m happy to take it and see if we have anything more on that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Syria?

QUESTION: No, on --

MS. PSAKI: Another --

QUESTION: Can I change --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Oh, okay. Ladies first.

QUESTION: Oh, good. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yemen. Can I change it to Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Does this – do you have any comment on the Houthi move – the Houthis are closing in on where President Hadi is. Do you know of any requests from President Hadi to be evacuated?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, we’ve seen President Hadi publicly ask for help from the GCC. So I don’t think that necessarily needs – not about this specifically, but in general. I don’t have anything specific to confirm or report on his plans, beyond what’s been out there publicly. Clearly, the situation on the ground is very fluid, which seems to be a common way we describe it. And I don’t have – I know there have been a range of reports about Houthi movements and where they are and kind of where they’re making progress. I don’t have any independent confirmation of those from here.

Obviously, our focus and the focus of the international community remains on condemning the unilateral and offensive military actions being taken by the Houthis and their allies. We continue to urge all Yemenis to avoid violence. At this time, the Houthis continue to pursue and unacceptable violent path to take control of the country and undermine both the president elected by the Yemeni people and the peaceful political transition process. There are also efforts by UN Special Advisor to Yemen Benomar to continue negotiations between all Yemeni parties and find a peaceful political solution. That certainly is something that we continue to support from here.

QUESTION: So you don’t know which GCC country is going to take him in, or if he is going to be airlifted?

MS. PSAKI: I just --

QUESTION: You haven’t got any independent --

MS. PSAKI: -- don’t have any more for you on what his plans may or may not be, or the plans of any GCC countries.

Any more on Yemen? Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Today, India’s Supreme Court struck down a controversial law, which allowed police to arrest people for comments on social media – Facebook, Twitter, et cetera. And we have denounced such arrests from this podium. So do you have a comment on this historic decision by this --

MS. PSAKI: The – by the U.S. Supreme Court?

QUESTION: By the Indian Supreme Court.

MS. PSAKI: By the Indian Supreme Court.

QUESTION: They have struck down a controversial law which allowed Indian police to arrest people for their comments on Facebook or Twitter.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly support freedom of speech and freedom of expression. I haven’t had a chance to delve into the specifics of this law, but I’m happy to talk to our team, and we can get you something after the briefing on this specific law.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, Jen. On (inaudible).

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

QUESTION: Yeah. Let me take to Ethiopia. As you know, it’s about the Nile River. Yesterday, the leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan signed a historic agreement on sharing water from the Nile River. And what is your comment on this recent agreement between Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know we’ve spoken to this in the past. I don’t have an update on it. I can talk to our team, and certainly I’m sure we can get you a briefing on it if you’d like.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The one-year agreement with Qatar, keeping the Taliban Five in the Bergdahl case under surveillance, it’s set to expire in a couple of months. What happens on day 366?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to discuss about it at this point in time. As you mentioned, it’s a couple of months from now. Obviously, we’ll continue consultations, as will many in the United States Government, but I don’t know.

QUESTION: Are you confident that in the absence of the current framework that would keep these guys from going back to their old terrorist networks or any of (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the current framework is in place for several months. As you know, the incidents of recidivism have dropped dramatically over the last couple of years. We work closely with the Government of Qatar on these issues. But I don’t have any predictions for you on what will happen several months from now.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The House voted yesterday a nonbinding resolution to send arms to Ukraine. Just the reaction from there, and the question is does that have any impact on U.S. --

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly --

QUESTION: -- position there?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, we consult with Congress, and obviously, many of them have spoken to their views even prior to this resolution. 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 are constantly assessing our policies on Ukraine to ensure they are responsive, appropriate, and calibrated to achieve our objectives. While we will not go into the details of internal policy deliberations, we continue to assess how best to do that. But nothing has changed as it relates to our decision making in this area.

All right. Yes, Turkey. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said – he said it yesterday – that the government will not take any further steps to resolve the Kurdish issue unless the PKK disarms. But that, to me, sounds like achieving the end before going through the process, because that’s the end. What do you make of that statement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a discussion between the Government of Turkey and the PKK, and I don’t have any further comment on it.

Matt.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: On Iraq? Sure.

QUESTION: Very quickly. It says that the American forces are going to be aiding the Iraqi forces in Tikrit. Do you know anything about this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, the coalition, as you know, has continued to provide air support in the fight against ISIL with multiple airstrikes on ISIL targets in various locations. Twenty, I think, is the number we’ve talked about in terms of areas we’re assisting in. With numerous strikes occurring in the last couple of days, we’ve made clear that we stand ready to support Iraqi-led operations. I’m not going to go farther than that, though, in speaking to tactical or operational decisions or actions, and obviously, DOD would naturally have the lead on any military steps.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about a human rights activist in Kuwait --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- Nawaf al-Hindal.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if you have anything to say about his imprisonment, or if you don’t, if you could look into it and see if you --

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to look into it for you, Matt, and anyone else who’s interested, of course.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Human Rights – UN Human Rights Office report. I asked Jeff on Friday. He didn’t have any update on that. There was a report on Thursday published talking about Islamic State committed genocide – may committed genocide against the Yezidis. So I was asking him if – what is the position of United States Government on the report, and also on the genocide case against the Yezidis.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, we do our own Human Rights Report which will be out soon, and I would refer you to that, which will certainly outline what our views are on a range of issues. As it relates to the Yezidis, I think we spoke to this at the time, and our concern about the targeting and focus on this particular group. We took military action. It was one of the first occasions of taking that level of military action, which speaks to our commitment to fight against that kind of targeting.

QUESTION: Does that commitment also extend to the – even recognizing as a genocide against them?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we have our own Human Rights Report. I’m sure that’s going to be out soon. It comes out typically in the spring, so I’ll encourage you to look out for that when it comes out, and we’ll do a briefing in here when it does.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: No, wait.

MS. PSAKI: Oh.

QUESTION: Well, on behalf of those of us who are going to be traveling with the Secretary, I believe this is going to be our last briefing with you.

MS. PSAKI: I can’t believe it.

QUESTION: So I just wanted to say thank you. It’s been – maybe not been a pleasure entirely for you standing up there the whole time, but you took the questions and did – and answered them well as could be expected, and so I’d just like to say thank you on behalf of those of us who aren’t going to be here tomorrow, and good luck at the White House.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you.

QUESTION: After The Wall Street Journal story today, you’re going to need it. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Well, if I can just say something --

QUESTION: We’ll see you tomorrow, but we want to give you (inaudible). (Applause.)

MS. PSAKI: Oh, thank you, Said. Thank you, guys. That’s very kind. Thank you, thank you.

Well, if I can just say something. I’ll have more to say tomorrow for those of you who are here, so tune into your briefing transcript, but this has been an honor and a pleasure working with all of you. And I’ll say – and I’ve said this to some of you, but as an American, I want to thank you for what all of you do every day. And you really have shown me just this incredible commitment and what I would refer to as public service in doing what you do, which is delving into the tough issues and asking the tough questions.

And I would be remiss if I did not say that we have a unique forum here – maybe not unique in that we’re not the only country who does this – many do – but unfortunately, there are a decreasing number of countries around the world that have a free press, that allow press from the United States and other countries in, where you can have this debate, and that is frankly healthy for democracy, it’s healthy for society, and you all are the ones who push the envelopes and push the questions. So thank you for what all of you do in making us better at what we do.

All right. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you. I wish you good luck.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 23, 2015

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 15:39

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 23, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:07 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS. HARF: Welcome to the daily briefing. It’s good to be back.

QUESTION: Nice to see you.

MS. HARF: I have a couple items at the top, so bear with me, and then I will get to your questions.

First, a Secretary schedule update. Today, as you know, the Secretary is hosting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and key members of the Afghan Government at Camp David. They’re discussing a range of issues including security, economic development, and U.S. support for the Afghan-led reconciliation process. Secretary Kerry will be joined by cabinet-level officials, including Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, and others. Following their meetings, the Secretary will hold a joint press conference today at 4 o’clock – most of you probably know that – with Secretary Carter and with President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah.

And a travel update. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Lausanne, Switzerland to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif on March 26th as part of the ongoing EU-coordinated P5+1 negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. So I know that’s not a big surprise to anyone, but there’s the official announcement.

Just a couple more quick things at the top. You may have seen the White House announced that President Obama will host Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi at the White House on Tuesday, April 14th. The prime minister’s visit will underscore the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Iraq and the strong U.S. commitment to political and military cooperation with Iraq in the joint fight against ISIL. I’m just trying to fill out everyone’s calendars for the next few weeks.

Two more – a couple more quick things. You probably saw the Secretary’s statement on the death of Lee Kuan Yew that we put out yesterday. I just wanted to let people know that Assistant Secretary Danny Russel signed the condolence book at the Singaporean Embassy this morning for Lee Kuan Yew.

QUESTION: Do you know if anyone else in the Administration plans to do that?

MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t. I don’t know. I will check.

On Ukraine, we continue to see an increasing disparity between what Russia and the separatists say and what they do. This disparity threatens the Minsk agreements and stability in the region. Russia and the separatists claim to be honoring the ceasefire, but in reality they are violating it on a regular basis and are encroaching further beyond the ceasefire line, including recent attacks on an important bridgehead in northern Luhansk. Yesterday Russia-backed separatists also launched an attack on the village of

Pisky, where OSCE monitors were inspecting a checkpoint. We condemn this attack, which ended up – injured up to seven Ukrainian troops and placed the OSCE monitors in danger. We commend the OSCE for continued monitoring, even at the risk of personal harm, and we reiterate our call for unfettered access for OSCE monitors. Russia and the separatists it backs will face increasing costs if they do not implement their Minsk commitments. Finally, we take note of yesterday’s so-called International Russian Conservative Forum meeting and look forward to the day when groups from across the political spectrum may once again gather and speak freely in Russia. As always, we will judge Russia and the separatists by the actions, not their words.

And last, in the category of some good news because we don’t often get a lot of this in the briefing room: The World Wildlife Fund is currently hosting the prime minister of Bhutan to promote their collaboration on a joint initiative called Bhutan for Life, which will raise financing to support setting aside more than 50 percent of Bhutan’s territory to preserve forests and wildlife. We welcome the innovative initiative and applaud Bhutan’s commitment to sustainable economic development and environmental preservation.

With that, get us started.

QUESTION: Yay, Bhutan.

MS. HARF: I know. Some good news.

QUESTION: There you go. All of which is – all of that is very interesting. Let’s start, though, with Yemen.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Are there any U.S. Government personnel left in the country?

MS. HARF: I do not believe so. As we said in the statement over the weekend, the U.S. Government has temporarily relocated its remaining personnel out of Yemen. I know we’ve talked a lot about this in this room, but it’s my understanding that the remaining personnel were relocated.

QUESTION: So zero, to your knowledge?

MS. HARF: To my knowledge.

QUESTION: So how exactly is Yemen going to continue to be a model for the --

MS. HARF: For counterterrorism?

QUESTION: -- counterterrorism if you don’t have anyone there on the ground? Are you able to do what you have been doing from outside of the country?

MS. HARF: So political instability there has not forced us to suspend our counterterrorism operations. Although we have temporarily relocated our remaining U.S. Government personnel from Yemen, we continue to actively monitor threats and have resources prepared in the region to address them. Clearly, this is a top priority for us and I can’t go into more detail than that, but that’s certainly what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: So you would take issue, then, with critics who say – criticism from people who are saying that you basically had to run out of the country with your tail between your legs and you’re not able to conduct the same kind of counterterrorism operations that you were, say, a month ago?

MS. HARF: I would certainly disagree with that characterization. We did relocate personnel for security reasons, but as I said, we have resources in the region to address counterterrorism, and we have not been forced to suspend our counterterrorism operations.

QUESTION: Okay, but surely it would be better, right, if you had people on the ground there.

MS. HARF: I think our preference is always to have a presence in countries if we can.

QUESTION: I’ll leave it at that. I mean --

MS. HARF: What else?

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia warned that it might intervene in Yemen. Would – and also that comes at the same time that some officials have told I think NBC News that Yemen could be a new Syria. Do you see it going in that direction, when you have all of these Sunni and Shia countries – Iran and Saudi Arabia – intervening in this – trying to intervene at least – in the same way they have done in Iraq and Syria?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t – I would caution you from drawing direct parallels. First, of course, we know the security situation in Yemen is grave. We are aware of that, obviously, and further violence or any kind of deterioration further than this would be catastrophic for Yemen’s communities, for the country as a whole.

But we are being very clear that all parties in Yemen need to immediately halt all unilateral and offensive military actions, return to Yemen’s political transition; have urged a commitment to peaceful political transition consistent with the GCC initiative, the national dialogue outcomes. There are a number of ways they could get back to dialogue here. Obviously, that’s what we believe needs to happen.

When it comes to Iran, obviously we’re aware of reports of a variety of support that Iran has provided to the Houthis, but have not seen evidence that Iran is exerting command and control over their activities in Yemen. So I think it’s just a little different than maybe the link you were trying to draw. Obviously, though, the security situation is very concerning.

QUESTION: Specifically, would you be concerned if Saudi Arabia intervened in the conflict?

MS. HARF: As we’ve said, the parties in Yemen need to come back from the brink here. They need to get back to a political transition dialogue, that there’s not a military solution here, and I think that is our position and it’s pretty clear.

QUESTION: Marie, just on the command and control issue.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: You say that you are aware of links between the Iranians and the Houthis?

MS. HARF: And a variety of support, whether it’s weapons or money.

QUESTION: Right. Well, regardless of whether they have command and control over day-to-day operations, the Iranians – I mean, they’ve started direct flights into Sana’a. There were reports of a big ship, Iranian ship unloading weapons there. I mean, whether or not they actually are controlling the day-to-day military operations, there certainly is a very high level of support, is there not, from --

MS. HARF: Certainly, and we’ve talked about that in the counterterrorism report from the State Department. I just think there’s a little misconception out there about our view of the Houthi and Iran’s command and control, and I just think it’s a detail that warrants clearing up.

QUESTION: Right, but --

MS. HARF: But yes, there’s a large number – there’s a huge amount of support. That is true.

QUESTION: But the – but concern has been expressed in many quarters, not least of which your Arab – some of your Arab allies, that Iran is basically taking over the region and it now has control – or it has a significant degree of --

MS. HARF: Influence.

QUESTION: -- influence in not only Syria but in Lebanon and in, now, Yemen. Does the Administration not share those concerns?

MS. HARF: We certainly – absolutely, Matt. We certainly share the concerns that Iran has in many places in the region played a very destabilizing role. We’ve spoken out about that when you talk about Hezbollah, Syria, Lebanon. We’ve criticized their support for the Houthis in multiple counterterrorism reports, from this podium. I just wanted to be very precise about the command and control issue. But yes, we are very concerned about their role in the region and their influence in the region.

QUESTION: And will this have any impact at all or come up at all in – when the Secretary goes back to Lausanne?

MS. HARF: I do not anticipate it will.

QUESTION: Can I ask why not?

MS. HARF: Because these --

QUESTION: I mean, if you’re --

MS. HARF: Sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, it just seems if you’re sitting down with the Iranian foreign minister and a delegation of senior Iranian officials, albeit on another topic, I don’t understand why – I mean, are they not empowered by the supreme leader or by President Rouhani to discuss the situation, say, in Yemen, which has gotten bleaker and bleaker since you all left Lausanne --

MS. HARF: That’s true.

QUESTION: -- the last time?

MS. HARF: I – the reason, and this has always been the case, that these – we keep these talks focused on the nuclear issue. I mean, those conversations are complicated and difficult enough as it is without putting in all these other difficult issues. Often issues in the news come up sort of in passing on the sidelines of these conversations, but the negotiations are focused on the nuclear issue. We have enough work to do in that area before the 31st, so I think that’s where we’re going to keep it focused.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: What about if they have the command and control outside of Yemen to help the Houthis?

MS. HARF: I think I’ve made clear what our position is. I don’t have more analysis to do for you than that.

Let’s just do a few more on this, then we’ll move on.

QUESTION: On Iraq and Iran’s role – I mean, for observers, we’re seeing the country really from inside and outside Iraq, Iran seems to have taken over the leadership of the war against ISIS from the United States. When you see --

MS. HARF: I think that the Iraqi Security Forces would strongly disagree with that --

QUESTION: Can I --

MS. HARF: -- as would the Kurdish forces.

QUESTION: The United States has led a coalition against the Islamic State.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But over the past – say since the war against – in Tikrit started, the – to recapture Tikrit, the United States has been bombing ISIS only in the areas where the Kurds advance, not in Tikrit. No airstrike in Tikrit, where the Iraqis are focused.

MS. HARF: Well, we – the coalition has continued to provide air support in the fight against ISIL with multiple airstrikes on ISIL targets in various locations, with the last strikes occurring over this weekend.

QUESTION: But all of them have been in --

MS. HARF: Let me finish.

QUESTION: -- the Kurdish area.

MS. HARF: Let me finish with the – and I said in various areas, various locations. And this fight against ISIL is much bigger than Tikrit. That’s one – certainly one part of it. That battle is ongoing. But the fight against ISIL on the military side is much bigger than Tikrit. The United States is leading that with our Arab partners, with our Iraqi partners, our Kurdish partners, but then there’s all the other four lines of effort beyond that that we are leading a coalition around the world.

QUESTION: But isn’t it really fair to say that the Iranians are helping the Iraqi Shia government and the militia – Shia militias who are helping the Iraqi Government to recapture the area? The United States is helping only the Kurdish government at the moment.

MS. HARF: That is patently false.

QUESTION: At the moment.

MS. HARF: That is patently false.

QUESTION: That’s practically true, though.

MS. HARF: No, it is patently false, actually. What you said is not true.

QUESTION: At the moment.

MS. HARF: At the moment, what you said is not true. I will keep saying that until I make my point clear --

QUESTION: Well, what --

MS. HARF: -- that the – wait, let me finish – that the United States is supporting the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish forces throughout Iraq in a variety of ways to help them push back on ISIL. We are training Iraqi forces; we are helping them get them more equipment; we are supporting them on a day-to-day basis, day in and day out; we’re helping the coalition take strikes. This is something we’re very committed to.

So yes, Tikrit is a small part of it. But clearly, the United States military is very focused on this and is playing a leading role in helping push back on ISIL.

QUESTION: Just one more question. An Iraqi lawmaker, prominent one, said that there are as many as 30,000 Iranians on the ground in Iraq. Does that concern you?

MS. HARF: I can’t confirm that that number is accurate.

QUESTION: Back to Yemen.

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: With the complete pullout, how confident is the State Department that computers and hard drives left at the embassy remain secure?

MS. HARF: Well, the embassy we actually closed several weeks ago, so this relocation over the weekend wasn’t of our embassy. So it’s a question I think we addressed several weeks ago.

QUESTION: And then – okay. And how will the U.S. keep pressure on terrorists now that we’re completely out?

MS. HARF: Well, I think I just made that clear, that the security situation in Yemen – the political instability – has not forced us to suspend our counterterrorism operation, so that’s how.

What else? Yes, go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Japan.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Today, the governor of Okinawa ordered to suspend all works at the site where U.S. military base will be relocated. What’s your reaction on that?

MS. HARF: Yes, we’ve obviously seen that. Construction of the replacement facility is a meaningful result of many years of sustained work between the U.S. and Japan. It’s also a critical step toward realizing our shared vision for the realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa. Our understanding is the construction on the replacement facility will proceed as planned. Obviously, the Defense Department may have more information given this is their project, but our understanding is that it will proceed.

QUESTION: And also on the Japan prime minister – Prime Minister Abe’s state visit to the U.S., he is likely to address a joint session to Congress. However, an American organization for former U.S. prisoner of Japan say that – say to Congress that Abe should be invited only if he acknowledges Japan’s wartime past. I mean, China and Germany recently called for Japan to face squarely to its past. So will the U.S. Government ask Japan to do so?

MS. HARF: Well, first, you are correct: President Obama will host Prime Minister Abe for an official visit to the White House on April 28th, including a state dinner that evening. The two leaders will celebrate the strong global partnership that we have developed during the 70 years since the end of World War II, underscore the common values and principles that have made the relationship so enduring. They’ll discuss a range of issues, as you can imagine.

I don’t have anything for you on whether he’ll address Congress. I would refer you to his staff or to Congress for that. We’ve been clear and have continued to emphasize the importance of approaching historical legacy issues in a manner that promotes healing and reconciliation for all parties, but beyond that, I don’t have anything else for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Back to Okinawa --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- just for a second, the ostensible reason given for the order to halt the construction was that a giant cement anchor that was dropped into a bay damaged coral. Does the Administration, which has often expressed concern about environmental damage and that kind of thing, have any concerns about the environmental impact of the relocation?

MS. HARF: I can check. To my understanding, we do not. I can check with DOD to see if there are more on those reports, obviously. But one of the things that we think is important is that relocating this facility will actually reduce our footprint in the most populated part of Okinawa and enable the return of significant land south of the airbase there while obviously sustaining the U.S. military capabilities. I know DOD has more on that, and I can check and see if there’s more to say.

What else? Yes.

QUESTION: Your email questions – this Times report about the contents of Secretary Clinton’s emails on Benghazi. First, does State regard the release of that information as a breach of the agreement with Capitol Hill, with the Benghazi committee about how this kind of information would be treated?

MS. HARF: Well, I have no idea who the anonymous sources are, so I couldn’t speculate on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And the account said that the sources, whoever they were, were concerned about their access to secret information being cut off.

MS. HARF: I found that an odd attribution --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: -- to be honest with you.

QUESTION: Well, do you want to say why you thought it was odd, then I’ll finish my question?

MS. HARF: Well, I just had never seen that attribution used before.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Maybe you all have, but I found it sort of odd.

QUESTION: I thought State had previously indicated that it had no indication there was any classified information in any of the Clinton emails that had been reviewed, which included at that point the Benghazi email. So is it still State’s position that there’s nothing classified in what was sent to --

MS. HARF: I certainly stand by what we said earlier. I’m – as we’ve also said, we’re not going to prejudge the outcome of the review of all 55,000. But again, I was sort of perplexed by that attribution.

QUESTION: Well, do you have any quibble with the story? Is it incorrect?

MS. HARF: Which parts of it?

QUESTION: Any of it. All of it.

MS. HARF: (Laughter.) Is any of it incorrect? I’m not going to fact-check the story. But a couple points I would make --

QUESTION: Well, why not? If it’s wrong, then you should say so. Right?

MS. HARF: Well, a couple points I would make. We’re not going to get into the content of those emails. As you know, we are going through a process right now to go through all 55,000, but to do those emails first, the ones that have already been provided to the Benghazi committee, for release first. So all of those emails are right now at the front of our work process. Those are being gone through for public release. So everyone will, as soon as we can get that done, have a chance to look at what we release themselves and make their own judgments. That, I think, is an important point to remember.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds as though you’re – you’re not saying there’s anything inaccurate in the story. So it sounds as though it’s correct.

MS. HARF: I have – I mean, I didn’t read the story word for word to fact-check it, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. Well, what --

MS. HARF: But I’m not going to get into the content. What I won’t comment on one way or the other is the content that is discussed in the story, given we’re still going through them for public release. And we’re just not going to talk about the content until they are released publicly.

QUESTION: All right. Well, let’s not talk about the content.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Let’s talk about one of the other things that was said in the story --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- which was that it – at least the story says that contrary to what former Secretary Clinton said at her news conference, that there – she did in fact email – use her private email to email State Department employees on their private email accounts. Is that part of the story correct? And if it is, does the State Department have a problem with that?

MS. HARF: Well, a couple points, Matt. First, each of the individuals that are referenced in the story had a State Department email, as you all probably are well aware. There are times employees use personal email addresses for work. We’ve said there are ways people can take appropriate steps to preserve those records. So we’ve also said that. Her staff, as we’ve said, had state.gov emails. I know her team actually spoke to this in the story, so I’ll let her team speak for itself.

But I will remind people that the State Department sent a letter earlier this month to a small group of current and former employees whose emails have been subpoenaed by the select committee in which we asked for any records in their possession. So that letter went out, and we – that’s a process we think is important.

QUESTION: Well, right. Except that she said that she always sent – always copied in a state.gov address.

MS. HARF: Her team spoke to that in the story.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: I’m just not going to speak further to that.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that --

MS. HARF: Hold on, I think – go ahead, and then Josh, we’ll go back to you.

QUESTION: -- the State Department doesn’t have an issue with this because you think you’ve got it covered with this letter that you sent?

MS. HARF: I said that we sent a letter to the small group of current and former employees who were named in a subpoena by the select committee. And we asked for any records in their possession – part of our ongoing process to improve our records. Obviously, that’s something we think is important, and her team can speak more to it.

Yes, Josh.

QUESTION: A couple follow-ups. One is, setting aside the Times story, is there an agreement between the Benghazi committee and the State Department regarding their ability to publicize her emails? In other words, if they wanted to just release the 850 pages tomorrow, is there some deal that prevents them from doing that?

MS. HARF: Let me check. It was my understanding that when we gave them the documents in order to provide them with the limited redactions, there would be conversations before the text was released publicly. Obviously, we are more forthcoming when it comes to fewer redactions with Congress than under the FOIA process for public release. So it’s my understanding that’s part of the process, but let me check on the specifics.

QUESTION: Okay. And the other thing I wanted to ask about is there was a report last week about a memo that was written here at the State Department to the National Archives, and perhaps to the White House in 2012, that talked about State’s record-keeping obligations and said that the agency’s top records officer wanted to narrow those obligations because they thought they were too vague and they were being forced to retain too much information. Can you tell us anything about the process that went into that?

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: Is that the kind of thing that would have been --

MS. HARF: The memo? Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- cleared widely within the Department?

MS. HARF: I have a little more information about the memo.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: And I think we’re talking about the same one. First, I would say this is a memo in response to a specific request from NARA for agencies to provide input in identifying obstacles to improving records maintenance. The Department followed the NARA-specific template in providing its response. Second, I would also note we published this response memo in full online, so it’s by no means some sort of secretive memo. And then I would say the definition of what constitutes a working file or record for preservation purposes is an issue for the entire government, not just the State Department, as I know you know. And other agencies raised similar concerns when responding to NARA’s request for input at the time as well. So that, I think, is some context for the memo.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you know anything about its clearance? Is this – it does represent the official view of the State Department on this matter?

MS. HARF: It does, and we posted it online. We were very transparent about it.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you know anything about how it was cleared within the Department? Is this something Secretary Clinton would have known about at the time?

MS. HARF: I very strongly doubt it’s something that would have risen to the level of the Secretary of State, but I can check and see if there’s more on that.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. HARF: I obviously was not here at the time.

QUESTION: Do you know --

MS. HARF: I did not clear on it.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you know if you – if the building has responded to the letter from NARA, or is this it? There was a letter --

MS. HARF: Which? About the recent one?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: We have not yet. We will be responding. The one that we received on March 3rd – dated March 3rd – I don’t know when we actually received it – we will be responding.

QUESTION: Can I go to – we done with this?

MS. HARF: I think so.

QUESTION: Can we go to --

QUESTION: One more.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Regarding the personal emails that were sent, did Secretary Clinton submit any of her staffers’ emails that were on her server to State?

MS. HARF: She submitted her emails that were either to or from her that were part of her email account. So – and many of them were to and from advisors, as one would expect.

Yes.

QUESTION: Israel.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: First of all, I want to know – this happened relatively recently, but I – in terms of within the hour or last two hours --

MS. HARF: Uh-oh. Okay.

QUESTION: -- so I don’t know if you’re aware of it yet.

MS. HARF: Let’s see.

QUESTION: But Prime Minister Netanyahu met with some Arab Israeli leaders, officials today and apologized for any offense that they may have taken for his comments that he made on election – on the election day.

MS. HARF: I had not seen that. I think we’ve made clear our position on those comments.

QUESTION: Okay. Right.

MS. HARF: I’ll check with the team.

QUESTION: But is an apology – he’s now backed off on two things that you guys took issue with that he said during the campaign and on voting day itself. Is it still the position of the Administration that you’re going to re-evaluate how you go forward in trying to – in dealing with Israel?

MS. HARF: Well, the President, I think, addressed this in his interview that ran this weekend – that given his statements prior to the election, it’s going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing, when it comes to negotiations, that those are possible. So we are evaluating what’s taking place. And I think what we’re looking for now are actions and policies that demonstrate genuine commitment to a two-state solution, not more words. So that’s what we’ll be looking for.

QUESTION: Okay. So public --

MS. HARF: And we’ll see what the path forward looks like, Matt.

QUESTION: So a public renunciation of and apologies for the previous comments are not enough to get you to --

MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s just understandably confusing for people about which of his comments to believe. And so that’s why --

QUESTION: Well, it’s – I think it’s confusing for people who choose to be confused.

MS. HARF: Well, he said diametrically opposing things in the matter of a week, so which is his actual policy? That’s why what we said is words aren’t enough at this point. What we need to see are actions, actions and policies that demonstrate a genuine commitment to the peace process.

QUESTION: Right. Well, this gets back to what – kind of what we were asking last week, which is: Why do you believe the pre-election Netanyahu and not the post-election Netanyahu? Is it --

MS. HARF: I think we just don’t know what to believe at this point.

QUESTION: Hold on. Is it because the peace process – the last attempt at it that the Secretary led failed, and that you don’t believe – so you go into the whole election – the whole campaign, Israeli campaign with the idea already in your mind that, one, he opposes a two-state solution and, two, he’s not a big fan of Israeli Arabs?

MS. HARF: What I think, Matt, and what I think is confusing is that when you say things, words matter. And if you say something different two days later, which do we believe and which – it’s hard to know. It honestly is. And why was one said at one time and why was something different said after the election? Who knows? We can’t read his mind. So what we’re looking for now are actions and policies. He’s forming a government. We’re obviously – well be in touch with him as he does so. And that’s why what we need to see now is action and not more words --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean --

MS. HARF: -- just because it’s hard to know which is the accurate policy. If you change all the time, how do you know?

QUESTION: Well, it suggests that you guys have already decided what you want to believe from --

MS. HARF: No, that’s not true.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: That’s why we haven’t said what the course of action will be.

QUESTION: Well, is – are these things, one, saying that he still is in favor of a two-state solution and, two, apologizing for these, are they at least good – can you at least say that they’re good first steps --

MS. HARF: Well, again, at this point --

QUESTION: -- even if they’re only words?

MS. HARF: At this point what we need to see are actions and policies that indicate a genuine commitment to a two-state solution.

QUESTION: Okay, all right.

MS. HARF: That’s what we’ll be looking for.

QUESTION: There was a report this morning out of Geneva which --

MS. HARF: -- was wrong.

QUESTION: -- was wrong, yeah.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: But I want – I want to know if you can explain why --

MS. HARF: Yes, I will.

QUESTION: -- it was wrong. And let me just --

MS. HARF: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Unless you want to repeat what the erroneous report said.

MS. HARF: Nope. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. So the report was that the United States was boycotting or not going to speak up in defense of Israel at the UN Human Rights Commission meeting today on the Agenda Item 7 issue, which is Israel and the Palestinians.

MS. HARF: Yes. So this – go ahead.

QUESTION: That is incorrect. Why?

MS. HARF: This report is not correct. We’ve – this is not the first time the U.S. has refused to participate in the UN Human Rights Council discussion of Item 7. We do not participate because we remain deeply troubled by the Human Rights Council’s standalone agenda item directed against Israel and by the many repetitive and one-sided resolutions under that agenda item.

We have coordinated our refusal to participate with Israel, which also did not participate. In fact, I think the report has now been clarified by the news outlet that reported it, including a statement from the Israeli Government saying the reason we don’t participate is because they single out Israel. When the council considers its annual resolutions under Item 7 later this week, the United States will call for a vote and vote against these texts. We will also issue a statement outlining our objections to the agenda item at that time per our standard practice.

QUESTION: Okay. So this would suggest that this, combined with the vote that was taken on Friday which you also – in New York on the Status of Women Commission, suggests then that the reevaluation of your approach towards Israel hasn’t really produced any change in how you’re going about things.

MS. HARF: Well, the prime minister hasn’t formed a government yet. And when it comes to the peace process, obviously, that’s a separate issue. But no, we were – we are very clear, as we have been for a long time, regardless of our policy disagreements or discussions on other issues, that we’re not going to let Israel be singled out by the international community unfairly; we will stand up for them in the international community, absolutely. That’s something we believe very deeply in.

QUESTION: Okay. So then is it correct to think then that your position is that as long as you see something as being biased against Israel or anti-Israel, you are going to continue to oppose it?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to predict everything, but obviously, we believe that things should not be biased against Israel. That’s why you saw us take the action we took today.

QUESTION: Does the Administration believe that resolutions or – I don’t know – motions, resolutions, however you want to call them – having to do with final status issues, such as a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines, are those – do you view those as unfair to Israel?

MS. HARF: I’m just not going to get ahead of any policy decisions about something hypothetical. I’m just not. We obviously continue to believe that the best path forward is for negotiations between the two parties, but I don’t want to get ahead any further than that.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask a question about a report that came out of The Wall Street Journal this morning.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I know that, like, the State Department has commented on this before last week, but the report said that the U.S. Government will try to get the World Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Bank to cooperate with each other. Is there any truth in that? Is that a change in the U.S. position?

MS. HARF: Well, since the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was formally announced in October, the U.S. Government has encouraged China and the prospective members to work within the existing multilateral development banks and incorporate their high standards – work with them, excuse me. Obviously, this is not a change in policy. We’ve been very clear that if they can take certain steps to maintain high standards that the international community has collectively built over the last 70 years, these new institutions could add global value. So we believe that they should adopt these high standards, including strong board oversight and environmental and social safeguards. That’s obviously very important to us.

QUESTION: Do you have – what is your position on whether or not you will join the bank?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any updates for you, and that I know we’ve spoken to this.

What else? Yes.

QUESTION: On North Korea?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Yeah. North Korean ambassador to United Kingdom Hyun Hak Bong has mentioned yesterday interview with British TV, and he said North Korea ready to fire nuclear weapon anytime. And also he said if U.S. use conventional weapons, they will do so; and if U.S. use nuclear weapons, also they will do so. How --

MS. HARF: Well, I saw those reports. There is obviously an overwhelming international consensus against North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. We have called on North Korea to abandon both programs in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner. This is required by multiple UN Security Council resolutions. And we remain fully prepared to deter, defend against, and respond to the threat posed by North Korea, obviously are steadfast in our commitment to the defense of not only the United States but our allies and our interests in the region.

QUESTION: So now he had acknowledged to North Korea has nuclear weapons. So --

MS. HARF: I don’t think that’s a big secret.

QUESTION: Big secret, okay. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: There’s a reason we’re working to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: There was a bombing on Nowruz day in the Kurdish province of Hasakeh. ISIS claimed responsibility for it, and it killed scores of people. Do you have anything on that?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those reports. Obviously, we would condemn any attack or bombing by ISIL against civilians. Of course, we’ve seen their brutality, unfortunately, too many times at this point, but I don’t have specifics.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Iran for one second?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: I’m just curious. You’ve seen the – I’m sure you’ve seen that there’s an Israeli delegation in France right now.

MS. HARF: I have.

QUESTION: Do you – the Israelis have made no secret of the fact that they don’t think that the deal that is emerging, if that’s what one calls it, is a good one. Do you have any thoughts on this visit to France by --

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: -- Mr. Steinitz?

MS. HARF: The Secretary said, and I would reiterate, that all of the P5+1 are united in our goal, our approach, our resolve, and our determination to ensure that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon. None of our countries can subscribe to a deal that does not meet the terms of credible, comprehensive, durable, verifiable measures. The President had the opportunity, as you know, to speak with President Hollande on Friday. President Hollande was in complete agreement with the President on the type of agreement we are seeking. We are confident that we will continue to have the kind of unity we need that’s been so important in these negotiations.

QUESTION: Right, but – I understand that. I’m wondering if you have any comment about what appears to be an Israeli attempt to encourage France to --

MS. HARF: Look, I don’t think --

QUESTION: -- push back against what’s going on.

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think it’s any secret that the – some in Israel’s views about the nuclear negotiations with Iran. We have bottom lines – we, the P5+1: one-year breakout, cutting off the four pathways. That’s what we’re working towards. And we’re not going to accept anything less, period.

QUESTION: So do you have any feelings about the Israelis going to France to – in what appears to be an attempt to hive them off from the rest of the P5+1?

MS. HARF: Well, as I said, I think we’re confident that we will have the unity we need inside the room. I understand there’s lots of talk publicly about this issue. What we’re focused on is what actually happens in the negotiating room and seeing if we can get to an agreement.

QUESTION: Right. Well, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, who was actually in the negotiating room, said over the weekend that the – that Iran – the people – the countries that are negotiating with Iran – i.e., the P5+1 – need to show unity. Can you imagine how it is that, while you proclaim that there is huge unity, the Iranian – how is it that the Iranians are complaining that its negotiating partners are not united? How is that --

MS. HARF: I have no idea why the Iranians would say that publicly.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: They don’t let me in on their public affairs strategy, unfortunately. Anything --

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Matt’s glasses are now on the floor. Anything else? (Laughter.) Thank you, everyone. That was a good sign to end the briefing.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:42 p.m.)

# # #

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 20, 2015

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 16:24

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 20, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:32 p.m. EDT

MR. RATHKE: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR. RATHKE: No worries. No worries. So sorry for the delay, everyone. I have two things to mention at the top.

The United States strongly condemns today’s suicide bombings that killed reportedly over 130 individuals and left hundreds wounded in Yemen. We express our condolences to the families of the victims and we deplore the brutality of the terrorists who perpetrated today’s unprovoked attack on Yemeni citizens who were peacefully engaging in Friday prayers in their places of worship.

We also strongly condemn the March 19 airstrike targeting the presidential palace in Aden. We call upon all actors in Yemen to halt all unilateral and offensive military actions. We specifically call on the Houthis, former President Saleh, and their allies to stop their violent incitement and undermining President Hadi, who is Yemen’s legitimate president. The way forward for Yemen must be through a political solution. We call upon all Yemeni parties to return in good faith to a political dialogue to resolve their differences. Without consensus among the Yemeni people, any unilateral assertion of authority will not succeed. And we urge renewed commitment to the peaceful political transition, consistent with the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, the national dialogue conference outcomes, relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and the Yemeni constitution.

Political instability threatens the well-being of all Yemenis and denies them the opportunity to live in safety, peace, and prosperity. Today’s attack on the mosques in Sana’a underscores that terrorism affects all Yemenis and that no one political group alone can confront the challenges facing Yemen.

And the second item: the Secretary’s travel. The Secretary and his team have had a series of intensive discussions with Iran this week, and given where they are in the negotiations, it’s an important time for high-level consultations. So Secretary Kerry will travel tomorrow to London with – and will meet with German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, British Foreign Secretary Hammond, and French Foreign Minister Fabius to discuss the ongoing discussions with Iran. He will then return to Washington.

In addition to seeing our European partners tomorrow, Secretary Kerry also spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov today by phone. And given that Secretary Kerry has meetings with Afghan President Ghani on March 22nd through 24th in Washington, and given the timing of the Nowruz holiday, the negotiations will resume next week.

So with that, over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. So on Iran.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: And before I start with this, my initial line of questioning here, I want to make it clear that as many of us know the loss of a parent is a tragedy and condolences are appreciated, but I’m wondering today in Lausanne the Secretary personally offered his condolences to the foreign minister and to President Rouhani’s brother, then you guys put out a statement in his name offering condolences, and then that same statement was tweeted. And I’m just wondering, aren’t you guys laying it on a bit thick here? Is there something that you’re expecting in terms of Iranian concessions in the negotiations by – with this display?

MR. RATHKE: No, I wouldn’t read anything into it of that sort. I think the Secretary’s been negotiating this week with the Iranians. One of the members of the Iranian team is the brother of President Rouhani, and so just given where things were in the negotiations he expressed his condolences.

Now as regards retweeting, we retweet lots of statements and so forth from the Department --

QUESTION: Well, I know, but I mean it just seems a little bit over the top, no? I mean, this is the leader of a country, and again, clearly the loss of one’s parent is tragic. But this is the leader of a country that you accuse of being the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, you accuse of trying to develop a nuclear weapon with which its leaders have said that it will use against one of your top allies, and your – I mean, it’s understandable that one would express condolences, but you’re really – it looks like you’re going out of the way to make a point here with this. Are you sending flowers as well? What’s – what is it that you hope to achieve other than expressing condolences, if anything?

MR. RATHKE: No, I wouldn’t read anything more into it than expressing condolences. Again, the Secretary’s been engaged in intensive negotiations this week, and it simply is – it marks also, I think, as everyone has noticed with the message from the President and the Secretary’s statement for Nowruz, the fact that it’s a time of reflection and an important holiday anyway.

QUESTION: Fair enough. Do you know --

MR. RATHKE: I wouldn’t read anything more than that into it.

QUESTION: Okay. The President put out a statement today related to Iran --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- apart from the Nowruz video or greetings about the Americans still missing –

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- or detained. Do you know if in the process of expressing his condolences today to Foreign Minister Zarif and to President Rouhani’s brother if the Secretary raised these cases? It would seem that if one is in a condolatory – I don’t know – frame of mind, that these people who have been, as you say, unjustly held by Iran, that their fates might be considered as well. Do you know if that was raised?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I can’t speak to whether it was raised today, but I think it’s – what I can say is, as we’ve said all along, our talks with Iran are about the nuclear issue. The one exception to that is that we do not let any opportunity go by without raising the fate of the American citizens, and that’s, of course, reflected in the President’s statement today. So certainly during this round of negotiation, we’ve also raised it.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. RATHKE: Yes, go ahead Jo.

QUESTION: Can I ask on the Iran – you mentioned that the next round of talks is going to be held next week. Is there any indication yet where they will be held?

MR. RATHKE: No, I don’t have any announcements to make in that regard.

QUESTION: Is it likely to be Switzerland again?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any news to share about venue for the next round.

QUESTION: And do you anticipate whether there might be a similar gathering of the P5+1 ministers also joining next week?

MR. RATHKE: Again, no announcements to make. Of course, we coordinate closely with our P5+1 partners, and that will presumably be one of the things the Secretary will discuss with his partners when he meets with them tomorrow. But I don’t have any announcements to make.

QUESTION: When does the Secretary actually get back to Washington? You said he was going to London on Sunday. Does he return to Washington on Sunday?

MR. RATHKE: Right. I don’t have that level of specificity about whether it will be immediately following the meetings tomorrow. I don’t know exactly how long those will run, so I don’t have that detail on whether it’s Saturday or Sunday that he returns.

QUESTION: And do you have any – does he have any commitments in Washington Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday other than those associated with the visit by President Ghani and CEO Abdullah?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I can check and see if we have more to mention publicly about his schedule. Of course, he always has a busy schedule, but those are the major public events we have happening.

On the same topic?

QUESTION: On the – yeah.

MR. RATHKE: On the same topic, yeah.

QUESTION: Do you expect this next round of talks to extend either until a deal is reached or through to the deadline?

MR. RATHKE: Well, as we’ve said all along, we’re focused on the deadline at the end of March, and that’s why there’s – we have the intention to go back and resume talks, so we’re focused on that and focused on getting a good deal.

Yes, Ilhan.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks so much.

MR. RATHKE: Same topic?

QUESTION: No.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Can we follow up, and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: Just a quick on. Just the calls to the Russians and the Chinese, were those exclusively focused on the Iran talks, or did they cover any other topics?

MR. RATHKE: They were focused on the Iran talks. I can see if there’s anything more to share about other issues.

Yes, go ahead, Ilhan.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. On Turkey, about a month ago, five or six weeks ago, 88 congressmen and women sent a letter to Secretary Kerry. Just this week a couple days ago, 74 senators sent another letter to Mr. Kerry about mainly dealing with the press issues, press freedom issues. First of all, have you – has the – Mr. Secretary responded the first letter to Congress?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, yes. But let me skip to the letter from the Senate as well, if I could.

QUESTION: Okay. Sure.

MR. RATHKE: So we have received a letter signed by a number of U.S. senators – we received it just a couple of days ago – in which they expressed their concern about freedom of the press and recent arrests of journalists in Turkey. Of course, we’ll respond to the letter. And as we’ve made clear in the past, we remain concerned about Turkish Government interference with freedoms of expression and assembly and the administration of justice, including due process.

QUESTION: Did you say you will respond to the letter?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: And the previous letter, have you responded –

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- to the other letter? You already did?

MR. RATHKE: Yes. That’s my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. In another letter sent by Mr. Kerry to the Congress, this how it worked?

MR. RATHKE: Well, yes. That’s the way these things typically work. I don’t have any –

QUESTION: Because we have not seen such a letter.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we don’t make public our correspondence with members of Congress.

QUESTION: In that letter, in these letters came from 74 senators, it says – it addresses “Erdogan administration,” apparently seeing President Erdogan as the top executive or the head of the administration. Is this the view of the State Department as well?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to get into Turkey’s internal and constitutional arrangements. I’m not going to weigh in on that.

QUESTION: A follow-up, one more question terms of freedom of speech and freedom of expression in Turkey. So far, about 200 – not quite 200, but it’s getting closer to 200 individuals have been taken to the court by the President Erdogan alleging that these individuals – some of them students, some of them mourning mothers, some of them journalists, many journalists taken to court. Do you have any view or comment on this increasing number of court cases waged against these Turkish people?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I would go back to what I said in response to your question about the letter, which is we remain concerned about this situation, about freedom of expression and assembly, and also due process. And so I’ll leave it at that, but this is certainly an issue about which we’re concerned.

QUESTION: And the final question then: In that letter, senators urge Mr. Kerry to do find peaceful solution. Do you have any policy changes to find peaceful solutions with increasing freedom of press issues in Turkey?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any policy changes to announce at this point.

QUESTION: Can I follow up Yemen?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE: Yeah. I’m sorry, let’s go back to Yemen. Roz, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s not clear who’s responsible for the bombings at the two mosques in Sana’a. ISIL is claiming it, but intelligence experts are suggesting that’s just bluster, that it may be someone related to AQAP or some other organization. Given that you have partisans fighting for the former President Saleh, partisans fighting for the current President Hadi, Houthis, AQAP, possibly ISIL, how worried is the U.S. Government that Yemen may be on the verge of collapsing, that it may be turning into a failed state?

MR. RATHKE: Well, in response to where you started, we’ve seen reports of claims of responsibility from ISIL-affiliated terrorists, but we’re not in a position to confirm the veracity of those claims. So we are, of course, concerned about the presence of ISIL-affiliated terrorists outside of Iraq and Syria. ISIL has expressed an intention to spread violence to other parts of the globe, so that’s something that we and our partners in the intelligence community watch closely to see whether there really are operational linkages. And we’ve discussed this, I think, in this room in the past. This certainly highlights the virulent ideology of ISIL, but we haven’t reached – we haven’t formed a conclusion yet about responsibility for this particular brutal and heinous attack.

QUESTION: But in terms of the fact that it seems as if the country is basically locked in some kind of civil war, how --

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: Yeah. How worried is the U.S. that Yemen, as a country, may be collapsing?

MR. RATHKE: Well, a civil war would be a terrible development for Yemen. But that’s why we believe it’s essential for all the parties and groups to avoid unilateral actions, to avoid violence, as I mentioned at the top. And that’s why we, along with international partners – the Gulf Cooperation Council, the United Nations are supporting a Yemeni political transition process. Political instability is a threat to the well-being of all Yemenis.

QUESTION: How do you get all sides back to the table? How do you get them to actually stop the fighting?

MR. RATHKE: Well, there’s a UN process and we’re supportive of that. We’re trying to help that move along, but I don’t have any news to add today.

Jo.

QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to pick up on the ISIL claim.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: ISIL also claimed that they were behind the attack in Tunisia as well, and yesterday you were – said you couldn’t confirm that. Are you in a position yet to confirm whether that was indeed --

MR. RATHKE: No, I don’t have any new – any new information on – to communicate about the attack in Tunisia.

Yes. Same topic?

QUESTION: No.

MR. RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: In light of all the events and what you’ve mentioned at the top, does the Administration still maintain, as President Obama has said, that the country represents a model for counterterrorism success?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think we’ve spoken to that in this briefing room, and I think the White House has spoken to that in the past about what the President was referring to in those comments. I don’t have anything to add to that.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: The U.S. is beginning military exercises in Estonia, and I’m wondering why is it that when Russia is carrying out exercises, it’s suspicious, it undermines peace; when the U.S. does that, it’s exclusively for peace and never undermines anything.

MR. RATHKE: I’m not sure I – sure what you’re referring to. You suggested or you had an allegation about Russian exercises. What is it you’re suggesting?

QUESTION: Well, we hear that all the time. And from the most recent one, Jen Psaki saying Russian exercises in Crimea would undermine a diplomatic, peaceful resolution of the crisis. Well, we hear – we heard a similar reaction --

MR. RATHKE: Well, you seem to forget, though, that Crimea is part of Ukraine.

QUESTION: We heard a similar reaction over --

MR. RATHKE: Estonia is an independent country.

QUESTION: We heard a similar reaction over Russian exercises in other parts of Russia close to Western borders. There’s always suspicion --

MR. RATHKE: No, no, no. I’m sorry, I think you’re distorting --

QUESTION: -- and accusations of undermining stability.

MR. RATHKE: You’re distorting what’s been said from this podium by my colleagues and by the U.S. Government. We have consistently said that we recognize the need for routine military training activity, and we say that it should be consistent with international law and it should be conducted with due regard for the rights of other nations and the safety of aircraft and vessels. That’s been our position consistently, and so I’d urge you to go back and review the record before twisting what it is we’ve said.

QUESTION: But also from this podium we hear criticism and suspicion. That is not – we always hear a suspicion and criticism of Russian exercises somehow undermining stability in the region, and when the U.S. is carrying out exercises thousands of miles away from home, near Russian borders, and that’s fine. But Russia does that at home, and that’s not fine. Do you see an inconsistency in that position?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I think I’ve addressed your question. You are twisting how we’ve described Russian exercise activity, and I think our activity with – on the territory of NATO member states is – has a degree of transparency that is hard to criticize.

Yes, go ahead. You had a question --

QUESTION: Do you see – are you saying that the U.S. --

MR. RATHKE: No, no, I’m sorry. We’re going to move on.

QUESTION: Well, Jeff --

QUESTION: Are you saying that the U.S. --

QUESTION: -- the problem – I understand what you’re saying, but the problem is that you were critical of Russian exercises that were in the general vicinity of the Ukrainian border inside Russia. You said it contributed to – it contributed to unease and instability during the crisis in Ukraine. This was Russian exercises inside Russia, somewhat close to – although I think the Russians would argue it wasn’t that close – to the Ukrainian – to the eastern Ukrainian border.

MR. RATHKE: Well, that’s been in reference to a specific conflict zone. I think the question was much broader and suggesting that we were criticizing or denying the ability of Russia to conduct any military exercises anywhere, which is not what we’ve said.

QUESTION: When you criticize Russia --

QUESTION: Well, did you or did you not ask the Vietnamese to stop refueling planes – Russian planes – at Cam Ranh Bay because you thought --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think, again, what we’ve --

QUESTION: -- because you said that those kinds of flights raised tensions in the South China Sea?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think if we go back to the discussion of that a couple of weeks ago, the point --

QUESTION: Days ago.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. But the point was not the fact of refueling, but we simply expressed our view about activity that could raise tensions. And so --

QUESTION: Okay. So then – right. So you don’t --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Hold on. So you don’t think that NATO or U.S. exercises in Estonia on – along the Russian border raise tensions at all? Is that right?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I would say, again, our fundamental point is that any military exercises should be done with respect for international law, should be done with the appropriate degree of transparency. And so that’s --

QUESTION: Okay. But you would disagree with the idea that I think the question – the question you’re being posed is that you would disagree with the idea that U.S. or NATO exercises in a country that is along – and a NATO member that’s along the Russian border raises tensions given the current situation with Ukraine and the current rift between the West and Russia on this. You would disagree, right?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I think if you look at the scope and the nature of the exercises, no, we would --

QUESTION: Well, I’m just asking yes or no. You disagree?

MR. RATHKE: We would disagree with that, yeah.

QUESTION: You would disagree.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: About the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, I know State Department said this a little bit before, but on Friday --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, it was discussed extensively, I think.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. On Friday, Australia said there were a lot of merit in this AIIB, and Japanese finance minister said Tokyo would considering joining this bank if it could guarantee a credible mechanism for providing loans. And I’m just curious, does the State Department or Obama Administration communicated with these allies regarding this specific issue?

MR. RATHKE: Well, our position on AIIB remains as it has been for the last couple of days, and we’ve had extensive discussions in here. We believe that there is a pressing need to enhance infrastructure investment, we believe that any new multilateral institution has to incorporate high standards, and that the international community has built these kinds of standards into institutions like the World Bank and regional development banks.

Now I’m not going to get into the details of our diplomatic dialogue with any partners and other countries about this. But our point of view on the AIIB and the need for high standards, I think, is pretty clear by now.

QUESTION: Because media reports that Obama Administration was trying to – lobbying his allies not to join this bank. May I confirm that?

MR. RATHKE: Again, we – I think our position is well known. We’ve communicated our position publicly in here and elsewhere, and we’ve also made that view known privately. I’m not going to get into any more details than that, though.

QUESTION: Because --

MR. RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean --

QUESTION: Sort of tangential to Yemen, another Yemeni detainee at Gitmo has been cleared for transfer. He was once described as a bin Ladin bodyguard. Do you know if any countries have agreed to take him?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any detail on that. I’m happy to look into it and see if there’s something we can get back to you on, but I don’t have anything on that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the email issue?

MR. RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: Late yesterday on your behalf, the Justice Department submitted an argument to a court – a federal court saying that the government – and specifically, this – in this case, the State Department, could not be expected to turn over former Secretary Clinton’s emails in response to FOIA requests because it did not have possession of them. Are you familiar with this?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not familiar with that case and/or that filing, so --

QUESTION: Okay. Well --

MR. RATHKE: You said this was yesterday?

QUESTION: Late yesterday, yeah. It’s the Justice Department acting as your attorney, basically, in this case, which is asking for Secretary Clinton and at least one of her aides to be held in contempt of court. But presumably, if the Justice Department is making this argument on your behalf, you guys agree with it. And the – I have a bit of a problem understanding it because the – what – Secretary Clinton says that she copied in to her emails – that she used people on state.gov addresses. And so – and thus she --

MR. RATHKE: I think she said in the vast majority of cases --

QUESTION: Right, in a lot of them --

MR. RATHKE: -- is the way she described it.

QUESTION: Right, but that would mean that those emails, at least according to her assumption, which may or may not have been correct – but at least according to her – what she says is her assumption, they would have been in your – in the State Department’s possession. And so I don’t understand this Justice Department reasoning that these emails, simply because they were on a private server, are not in your possession if they had, in fact, been forwarded or copied to state.gov addresses. And obviously, you don’t – you’re not aware of this, but could you look into that and find out?

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, we can look into it. I mean, I would, though – just if I can make one point, and that is we have been given by former Secretary Clinton the collection of 55,000 pages of --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. RATHKE: -- emails. As we’ve said, we’re going through those and we’ll make them publicly available. And so --

QUESTION: Right. This doesn’t have to – this doesn’t have to do with what you’re doing right now.

MR. RATHKE: So – yeah, so – but we’ll look and see if there’s some comment on the particular case.

QUESTION: This has to do with requests that were filed some time ago. And the fact of the matter is that if Secretary Clinton’s assumption is correct that she – that – if she is correct that she copied in on many of these email’s state.gov addresses, and if her assumption that that meant that these were then available – if that is correct, then I don’t understand how the Justice Department can make this argument on your behalf that they were not in your possession. Anyway, if you can --

MR. RATHKE: So we’ll look into that and come back to you.

QUESTION: All right. And then --

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, actually?

QUESTION: Well --

QUESTION: Because it’s directly relevant to this. I thought Jen had made clear last week that the State Department, astoundingly, does not actually keep all of its emails, and that therefore the assumption that anything sent to a state.gov email would in fact be retained and accessible by anybody is false and that you don’t actually capture most of your emails. Is that not correct?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve talked a lot about the recordkeeping requirements on individual employees and the various ways in which they can meet those requirements. I don’t have anything to add to that. I mean, I think Jen did say that we have an automatic archive system in place for dozens of senior staff, which she spoke to, and we are then working to apply a system that meets the narrow requirements for the management of emails by the end of 2016. There are a number of technical and – challenges involved in that, but that’s all I have to add on that.

QUESTION: Well, going back to what she said on Friday, prior to Friday she had said that at some point after – though I think she suggested it was soon after Secretary Kerry became Secretary of State – that a system was put in place to systematically archive – automatically archive all of his emails. What she said last Friday was that that had now been extended to dozens of officials. What I believe she also said was that it doesn’t, however, cover anybody other than those dozens of officials, which leaves open the question – and I thought it was clear – that you don’t systematically archive the emails sent or received by the vast thousands of people who work for the State Department. Is that not correct, that there is no system for doing that automatically except for Secretary Kerry and the dozens of officials that she mentioned on Friday?

MR. RATHKE: Right. The recordkeeping responsibilities for officials below those levels are as we’ve discussed in this room in the past. That’s the responsibility --

QUESTION: It remains the case that you’re --

MR. RATHKE: -- for the employees to meet the recordkeeping requirements.

QUESTION: It remains the case, though, that you’re trying by the end of this year to do all of them. Is that right?

MR. RATHKE: End of 2016.

QUESTION: Oh, right. We’re 2015.

MR. RATHKE: End of 2016 – not to leapfrog before the year --

QUESTION: Yeah, no, I lost the --

QUESTION: One more. I’m lost about this, just to correct the record. On Friday, Jen said that the group of senior officials whose emails are now automatically archived, as of last month, included assistant secretaries. Is that the case or not?

MR. RATHKE: So the officials for whom there’s the automatic archiving includes the two deputy secretaries, the undersecretaries, several senior advisors, as well as the Secretary’s staff, ranging from his chief of staff to assistants who handle paper and so forth for the Secretary. It doesn’t include assistant secretaries.

QUESTION: Just one quick --

QUESTION: No --

QUESTION: Maybe you have --

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Are there not some assistant secretaries who are in that group?

MR. RATHKE: You’re clearly angling for something. I’m not --

QUESTION: No, I’m just wondering.

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

QUESTION: You’re not aware of a single assistant secretary of state who falls into the group that you just described?

MR. RATHKE: The automatic archiving?

QUESTION: Yeah. You’re not aware of one?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not aware of one.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Mr. Rathke, I want to go back to my question. Maybe you have not, but your colleagues from this podium have criticized Russia for carrying out exercises near its western borders because they raise tensions. Why is it that U.S. exercises do not raise tensions?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I would ask you to go back and check the transcripts of what we’ve said. We have not issued such blanket statements. And so I think I’ve addressed your question.

Go ahead, Elliot.

QUESTION: Never criticized Russian exercises near --

QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Israel?

MR. RATHKE: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Israel?

QUESTION: Can I – just one --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- this is very brief on the email.

MR. RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: Just – the select committee has now asked or said that the – Secretary Clinton’s server should be turned over to a third party to review it and suggested that one disinterested third party might be the IG. Does State have any thoughts on this at all? Do you have a position on whether or not --

MR. RATHKE: Not that I’m --

QUESTION: -- one, it – they – it should be turned over, and two, who should it be turned to to do the whatever kind of --

MR. RATHKE: I’m not aware that – I’m not aware of a position on that. But I wasn’t familiar with that suggestion, so we’ll take a look for the – for you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Elliot.

QUESTION: Yeah. Speaker Boehner has announced plans to visit Israel in the coming, I think, month or so. I was wondering – I mean, I know it’s not unprecedented at all for House delegations or speakers to do this --

MR. RATHKE: No, not at all.

QUESTION: -- to visit a foreign country, but I mean it – coming on the heels of the reelection and the visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu to Congress to give a speech, which you guys were critical of and took umbrage at, I was wondering if you have any concerns that this is Congress sort of undercutting the Administration on foreign policy.

MR. RATHKE: No, I don’t have any comment on Speaker Boehner’s possible travel to Israel. And congressional delegations regularly travel to the region and indeed around the world. I don’t have anything to --

QUESTION: So you have no problem with this at all?

MR. RATHKE: Members of Congress travel where they see it as important to do their work. I don’t have any comment on that.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the AIIB?

MR. RATHKE: Yes

QUESTION: New York Times today’s editorial is saying that this Administration is mishandling the issue, saying that it should have talked with allies to set a common principle to negotiate with China. Do you agree with this?

MR. RATHKE: Well, no. I think we’ve been clear about our position on AIIB. We just talked about it again. We’ve talked with our partners. We’ve also talked to China about it. We’ve made our views clear. So countries will make their decisions about how they want to be part of or not be part of and to try to advance those high standards.

QUESTION: Although --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Sorry. But although United States haven’t made a decision to join, but have you ever considered maybe – not now – maybe in future to join it?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to speak about the future. Again, our position is focused on the standards and the importance of those standards.

Yes.

QUESTION: This is off-topic, going to Africa. Yesterday the embassies in Mali and Niger each put out notices to Americans regarding security issues. I want to focus – it’s understandable that they did. I just want to focus on the one from Niger, which says that it is now required that the schools where the children of U.S. Embassy personnel, where they attend must now have armed guards present. I’m wondering, is this a requirement in any other country that you’re aware of?

MR. RATHKE: Oh, goodness. I don’t have that information at my fingertips. It’s quite possible that it is in some places, but I wouldn’t want to jump the gun and answer that, but --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: And does that mean – does this new directive mean that if a child of an embassy official is attending a school that doesn’t have an armed guard, that they have to withdraw their child from that school or that school has to get armed guards?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not able to speak to what – how in each particular case this might apply. But I think the important, overarching message for us or the important goal for the State Department is consistent with the no-double-standard policy --

QUESTION: Clearly.

MR. RATHKE: -- that when, in light of a particular security situation, we implement such measures that then we make it clear that – to other American citizens. But I’d have to look and see whether (inaudible) consequences of this.

QUESTION: The statement from the Embassy in Bamako said that – didn’t say that same thing about the armed guards, but it did say that it is in touch with the – I believe it’s the American school or the international school in Bamako about its security procedures.

MR. RATHKE: Which is something that our embassies typically do --

QUESTION: Correct. Yeah, yeah. No --

MR. RATHKE: -- in lots of places. Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m not challenging it.

MR. RATHKE: No, no, go ahead.

QUESTION: Probably a good thing, right? Or it is a good thing. What I want to know is that – are – I don’t know if there are armed guards at that school or not, but these countries do neighbor each other. Both have been hit by --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- Islamic extremist terrorism. And I’m wondering, is there some kind of a specific threat that you’re aware of to schools other than – clearly in Nigeria, Boko Haram has targeted schools, but I’m just wondering, is there that you’re aware of, is this – are these notices being sent because you’re aware of some specific threat to --

MR. RATHKE: Well, in general the security messages that we issue – the purpose of them is to provide information that is timely and important about safety and security. So these generally focus on personal security threats of a general nature or sometimes of a systemic nature, but I’m not going to get into the specific details that lie behind each of them. They are different in the two countries, but beyond that I wouldn’t want to get into characterizing them or comparing and contrasting them.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: All right. Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Question on another letter from the Senate, this one from the chairman and ranking members of armed services and foreign relations about the South China Sea.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: So first of all, have you – can you confirm that you received this letter from them yesterday regarding China’s land reclamation activities?

MR. RATHKE: Right. So just bear with me one moment. So yes, we’ve received a letter, and of course, we will respond to it. The response isn’t done yet, of course, because we’ve just gotten it, but let me make a couple of points about some of the issues that the letter raises.

The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, respect for international law, and the maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea. Now we have consistently and frequently raised with China our concerns over its large-scale land reclamation, which undermines peace and stability in the South China Sea, and more broadly in the Asia Pacific region.

Now the United States continues to take additional concrete steps to support peace and stability in the South China Sea, and we are frank in expressing our concerns about problematic behavior. And we are undertaking supportive actions, including diplomacy, increased maritime security cooperation and assistance with Southeast Asian claimants, our support for crisis management tools and strengthening our roles as an Asian Pacific power in our relationships with allies and partners in the region.

QUESTION: Do you agree with the letter’s claim that China has been using non-military methods of coercion to enforce its claims in the South China Sea?

MR. RATHKE: Well, that might not be the word we would use, but we’ve said that these actions are destabilizing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, Arshad. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So there was a story out yesterday which said that contrary to the commitment that former Secretary Clinton made that the Clinton Foundation or portions of it, and particularly the health part of it that was eventually spun off into a separate entity, did not fully disclose all of their donations on an annual basis while she was in office. Do you have any comment on that, and do you have any – well, first do you have any comment on that? And then I have a follow-up on that.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. So maybe if I can make a general point --

QUESTION: Please.

MR. RATHKE: -- and then get to the question. In January of 2009, former Secretary Clinton set forth a variety of undertakings which addressed, among other things, her financial interests, the speaking and writing and consulting of former President Clinton and other matters involving the Clinton Foundation and its initiatives. And in several respects, those commitments went beyond the requirements of applicable laws and regulations. Now with respect to particular requests, the Department of State reviewed every request that was submitted to us by the foundation. I would refer you to the Clinton Foundation for any questions about the specific requests that they submitted.

QUESTION: Did – is it correct that most of the requests that were submitted to you – or that were submitted to the Department of State had to do with former President Clinton’s speaking, consulting, and other work?

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, that’s – those are primarily the types of requests that we received.

QUESTION: Did the State Department create any mechanism to ensure or to check that the foundation would carry out the undertakings that former Secretary Clinton – and she wasn’t actually, I think, the secretary then because I think these were – these commitments were made when she was not yet sworn in.

MR. RATHKE: Correct.

QUESTION: But did the State Department create any kind of a mechanism to ensure that those commitments would be lived up to, or did you leave it to the foundation to self-disclose?

MR. RATHKE: Well, it was up to the foundation to make requests to the State Department, which we reviewed. I don’t have anything more on the internal mechanism.

QUESTION: Well, one more on this. When – I mean, did it raise any flags within the State Department that most of the requests that it was receiving from the foundation seeking review or primarily related to former President Clinton’s consulting and speaking activities but not to requests to review donations from foreign governments to the foundation or in particular to its health appendage.

MR. RATHKE: I’d have to look into that for you. I don’t have that level of detail.

QUESTION: Would you?

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, I can see if there’s more to be said on that.

Go ahead, Laura.

QUESTION: Can we go to Germany?

MR. RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: There was a piece by Glenn Greenwald yesterday in The Intercept in which he quotes a conversation he had with German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who suggested to him that – well, really said to him that the U.S. Government had threatened to stop sharing intelligence with Germany if Berlin offered asylum to Edward Snowden. Specifically, he also alleges that this would include intelligence involving potential threats to Germany. Is this a conversation that, to your knowledge, anyone in this building had with any official in the German Government?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have any comment on intelligence matters, so I don’t think I have anything to add on that report. We don’t comment on those sorts of matters.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday United Nations Human Rights Office released a report regarding the Islamic – so-called Islamic State may committed genocide and war crimes against the Yezidis and other populations in Iraq. And it’s referring that that case might be referred to the International Court. What is the position of the United States Government especially of this case being referred to the Security Council to be recognized as a genocide against the Yezidis in Iraq?

MR. RATHKE: So I’m sorry, which report are you referring to?

QUESTION: It’s United Nations Human Rights Office yesterday released a report and they are talking about that Islamic State may committed genocide and war crimes against the Yezidis and others in their fight in Iraq.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not familiar with the report, so I don’t want to comment on --

QUESTION: Yesterday it was released.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I understand. But anyway, I’m not familiar with it, so I don’t want to comment on the content of it. I think we’ve been quite clear as a government and in this department in highlighting the horrible crimes that ISIL has carried out, but I’m not going to speak to that report without being familiar with it.

QUESTION: Okay. Were you supportive the idea of they – because there are also efforts by the Yezidis themselves. They asked your support for the crime to be recognized as a genocide against them.

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, that’s a quite specific question. I’m not familiar with that report. We’ll take a look and see if we have more to say on that.

QUESTION: One more, one more in Iraq. I think the day before yesterday there was a meeting in Berlin which is called the Stabilization Working Group established between United States and the national coalitions to help the areas released or liberated from ISIS in Iraq --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- to return order to that area. And there was a meeting also in – before that in Turkey and one in Baghdad. During the meeting in Baghdad, the operations around Tikrit, which United States is not supporting it by airstrike, has been suspended. Was that the result of that meetings and the pressure from --

MR. RATHKE: That’s an Iraq-led operation and I would refer you to the Government of Iraq for comment on that.

Laura.

QUESTION: Yeah. This new ISIS video that seems to show the beheading of three Peshmerga fighters, is that something that U.S. intelligence is looking at? Have you been able to draw any assessments from that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’re aware of the deeply disturbing video, but we’re not in a position to confirm its authenticity. We also have no reason to doubt it because it’s consistent with other kinds of atrocities and crimes that have been documented by ISIL themselves. And we think this – the video’s release in particular on Nowruz holiday for the Kurdish people is particularly offensive. We condemn ISIL’s inhumane actions and atrocities and we extend our condolences. I don’t have confirmation on the particular authenticity of the video however.

All right?

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:16 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 16:20

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

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:40 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Hello, hello.

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

Okay. I have one item at the top.

QUESTION: Sarcasm is not --

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

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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

QUESTION: Seems to have gone now.

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

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right.

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Let’s start with Israel.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

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

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you also seen it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: I’m not making --

QUESTION: And not – and why he would --

MS. PSAKI: We take the prime --

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Well --

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Look, I didn’t suggest --

QUESTION: I mean, basically --

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Well, if he had --

QUESTION: So it sounds like --

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

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

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

QUESTION: All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: So you think --

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Right.

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

Go ahead, Samir.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Why not?

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

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

QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to --

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Opposed.

QUESTION: Oh.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. That’s what I said.

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

MS. PSAKI: No. Opposed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Okay. You will --

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Yemen? Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

Yemen before we continue? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Ukraine?

QUESTION: Ukraine and Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: No, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: I --

QUESTION: Are you seeing progress?

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Which Eastern Europeans are saying that?

QUESTION: The Donetsk and Luhansk people.

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

QUESTION: Eastern Ukrainians, I’m sorry.

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

QUESTION: Yes.

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

QUESTION: Why haven’t you? I mean --

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

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

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

QUESTION: Uh-huh.

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

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

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

QUESTION: They are still Eastern Ukrainians.

QUESTION: They are Eastern Europeans, though.

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

QUESTION: They fit that category.

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Which prime minister said this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

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

MS. PSAKI: That’s okay. Go ahead.

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

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

QUESTION: In the world.

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

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

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

Any more on this before we continue?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: One follow-up to that issue.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

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

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

QUESTION: Yes, yes.

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

QUESTION: Thank you.

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

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

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

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

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

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

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Also Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Okay. Disguised as little green men?

MS. PSAKI: Well, in terms of --

QUESTION: I don’t know if that --

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

QUESTION: Were they walking on their knees or something?

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.)

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

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

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Can I ask you something about --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- about Greece again?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

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

MS. PSAKI: Well --

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: No.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Nigeria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Sure.

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

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

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

Go ahead.

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

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

QUESTION: Are you sending any personnel to the ground?

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

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Yes.

QUESTION: Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: What does it mean to the --

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.)

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

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

QUESTION: Ah, okay.

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: There are --

QUESTION: You can’t.

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

QUESTION: Is there a draft?

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

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

MS. PSAKI: A draft being negotiated --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- between the parties?

QUESTION: That’s --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s what I mean.

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

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

QUESTION: Okay. Well --

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

MS. PSAKI: That is my understanding.

QUESTION: Well, and --

QUESTION: And just one other thing on this.

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

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

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

Anything else?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: You mean --

QUESTION: The chlorine.

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

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

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

QUESTION: Right. But I mean --

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: A Security Council resolution?

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

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

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

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

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

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

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

QUESTION: There was a resolution.

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

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Jen, can we --

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

QUESTION: Thank you.

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

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 03/18/2015 - 16:36

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

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:26 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.

QUESTION:  Hi.

QUESTION:  Hello.

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

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

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

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

With that, go ahead, Matt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  Right.

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

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

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

Any more on this before we continue? 

QUESTION:  Second thing --

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

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

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

QUESTION:  Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  In the embassy, though.

QUESTION:  The embassy.

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have --

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  -- just routinely close down.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  In Saudi Arabia?  Mm-hmm.

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

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

QUESTION:  Change topics?

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  It’s not --

QUESTION:  Fact check, I don’t know.

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

QUESTION:  Google that.

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

MS. PSAKI:  It was a brief phone call.

QUESTION:  Oh, okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  I wouldn’t --

QUESTION:  -- adjective be missing this time around?

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

QUESTION:  Is there any reason why --

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

MS. PSAKI:  Well --

QUESTION:  Seeking recognition from the international community.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  Okay.  Let me --

QUESTION:  Can I --

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

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

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

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

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

Roz.

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

MS. PSAKI:  No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  That remains true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

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

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

QUESTION:  Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  Okay.  So --

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

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

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

MS. PSAKI:  I spoke to this yesterday.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  Right.

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

QUESTION:  Right.

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

QUESTION:  Right, but do you – but --

MS. PSAKI:  And let me finish.

QUESTION:  Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  South Asia?

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  On Crimea?

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

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

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

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

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  On South Asia?

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

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

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more to add.

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

QUESTION:  One on Afghanistan.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t believe so, no.

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

MS. PSAKI:  Well, it’s certainly --

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

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

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

QUESTION:  A not-so-beautiful drive.

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

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

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

QUESTION:  I have one more question on --

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  Would you expect, just on Afghanistan --

MS. PSAKI:  To host it at Camp David?

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  Thank you.

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

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

MS. PSAKI:  I mean in Afghanistan, yes.

Yes, Justin.

QUESTION:  On Syria --

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

QUESTION:  Yeah, just quickly.

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

Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION:  Sorry --

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

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

MS. PSAKI:  It’s okay, go ahead.

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

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

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you.

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

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

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

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

More on Syria?

QUESTION:  Iraq.

MS. PSAKI:  Iraq?  Sure.

QUESTION:  Well, just --

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, go ahead, Justin.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  We’ll check back.

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

QUESTION:  Maybe first on Syria and then on Iraq. 

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  No, that’s it.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Go ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

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

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

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

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

Go ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  April 30th?

MS. PSAKI:  April --

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

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

QUESTION:  Okay.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  Can I ask about another letter that --

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  You’re speaking of Benghazi here?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

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

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

QUESTION:  Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mm-hmm.  Iran?

QUESTION:  No, human rights violations. 

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  But no --

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

QUESTION:  Okay.

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

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

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

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

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you, madam.

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

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

MS. PSAKI:  No, it’s okay.

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

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

QUESTION:  Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION:  After they asked?

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

QUESTION:  Right, right.

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

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

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION:  One other on Southeast Asia. 

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

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

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

QUESTION:  We --

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Oh, no, she can go ahead.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

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

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

QUESTION:  Thank you.

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

MS. PSAKI:  Okay, sure.

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI:  In what capacity, Matt?

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

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

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

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

All right.  Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

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


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 03/17/2015 - 16:11

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

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:25 p.m. EDT

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

QUESTION: No.

MS. PSAKI: Oh.

QUESTION: Very (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: It is.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Good to know.

QUESTION: Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

MS. PSAKI: Let it be noted.

QUESTION: Nice green.

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Let’s hope.

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Okay, so she did not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: So that would be Secretary Rice and Secretary Powell?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: And you’re certain that none of them signed it? How --

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is the – these are the records we have at the State Department. Clearly, you can pose this question to any of the former secretaries as well.

QUESTION: Right, but you’re saying that from your review of these three secretaries’ files, it was not unusual, at least from this review, for the Secretary of State not to have completed one of these forms?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: All right. And can you explain, though, what you mean by saying that you’re looking into how – into whether or not signing or completing such a form before one leaves – inside the State Department – I’m not interested in other agencies, but just inside the State Department, was it – is it your understanding that some people did and some people didn’t, but no one was required to or just the secretaries?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are differences between regulations and certainly recommendations, and I’m just getting at there’s a difference between also secretaries of state or former secretaries and staff at lower levels. I just don’t want to speak to how common practice it is, and that’s something if we can give more information on, we certainly will.

QUESTION: Okay. You just used the word “recommended.” Is that the operative language here, that it is recommended but not required?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the form exists, certainly, Matt. I can speak to whether this former secretary, whether we have record of her signing it. Beyond that --

QUESTION: No, I understand.

MS. PSAKI: -- I don’t have more statistics on whether – what percentage of State Department employees sign on departure from the building.

QUESTION: Okay. Right, but yes, the form exists, and it exists for a reason. It doesn’t exist simply because someone thought, hey, let’s have a form that someone has to sign. It exists for a reason and probably a pretty good reason, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are probably hundreds of forms in the federal government that exist --

QUESTION: Thousands I would suggest.

MS. PSAKI: Thousands, tens of thousands of forms that exist. So I don’t know that I would overemphasize the existence of a form, but --

QUESTION: All right. Okay. So does this mean now that you have gotten Freedom of Information Act requests – I believe you got them this morning from the RNC and from various other people, asking for these forms signed not just by former Secretary Clinton but also some of her top aides. Have you satisfied yourself, has the building satisfied itself that it cannot respond to these FOIA requests because --

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t --

QUESTION: -- these documents don’t exist?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t talked to our lawyers about that specific question nor have I looked at their specific requests.

QUESTION: All right. And do you know if the FOIA, at least from the RNC, includes Secretary Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, or deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin and Deputy Assistant Secretary Philippe Reines --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have additional details on other individuals who may or may not have signed the form.

QUESTION: All right. So is this – as far as you’re concerned, is this now case closed?

MS. PSAKI: I hope so. There’s quite a bit going on in the world, so --

QUESTION: Yes, all right.

MS. PSAKI: -- we can also discuss that.

QUESTION: Change of topic?

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh, wait, I just wanted --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on – it’s not on this specifically, but you – the announcement came out just before the briefing about the end of the internet outage and emails.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So what can you tell us about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the notice that I think all of you should have received noted that we’ve concluded this morning the scheduled worldwide network security upgrade activities, and email to and from non-State.gov addresses has been fully restored as well as GO and other services we use here. The system is operating on a normal schedule. Any delays in delivery and receipt of email you may experience are temporary as the system resumes normal operations.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can we change topics?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you a little bit about the Israeli elections --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- as the day, of course, draws --

MS. PSAKI: Keep your expectations low, Said, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. I’ll try to – well, you know – okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. I’m sorry. Go ahead. What are your questions?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) my expectations are always high, right?

MS. PSAKI: Good, all right.

QUESTION: And so – okay. So as the polls are about to close – maybe it will be a couple of hours and so on – and statements were made, very emphatic statements about the not allowing a Palestinian state to emerge and so on. But we’ve seen no repudiation from the other parties either. So – and there’s another deadline that is ongoing now. Today is the 17th. On the first of this – I mean next month, the ICC is supposed to review its first case against settlements and so on. Would you ask or did you ask the Palestinians to sort of back away or not pursue any of that effort?

MS. PSAKI: I have no updates for you on this topic. Let me say, since you gave me the opportunity, we congratulate the citizens of Israel on today’s election. The reported large turnout is another reminder of the vibrancies – vibrancy of Israel’s democracy and why the United States will remain firm in our commitment to our deep and abiding partnership with Israel. Voting is still ongoing and no official results have been released yet. We look forward to working with the next Israeli Government, including on our shared agreement for peace and security in the Middle East. I don’t have any other predictions for you.

QUESTION: Do you find it – I mean, since you talked about the vibrant democracy and so on, do you find it a bit frustrating or annoying that the prime minister of Israel said – complained that Arab citizens were casting their votes in droves?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Does that offend you in any way?

MS. PSAKI: -- we have seen reports about his statements. What we’ve always admired about Israel is its vibrancy as a democracy, which includes the right of all citizens to vote, whether they’re Arab or Jewish citizens. And we’re always concerned, broadly speaking, about any statements that may be aimed at marginalizing certain communities.

QUESTION: And lastly, I know you said yesterday that this is really a lot of maybe campaign rhetoric in referring to what Prime Minister Netanyahu said about he will never agree to a Palestinian state. You still believe that? You still – that this is no more than just campaign rhetoric?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think I said “no more than,” Said. I think that was just a reference. I think I also repeated yesterday that our position in support of a two-state solution is very clear. Only a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and independent Palestine can bring lasting peace and stability to both people. Of course, we will continue to pursue this goal with the new Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Any more on this before we continue?

QUESTION: Well, can you – I’m sorry, I got distracted with something. Did you ask – were you asked about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: You were?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Russia? Sure.

QUESTION: I was just wondering --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: You expressed some concern whenever there seems to be an attempt to malign a group of people or people --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s what I said, but I would point you to what I said in the transcript. But go ahead.

QUESTION: But given that, was anything expressed to the Israeli Government about this kind of language being used?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to read out for you, Roz, today.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Russia’s going to sign the new treaty on union relations and integration in South Ossetia tomorrow. I was wondering if could you make State Department’s position on that, please? Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, and I think we’ll have a statement that goes out as well shortly, so I can reiterate some of those points – or not reiterate; I can preview some of those points, I guess I should say. The United States position on South Ossetia and Abkhazia remains clear. These regions are integral parts of Georgia. We continue to support Georgia’s independence, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity. The United States does not recognize the legitimacy of any so-called treaty between the de facto leaders of Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and the Russian Federation. Neither this agreement nor the one signed between Russia and the de facto leaders in Abkhazia in November 2014 constitutes a valid international agreement.

Russia should fulfill all of its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, withdraw its forces to pre-conflict positions, reverse its recognition of the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, and provide free access for continued humanitarian assistance to these regions. We continue to support the Geneva international discussions as a means to achieving concrete progress on security and humanitarian issues that continue to impact the communities on the ground in Georgia. And again, we’ll have a statement out soon, or probably this afternoon.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Elliot. Mm-hmm. Iraq?

QUESTION: Can we stay with Russia just for a second?

MS. PSAKI: With Russia? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but the Russians are conducting this major military exercises in the Arctic, but also they’re doing war games – Kaliningrad, they’re going to send some missiles there, and sending advanced and nuclear-capable bombers to Crimea. Do you have any reaction to any or all of this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, while we recognize the need for routine military training activity, any such activity must be consistent with international law and conducted with due regard for the rights of other nations and the safety of other aircraft and vessels. Obviously, there have been many reports. We don’t have confirmation of many of the details here. We can see if there’s more we would like to say about the range of reports out there.

QUESTION: At this moment, do you have any reason to be concerned about these exercises not being in accordance with international norms?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think at this moment we’re watching closely, and certainly, there’s a history here that we also look to, and certainly, there’s context of what’s happening on the ground that’s also relevant. At this moment, I don’t have any specific expression of concern, but it’s something we’ll watch closely.

QUESTION: When you say there’s a history here, what are you referring to?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I more should say the context of what’s happening on the ground in Ukraine is more --

QUESTION: Right now.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, is more of the accurate way of describing it.

QUESTION: This might be a better question for the Pentagon, but when there are large-scale military exercises, does the U.S. notify other major countries, “We’re doing operation so-and-so, it’s our annual singular exercise” --

MS. PSAKI: I think typically, Roz. But you’re right, I would ask the Pentagon that question as it relates to this specific case.

Russia, before we continue? Russia?

QUESTION: I have Russia (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Russia? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. I wanted to know your policy on the relations between Russia and your allies. Why I say that, because on March 7, Marie criticized the president of Cyprus, who went to Russia and signed some agreement. But you never criticize the prime minister of Italy, who went to Russia and signed agreements. You never criticized the president of Turkey, who signed billions of dollars of agreements. So my question is: Why you criticize the president of Cyprus and not the leaders of Italy and Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d have to look back at our statements. I’m not going to make a sweeping analysis here, other than to convey that we’ve been clear that it’s not time for business as usual. We certainly understand that there are relationships between many countries in the world, including Russia, and the United States continues to work with Russia on a range of issues, including the ongoing nuclear negotiations. But the devil’s in the details, and the specifics of what deals or what the specifics are being discussed, so I can look back and see what we specifically commented on at the time.

QUESTION: Please.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Russia before we continue? Okay.

QUESTION: On South Korea.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Elliot, I think, had his hand up on Iraq, and then we’ll go to South Korea. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Just a few on the situation in Tikrit.

MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: There are some reports that some Iraqi officials have suggested that the U.S. take a more active role in that battle. I was wondering if you have any response to that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we remain a stalwart ally to the Government of Iraq in the fight against ISIL and toward assisting Iraq with its long-term stability. The efforts in Tikrit are led – Iraqi-led, as you know. And even as this battle unfolds, the coalition is supporting significant Iraqi operations in Anbar and Kirkuk. The U.S. and coalition partners have assisted Iraqi ground forces in over 20 counter-ISIL operations across Iraq, all of them successful. We have conducted over 1,550 airstrikes in support of Iraqi ground forces. Almost – with cooperation from coalition partners, we’ve continued our train and assist efforts. Almost 6,000 Iraqi Security Forces have already graduated. Point being, there are a number of efforts underway. Obviously, any question about military assistance should be directed to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: So is that – at the moment, you’re not considering getting more involved in the battle in Tikrit, which is what my question --

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Pentagon. And typically we don’t make predictions of that advance.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that the Iranians are becoming too immersed, too embroiled in the battle around Tikrit and that would give them more, perhaps, involvement for the whole of Iraq and in running its future?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think you may be referencing – I think there were some stories today. We haven’t – we have seen, certainly, those stories. I don’t have anything to confirm about the specifics of it at this point in time, but we’ve said previously that we know that Iran has provided some supplies, arms, ammunition, and aircraft for Iraq’s armed forces. Our – we continue to emphasize that it’s important that actions don’t raise tensions, don’t raise sectarian tensions. Obviously, we’ve been concerned about some reported actions of unregulated militia, as we’ve talked about in the past.

But while sectarian tensions remain a deep concern with this specific effort in Tikrit, in recent days we’ve seen many Iraqi political and religious figures, including Sunni leaders, express support for the Tikrit operation as well as the role of popular mobilization forces, the role they’ve played. The defense minister, who’s also Sunni, as well as KRG Prime Minister Barzani, have welcomed the role of these volunteers organized under the government’s authority, and have called on all communities in Iraq to support their efforts. Our emphasis is on the role of all of the different factions in Iraq working together. We’d be concerned about efforts to divide that. And we’re certainly very focused on what happens after Tikrit as well.

QUESTION: So on this very point, you see as part of a larger – the larger calculus, the Iranian effort on this part is positive. Correct?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say that. I think I’ll leave it as what I said, Said.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Isn’t it – I mean --

QUESTION: I mean, they are on the same side; they’re fighting the same enemies.

MS. PSAKI: We’re not coordinating with them, as we’ve said many times before. I think I emphasized what our focus is on.

QUESTION: But just allow me for a second, because they both – you and the Iranians both sort of support the Iraqi Government, you support the Iraqi effort and so on. You both fight ISIS and so on. So you are on the same side.

MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t mean we approach things in the same way. It doesn’t mean we don’t have concerns about any effort or a history of inflaming sectarian tensions.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, in addition to the sectarian tensions issue, which is valid, isn’t there also the concern that the – with the U.S. staying on the sidelines in this important battle, that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re hardly staying on the sidelines, Elliot.

QUESTION: Well, in this battle right now, as of now, you are.

MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that as well, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, well, in any case, isn’t there also the question that going forward, in order for the U.S. to continue to take a really active and – active role, that you would need to show a little bit more of an effort?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Elliot, I would just refute the notion of your question. I just gave you several statistics on our involvement and our engagement. And I think it’s hard to see countries that are more engaged or more involved in every component of the political process, the process of training and equipping, the process of uniting the factions in Iraq than the United States.

QUESTION: I thought you were talking about Iran.

MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that notion.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the issue of THAAD system replacement – deployment in South Korea. This morning, South Korean defense ministry announced that if the United States is formal request for THAAD system deployment to South Korea, then South Korea willing to make a decision. Will the United States deployment of THAAD in South Korea?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that Assistant Secretary Russel is there now. We have not formally consulted with South Korea on THAAD deployment, and no decisions have been made on a potential deployment to the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: Yeah, but THAAD is the defensive system against the North Korean missile threat. Why the Chinese is opposed to THAAD placement in South Korea?

MS. PSAKI: Why are the Chinese opposed?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: I would ask the Chinese Government that question.

QUESTION: But what is your United States position --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Chinese Government.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Jen, France and Italy and Germany just announced they are going to follow UK to join AIIB. What’s your reaction on that?

MS. PSAKI: I know we spoke about this a little bit last week, I believe it was.

QUESTION: Yeah, to respond to UK --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. No, I understand. Our position remains – on AIIB remains clear and consistent. We believe there is a pressing need to enhance infrastructure investment around the world. We believe any new multilateral institution should incorporate the high standards that the international community has collectively built at the World Bank and the Regional Development Bank.

As was true with the United Kingdom, the decision of any country to join is certainly a decision made by a sovereign country, but it will be important for prospective members of the AIIB to push for the adoption of those same high standards, including strong board oversight and safeguards. And the international community certainly has a stake in seeing that AIIB complements and works effectively alongside existing architecture – excuse me – that’s already in place that does have those high standards.

QUESTION: But are you disappointed to see your major allies, they’re not standing with you, and ignored the concerns you shared?

MS. PSAKI: I would not at all put it in those terms. These are decisions made by sovereign countries. Our view continues to be that any member needs to hold this organization to the highest standards.

QUESTION: Well, in the future, though, United – consider or reconsider your decision to join the AIIB?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a reconsideration.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: About the AIIB issue, Chinese communist party’s propaganda paper, People’s Daily, made an editorial that’s saying there’s a rift between G7 countries. Do you agree with that?

MS. PSAKI: Between which countries?

QUESTION: G7 countries. G7 countries.

MS. PSAKI: Based on what?

QUESTION: The difference towards AIIB stance.

MS. PSAKI: I would not – no, I would not characterize it in those terms. We certainly discuss issues, of course, through diplomatic channels, through bilateral channels. What I’ve just expressed publicly is certainly what we’ve expressed privately to our partners.

QUESTION: Does the addition of these – of the UK, Germany, France into the AIIB allay some of your concerns that you’ve stated previously? Does it give you any hope that the structure might be a little bit more transparent, given --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll see. I think it provides an opportunity for any of these countries to make the case that there should be high standards held by AIIB.

QUESTION: Jen, over the past few days, we see reports that seems to conflict with the public remarks from this podium. We heard reports saying that the U.S. un-named officials during a private conversation is opposing or signaling concerns on the major allies to join AIIB. My question is: Is there a coherent position from this government on this China initiative infrastructure --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we clearly haven’t made the decision to join. We believe that while there’s a need to enhance infrastructure around the world, that multilateral institutions should have the highest standards that the international community has built. This is a point we’ve expressed publicly and privately. I don’t think it’s inconsistent in any way.

QUESTION: I guess --

QUESTION: Well, do you think the participation of your allies – Britain, France, Germany, and Italy – will help that goal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think Elliot just asked that question. We’ll see. I mean, I think we’ve obviously --

QUESTION: You don’t trust them?

MS. PSAKI: No, I was saying that it provides an opportunity for any member countries to bring and hold AIIB to the highest standards, and so what – they just announced they were joining, I think, today.

QUESTION: I guess it’s hard to confirm a private conversation with un-named officials in private. But then --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve just expressed what our views are. We have expressed those views privately. I think that’s consistent with the comments that you’re referring to as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Other question: Do you have anything regarding the trilateral ministerial meeting between China, Japan, and Korea, which will be scheduled later this week? Do you think it’s a positive development?

MS. PSAKI: We certainly do. As you know, we’ve long been supportive of dialogue between these countries and strong relationships in the region. I believe this is the first time this type of a meeting has happened, and you may know --

QUESTION: Three years.

MS. PSAKI: Three years, right? And so that is certainly a positive sign.

QUESTION: Jen, sorry, just going back to the AIIB (inaudible). So China said that it wants South Korea to be a member and asked the South Koreans to announce its decision to join within the month. Do you have any comments about that?

MS. PSAKI: I think that’s a decision for South Korea to make.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the other thing is, do you think that there will be other countries, more countries that would follow Italy, Germany, France, and the UK?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll see. I can’t make a prediction of that.

QUESTION: Okay. Are you not concerned about that?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve expressed what our view is, and we’ve expressed the same view I’ve stated publicly to any country that’s considering joining.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Cuba?

QUESTION: Jen, can we stay in Asia, one more?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: This might be still in planning stage, but it won’t hurt to ask.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Have you received any request from the Chinese counterpart to schedule a meeting with Wang Qishan, who is a former vice premier, who is now a big hand weighing the – in China’s anti-graft efforts? And who – he might be a familiar figure in this building because of the S&ED talk that he (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: A meeting to come to the United States or --

QUESTION: Right, with the --

MS. PSAKI: Is there a planned visit?

QUESTION: Well, the – it was reported that he planned to visit United States, and I wonder, have you received any --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of a visit. I would obviously refer you to the Chinese Government on that specifically. I can certainly check if there’s a confirmed meeting, if there’s a plan for a confirmed visit, if there’s a plan for a meeting. But I think to your point, we’re a little bit – we’re not quite there yet.

QUESTION: Well, it’s reported that his visit may be something to do with China’s fox hunt operation efforts to seek extradition of Chinese officials who escaped to the United States, who are also charged of corruption.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any details on a planned visit. I don’t think it’s been confirmed. As you know, we don’t speak to extradition requests, even if that is a part of a discussion.

QUESTION: Well, let me put my question this way: Have you received any request from the Chinese counterparts to extradite any Chinese officials or --

MS. PSAKI: We don’t speak to extradition requests as a matter of policy.

QUESTION: Jen, Assistant Secretary Russel visit to South Korea meeting with his counterpart in South Korea, do you have anything (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: With Assistant Secretary Russel’s meetings?

QUESTION: Yes, mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let’s see. Assistant Secretary Russel was in South Korea on the 15th and 16th of March, so over the last two days, to meet with Ambassador Lippert and the U.S. Embassy community and to consult with the South Korean Government. He met with senior Blue House and ministry of foreign affairs officials on March 16th. He reaffirmed the enduring strength of the U.S. alliance with the Republic of Korea and discussed a broad spectrum of alliance issues. He also expressed our gratitude for the outpouring of support from the Korean people in the aftermath of the attack on Ambassador Lippert.

QUESTION: He – also a discussion about the THAAD system issues with South Korean (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: He discussed a wide range of issues. We have not – as I stated before, we have not formally consulted with South Korea on THAAD deployment. I don’t have anything else to read out about his visit.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment on – about South Koreans being asked from the United States to refuse AIIB, but accept THAAD and be – from China being asked – accept AIIB but refuse THAAD, and they are torn apart between United States and China?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just said that it’s a decision of any sovereign country, including South Korea, to make on AIIB. We have obviously expressed the same views I expressed publicly through private channels, but I don’t have any further comment beyond that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) THAAD system issue is a diplomatic issue or a defense issue? What is --

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry, is which issue?

QUESTION: THAAD system.

MS. PSAKI: It’s really a defense issue, and certainly you’re welcome to ask my colleagues over at the Defense Department. I’m not sure they’ll have much more to add, but – to Asia or --

QUESTION: Change topic?

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) regarding the --

MS. PSAKI: We’ll go to you, Pam, next.

QUESTION: Okay. Regarding the nuclear talks in Switzerland, the Iranians say that 90 percent of the technical issues have been resolved. Would you characterize the negotiations the same way?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to put a statistic or a percentage on it from here. We’ve made an effort from the beginning to keep the private ongoing discussions private. Certainly, there are technical issues that will continue to be discussed. There are also difficult political decisions that will need to be made by the Iranians. Our focus now is on ongoing meetings this week. As you all know, the Secretary continued his meetings with the Iranian foreign minister today, Under Secretary Sherman, and the U.S. negotiating team, including Energy Secretary Moniz. They’re continuing their discussions with their Iranian counterparts as well.

The discussions thus far have been solid, substantive, and difficult, but constructive. We expect that will remain the case as we continue to try to close the gaps. We’re continuing, of course, to work towards the end of March to see if we can get to a political framework, but I don’t think we’ll put percentages on between now and then.

QUESTION: Would you say you’re pleased with the progress?

MS. PSAKI: I think, again, there are difficult issues that are being discussed. They’ve been substantive conversations. We’re just not going to give a day-to-day analysis of where things stand.

QUESTION: When you say “constructive” --

QUESTION: Your colleague at the White House said that there was a 50-50 chance. Are you not --

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve been saying that for some time now.

QUESTION: Well, but somebody else – so you are willing to put a percentage on it?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new percentages to add from here.

QUESTION: When you say “constructive,” does that – are you acknowledging that there was progress made in the last 24 hours? Because the message that came out --

MS. PSAKI: I said “constructive” yesterday as well, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. You said “constructive” yesterday as well.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, I did.

QUESTION: Now the reports from there were saying that they’re difficult, no progress was made. So are you disputing that?

MS. PSAKI: They’re difficult, of course. We’re not going to give day-to-day analysis. There are several more days where the Secretary’s going to be on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. So are we expected to see something, let’s say, by the 24th and by --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as you know, the Secretary has commitments with the Afghans in D.C. early next week. We’re pushing forward as much as we can now to see what we can get done this week. The deadline is the end of the month and that’s what we’re working toward, so we’ll see where we are at the end of this week.

QUESTION: Do you feel that if you don’t really achieve, like, a major breakthrough in the next few days, that the momentum will have been slowed down?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think you know if there’s been a breakthrough or not because we haven’t spoken to that.

QUESTION: Well, I’m saying if you don’t achieve a breakthrough.

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to address that, Said.

QUESTION: Senator Corker said he could bring his bill to a vote by the – as early as the 25th. If we get to the point where it is the 25th and there is not a framework deal, would you – are you – would you still be opposed to – would you still advise him not to – to hold off? I mean, this was part of a compromise. He said he would wait until your deadline, which there’s some debate about what the deadline is, the 24th or the 31st, but, I mean --

MS. PSAKI: It has long been the 31st.

QUESTION: Right. I understand that. But I mean, it was the – whatever you were going to say. I mean, do you – if there is no deal, are you still going to be pushing for a framework? Are you still going to be pushing for a delay in a vote on --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: You are.

MS. PSAKI: And I think that the letter from the White House chief of staff from the weekend addressed that as well.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: Just to follow-up on Iran nuclear also --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- related to Matt’s question --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- and the Republican indication that congressional Republicans may push forward with this plan to have some kind of a vote next week that would give them a role in approving an eventual Iran nuclear agreement. This comes after Iran, in the negotiations between Kerry and Zarif, raised some concerns about the Republican letter. Would this type of effort further complicate negotiations at a very sensitive time?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re talking about two separate issues. I realize it’s all related, because we’re all talking about the nuclear negotiations. As I spoke about a bit yesterday, the letter did come up. It came up more extensively during the meeting with the political directors, and certainly it’s a distraction and certainly a time-suck, so – and it has been – it was on the first day of negotiations. Obviously there are a lot of technical issues, a lot of political issues to be discussed, and we have a limited amount of time. So that, alone, is – makes it more difficult.

However, we continue to believe that these negotiations are not about a letter that was ill-informed or ill-advised. They’re about the issues at hand. And that’s what the focus of the negotiations have been on today and yesterday, aside from, of course, it was discussed for a short portion, as I mentioned yesterday.

As it relates to legislation – and again, I would point you to the lengthy letter that the White House chief of staff sent this weekend to Senator Corker – I think the question here is: What is the goal here? We are at crunch time. There’s no question – the Secretary and the President have put out there that they are willing to walk away if this is not a good deal. But obviously we’re – we have – we’re at a time where the negotiations are pivotal, and we’ve conveyed clearly that putting new sanctions legislation in place could be detrimental to the process.

QUESTION: But you will also walk away if there’s no good deal, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I said the Secretary and the President.

QUESTION: Have said that they will. You weren’t referring to Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I will as well. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, no, no. I mean, there has been concern expressed that if this sanctions legislation goes ahead, that the Iranians might walk.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll let the Iranians speak for themselves.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: And they have spoken to that. You’re right.

QUESTION: Can I ask an Iran-related question?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Have you seen or are you aware of this letter that the American former Marine Amir Hekmati has written, seeking to renounce his Iranian citizenship?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. We --

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: We absolutely – and I’ll get to your question, but I just want to speak to the whole issue. We absolutely hold Iran responsible for the treatment of U.S. citizens in custody there and reports of Amir Hekmati’s abuse and mistreatment are deeply worrying. We expect Iran to respect its obligations to treat prisoners humanely, and we hold the Iranian authorities responsible for the welfare of Amir Hekmati and other U.S. citizens detained in Iran. We have raised his case repeatedly with Iranian officials and will continue to do so.

We’ve seen reports that you referenced, of course, that Amir wants to renounce his Iranian citizenship. This is obviously a personal decision for him to make. Our position continues to be that the Government of Iran should release him immediately.

QUESTION: Right. When you say that you expect Iran to treat all Americans being held there, your Human Rights Reports are highly critical of the treatment that Iran provides to all prisoners, or many prisoners, not just American citizens.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. You’re right.

QUESTION: How is that you can expect them to treat them humanely?

MS. PSAKI: Should I say instead we hope and this is a case that we continue to --

QUESTION: Or demand.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, absolutely. And that certainly is a case we continue to make in our discussions.

QUESTION: On Syria.

QUESTION: Just on the – just back on Iran for --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- one quick one. You said that – I think you said yesterday also, regarding the issue of the letter, that it took a very small amount of time, relative to the – what? – five hours --

MS. PSAKI: Five hours of the negotiations with the Secretary, yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: There were also meetings --

QUESTION: Five hours?

MS. PSAKI: They met for five hours. No, no. But there were also meetings with the political directors the day before. It was a larger chunk of those meetings. And certainly taking up time is not only a time-suck, it’s distracting.

QUESTION: Okay. Just wanted to clarify that.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Despite your explanation yesterday as to the Secretary’s statement --

MS. PSAKI: You’re still not convinced, Said?

QUESTION: No, I’m convinced.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m saying that your allies are not convinced. I’m convinced. But today, the Foreign Minister of Turkey Davutoglu – basically he lambasted whatever statements were made by the Secretary, saying that negotiating with Assad is like negotiating with Hitler. First of all, do you agree that negotiating with Assad is like negotiating with Hitler?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to put new terms on it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I think I addressed this pretty extensively yesterday, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. So – but you are fine with what the Secretary said? I mean, he has not backtracked in any way? I --

MS. PSAKI: Correct. And again, any discussion we have with any of our partners we will make clear what I said publicly yesterday.

QUESTION: So your policy remains that a negotiated settlement will have to bring all the combatants in --

MS. PSAKI: By mutual consent, yes. Representatives from the regime and representatives from the opposition.

QUESTION: Okay. But would any sort of negotiations in the near future – should they include Iran also? Like the last time Geneva I and Geneva II did not include Iran, was that a mistake in hindsight?

MS. PSAKI: There’s no negotiation – or no process happening right now. There’s no process being planned right now, Said, so that’s purely a hypothetical.

QUESTION: Yeah, but there’s an implicit message when you say there’s no military solution. We’re talking about the political solution that should be done in a negotiated kind of forum, which would include --

MS. PSAKI: We agree. If there is a process that is reignited, I’m sure we can have a discussion about that issue.

QUESTION: Do you know, Jen, if the Secretary has reached out to either the French foreign minister or the Turkish foreign minister about this or --

MS. PSAKI: He did speak with Foreign Minister Fabius I think, and I think the French have spoken to that.

QUESTION: -- or have they – or if they have reached out to him to ask for the same kind of clarification that you gave publicly yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: He did speak with Foreign Minister Fabius on Monday. I think he – they discussed this issue and he certainly conveyed what our position is and has long been.

QUESTION: Did he tell him to calm down?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any quotes from the conversation, Matt, but I think he reiterated what our longstanding position has been.

QUESTION: Can I jump back to Korea just for one second?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify something.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I don’t mean to harp on this --

MS. PSAKI: No, no.

QUESTION: -- but you said that there were no formal consultations yet with Korea on the THAAD missile appointment, and you also said that Assistant Secretary Russel consulted on a wide range of issues. Is it possible that he – that the issue did come up in some form in those meetings?

MS. PSAKI: I can certainly check if there’s more to read out from his meetings.

QUESTION: I guess I’m just wondering what formal – if formal consultation means that it --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- has to happen at the DOD, at --

MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if there’s more we can read out from that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

QUESTION: Were you guys --

QUESTION: Jennifer?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mrs. Nuland meets in Athens for meetings with high officials of the new leftist government.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what is the reason of these meetings? And also, the economic situation in Greece is worse than ever, as you know, and there are a lot of reports that Greece is in – there is a real possibility for default. I wanted to know if you worry about it and if Mrs. Nuland is going to discuss the economy with Greek officials.

MS. PSAKI: Well, she certainly will. She had productive meetings today in Athens with Greek foreign – the Greek foreign minister, with the defense minister – and with the defense minister to discuss our bilateral relationship, regional developments, including the situation in Ukraine and efforts to combat ISIL, Greece’s economic and financial situation, and defense and security issues. Later today she also plans to meet with the prime minister and I believe she’ll be addressing the press later as well.

QUESTION: But do you worry about the situation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we discuss the economic and financial situation in Greece as part of our bilateral agenda, and she will certainly address her meetings at the end of today.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the Palestinian issue for a second?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Today the Palestinians announced an emergency budget. They are obviously cash-strapped, and the formation of the Israeli Government will be long in coming, so to speak. Are you having – independent of the political situation, are you having any kind of discussion to have these funds released in any way, the funds that are being withheld --

MS. PSAKI: The revenues?

QUESTION: -- the revenues that are being withheld by the --

MS. PSAKI: We’ve spoken about this in the past, Said. I don’t have any new updates, though.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: It’s hard to believe it’s taken this long in this briefing to get to it, but Cuba talks?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: They’re over now?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: For this round at least.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you speak to any progress that has been made, any indication of when the process of at least opening embassies will be done?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think for everybody’s understanding, this was one of what will likely be many discussions. They could be at the assistant secretary level; they also could be at the level – or through our Interests Section on the ground as well. So there will be additional discussions. Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson, as you all know, was there yesterday, has – is – remains there today for internal meetings. But the discussion yesterday was positive and constructive and was held in an atmosphere of mutual respect that focused on reestablishing diplomatic relations and reopening embassies. They certainly can – made progress in their discussions, but I’m not going to read out those specifically. We believe there will be many more discussions.

QUESTION: So there had been hope, though, that this could be done by next month, by the middle of next month. If you’re saying there’s going to be many more discussions --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we set a timeline or a deadline as well, although I know many externally have.

QUESTION: Well, but the President himself has said --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, there’s been a common knowledge.

QUESTION: But the President himself has said that he would be open to having the embassies reopened by the Summit of the Americas.

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we’re open to it too, but you obviously have to make progress on these specific issues and get agreement on what needs to be done. Obviously, we’ll continue to work on that.

QUESTION: Are you able to say whether the issue of Venezuela affected the discussions between Ms. Vidal and Assistant Secretary Jacobson?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I have heard, Roz. I’m happy to ask that specific question, though.

QUESTION: On the right of Americans to travel to Cuba, do they have to wait until the diplomatic relations are all in place, embassies exchanged and so on?

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of ways Americans can travel. It’s – we put out extensive details on that. We can certainly get that to you if that’s useful. Are you planning a trip, Said?

QUESTION: I sure am.

MS. PSAKI: You should. (Laughter.)

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Hi. I just have a clarification question on the separation document.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Is there – I guess I’m just confused about the process of the Secretary leaving the State Department. Would she have ever – would that document have ever been presented to her and she didn’t – I guess I’m just a little confused about whether she ever would have seen the document to --

MS. PSAKI: I would suggest you ask that question to Secretary Clinton and her staff. I think it’s important context that we also don’t have record of the prior two predecessors of signing this document.

QUESTION: Is there someone – is there a State Department employee that’s in charge of making sure that high-level officials sign that before they leave?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, as you know, or you may not know, there are rotations of staff, including the Secretary’s staff, Foreign Service staff who rotate every couple of years. So I really can’t speak to what document may or may not have been presented more than two years ago.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Any --

QUESTION: Do you know – you said – you’re speaking of her predecessors, her immediate predecessors Powell and Rice.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Did someone check Albright’s, or did you only look to the two --

MS. PSAKI: Those are the two I have information on at this point in time – or I don’t have confirmation of, I should say.

QUESTION: But you don’t know. I mean, I don’t know when this form came into --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- being, but it would make sense, wouldn’t it, to check the Secretary’s records going back to at least the time when this form --

MS. PSAKI: If there is more, we can keep going back to the – if you’d like.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Thanks, Jen. Any update on Keystone XL national interest determination? Could you just remind me of the projected timeline for the review?

MS. PSAKI: There isn’t a projected timeline I can outline for you, as I think – but as a reminder of the process, the last step was that we received input from eight agencies. That will obviously be taken into account. But I don’t have any prediction for you on the timeline of the final national interest determination.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)

   


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 16, 2015

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 16:22

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 16, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:17 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Happy Monday.

MS. PSAKI: Happy Monday – almost St. Patrick’s Day Eve, as the Irish Americans might say.

I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. Today, the United States honors the memory of the more than 5,000 innocent men, women, and children killed and another 10,000 who were severely wounded in a chemical weapons attack by Saddam Hussein’s regime 27 years ago in the city of Halabja in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. This is a day of mourning for all Iraqis, and especially in the Iraqi Kurdistan region as we uphold the memory of the victims of this vicious crime. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of all those who suffered in such a horrific way. That brutal attack in Halabja served as – serves as a stark reminder of why we must all persist in our collective efforts to prevent such atrocities in the future.

On Malaysia, we are deeply concerned by – with the detention of opposition member of parliament Nurul Izzah and have expressed those concerns to the Malaysian Government. The Malaysian Government’s recent investigations and charges of sedition against critics raise serious concerns about freedom of expression, rule of law, and the independence of the judicial system in Malaysia. To further restrict freedom of expression will only lead to further erosion of important pillars of Malaysia’s democratic system. We encourage Malaysia to take steps to apply the rule of law fairly, transparently, and apolitically in order to promote confidence in Malaysia’s democracy, judiciary, and economy.

On Cyclone Pam, we offer condolences to the people of Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, and Kiribati as they cope with the devastating impact of Cyclone Pam. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and loved ones. In the wake of Cyclone Pam, the United States Government immediately issued disaster declarations from Embassies Port Moresby and Suva, and we are working with the NGO – with our NGO partners and other nations on the most effective ways to deliver our relief assistance. An OFDA disaster relief team will assess conditions in the areas and work with partners on the ground. The first team members arrived Monday – today, Monday, March 16th.

Finally, on Pakistan, we strongly condemn Sunday’s attack on innocent people at two churches in Lahore, and we extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the victims. The United States stands in solidarity with the people and Government of Pakistan in confronting this type of extremist violence. We support the right of every person to practice religion without fear of intimidation, death, coercion, or any form of reprisal. This is a basic human right both in Pakistan and throughout the world.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: All right. Before we get back to any or all of those issues, I just want to clear up some housekeeping stuff --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- from last week. Hopefully, you have gotten answers.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, okay.

QUESTION: One is, on Friday, the Department took down its – most of the unclassified system, resulting in email disruptions and more. I’m just wondering, is that – is the – have the upgrades or whatever it was that was being done – are they finished, and is the system back up yet? Or if it’s not, when do you expect it will be back?

MS. PSAKI: It is ongoing. As we indicated in a note that we sent out to all of you, the Department has been implementing improvements to the security of our main unclassified network during a planned outage of some internet-linked systems. We hope to have our email up and running by the end of tonight.

QUESTION: By the end of tonight?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, by tonight.

QUESTION: By midnight?

MS. PSAKI: By tonight. I don’t have an exact time. Sometime this evening.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so tomorrow, you would expect that everything will be back to normal?

MS. PSAKI: We do, and we will send you all a note when it’s up and running again.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: And just one other thing on that, you said --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- you expect to have the email back tonight.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Does that also apply to internet access?

MS. PSAKI: It will take some time for each of the pieces to be implemented, so the email is the first step, as I understand it. It may take a little bit longer for other components.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the other thing is last week, I think a couple times, you were asked about whether the Department has a record of former Secretary Clinton signing the separation form.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update on this, Matt. We’re still working on it. I understand.

QUESTION: I mean, the human resources department presumably has a file on every employee. It can’t be that difficult to --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think former secretaries are --

QUESTION: They don’t have files?

MS. PSAKI: -- standard employees. Certainly --

QUESTION: They might not be, but I mean, how hard can it be to find whether she did or not?

MS. PSAKI: I understand why you’re asking. We’re looking to get an answer. I don’t have an answer today.

QUESTION: Well, do you know if someone – has anyone in – where do these forms, once they are signed, go?

MS. PSAKI: Where in the building do they go?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, is there – if I ask for the form of someone else who left – say, Secretary Powell – where would it be?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure how many forms we’d be willing to give you access to. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I mean, you might know that – you would know, presumably, if someone had signed one or not.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, we certainly keep records. I don’t have an update on this particular question today.

QUESTION: Do they go into the same --

MS. PSAKI: I have a couple of other updates I can give you if you’d like, or we can keep --

QUESTION: Well, yes, I would, but I mean, do they --

MS. PSAKI: -- going back and forth on this particular question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, no, I just – they don’t go into the ether like --

MS. PSAKI: No, we keep records of --

QUESTION: -- so many other emails seem to have.

MS. PSAKI: We keep records, yes.

QUESTION: So if someone had signed one of these forms, it would be on file someplace?

MS. PSAKI: We do keep records, yes. It would be on file.

QUESTION: Okay. Then I can’t understand why it’s – anyway, whatever. Can you please endeavor to get an answer?

MS. PSAKI: I will certainly endeavor.

QUESTION: And then – sure, go ahead with your updates.

MS. PSAKI: Well, some of you had asked about the process. So the technical process of document review will be conducted by personnel in the A Bureau, overseen by the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Information Services Margaret Grafeld within the A Bureau. As is standard, and as we’ve talked about a bit in here, there will be many times when experts, including within the regional bureaus and the Office of the Legal Adviser, among others, would need to be consulted, so – for redaction purposes. And we’re trying to do this in the most efficient way possible. We expect, as I’ve said before, we will find exemptions from public release if documents do not meet FOIA standards for release. I’ve outlined some of those before. And separately, there – if there are any totally personal non-work-related emails, we would not be releasing those either.

QUESTION: But presumably there aren’t any of those in there if – because they’ve already been looked at, right?

MS. PSAKI: I think we assume there may be some. We’ll see if there are. If there aren’t, then that won’t be an issue. But that’s another component that would be pulled back that wouldn’t be in FOIA-standard redactions.

QUESTION: Has the review actually begun?

MS. PSAKI: It’s ongoing, yes.

QUESTION: So it’s – when did it begin exactly?

MS. PSAKI: I think I said last week at some point it was underway.

QUESTION: It began last week --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or it began when she – when they were turned over?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Yes. It began shortly after.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, and somebody asked last week – I can’t remember who it was – about the differences between what’s sent to the Hill and what’s made public. Under an agreement previously made with the select committee, which protects sensitive information, Secretary Clinton’s emails were produced with only limited State Department redactions. For the public production, there would be separate standards for FOIA, which we’ve talked about, which as we’ve said is the standard we’ll be using. And obviously, that would – could require and likely would require additional redactions for personal information and all of the reasons I’ve outlined, which include national security, personal privacy, trade secrets, among others. Therefore, a privacy concern may be an issue as it relates to public release, which – where it wouldn’t be as much of an issue as it relates to providing documents to Congress.

Okay. More on this topic?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have – and forgive me if you’ve disclosed this and --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- I just don’t know it, but what is the date on which Secretary Clinton turned over all the emails?

MS. PSAKI: Secretary --

QUESTION: Former Secretary Clinton turned over the selected emails?

MS. PSAKI: I can check on that, Arshad. I believe it was sometime in December. I don’t have the exact date in front of me.

QUESTION: And then just to go back to Matt’s question, did the review begin immediately after they were turned over?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: -- or did the review only begin after she tweeted out that she wanted them to be released?

MS. PSAKI: Well, remember there were documents that were given to Congress. So certainly the review of those that would be applicable was done, and those were submitted to Congress several weeks ago and long before she said – did that email. But the review of the other documents wouldn’t have started until there was a plan to publicly release those, because otherwise they wouldn’t --

QUESTION: And when was that? Was that subsequent to her tweet?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: But that review that you just talked about was only stuff related to Benghazi and Libya, right?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, responsive to Congress, exactly.

QUESTION: Right. So the review on what to release publicly can only have been ongoing for a week or so now?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Yes. Yes. That’s right.

QUESTION: And is it still your estimate that it’ll be a matter of a couple of months --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, several months.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the unclassified email system? Is this an – this outage?

MS. PSAKI: As it relates to this weekend?

QUESTION: As – yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Was this about upgrading security systems, or sort of repairing damage, or removing some sort of malware, or fixing problems? Or was this just all sort of preventative measures you were taking over the weekend?

MS. PSAKI: It was about further enhancing our security capabilities. So we obviously did – took steps in November. These were further steps to do – to follow up on that. It’s not – as we’ve talked about a bit in here, we deal with thousands of potential threats every day. This isn’t about a new intrusion into our system.

QUESTION: Right. But – so – but more specifically, was it about – I mean, the way you phrase it doesn’t answer that question.

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to go into more detail, because obviously, we’re trying to protect our computer systems. And so we’re just – it’s not to our benefit to go too in the technical weeds.

Do we have more on emails or computer systems before we go to another topic?

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: I know you said you were going to endeavor, but can you give us some sort of reasonable timeframe as to how long it’s going to take to find whether or not she signed this one piece of paper?

MS. PSAKI: We will do it as quickly as we can.

Go ahead --

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: -- Said. Sure, Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, obviously there was confusion yesterday with regard to the Secretary’s statement and then he came out and tweeted and so on. And it is no more clear today; it’s – so could you --

MS. PSAKI: I have to say we’re all a bit perplexed by the confusion. But let me --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Let me restate and we can certainly have a dialogue about this. As Secretary Kerry and many members of the Administration have said many times, the only way to bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people is through a genuine political solution consistent with Geneva principles. By necessity, as we have long said, there always has been a need for representatives of the Assad regime to be a part of that process. It would not be and would never be, and it wasn’t what Secretary Kerry was intending to imply, that that would be Assad himself. As you know, we have been guided by what the opposition has been saying, or what their principles are, which is who they would sit at the table with and vice versa. But certainly the opposition, they could sit at a table with themselves or with their partners, and that wouldn’t result in a political process or the conclusion of a political process that would bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people. So it’s always been the intention for there to be representatives from both sides, including representatives from the regime.

QUESTION: So do you think that the opposition perhaps is being a bit foolish by saying there is no way, no how we can negotiate with the regime and Assad to bring about a – the peaceful solution that you want?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure what you’re referencing or if there were --

QUESTION: Almost all the statements by all the different opposition groups basically were critical of the Secretary’s statement, and basically saying there’s no way that they would negotiate with Assad. Do you see any other way --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just stated that’s not what we’re indicating. Obviously, there would need to be representatives of the regime. That’s always been the case. But I think it’s also important to remember, for everyone, unfortunately there’s no process that’s ongoing right now, so we’re purely talking about how it would work potentially if there were to be a process in place.

QUESTION: And in retrospect, do you think it was precipitous, perhaps, to say that Assad’s days were numbered – at the time, three and a half years ago?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to believe, as the Secretary stated even – perhaps even more recently, but I recall even as recently as his comments in Munich, that there’s no future for Assad in Syria. That remains the case. So certainly, we’re taking every step we can to bring an end to his rule there.

QUESTION: And my final question on this: Are there any kind of, perhaps not direct talks, but through a third party, either with the Russian or the United Nations, ongoing between the United States and Assad at the present time?

MS. PSAKI: Not in that capacity. Obviously, there are other – there are partners we talk to, like Russia, who have talks with the Syrians, and certainly when we discuss ways to move back towards a political process, we certainly expect that they would engage with the Syrians. But there’s no process underway, there’s no process that’s about to start, so it’s purely a hypothetical at this point, unfortunately.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, can I go back on that --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- thought that when we were in Geneva last – at the beginning of the month when Secretary Kerry met with Foreign Minister Lavrov, he said in the press conference afterwards that they were looking at ways of a new path to peace and he talked about a possible hybrid of the Geneva peace process. What – I mean, is there anything – is – are there the kind of threads being pulled together to try and get the sides back to the negotiating table in any place, even if it’s not Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: If that was possible, Jo, that would be great. But what the Secretary was referring to is obviously there were meetings in Geneva – which I guess were not in Geneva, they were in Montreux about a year and a half ago, if I remember the dates specifically, or a little less than a year and a half – and there were a large number, over 60 countries and representatives of different governing organizations there. Would it require every single representative there in order to have a discussion? No, it probably wouldn’t. But we’re not at a point where there’s an active plan to put together any sort of meeting of that in that regard.

QUESTION: Is there any hope or idea that perhaps these talks that are being held in Russia, which would be the second round of such talks, could possibly unblock or unlock some kind of process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think they’ve had one round, obviously. And I’m not – I don’t have all the details in front of me in terms of who was invited to this or not. Obviously, any effort consistent with the Geneva process to bring both sides back to the table, we’d be open to hearing more about that. But I’m not going to predict that there will be an outcome that will move the ball forward. I don’t think we have enough information to suggest that.

QUESTION: Would you be amenable to going to Russia for these talks in April that the Russians --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think --

QUESTION: Her personally?

QUESTION: Not you personally. (Laughter.) Jen won’t be in her job anymore in April.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, yes. I am not currently planning a trip to Russia.

QUESTION: There will be many --

QUESTION: But no, I mean someone from this building.

MS. PSAKI: I understand what you’re asking.

QUESTION: Obviously, I don’t think it would be the Secretary himself, but someone from (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: We were not invited to the last round. I’m not aware of us being invited to this round. Obviously, there are many discussions, not just with the Russians but with our Gulf partners, Europeans, many countries that have a shared concern about what’s happening in Syria, but I’m not aware of plans to participate or an invitation that’s been issued.

QUESTION: Jen, do you still subscribe to the notion that Said raised that Assad’s days are numbered, and if you do, what number would you like to give that? Perhaps a sideways eight?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give a number, Matt, but certainly our objective here is to bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people, and obviously we’re discussing a range of ways to get there.

QUESTION: And then just the other thing is you said that we’re all a bit perplexed by the confusion about what the Secretary said. I mean, I find it unusual that there was – there are so many people who are insisting that whatever the – what the Secretary said was – meant that there was some change in policy, that he is announcing a change in policy. But yet, he did say what he said.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Was he – can you say that he was imprecise and that he perhaps should have answered the question, “Will you negotiate with him,” in a little better – in a little more precise fashion to say that he means the regime?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I will say that he was using Assad as a shorthand, obviously, representative of the regime. Certainly, I think that’s why people ask questions, but we’ve ventured to make clear that there isn’t a change in policy, and unfortunately there also isn’t a process that’s ongoing.

QUESTION: Hey, Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- when did you adopt the policy position that you would not negotiate directly with Assad, though you would negotiate with members of his government?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not about us negotiating. I think the opposition has been clear for years now that they would not. We’ve obviously been open to and willing to and supportive of playing a facilitating role. These negotiations would be between the opposition and representatives of the regime, but we’re not going to speak on their behalf. That’s just what they’ve said in the past.

QUESTION: But I mean, I’m trying to understand – you’re saying that there’s no change in policy here --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and I understanding your saying that, and you’re saying that he – the Secretary did not mean to suggest that he himself would negotiate with Assad --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- although he’s obviously met Assad and had with dinner with Assad.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, years ago before all of this happened. It’s a little bit different, but --

QUESTION: Yeah – no, no, but it shows that you can actually talk to people, even if you don’t like their government.

MS. PSAKI: I think there’s a great deal of evidence of that going on even currently.

QUESTION: So – but the question to my mind is, then, when did the United States adopt the position that any negotiations toward a political solution could not include Assad himself?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve long been – and this has consistently been our view – respectful of the view of the opposition and the fact that they have conveyed that that is not something, as recently as the last 24 to 48 hours, that they would be open to. Now, we’re not going to prejudge what they would do in the future, and if there is a process and it gets to the end, I’m sure we’ll talk about it at that point.

QUESTION: So if they were willing to negotiate with Assad himself, you’d be okay with that? It’s their call?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not currently what they’re saying. It’s purely a hypothetical. There’s not a process that’s going on, so I’m just not going to speak to that.

QUESTION: But what I’m trying to figure out, though, is that – you say that your policy position is based on their policy position, which is that they won’t deal with him. And what I’m trying to – I think it’s reasonable to ask, well gee, if that’s true your position is based on their position, then if their position changes, I think it’s not unreasonable to ask if yours would change too.

MS. PSAKI: We’ll talk about that if their position changes.

QUESTION: So Jen, can I also just challenge that? Why wouldn’t you act as some kind of go-between? I mean, in the past, as you say, right now – well, right now and in the past. Right now, Secretary Kerry is in Lausanne talking to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, with whom a --

MS. PSAKI: He’s not negotiating about an Iranian civil war.

QUESTION: No. I appreciate that, but he is negotiating about something which is in the interests of the international community.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The end of a civil war in Syria --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- would be in the interests of the international community.

MS. PSAKI: And we’ve been clear – and, again, there’s no process that’s ongoing. We have been very clear. We want to play a supportive role, a helpful role, and that was indicative of the fact that we helped organize the conference a year and a half ago. What I’m just conveying is that obviously it would need to be representatives of both the opposition and the regime at the table. The discussions between them is the most important component.

QUESTION: Jen, I’m trying to understand the wisdom behind casting some sort of an element of finality, saying that he cannot be a part of Syria’s future and so on, when in fact – I mean, I saw the envoy to Syria, and he said we think that Assad was serious, he wants an end to the violence. He represents a large segment of the population – the minorities, Christians, and so on. Whether like him or not like him, he is part of Syria. So in that sense, why cast the finality that we will not negotiate with him under any conditions?

MS. PSAKI: Because somebody who’s killed tens of thousands of his own people doesn’t have legitimacy to have a role in the future of the country.

QUESTION: I understand, but it’s not someone – you negotiate with people that you don’t like because you want to reach an accommodation.

MS. PSAKI: That’s true, and certainly, we don’t like the actions of the regime. But I just also said a few minutes ago that clearly you can’t have negotiations with yourself. So obviously, that would be part of the negotiations. That’s different than the question of whether Assad should have a place in the future of Syrian leadership.

QUESTION: Can we move on to other non-effective peace processes?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: I just have one more on Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: It is.

QUESTION: One more on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: He’s been saving that one all day, I’m sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: There’s – they’ve announced that there’s going to be another donors conference.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Syria in Kuwait on March the 31st at the foreign minister level. Of course, March the 31st is a much-anticipated date for other reasons.

MS. PSAKI: It is. I’ve heard, yes.

QUESTION: So I wondered whether you had any --

QUESTION: Jen’s last day.

QUESTION: Yeah, it is Jen’s last day, that’s right.

MS. PSAKI: Before that, but --

QUESTION: So I wondered if you had any indications about – of what level the representation would be from the United States. And also, given the fact that for the last two conferences they’ve had, the UN has said that many of the pledges haven’t simply been met, what’s your reaction as to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, on the second piece, 80 percent of the pledges for Kuwait II were met. While that’s encouraging, we urge all donors to follow through on their commitments as soon as possible. The needs both in Syria and throughout the region are staggering, and there’s no time to lose. And clearly, pledging is one thing, to your point. Delivering on that pledge is what actually can make a difference.

In terms of – and for our part – and you may know this, but just for everybody – we only announce funding that has been committed, so there’s never any question about whether we’ll follow through. It’s already money that’s been committed.

QUESTION: Wait. You just announced some money on – last week that – for the opposition that still needs approval by Congress.

MS. PSAKI: But we have committed to it through any process getting up to that point. I think it’s going to move through Congress, Matt.

QUESTION: Well yeah, but if Congress hasn’t said yes yet, how can you say that it’s been approved?

MS. PSAKI: Okay --

QUESTION: I mean, there are times when – that – when you announce money that still needs congressional approval, right?

MS. PSAKI: There are times, that’s true.

QUESTION: Right. So, like, as you have said with the Palestinians, you’re not going to ask for more money for them right now because you know it won’t go through Congress.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So I think that saying --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, fair enough. We anticipate the ask will go through Congress. But fair enough; I hear your point.

In terms of being represented, we will be represented there. I don’t have anything to announce today, but I expect in the coming days we’ll have more to convey on that point. It obviously wouldn’t be Secretary Kerry, but --

QUESTION: So, other non-existent peace processes for 200, and I’m not talking about Northern Ireland yet.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But I am talking about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments today that if he is reelected, there will not – he will not allow there to become a Palestinian state. Does the – what does the Administration make of this comment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Matt, the elections will happen tomorrow. There are many things said leading up to elections. Given the sensitivity of that and the fact that we’re not going to under any circumstance weigh in, I’m just not going to have a specific comment on this. Obviously, our view continues to be that the only way to have peace and stability in the region is for there to be a two-state solution.

QUESTION: So you’re prepared to just think that this is a campaign promise that doesn’t really mean much?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll see when the elections are completed.

QUESTION: I do understand that you don’t want to be seen as injecting yourself into the election. I have another question about that, too.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But it seems, though, that this has been one of the President’s top foreign policy priorities – not just this president; previous presidents as well. And if you have a candidate who is running on what appears to be a platform that – opposed to this, opposed to this goal and the goal of a nuclear deal with Iran, it seems to me that you would not be particularly sanguine at the prospect of this candidate winning. Is that not correct?

MS. PSAKI: As would be true in many countries, we will work with whomever is the winner of the election, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. And then on – and just on the election, the idea of election interference, over the weekend, there was a report that there’s – or there’s – some committee on the Hill is going to look into allegations that the State Department – the Administration, but in particular the State Department was – through funding this one OneVoice NGO was interfering in the election process. I know that you have denied that that’s the case and said that the funding happened all before the election was even announced, but I’m just wondering: If there is such an investigation, are you prepared to say that the State Department will cooperate fully with --

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s historically what we’ve done, of course. I mean, in this case, we’ve only seen the reports. We don’t have any more details. I’ve asked this morning. I don’t think we’ve had any official notification of this inquiry or this investigation.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. So to the best of your knowledge, you haven’t been notified that there is going to be one?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Yes.

QUESTION: And when you say “historically” that is the case, what – historically what, that you have --

MS. PSAKI: I mean we would participate in --

QUESTION: -- cooperated?

MS. PSAKI: -- efforts underway by Congress.

QUESTION: There’s a certain select committee that I think would disagree with --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we would disagree that we haven’t cooperated, and so would 40,000 pages and dozens of hearings’ worth of evidence suggest.

QUESTION: Jen, campaign rhetoric notwithstanding or Mr. Netanyahu’s statement notwithstanding, your position is still that you support the two-state solution --

MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn’t changed, and I think I just reiterated it in response --

QUESTION: Right. (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: -- to Matt’s question.

QUESTION: But in all fairness, I mean, the other party has not really come out forward to say that we support a Palestinian state and so on, so that has been absent – I mean, in all fairness to Mr. Netanyahu.

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to weigh in on this issue a day before the Israeli elections.

QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts at all about the possibility that Tony Blair will be replaced by – or not the possibility, the apparent fact that he’s going to be replaced as the --

MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s been a valued partner in the effort to bring peace to the Middle East. We’ll continue to value his support. Secretary Kerry met with him just this past weekend in Egypt. We’re all grateful for his service and efforts on his behalf of the Quartet for the past eight years. This is a natural time to reflect on the way forward for the Middle East peace process and the role of the Quartet going forward. So we value his role and we’ll see what happens from here.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you’re not sure that the Quartet plays a --

MS. PSAKI: No, I think we valued his role and the role the Quartet has played, but --

QUESTION: Right. But you said you’re going to evaluate the Quartet’s role?

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s a natural time to reflect on it, but I don’t have any predictions of what that will mean in the future.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean you could just end it?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I was intending to indicate that, Matt.

QUESTION: The band might break up?

MS. PSAKI: I was not intending to indicate the band will break up.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Well --

MS. PSAKI: The Quartet.

QUESTION: The EU’s policy – Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini has actually said that she would like to see a more expanded role for the Quartet, expanded to include Arab nations, for instance. Is that something that you would support?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re at a point where we’re going to weigh in on what role it could play, if the role will change. Certainly this is new news, and I’m sure we’ll have that discussion with many of our partners.

QUESTION: And in the meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh over the weekend, did former Prime Minister Blair actually inform the Secretary that he was stepping down? Was that the purpose of the meeting?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check. I haven’t had an opportunity to ask that question, and I can check if it was raised in the meeting.

QUESTION: Okay. And there’s some – in the reports of his – of Mr. Blair stepping down, there’s some suggestion that it was because of – there was unease in Washington about his apparently or reported poor relations with the Palestinian Authority. Is that --

MS. PSAKI: That’s incorrect. There’s been no effort to push him out of his current role as Quartet representative. He’s been in it for eight years, including the last two-plus that the Secretary has been in office, and the Secretary meets with him and talks with him on a regular basis.

QUESTION: Maybe that’s why, he’s been there too long. I mean, can we do like bookkeeping and see what are the pluses and minuses of the Quartet? What have they done?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we’ll look forward to reading your report if you do analysis of that, Said.

QUESTION: I have.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: One question about – I don’t know if you all have seen this, although it was out this morning. This is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comment about his 1997 decision to approve construction at the Har Homa settlement. And although it was at a campaign rally --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and I acknowledge this is part of their domestic political process, on the other hand, it is also a statement of his motivations for an action that he took in a prior government --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- so I think it’s not unreasonable to ask you for a comment. He said, quote, “It was a way of stopping Bethlehem from moving toward Jerusalem.” He said of the Har Homa construction, “This neighborhood exactly, because it stops the continuation of the Palestinians,” close quote. I mean, the gist of what he said according to multiple reports is that it was a deliberate strategic act on his part to approve that so as to essentially prevent a Palestinian state from moving toward Jerusalem. What is the U.S. Government’s position on that?

MS. PSAKI: I had not seen it, Arshad, perhaps because we’ve had email issues and there’s a swirl of things happening in the world. I’m happy to talk to our team and see if that’s something we can weigh in on this afternoon.

QUESTION: Can I ask one last question on this?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, you can, Said. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. I appreciate it.

MS. PSAKI: Is this the last one of the entire briefing?

QUESTION: No, no, not – (laughter) --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. Just checking. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On this topic.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: If a new government emerges, if a new party takes office in Israel, do you expect the Palestinians to back away from, let’s say, the ICC or their efforts at the United Nations?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to make a prediction of that. I’m sure once the results are concluded and we hear more from all sides, we’ll continue to have a discussion about what it means.

QUESTION: Do you expect that there will be a push for them to backtrack, to give them a chance, so to speak, (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure that will be a topic we’ll discuss next week or in the coming days.

New topic?

QUESTION: Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Syria. Sure.

QUESTION: Turkish foreign minister criticized Secretary Kerry’s remarks on negotiation with Assad regime.

MS. PSAKI: I just spoke to them. I don’t know – were you here for that or --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But the Turkish – about the Turkish foreign minister’s comments (inaudible) on that. He asked, quote, “What are you going to negotiate with Assad and what do you negotiate with a regime that killed more than 200,000 people and has used --

MS. PSAKI: I think I answered this. I’d refer you to what I said in my statement that made clear what he meant and what he didn’t mean, and I would just point you to that.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Or any more on Syria before we continue?

QUESTION: I’ve got one on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION: New accusations from the Kurds that ISIS used chlorine gas against Peshmerga fighters. Do you have any reaction, verification, comment – any of it?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we continue to take all allegations of chemical weapons use by ISIL and other actors, including these recent allegations regarding the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon, very seriously. We’re, of course, aware of the reports, but we have no credible information at this time that ISIL is connected to chlorine attacks in Syria. The use of chlorine as a chemical weapon is an abhorrent act. These recent allegations certainly underscore the importance of our work to eliminate chemical weapons in the volatile region, including our recent efforts at the OPCW. But again, we don’t have additional confirmation at this point in time.

QUESTION: I believe – I’m just trying to check my facts here – this most recent was an accusation that took place in Iraq. I’m not sure about that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any details on any confirmation of that, either.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we look into all allegations, but don’t have --

QUESTION: You said --

MS. PSAKI: -- and we take them seriously.

QUESTION: -- no credible information of chlorine attacks in Syria. That would apply to Iraq as well?

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

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Syria before we continue? Okay. Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Shifting to the – President Putin.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: During his ten-day disappearance, how confident was the Administration if it actually had to get ahold of the President Putin they could have gotten ahold of him?

MS. PSAKI: I think the Kremlin spoke to this report shortly after there were reports. I just don’t have anything more to add.

Any more on Russia?

QUESTION: Oh, actually I do.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Just – I’m wondering if there’s been any communication between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov over the course of the last couple days.

MS. PSAKI: In the last couple days, Matt? Not in the last couple of days, no.

QUESTION: I have one on Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Today actually marks one year since Crimeans held a referendum to join the Russian Federation. I wanted to know if the State Department has taken this occasion to reaffirm its belief that the annexation of Crimea was illegal for Russia and if you have communicated any messages to them on this --

MS. PSAKI: Well, that remains our position. And just since you gave me the opportunity, last year the people of Ukraine chose a future based on the values of democracy, free trade, and rule of law. In response, Russia used its military to forcibly seize and occupy Crimea, sovereign Ukrainian territory, and then staged an illegal, so-called referendum in a feeble attempt to justify its actions. Over the last year, Russia has instituted repression on a mass scale in Crimea, driving out NGOs and leading non-Russian minorities, including the Crimean Tatars, to flee or go into hiding. This last year, Russia also continued to engage in destabilizing activities in southeastern Ukraine that have left more than 5,800 people dead and displaced at least 1 million more. So certainly our position has not changed in this regard.

I’m not sure if all of you – or maybe this is the next question – also saw the documentary that came out this weekend. And it was lengthy, so I’m not sure who watched the entire piece of it. Elliot is nodding. Perhaps you did, with popcorn. Said did. (Laughter.) And if you look at that, related to your question, a year ago President Putin told the world that Russian military forces were not intervening in Crimea. He now acknowledges to the world that Russian forces did, in fact, intervene. And those are his own words. So it certainly brings into question the credibility of claims being made today that the Russian military is not intervening in eastern Ukraine. Obviously, we’ve spoken to that countless times from here, as has NATO, as have another – a number of countries around the world.

QUESTION: And now that you bring up the documentary, I have one related to that as well.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In that same documentary, Putin also stated that during the – his incursion into Crimea, he had the – his nuclear forces on high alert. Just wanted to ask if you have any comment on that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think not only that – did he acknowledge to the world that Russian forces did in fact intervene, but that they were prepared to take even more aggressive action. Obviously, they didn’t do that, so I don’t have any particular comment beyond that. But again, I think what we’re focused on is where we are now and the question of what’s happening in eastern Ukraine and whether there’s credibility to the claims.

QUESTION: Prior to the vote, the referendum --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- and then the subsequent annexation, do you believe that Russia – the Russian military was occupying Crimea?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think in the – in his President Putin’s own words, they were planning – they were making plans, if I recall the specifics from the documentary, as late as – as early as late February.

QUESTION: Right. But one of the points that the Russians have made in the past is that there of course were Russian troops in Crimea at Russian bases, that they were legally there with the permission of the Ukrainian Government. So I’m just wondering if you believe that prior to the vote and prior to the annexation, if those Russian troops that were there under an agreement with the Kyiv Government – if they were occupying.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’d have to look back of our – on our information at the time, Matt. Obviously, we spoke pretty early on to concerns about Russians in – the engagement of Russian troops and Russian military in eastern Ukraine.

QUESTION: Right, but I mean, unless those forces seized and – forcibly seized and occupied – I mean, it just seems to me that if you’re saying they forcibly seized and occupied, it would have to be – they would have to have done something more than just be there, which is – I mean, they were there legally prior to the annexation.

MS. PSAKI: Well, but I think the question is where did the equipment, where did the training, where did the materials, where did that all come from.

QUESTION: Oh, you’re talking about in eastern Ukraine now, not Crimea.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. No, I – but I’m also talking about back then.

On Ukraine?

QUESTION: Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Is yours on Ukraine, or – okay. Go ahead. Let me just do a couple more here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m curious if the Secretary had any specific conversations about Egypt’s LGBT rights record this past weekend while in Sharm el-Sheikh, especially considering the recent arrests of the men in the Cairo bathhouse on debauchery charges, and then the transgendered people who were arrested. Did he have any specific conversations with people al-Sisi and any other members of his government?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – he held a press conference this weekend, as you know. And obviously, he raises human rights – it’s all – at every opportunity. And as you know, we still have not certified the additional assistance. I can certainly check on the specificity of the recent reports that you mentioned and whether those were raised in the meeting.

QUESTION: One on Cuba.

MS. PSAKI: Cuba? Sure.

QUESTION: I have been asked to ask why there is so little access to the participants in the current round of normalization talks in contrast to prior rounds, when there had been camera sprays and news conferences afterwards. Why is that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think Assistant Secretary Jacobson took also a smaller team there. I think their focus is on rolling up their sleeves and having tough discussions and getting the work done, and thought they’d do that at a bit of a lower-key level.

QUESTION: They can’t do that and still talk to the press?

MS. PSAKI: I think – at some point I’m sure they will, but again, I think their focus right now is on the work of discussing these difficult issues – more that than on camera sprays.

QUESTION: Well, doesn’t – but I mean, just the work of the Secretary in trying to get a nuclear deal with Iran, and you had --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: My recollection is that there are generally camera sprays --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and there’re generally background briefings.

MS. PSAKI: There are, and there’ll be more rounds of – and we did a background briefing just this weekend – or on Friday, I should say.

QUESTION: Yeah --

QUESTION: Do you have any update from --

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead – well, I got one last one on this --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- which is: Does the decision not to have access to the media, at least so far, have anything to do with the contretemps with Venezuela? Does it have anything to do with other policy issues?

MS. PSAKI: No, it does not.

QUESTION: No?

MS. PSAKI: Completely unrelated.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any update from the talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they have been meeting this morning. As you know, technical communications is difficult with Cuba – I mean, with officials in Cuba given the email issues not just here but on the ground. I know that’s confusing.

QUESTION: Really?

MS. PSAKI: There’re email issues everywhere.

QUESTION: Are the Cubans using their own private email accounts and not – (laughter) --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t – I mean with our team on the ground. They’ve been meeting today. We expect the discussions to proceed at least through today, but I don’t have any updates from the ground at this point in time.

QUESTION: Do you think they’ll go into tomorrow? Is there --

MS. PSAKI: We’ll see. We’ll see. They’ll go through at least today.

QUESTION: And I had one just kind of logistical question --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on the removing the state – if – the review on removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Whenever that decision is made, it comes – it’s a recommendation from the State Department that goes to the President, correct?

MS. PSAKI: That’s my understanding of the process.

QUESTION: And then the President has to inform Congress.

MS. PSAKI: Congress is informed. I can check if it’s us or if it’s the White House that informs Congress.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: It may be us. We can certainly get you the answer to that.

QUESTION: Okay. Does Congress then have the right to vote on that or not, or is it a pure and simple communication and the decision’s already (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I believe it’s a communication, but we have all of this, so let me get you the process so you have an understanding of that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Pam.

QUESTION: Yesterday in DRC, a U.S. official – USAID’s Kevin Sturr – was among about 40 people who were arrested at a pro-democracy demonstration. He was later released, but has State received any information, first of all on why he was initially arrested?

MS. PSAKI: We have not. Let me see if I have anything in addition to what you stated. The diplomat, as I think you know, but just so everybody knows, is the USAID Democracy Rights and Governance Director Kevin Sturr. He was detained by Congolese authorities on Sunday, March 15th. He was released unharmed. Several hours later, following an inquiry by the Embassy in Kinshasa, we have not been officially informed as to why he was detained. He was attending a press conference about a civil society event that brought Congolese youth together with several youth activists from the continent to exchange ideas about the importance of civil engagement in the political process. That was where he was when he was detained. And our ambassador in Kinshasa has raised this at the highest levels with the DRC Government, and we’ve, of course, contacted the embassy in Washington as well.

I can only do about two more here, but --

QUESTION: Can we stay in Africa?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: There was the Sierra Leone situation yesterday or over the weekend, where the vice president has apparently gone into hiding and has apparently asked for political asylum in the United States. I understand he’s not hiding in the Embassy, as there were some erroneous --

MS. PSAKI: There were some reports of that, yes.

QUESTION: -- there were some erroneous reports of that. But could you let us know if he has actually applied for political asylum? Is that something you can tell us?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have more details, not something I could tell you even if I did. But I can confirm, as you said, that he is not at the U.S. Embassy, as some had reported initially, I think, on the ground. But beyond that, I don’t have additional details.

QUESTION: So you can’t tell us if there’s a political asylum request for anybody?

MS. PSAKI: In general, that’s correct, yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do two more. Felicia?

QUESTION: Back to Cuba. Do you have any readouts or details on meetings Roberta is having outside of the talks, like with dissidents, civil society groups?

MS. PSAKI: Not yet, but we can see if there’s more. Hopefully, we’ll have an update from our team on the ground.

Justin.

QUESTION: It’s been reported that the Iranians have twice now raised the issue of the Republican letter Sunday, and today again. Any indication or can you tell us at all how that came up? Was it a negative thing that – has it undermined the process at all? Can you confirm that the Iranians brought it up twice?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. It was raised at the political directors level and then again during meetings with the Secretary today. I think it’s important to just note that the Secretary had five hours of solid, substantive, difficult but constructive conversations today. This was a small part of that. It was simply raised, as we have said before. It certainly is a distraction, but negotiations in our view, and I think most people’s view, are not about a letter that was ill-informed and ill-advised. And we certainly anticipate that the focus of the discussions will remain on the issues at hand.

QUESTION: So was he able to deflect these issues as distraction or was it problematic?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I think given the fact that this was raised but it was a small portion of the discussion in really of five hours, the vast, vast majority was about the substantive issues.

QUESTION: What was your --

QUESTION: And speaking of --

QUESTION: Sorry.

QUESTION: Oh, no. I was going to say on substantive issues, does the Secretary bring his own bike with him when he goes to – overseas, or does he rent all that gear --

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) I don’t have that level of detail, Justin.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Would you like to bike with him the next time?

QUESTION: Well, maybe, yeah. (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: How good of a biker are you?

QUESTION: I could probably hang with him.

MS. PSAKI: We’ll try you out and see.

QUESTION: I actually have a substantive question about two brief things.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: One, on Bahrain, did you get an answer to my question about Nabeel Rajab, the appealed hearing?

MS. PSAKI: I did. We’ve seen reports that the court date will be – has been moved to April 15th. We certainly would expect to attend, as we’ve said in the past.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. And then I previewed this, Northern Ireland. So Sinn Fein – Gerry Adams specifically – seems to be upset because he is not going to have a meeting at the State Department. Can you explain – on his current visit to the U.S. Can you explain why that is?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we understand that the first and deputy first ministers have determined that the best course of action is to postpone their travel to Washington and continue their work to reach a durable agreement on the ground. We support this decision and we’ll continue to provide our support for their efforts as well.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I didn’t miss the Gerry Adams/Sinn Fein part of your answer?

MS. PSAKI: A meeting at the State Department? I’m sorry, I thought you were talking about the group meeting. I – was there a planned meeting here?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check into that, Matt. Do you know who he was planning to meet with?

QUESTION: I don’t know who he was planning to meet with, but he’s not – he says that he way that the State Department has handled this is bizarre. Anyway, it would be interesting to know if you have decided, and due to the fact that the other people aren’t coming, if it was decided that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the question --

QUESTION: -- it would not be appropriate to meet with him.

MS. PSAKI: Was it all a part of the same set of meetings, would be my assumption, but --

QUESTION: Well, whether it was or not --

MS. PSAKI: I will check on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, I’m sorry.

Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You said that the Secretary had five hours of solid, substantive, difficult – what was your fourth adjective?

MS. PSAKI: What was my fourth – constructive.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:04 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 13, 2015

Fri, 03/13/2015 - 18:56

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 13, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:02 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Happy Friday.

QUESTION: Yes, Friday the 13th again.

MS. PSAKI: Again. That is true.

QUESTION: Tomorrow is Pi Day.

MS. PSAKI: That’s a lot.

QUESTION: And Sunday is the Ides of March.

MS. PSAKI: Wow. Monday? Do you have one for Monday?

QUESTION: No. (Laughter.) Monday is just --

MS. PSAKI: It’s disappointing.

QUESTION: -- the 16th.

MS. PSAKI: Tuesday is St. Patrick’s Day.

QUESTION: This would have been a great day to do an outdoor briefing.

MS. PSAKI: It would have been. We’ll consider that for next week.

QUESTION: Is that a thing that happens?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know that it’s happened before, but we --

QUESTION: Not yet.

MS. PSAKI: -- can start new precedents here. We’re open, we’re innovative.

QUESTION: In your last few weeks.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. A couple of items at the top. Today the Secretary is in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to participate in the Egypt Economic Development Conference. He also met with Egyptian President al-Sisi. Secretary Kerry participated in a meeting with President al-Sisi, PA President Abbas, Jordanian King Abdullah, and met with the American Chamber of Commerce delegation to the conference. He’ll remain in Sharm el-Sheikh over the weekend for additional meetings that are still being determined. On Sunday, the Secretary will travel to Switzerland to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif as part of the EU-coordinated P5+1 nuclear negotiations. I would expect that additional readouts from the trip will come from our team on the road, and we of course will make those available to all of you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I presume we’ll get back to Egypt at some point, but I want to start with Iran. There’s been quite a bit of talk, including in this room this week and previously, about possibly bringing an agreement, if one is reached, to the UN Security Council, and there seems to be a lot of confusion about this. One, is it true that at some point if a deal is done and UN sanctions are to be removed from Iran pending its compliance with any agreement, that the UN Security Council would have to take some kind of action?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, at some point. I think some of the – so let me start with some of what I think some of the confusion is. That’s different from, of course, an immediate vote. Obviously, the timing or process of any sanctions and when they would be rolled back is not yet determined. That is part of what is being discussed in the negotiations. We would anticipate that if we’re able to reach a joint comprehensive plan of action between the P5+1 and Iran, an endorsement vote would be held by the UN Security Council, and that should really come as no surprise given the permanent members of the Security Council are the ones negotiating the deal with Iran. That is different, however, from the question you asked about sanctions. And obviously, given that these sanctions were put in place through UN Security Council resolutions, they would need to – there would be action required to pull them back. But of course the timing and how that would work is not yet determined.

QUESTION: Right. So we’re talking about two things here. One would be the P5 and the rest of the council, the elected members, giving their stamp of approval to a deal; and then at some point down the line, if and when it is determined that Iran has complied and it deserves, merits the sanctions relief that it has been offered, then there would be something else. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Regarding the sanctions.

QUESTION: Right. On the – well, take –

MS. PSAKI: But let me just note just since I – so I don’t – since I have a moment: We would expect to retain many of the UN Security Council provisions even under a deal with Iran. Obviously, they’re not all related to sanctions – nuclear sanctions.

QUESTION: And which – are you talking – when you say that on – take them separately. On the endorsement – you’ve talked about the endorsement – would that – that you envision that coming after the framework or after a final deal if and when one is reached? In other words, like, two weeks or three weeks from now if you meet the deadline, or end of June/July?

MS. PSAKI: Well, my assumption would be a final deal, but let me check on that specific question, and we can get an answer around to all of you.

QUESTION: There has been some criticism that taking it to the council for an endorsement even would somehow violate U.S. sovereignty. One, is it the Administration’s position that it would somehow? And two – well, I’ll just leave it at that for --

MS. PSAKI: No. This is – it shouldn’t come as any surprise in our view that this would be, given who the members are who were negotiating this, that this would be a natural step in the process. Obviously, an endorsement is different than an up-or-down binding vote, clearly.

QUESTION: All right. Even if the United Nations Security Council were so inclined to remove sanctions, how would that affect the U.S. or other countries’ unilateral sanctions? Does that – does a council vote to remove the sanctions mean the U.S. has to remove its sanctions or lift them?

MS. PSAKI: No. So any UN – I mean, and some of this has been a bit of confusion as well out there. Any UN Security Council resolution would likely include elements that would be adopted under Chapter 7 as any decision to suspend or modify the sanctions that were previously imposed by the council under Chapter 7 would require new council action under the chapter. I know that’s not your question, but I think it’s important for people to understand.

Obviously, there would be action that would be taken by Congress at the appropriate time to roll back sanctions that are U.S. sanctions.

QUESTION: Right. Can the United Nations Security Council require Congress to remove sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: No, just like they can’t require other countries to --

QUESTION: Can the United – does the United States Congress have a vote in the UN Security Council?

MS. PSAKI: The Congress? No.

QUESTION: It does not.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: But it’s in the United States. I don’t get it.

MS. PSAKI: Well, the --

QUESTION: It’s in New York.

MS. PSAKI: This is all an educational process, Matt.

QUESTION: Isn’t that part of the host country agreement, that members of the U.S. Congress get to have a say in --

MS. PSAKI: I think you know the answer to that, but I – thank you for giving us the opportunity to make that clear.

Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: Yeah, a couple of other things. The – you said we would anticipate that if you reach a comprehensive joint plan of action, that there would be an endorsement vote from the UN Security Council. Would you expect that endorsement vote – presumably there would be a resolution to endorse it – would that resolution fall under Chapter 7?

MS. PSAKI: Don’t anticipate – no, that’s a different – that’s a separate process. That would be related to the sanctions. I’m – now, the fact is the details of how and when the sanctions rollback piece, which I think is the component you’re getting at here, would work is not yet determined. So --

QUESTION: There’s reason I’m asking this.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So I mean, let’s just do it as Q&A.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. Government regard Chapter 7 sanctions resolutions passed by the UN Security Council as legally binding on the United States of America?

MS. PSAKI: In what capacity? Do you mean in terms of requiring the United States to take – can you – sorry, can you keep --

QUESTION: Well, that’s basically – what I – what has been explained to me, and I was hoping you’d be able to explain it on the record although I don’t – I want to make sure it’s correct – is that it is the position of the U.S. Government that Chapter 7 resolutions are indeed legally binding. So for example, if you pass a Chapter 7 resolution to impose sanctions on country X, that everybody is then obliged to impose sanctions on country X; and similarly, that if there were a resolution to ease certain sanctions on country X, that that would be legally binding on all the nations of the United Nations to ease those sanctions.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m happy to talk to our lawyers about this specific question. I mean, our view and our objective here is that the UN Security – the Security Council would not impose new binding obligations on the United States that would limit our flexibility in any way to respond to future Iranian noncompliance. A right – I know it’s a different question, but I think the question is – what is it requiring us to do, I think is your question.

QUESTION: Sure. Well, the reason I’m trying to draw it out is that if I understand it correctly, you just said that a resolution of endorsement would not – you would not expect that to be under Chapter 7. Right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: And my understanding is that you would not regard such a resolution of endorsement as being binding on the United States in any particular way whatsoever.

MS. PSAKI: Right, yes, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And that it’s only if and when you got to a point where the Security Council were to pass a Chapter 7 resolution, that that then would be --

MS. PSAKI: Related to the unwinding of sanctions.

QUESTION: Correct – that that would be binding. I’m just trying to --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I believe that’s my – let me check with our lawyers. I just want to make sure given how detailed in the weeds we are that we’re providing the accurate information.

QUESTION: A TQ might be helpful for that so everybody totally gets that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, I’m happy to take the question. Absolutely.

QUESTION: And then one --

QUESTION: I – okay. Let me just --

QUESTION: Can I (inaudible)?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So you made a statement earlier that you would keep some of the UN Security Council sanctions on Iran even if there were to be a comprehensive joint plan of action, and I want to draw you out on that --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- because my assumption – but I’d like to know if the point there is that those would be the non-nuclear sanctions imposed on Iran --

MS. PSAKI: Well, those are --

QUESTION: -- like sanctions for terrorism or whatever.

MS. PSAKI: Those are certainly very applicable examples, and that’s what I was referring to. But in terms of what sanctions would be rolled back and when, that’s part of the negotiations.

QUESTION: Right, but --

MS. PSAKI: What nuclear-related.

QUESTION: What nuclear-related sanctions.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Right, got it. Thanks.

MS. PSAKI: Right.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure I understand one thing. In your response to Arshad’s question, a Chapter 7 resolution that removes the UN’s --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- tranche of sanctions on Iran.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you find out – are you saying that you believe the United States is bound, is obligated to comply by removing its own – by removing its --

MS. PSAKI: No, I don’t believe the United States is.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I just want to be very clear with our lawyers.

QUESTION: But the question is legal obligations --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- and being legally binding.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: The United Nations can remove sanctions on any country it wants to.

MS. PSAKI: Right.

QUESTION: It doesn’t mean that --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- you have to remove them.

MS. PSAKI: That is also my understanding given what this is a reference to in terms of the process.

QUESTION: It is correct also that the United States has imposed its own sanctions on Iran --

MS. PSAKI: Without the UN --

QUESTION: -- and other countries --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- without anything having to do with the UN.

MS. PSAKI: That’s correct.

QUESTION: And in fact, you just did it the other day with Venezuela.

MS. PSAKI: And we want to preserve that ability to do that.

QUESTION: I want to make sure that I understand this correctly though.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Because let’s draw a distinction between sanctions that have been imposed on Iran under the United States own statutory --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- authorities. As I understand it, those are totally within the U.S. Government’s purview --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- to remove if and when it chooses, or not.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Or to put more in place if we want.

QUESTION: Correct.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: However, sanctions that have been imposed pursuant to a UN Security Council resolution on Iran – the question I have is whether those sanctions would need to be – whether the United States would be under any legal obligation, would be legally bound to remove any of those sanctions.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, I understand your question. Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. And the answer is yes, they would be?

MS. PSAKI: No. I believe the answer is no, but I want to check with our lawyers and make sure I’m getting you the right information.

QUESTION: Okay. Great.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Madam --

QUESTION: Sorry for being late.

MS. PSAKI: It’s okay, Said.

QUESTION: And also apologies if you --

MS. PSAKI: You’re in a different spot here.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah. Sorry about that. Anyway, I wanted to ask you about something that the Secretary said the other day during the hearing.

MS. PSAKI: Is this on Iran, just to make sure?

QUESTION: Yes, Iran. Of course, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. He said that the Arab countries were on board. Is that a uniform position? Is that like – or is that taking with each country separately? Or is that like a GCC position?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to the GCC for them to make any statements about what their position is. And I believe this was in – related to a back-and-forth you’re referring to --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- that happened during the Senate hearing.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: And what the Secretary was making clear is that there’s a shared concern, obviously, about Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon and a support for the process. Obviously, everybody wants to see what the details are and what a final deal would look like, and that’s something we’ll continue to brief our partners on.

QUESTION: The reason I ask is because he said: I sat with the Saudi foreign minister and he told me that they were on board. Was the Saudi foreign minister speaking, let’s say, on behalf of the other members of GCC, who he was --

MS. PSAKI: Again, Said, I’m not going to speak on behalf of the GCC and I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Saudi foreign minister.

QUESTION: Madam, as far as these sanctions are concerned – I’m sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah, Iran. Just quickly.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have any good news for those countries who were buying the Iranian oil but because of the nuclear sanctions and they were prevented, including India?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, this is something that we monitor every single year. We put out annual reports. Obviously, there’s not a deal yet, so if there’s an agreement we can certainly speak to that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on Iran. You may or may not – I don’t know – have seen the comments the President made in an interview --

MS. PSAKI: I did see a report of some of the comments. I’m not sure if I saw the entire transcript, but --

QUESTION: -- about him saying that he is embarrassed for the 47 senators. I recognize you don’t speak for him, yet. However, you will in about three weeks or so, right?

QUESTION: And you have.

MS. PSAKI: True. I don’t at this moment.

QUESTION: Right. But not at this moment. Still, nonetheless, do you – does this building – do you know if Secretary Kerry shares this idea that you’re embarrassed for the senators who signed this letter to Iran’s leaders?

MS. PSAKI: I think the Secretary is – I have not spoken with him about this specific interview, but I would think it’s safe to assume he’s in the same boat --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- about their affiliation with the Ayatollah.

QUESTION: Their affiliation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, their --

QUESTION: Well --

MS. PSAKI: -- letter they sent to him.

QUESTION: -- their letter was kind of unaddressed. The President himself, if I’m not mistaken, has actually written directly to the Supreme Leader. And I’m just wondering if – what would he be embarrassed about for these senators, considering the fact that he has been – maybe not a pen pal, he certainly has exchanged or tried to exchange correspondence with the Supreme Leader himself? Is it the content of the letter signed by the senators that is an embarrassment?

MS. PSAKI: I think the content is clearly the issue we’re talking about here, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. It’s not simply picking up pen and writing to the Supreme Leader or to other Iranian leaders that is the embarrassing part. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think if there was a letter that stated we understand there’s a negotiation going on from government to government and we will see how that plays out, I don’t see that we’d have the same issue with it.

QUESTION: That would be okay? Okay. All right.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) you said something about an affiliation. Did you mean to use that word or were you looking for – you’re not suggesting that 48 senators are affiliated with --

MS. PSAKI: No, I was not suggesting that. I was suggesting the letter to or the --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- letter to the Ayatollah. Thank you for that, Arshad.

QUESTION: Very quickly follow up on Iran.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Very quickly. I asked you this on Tuesday.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Has there been any kind of backtracking by the Iranians saying, “Oh wait, maybe we should not go ahead and sign a deal with the United States if we are not getting an ironclad commitment that they will abide by it?”

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what you’re referring to. What ironclad commitment?

QUESTION: What I’m referring to – I mean, this – because obviously the letter says look, you can sign with the President, but he’s going to go in a couple years and there’s going to be another president; we are not obligated; at the end of the day, we decide. That’s what they – what the letter said.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think one of the reasons we’ve been out there making clearer the inaccuracies in the letter is to make sure everybody understands that this is a negotiation from government to government --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- not just the United States to Iran. The Russians, the Chinese, the British, the French, the Germans, the EU – they are all part of these negotiations. We don’t expect this to be an issue in the negotiating room, but certainly, given the letter, we felt it was important to come out and make clear what’s accurate.

QUESTION: So in your estimate, in the event that the United States does not sign onto a deal and – could the other countries involved sign on to – on their own, so to speak?

MS. PSAKI: This has been a negotiation, and it will continue to be, with the P5+1. That includes the United States.

On Iran? Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. I was looking back at some of the President’s old speeches, and he said in August of 2013 – before asking Congress for a vote for the authorization of the use of force against Assad forces – he said now is the time to show the world that America keeps its commitments; democracy is stronger when the President and the people’s representatives stand together. It was a vote he didn’t need, it was a vote he probably wasn’t going to get, but he asked --

MS. PSAKI: This is for AUMF last summer?

QUESTION: Yes. And obviously, circumstantial --

MS. PSAKI: Well, in order to authorize or have new – the reason he didn’t need it is because we already have authorization through past AUMFs. So – but that was authorized through Congress. So that is a process that would go through Congress.

QUESTION: No, I get the --

MS. PSAKI: The point here is that this is a political agreement between countries and international negotiations. It’s a very different thing.

QUESTION: I get that. But in terms of the principle of democracy is stronger when the President and the people’s representatives stand together, which he said at multiple different circumstances on foreign policy, why doesn’t he want – even if it’s – he’s – or the Administration, rather – they’re not asking for any nonbinding resolution; they’re not asking for any sort of vote whatsoever. Is there anything that --

MS. PSAKI: Congress will have a vote. They’ll have a vote at some point during the duration of the deal. And that’s been something they’re aware that we’ve also been consulting with Congress all along and recognize the important voice that they have.

The point I’m making, and which is an important context here, is the difference between an international negotiation with multiple countries and the authorization of the use of the force of the United States military. They’re two entirely different things.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask if there’s any perception in this building that the letter has affected the momentum of negotiations or the tenor, if it’s had any impact in what your negotiators are seeing in the room, and so on.

MS. PSAKI: Well, the negotiations haven’t actually started again, right, since the letter was issued. We don’t anticipate it will in the room, but it certainly is something that would give the Iranians an excuse at the end of the game. But obviously, we came out to clearly state that this is not how this process works for a purpose.

QUESTION: As an excuse to what?

MS. PSAKI: An excuse as to the kind of – if they don’t agree to or if they find that they don’t trust the process. Obviously, we’re working to avoid that. We haven’t seen it, don’t anticipate it’ll have an impact in the room.

QUESTION: But your point is – isn’t your point that the letter is, I think, mistaken in certain --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- aspects with regard --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- to the Constitution.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: So your point is that the threat implied in the letter, as I understand it, is not really a real one.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: So you think that it’s possible that the Iranians could use a letter that you yourselves say has no basis for its threat as an excuse to not sign an agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to predict that. I think, obviously, one of the reasons not just the United States but I think you saw the German foreign minister come out and others have stated that this is unhelpful and this is not useful to the process.

QUESTION: Just on --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- not asking about details of the negotiations, but I know Zarif has mentioned that in the final hours we’re talking about political concessions. And then I know the French have said conversely there’s still some technical issues that we have to work out. Yesterday, you were asked about how close you are. Would you say it’s a mix of both things, without going into too much detail, or --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s no question that a big part of the conversation will continue to be technical components, right, because this is a very technical deal.

QUESTION: So that’s not done?

MS. PSAKI: That’s ongoing. And it would be ongoing even after a framework. But in terms of the decisions that need to be made, certainly a big part of those are political. But both are part of the process and part of the discussion.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the UN angle for one second?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure that we’re not talking about any UN Security Council endorsement or sanctions lifting until a final full deal would be reached, the deadline for which is July – or the end of June. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: That would be my expectation, but it’s another one I said I would check with our team to make sure that’s accurate.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. But you – as far as you know, at the moment, there is no talk of if – no talk of seeking the endorsement part of it after a framework is reached, right?

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

QUESTION: It would only be for the full-on, whole-nine-yards, comprehensive --

MS. PSAKI: Which I think would make sense, but let me talk to our team after the briefing and I’ll make sure that that’s accurate.

QUESTION: Can I ask you one follow-up on that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Would you expect any resolution – which clearly you want – endorsing an eventual deal, if one is reached, to make any reference at all to the potential eventual lifting of sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the sanctions process would be part of any agreement, presumably, in some capacity. So I can’t predict for you what a resolution would look like. I don’t – at this point, I just can’t speak to that.

QUESTION: I’m just asking if you, the U.S. Government --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- would want a reference to potential eventual sanctions lifting.

MS. PSAKI: We’re just not at that point right now.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask you one follow-up from last --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: From yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: It’s a different topic, but you had said that you would check – yesterday, you said a couple of times that you’re now automatically archiving --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- the emails of certain principals.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Who falls in that category?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are dozens who fall into that category: high-level officials – the Secretary, obviously; deputy secretary, under secretaries, assistant secretaries. Beyond that, I don’t have a characterization for you.

QUESTION: No, but that’s helpful.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Great. And when did that start?

MS. PSAKI: February of this year.

QUESTION: And why did that start in February?

MS. PSAKI: Out of an effort to continue to update our process. Our goal, actually, is to apply an archiving system that meets these same requirements to all employee mailboxes by the end of 2016. So it’s only natural that you’d start with the Secretary, which we did in 2013; that you would progress with other senior Department officials, and we’ll continue to make – take steps forward.

QUESTION: Was the February decision – I mean, that’s – February is obviously – well, when in 2013 was it? Was it right from the get-go when the Secretary – after he was sworn in that all of his are archived?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check on that. I think it was fairly early in his time.

QUESTION: So I guess the next question would be, then it’s sort of two years later you’ve extended it to additional categories of very senior officials. Why did you decide to do that in February? Why not do it, I don’t know, a year after or a few months after you did it for the Secretary?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure if we had the technical capability to, we would have, and it’s just a process that takes some time.

QUESTION: So you didn’t have the technical capability until February of this year to capture emails for the deputy secretary’s --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not an expert on IRM, to be fair.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, no --

MS. PSAKI: I think that there’s an effort that they have had underway for some time. We have known about the narrow guidelines for some time as well, and there has been an effort underway to get up to meeting the national standard. So – and that has long been in place – or the timeline for that has long been the end of 2016, so this is just part of the process.

QUESTION: But was it related – sorry, last one from me on this – was it related to the – was the decision to apply the automatic archiving of emails from senior officials in February related in any way to the recognition that not having archived Secretary Clinton’s emails could raise problems for the Department and for the government more generally in terms of figuring out what should be archived eventually?

MS. PSAKI: No. This has been a process that’s been ongoing, and obviously, it’s not only time-consuming and requires a lot of effort on the part of employees to do it in other ways, but they have long been planning to do this. It’s just something that it took some time to put in place.

QUESTION: The auto-archiving thing that you’re talking about is outside of the SMART thing, right?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, outside of the SMART. Yes.

QUESTION: Does that mean that prior to the auto-archiving, all emails are lost and never – will never see the light of day?

MS. PSAKI: No. There are many ways, including – we’ve talked about printing, we’ve talked about – you can preserve records by saving as part of a specific file, and there’s a personal – in a personal folder. There’s instructions to do that.

QUESTION: But they’re voluntary, not automatic.

MS. PSAKI: Correct, it’s all voluntary, yes, to date. But that’s why we’re updating the process.

QUESTION: My question is to make sure that I understand --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- that just because something wasn’t auto-archived doesn’t mean that it is lost to history.

MS. PSAKI: No, it doesn’t.

QUESTION: And just because something wasn’t put in the SMART program --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- doesn’t mean that it is lost to history.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s correct.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: But am I correct in understanding that it is – it would have been lost to history if some individual didn’t take the time to personally choose to archive or save it themselves?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t state it’s lost to history, because there are always – there are technical means of gaining access to past information. But – and I’m not an expert on the technical capabilities, but obviously, the preference would be that it would be archived through the many ways that it can be archived, whether printing, whether through a personal folder. And certainly, we’re updating it because it’s an imperfect system.

QUESTION: But do you believe that you have the ability to systematically go back and find old emails that were not automatically or voluntarily or via the SMART system archived?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have that level of detail, Arshad. I don’t have a master’s in computer science. I wish I did.

Go --

QUESTION: Well, you might need one.

MS. PSAKI: I might. I’m starting --

QUESTION: Better go back to school.

MS. PSAKI: I would have credits, I think, pretty soon. (Laughter.) Right. Do we have more on this issue?

QUESTION: I have a related one.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Oh, back to Iran? Sure.

QUESTION: Iran. Just to clarify, did you confirm that Security Council members have begun discussions to end sanctions --

MS. PSAKI: No.

QUESTION: -- if a nuclear deal is reached?

MS. PSAKI: No, no, no. I said obviously part of the discussions and the negotiations are the sanctions component, and the Iranians have spoken to how important the UN Security Council sanctions are to them. And the permanent members of the Security Council are the ones negotiating the deal, so – but beyond that, no. I did not --

QUESTION: Would it be logical for them to start talking about this at this --

MS. PSAKI: No. We need to – we’re not even – we don’t even have a deal yet. So I think, obviously, all of these are part of the discussions, but in terms of the process or the timeline or any of that, that would all be part of the negotiations.

QUESTION: By the way, Jen, on this – on the sanctions issue --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- just to understand – I know you addressed this before – these sanctions, when and if they are lifted, will they be lifted lock, stock, and barrel or are they going to be like chronologically – last one first and so on, that kind of a thing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think this part of the negotiations is exactly this – part of that question, Said. But I also made clear earlier that there are many sanctions that – there are sanctions that would remain in place, certainly. So that’s all part of the discussions. If and when there’s a deal, I’m sure that’s something that we’ll be discussing.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Has briefing on this issue to the Israelis kept pace over the last couple weeks? And are there any plans for the Secretary or for Wendy Sherman to brief the Israelis this coming week on the negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: I believe we frequently, often brief the Israelis, as well as many other governments, after every round of negotiations, so I would expect that would continue.

QUESTION: You wouldn’t say that it’s changed – increased, decreased – that it’s given since the speech?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say it’s changed, no. There have been more rounds, so perhaps more calls as a result, but --

Yes?

QUESTION: New subject?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s finish Iran.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I – I wanted to go briefly back to the email subject, if that’s okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Could I get perhaps a little bit of clarity about the review that’s ongoing? Do you have any more on when the first set of documents related to the Benghazi – the Select Committee’s – when those could be released?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a prediction of that at this point.

QUESTION: Could you explain a little bit what the difference in the review process is when documents are going to be released to the committee versus to the public? Because is this something where you could take what you’ve already redacted and put that out quickly, or is there a whole separate review that has to go on?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there – it’s a good question, and I’m not sure I’m in a position to go into too many details. Obviously, there’s a uniform process for each, right. And certainly, we’d want to make sure that any information that would need to be redacted for it to be public – because obviously the committee doesn’t make these documents public – would be removed. So there’s personally identifying information. There are other steps that would need to be taken using the FOIA standards in order to make it public.

QUESTION: So there are things that might be redacted in a public release that wouldn’t necessarily have been redacted for release to a committee?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Sure. But I can see if there’s more detail on the difference in the process, but --

QUESTION: And yet related to this, yesterday you were asked if you knew whether Secretary Clinton signed a separation statement.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update on that.

QUESTION: Is that something that you expect that you will be able to get an answer to, or is it covered --

MS. PSAKI: I do expect I will be able to.

QUESTION: -- or is it – so it’s not covered by any kind of employee privacy act or something like that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe so. I can ask that question, but hopefully we’ll be able to get an answer.

QUESTION: Actually, I’m sorry I even raised it, because I don’t want you to ask that question. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I just want to know if she signed it or not.

MS. PSAKI: Understood.

QUESTION: So let me – I want to retract that question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Remove it from the record.

QUESTION: But is it something that you would suggest that you would refer us or people asking about it to her office, or is it something that the State Department --

MS. PSAKI: That may be a faster way to get the answer, but I certainly can --

QUESTION: But as far as you know, it is --

MS. PSAKI: -- I would remain focused on getting the answer here as well.

QUESTION: Okay. It is something that you expect, once everything – you expect to be able to answer that question?

MS. PSAKI: I hope to, yes.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.

MS. PSAKI: On this question, yes.

QUESTION: So I was wondering if you can tell us: Do you think that it would be, prior to this February, last month change in policy to expand the automatic recording on emails – prior to that time, would it have been a reliable way to preserve emails to send them to top officials of the Department?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

QUESTION: Well, if somebody thought they were complying with Federal Records Act or records preservation obligations by copying top officials of the Department of emails, prior to last month, would that have been an effective way of permanently archiving records?

MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly, individuals – any top officials would also be expected to preserve their documents in the same way that I have outlined. Now, obviously, this is a more efficient way, a way that will require less human effort. I think it’s fair to say we have quite a bit going on here at the State Department, given you all cover us every day, so this is a more efficient and better way. But obviously, there were ways to preserve, and employees and individuals were expected to do that prior to this new process.

QUESTION: Okay. But simply emailing somebody with a state.gov address wouldn’t have been a successful way to do that prior to –

MS. PSAKI: Well, it depends on whether the employee archived their documents, doesn’t it.

QUESTION: So then the follow-up to that would be, how could Secretary – former Secretary Clinton have expected that her emails would automatically be captured by the State Department if they were addressed to state.gov official – state.gov addresses if emails to state.gov addresses were not systematically kept and it was entirely up to the individuals so addressed to voluntarily save them?

MS. PSAKI: I would have you address that question to Secretary Clinton and her team, Arshad.

QUESTION: Can I just clarify one word?

QUESTION: Well, hold on. But that answer is – I mean, do you – does the building think that that was a reliable and appropriate way to have documents stored, if, in fact, there wasn’t this auto archive? I mean, I know that you can’t speak for what happened before you were here, or perhaps even for the email habits of the current Secretary of State.

MS. PSAKI: I can speak to those, but not the former. But go ahead.

QUESTION: But if you were – if one was in a position whereby you did not have a state.gov account, you were using a personal account for official business, and you – and your explanation for doing that and complying with the federal records law is that you sent those work-related emails to people with state.gov addresses, and that – and so you had a full expectation that the regulations were being complied with, that – it doesn’t seem to be foolproof. It doesn’t seem to be – there doesn’t seem to be a 100 percent way of knowing or perhaps of even being able to claim that you were – that you expected the messages to be archived, because you don’t know.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just can’t speak to that. That is a process that happened in the first term.

QUESTION: Well, did the State Department – I mean, I think it’s a relevant question.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not saying it’s not relevant, but go ahead.

QUESTION: No, no, but I think it’s a question – I think it’s a relevant question to ask –

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- you, and your predecessors do indeed sometimes address things that happened or policies that were adopted prior to their --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Policies is a little bit different than email habits, but go ahead.

QUESTION: But there are policies, or apparently sometimes not, about email habits.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So the question that I have is whether the State Department looked at whether Secretary Clinton’s – former Secretary Clinton’s assumption that her emails to state.gov addresses would be captured for archival purposes and said yes, that’s fine, or no, actually, we don’t keep all that stuff automatically and it requires on the recipient to archive it, or – I mean, did you guys look at – did the State Department institutionally look at her proposed policy to use a personal email under the assumption that emails to official addresses would be captured and say yes, that’s fine, or no, that’s not fine?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not in a position to speak to a conversation that may have taken place six years ago, Arshad.

QUESTION: You haven’t looked into that at all, and that –

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have more information for you.

QUESTION: But you don’t have more – you don’t have more information for me. You may have the answer, but you just don’t want to say it publicly, or you don’t have the answer?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more information for you on a conversation that may or may not have taken place six years ago, Arshad. I would have you pose that to Secretary Clinton and her team.

QUESTION: But why is it not a relevant question to ask the State Department, which, after all, has institutional interests in complying with laws and regulations and maintaining the historical record –

MS. PSAKI: Of course we do, and that’s why we’ve taken steps like sending a letter to former secretaries. We also sent a letter recently to former staff asking that if they should become aware, or in the future are aware or become aware in the future of a federal record in their possession, such as an email sent or received on a personal email account while serving in their official capacity at the Department, that such record may be made available to the Department. So of course, we’ve taken steps in order to make sure as much information is archived as possible.

QUESTION: But do you know whether or not there was any effort on the part of the State Department as an institution, presumably by the legal advisor’s office, although maybe this is something that comes under management – I don’t know – to look at the proposed email practices and make a decision on whether they were appropriate given the existing policies and statutes?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your question. I don’t have more information on whether a conversation may or may not have taken place six years ago. I don’t know that I will.

QUESTION: Well, let’s – just a second.

QUESTION: When did you send that letter --

QUESTION: Does --

MS. PSAKI: This letter was sent – I believe it was earlier this week. Let me check on that for you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: And it went to who?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there was – there have obviously been requests from Congress for certain information, so it was part – that was part of the effort.

QUESTION: And just – does the building – does the Department take a position on whether or not Secretary Clinton’s explanation for how she thought that these emails, that her emails would be archived – is it adequate?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, Matt, Secretary Clinton has --

QUESTION: Or does it not?

MS. PSAKI: -- Secretary Clinton has spoken --

QUESTION: I know she did. I --

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish my answer and then you can follow up. Secretary Clinton has spoken to this herself. She responded to our request for information with 55,000 pages of documents.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: We’re going to review those. Beyond that, I don’t have any other comments.

QUESTION: Right. But I was asking are you satisfied with that?

MS. PSAKI: Are we satisfied? In what way do you mean?

QUESTION: Yes, do you – well, do you believe that – maybe not you – do you – does the Department believe that the regulations will be satisfied because of --

MS. PSAKI: What – which regulations?

QUESTION: The archival regulations.

MS. PSAKI: She has said that they – these documents span the time of her time at the State Department.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you just clarify a couple of points?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You said that former officials – can you be any more specific – receiving the letter, who they would be, what era we’re talking about, what level? Presumably not everyone who’s left the Department received this letter.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. It’s current and former. I can check and see if there’s more specifics we can get into for you.

QUESTION: Okay. And both you and Arshad used this word, “voluntary.” Is that the best word? My understanding is there were obligations to keep certain records. It may have been a system where you had to do it on --

MS. PSAKI: Perhaps it’s a better way to describe it to say it’s the responsibility of individuals to keep and archive certain records.

QUESTION: Right. So there were systems that required you to do that on a case-by-case, document-by-document, or email-by-email basis instead of automatically in certain – in most circumstances, until recently.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it doesn’t – I think the question is automatically, it hasn’t – it’s starting to happen. It wasn’t the case or wasn’t the policy previously. It makes it certainly much easier for employees for it to be automatically archived. And I think it’s safe to assume some assumed that that was what was happening at the time as well. And I’d certainly have you ask them that particular question. But there are other ways – saving to a personal folder, printing – and these are the instructions that are given in terms of how to preserve your records.

QUESTION: But it’s not voluntary, like, say, the way giving to the Combined Federal Campaign might be.

MS. PSAKI: It’s not voluntary like I can decide I don’t want to do it or don’t feel like doing it. It’s the responsibility of; it’s on the individual. That’s – thank you for that.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: The guidelines, the guidelines that she talks about, are they government-wide guidelines or are they State Department guidelines?

MS. PSAKI: The FARA guidelines?

QUESTION: Now, the guidelines – yes.

MS. PSAKI: Or – well, there are national --

QUESTION: That you talked about.

MS. PSAKI: There are national standards. Certainly, we have guidelines that are consistent with other federal agencies, though.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Change of --

QUESTION: Is it likely to change these guidelines as a result of the controversy?

MS. PSAKI: There are guidelines, narrow requirements that the State Department and in many agencies that have been in place for some time, are working to get up to speed on by the end of 2016.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: What’s the comment on the decision by Pakistani high – Islamabad High Court to give bail to Mumbai terrorist attack mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi?

MS. PSAKI: We are monitoring reports that an Islamabad High Court judge suspended detention orders for the alleged Mumbai attack mastermind. The Government of Pakistan has pledged its cooperation in bringing the perpetrators, financiers and – financers and sponsors of the Mumbai terrorist attacks to justice, and we urge Pakistan to follow through on that commitment. Pakistan is a critical partner in a fight against terrorism. We’ve certainly seen the reports, but we can’t speculate on the outcome of an ongoing legal process in Pakistan.

QUESTION: According to these media reports appearing in Pakistani newspapers, the Pakistani Government says they don’t have any credible evidence against Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. Do you have any credible evidence against him of why you were calling him mastermind?

MS. PSAKI: Well, for now, let me also reiterate he remains in prison. Obviously, there’s a range of ways that we share information. I’m not going to speak to that from the podium.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) shared with him. Do you think he --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to that from the podium.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: A related question?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Follow-up? In Islamabad today, Pakistan also summoned an Indian diplomat and protested that the perpetrators of Samjhauta Express bombing which took place 2007 in which more than 50 Pakistanis were burned alive. That case has not been – that case has not proceeded in the courts, and the self-confessed perpetrator, Swami Aseemanand, is released.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any information on this. I’m happy to check with our team and see if we can get you a comment after the briefing.

QUESTION: Yeah. What is your position on that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I will talk to our team after the briefing.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.

QUESTION: Cuba?

MS. PSAKI: I wanted to ask: Has there been a date set for the human rights talks that are supposed to happen at the end of March?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update at this point in time I don’t think. Hold on. Let me just make sure I don’t.

QUESTION: And then the follow-up is: Are there any readouts? They were supposed to be in permanent communication ahead of the Summit of Americas. Do you have any readouts on that? About the embassy and diplomatic relations.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we – as you noted, we agreed to meet at the end of March to discuss the subject – the structure of a human rights dialogue. I don’t have an update on the exact timing on that.

QUESTION: Still the end of March?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, still the end of March, exactly. And can you repeat one more time your other question?

QUESTION: So they’re supposed to be in permanent communication about reestablishing diplomatic relations. One, is there another date for talks? And two, do you have any readouts on the permanent communication?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are in ongoing discussions. In terms of the next round, I don’t have anything to update you on at this moment. I expect we will soon, so stay tuned.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. There is this job offer submitted by a company called Glacier Technology Solutions that claims to be working directly with the U.S. Marine Corps, and it says that they’re looking for role players for men of Ukrainian and/or Russian ethnicity and language skills to, quote, “assist the Marine Corps with their language and culture immersive simulation training program.” Is the U.S. preparing to send Marines to Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: No, but I would refer you to the Department of Defense for any information on that report given we don’t speak on their behalf.

QUESTION: Do you – thank you. Do you –

QUESTION: This is a Craigslist ad, I believe. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: All right.

QUESTION: Correct? Is that correct?

QUESTION: It is. It is.

QUESTION: Is that correct? From San Diego?

QUESTION: It is.

QUESTION: Do you --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would not take every --

QUESTION: Do you have any –

MS. PSAKI: -- Craigslist ad as representative of the United States Government.

QUESTION: Do you find it hard to believe that there is such a training program?

MS. PSAKI: I find a lot of things on Craigslist hard to believe. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Specifically this?

MS. PSAKI: Many things are hard to believe on Craigslist, but again I would point you to the Department of Defense, and I’m sure they can get you a quick response.

QUESTION: But you’re not aware of any State Department program that would --

MS. PSAKI: No.

QUESTION: -- that might even come close to --

MS. PSAKI: No, no, no.

QUESTION: No? Okay.

QUESTION: One more.

QUESTION: However, you are aware of –

QUESTION: Do you see --

QUESTION: -- Marines going to the Baltic nations, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re referring to different things here, Said.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you see any way to resolve the conflict in the Ukraine other than diplomatically through the Minsk agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly our focus is on – and I think the Secretary and many other high-level United States officials have conveyed that our belief is that a diplomatic process, the implementation of the Minsk agreement, the several components of that that need to continue to be put in place is what we think is the best path forward. So that’s where our focus remains.

QUESTION: Under what circumstances would the U.S. send troops, Marines to Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not something we’re considering, so I’m not going to speak to that.

QUESTION: There was a report that Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t been seen in public for a week. Does the State Department have any idea where he is, what he’s up to?

MS. PSAKI: I believe the Kremlin has spoken to this, so I would point you to that.

QUESTION: You don’t have any reaction?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more information, no.

QUESTION: Staying with the region?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jen. I have actually three different subjects in the same region, Russia and Ukraine. A senior Russian diplomat accused the United States of violating the NPT treaty, Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, by training pilots from allied nations. He said, “The so-called joint nuclear missions virtually are training of pilots to use nuclear weapons. We consider this a serious violation of the NPT.” Do you have a response to that?

MS. PSAKI: I have not even seen this report. We’re happy to take a look at it.

QUESTION: Okay. Please, do. And another – and I am sorry. I will keep quoting people.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Another quote comes from a retired American military officer, a General Robert H. Scales who said on Fox News, quote, “The only way the United States can have any effect in this region,” meaning Ukraine, “and turn the tide is start killing Russians. Killing Russians by – killing so many Russians that even” Russian “media can’t hide the fact.” So is that an appropriate statement to be –

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, it sounds like you’re referring to a retired individual who --

QUESTION: Right, he is –

MS. PSAKI: -- does not speak for the United States Government, and certainly that is not consistent with our beliefs.

QUESTION: And so when the Russians claim that such statements are a result of the official line against Russia at this point, you do not agree with that?

MS. PSAKI: Can be absolutely clear: That individual is not speaking on behalf of the United States Government.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, and one last thing if I may.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. More. Are you quoting from another person?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Now – yes, I’m quoting.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: In this case, I’m quoting --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Yes. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: In this -

MS. PSAKI: Somebody on Wikipedia. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. In this case, I’m quoting the State Department.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Victoria Nuland, who we all know --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, we do.

QUESTION: -- who submitted written testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 4th --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- saying, in part, quote, “In Eastern Ukraine, Russia and its separatist puppets unleashed unspeakable violence and pillage. MH17 was shot down.” Now, six days later, March 10th, Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Again, Victoria: “In Eastern Ukraine, Russia and its separatist puppets unleashed unspeakable violence and pillage,” full stop now. This manufactured conflict – and then she went on. This tiny bit about MH17 was shot down – and, of course, we are seeing what she is doing. She does not claim directly that the separatists shot down the plane. She just creates the impression that that happened.

So – but then, in the Senate hearing, that tidbit was deleted.

MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re following her very closely.

QUESTION: My question – it’s actually – it’s not me. It’s an American blogger who found it, and I found his – actually, he believes --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, do --

QUESTION: So, anyway --

MS. PSAKI: Do you have a question? Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- the question – yes. The question is: Why was it deleted?

MS. PSAKI: Why was what deleted?

QUESTION: Why was this reference to the plane being shot down deleted from the second testimony as against the first?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t speak to specific testimonies and what was in different remarks, and they sound pretty consistent to me.

QUESTION: Do you know if you have any new information on that episode?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have new information, no.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: And the official position on that has not changed?

MS. PSAKI: Nope.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Could I also – I guess not quote, but paraphrase an official?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, of course.

QUESTION: This was the commander of NORAD. Admiral Gortney was testifying yesterday, I believe, before Congress, and he said that – he noted concern that Russia is developing significant new capabilities, which, he said, if continued on that track, could potentially threaten the security of North America, specifically with response to these long-range, conventionally armed cruise missiles. Is his concern something that the State Department shares, and is – if so, is it something that Secretary Kerry has discussed with his counterparts in Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, that would be a concern appropriately expressed through the Department of Defense, so I would refer you to them. I don’t have any more specifics from here.

QUESTION: So you can’t say whether or not this is something that Secretary Kerry has brought up with his counterparts?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more information on that, no.

QUESTION: Does that mean that there was no Russian threat in the past to the --

MS. PSAKI: That there was what?

QUESTION: Was there not a threat, a Russian threat to begin with, all along?

MS. PSAKI: What are you talking about?

QUESTION: Well, I’m saying that this new weapons – he’s saying that it poses a threat or added threat, but they have had that threat all along, right? I mean, they have intercontinental missiles, they have nuclear bombs, they have all kinds of things, right?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) put a finer point on it --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- is there a concern that recent Russian posturing is returning us to a geopolitical situation similar to what we saw in the Cold War?

MS. PSAKI: We certainly wouldn’t put it in those terms. Obviously, the Secretary raises issues as it’s appropriate through diplomatic channels. We don’t always talk about those, but given these are comments by the NORAD commander, I would point you to the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Well, there was – during the Cold War, there was diplomatic contact between Washington and Moscow.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not saying there wasn’t. I’m just not comparing it to the Cold War. But go ahead.

QUESTION: On this issue, did you get any more about this request to the Vietnamese on Cam Ranh Bay and not allowing the Russians to – and not wanting them to allow – you not wanting them to refuel Russian planes there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, just to be clear – and maybe I wasn’t as clear yesterday, so let me try to do this again – it’s – our concern is about activities they might conduct in the region, and the question is: Why are they in the region? It’s not about specifically refueling or telling the Vietnamese not to allow them to refuel.

QUESTION: So there hasn’t been a request to stop refueling them, or there has?

MS. PSAKI: It’s more about concerns. It’s not as much about Vietnam as much as it – as it is about concerns about what activities they would be in the region for.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, you – I mean, there are U.S. planes flying over there all the time.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, there are.

QUESTION: So you don’t want Russian planes flying there, but it’s okay for U.S. planes to fly there? I mean, I just – it gets to the point where you – the suggestion is that everything the Russians are doing all the time everywhere is somehow nefarious and designed to provoke. But you can’t – but you don’t seem to be able to understand or accept that American planes flying all over the place, including in that area, is annoying to the Chinese, for one, but also for the Russians. But the suggestion is always that the American flights are good and beneficial and don’t cause tension, and that other people’s flights do cause tension. So can you explain what the basis is for your concern that the Russian flights there in the Southeast Asia area are – raise tensions?

MS. PSAKI: There just aren’t more details I can go into.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: On this one? Sure.

QUESTION: On this, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: So – actually --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Go ahead, and we’ll go --

QUESTION: Okay, I’m just going to ask real quickly.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: There has been a reassessment in the Administration recently of security assistance to Vietnam following what had previously been a full embargo. You said that these discussions are ongoing as to what kind of security assistance can be provided. Is there – have you been relaying to the Vietnamese Government that concerns over what the Russians are doing on this base could affect future security assistance?

MS. PSAKI: No, I wouldn’t put it in those terms, no.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Jen, I wanted – yes, I wanted to go back to my question about this general.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You seemed to be sort of dismissive --

MS. PSAKI: The former general who’s no longer a U.S. official?

QUESTION: The former – yes, the former general.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You seem to be dismissive of this as a private view, but – yes, it is a private view. But it is broadcast – it is broadcast on --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t – let me finish. I don’t think that I was at all dismissive. I actually think I made very clear that that wasn’t representative of the views of the United States Government.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: You’re – so – I’m sorry. So you’re – as for the substance of the comments, you do not agree with this, you condemn this? What is your reaction?

MS. PSAKI: I think I made it very clear.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: My – it’s not clear to me, and the Russians --

MS. PSAKI: You can look back at the transcript. We’re going to move on, because we have other questions.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry. This was just a very simple question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Regarding this concern that you have about the Russians, the tensions that they could raise, did any of your allies or partners in the region raise similar concerns to you about this Russian --

MS. PSAKI: Similar concerns to us?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, I’m trying to figure out – you talk about how the Russians --

MS. PSAKI: I would ask the Vietnamese that question or the Russians.

QUESTION: I’m just not talking about – just --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak for what our partners or allies have expressed during private – through private diplomatic channels.

QUESTION: Madam, before my question on Sri Lanka, let me go back to Pakistan quickly, please.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: As far as this court decision comes at the time when the Indian foreign minister was in Islamabad for having dialogue in the future between the two countries and have peace in the region and all that – but how you think this future dialogues and the relation between the two countries will affect? Because since India is demanding even more than Lakhvi sitting in Pakistan, those terrorists.

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we support ongoing dialogue. I’m not going to speak to how it will impact talks between two other countries. I think we have to move on.

QUESTION: Sri Lanka?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry. We’ve got to move on. Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: One question about the AIIB?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you. Do you have any comment about the Brits deciding to join it, please? Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a sovereign decision made by the United Kingdom. We hope and expect that the United Kingdom will use its voice to push for the adoption of high standards. Our position on the AIIB remains clear and consistent. The United States and many major global economies all agree there is a pressing need to enhance infrastructure investment around the world. We believe any new multilateral institution should incorporate the high standards of the World Bank and the regional development banks. Based on many discussions, we have concerns about whether the AIIB will meet these high standards, particularly related to governance and environmental and social safeguards. So it’s important to note that any country that becomes a prospective member of the AIIB will be responsible for the standards adopted, and certainly, we hope that those standards will be pushed as well.

QUESTION: Are you --

MS. PSAKI: Let her finish. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that other allies who had in the past indicated interest in this institution, such as Australia and --

MS. PSAKI: It’s the sovereign decision of any country. That’s just our view --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- and we certainly hope any country would push to increase the standards.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: A quick question on the Secretary’s participation in the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: He met with Abbas, of course, and he met with the others. Was his meeting with Palestinian Authority President Abbas restricted to the economic aspect, or did they discuss prospects for, let’s say, maybe renewed negotiations? Because it’s – the leader of one of the Israeli parties, Tzipi Livni, is saying that after the election, she’d like to see a push for the talks, so --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – I don’t have more of a readout other than to convey to you that the meeting was part of our ongoing efforts to engage with critical stakeholders, given that we continue to be concerned about the financial situation with the Palestinian Authority. So it made sense to meet, given that concern, and that was certainly the focus and the reason for the meeting. For any other readout, I’d point you to our team who’s traveling with the Secretary.

QUESTION: So do you expect, after the election, the Israelis would ease up on the tax that are being withheld?

MS. PSAKI: The rhetoric, you mean, or --

QUESTION: No, their actual money. They would release the --

MS. PSAKI: I would have you ask the Israelis that question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we move on to Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: There are reports that ISIS leader al-Baghdadi has made a statement in which he supports Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance to the group. Does such a statement from the leader indicate a operational link between those two groups?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re aware of an ISIL recording accepting the pledge of allegiance by Boko Haram to ISIL. Boko Haram, which previously has expressed solidarity with both AQIM and al-Qaida core and ISIL, has demonstrated similar acts of wanton brutality, and we take any potential links between these groups – two groups as a matter of concern. But we believe this allegiance may be designed in part for propaganda purposes. We will continue to watch for signs that these statements could amount to something more than rhetorical support.

QUESTION: And do you have any indication at this point that Boko Haram is receiving assistance from ISIS in the form of messaging and – propaganda, for lack of a better word – messaging assistance, the robust media wing that ISIS has and that Boko Haram seems to be emulating?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on that. Obviously, this is, as I mentioned, a propaganda effort, is our belief. But in terms of operational coordination, we haven’t – we’ll continue to watch that space.

All right.

QUESTION: I have one on Bahrain.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. Yes.

QUESTION: Sunday, the appeal – court’s going to hear the appeal of Nabeel Rajab, the blogger.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I have something on this, Matt, but it’s at my desk, so I will promise to get it to you right after the briefing. I apologize.

QUESTION: All right. I guess that will do.

MS. PSAKI: It’s a Friday. My apologies.

QUESTION: Yes, it is.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:02 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 12, 2015

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 17:43

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 12, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

12:40 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: I just have a couple of items for all of you at the top. This week marks the fourth anniversary of the start of the Syrian revolution. On this somber occasion, we are reminded of all those who suffered and of the brave Syrians who stand up to tyranny and continue to struggle for a future of respect for basic rights, tolerance, and prosperity. We remember the aims of the peaceful protesters in March 2011 who called for the end of torture and demanded respect for human rights.

Tens of thousands remain in Assad’s prisons, where they are subjected to torture and inhumane conditions. For four years, the Assad regime has answered Syrians’ calls for freedom and reform with unrelenting brutality, authoritarianism, and destruction. As we have long said, Assad must go and be replaced through a negotiated political transition that is representative of the Syrian people. And as President Obama reiterated last month, it is not possible to fully stabilize Syria until Assad, who has lost legitimacy, is transitioned out.

U.S. Special Envoy Rubinstein marked the fourth anniversary of the Syrian revolution with a video message released this morning in Arabic to the Syrian people which is posted on Embassy Damascus’s Facebook page. He emphasized that the Syrian people, not a dictator, foreign fighters – or foreign fighters must determine their future, and that the United States stands with them.

Tomorrow, Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken will address a reception at the State Department with Syrian diaspora and opposition leadership, including former SOC Presidents Moaz al-Khatib and Hadi al-Bahra as well as Interim Government Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto, ahead of the March 15th anniversary. U.S. officials will participate in several events with Syrian diaspora and opposition leadership to commemorate the start – the anniversary of four years ago.

Two other items. The United States welcomes the March 10th release of eight Sri Lankan detainees, including human rights activist Balendran Jeyakumari, who had been arrested under the previous administration and held without charge. We understand Ms. Jeyakumari has been released on bail pending trial, and we encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to afford the individuals and all detainees due process of law. We applaud this positive step and encourage the government to continue its efforts to ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Sri Lankans.

Finally, welcome to the researchers from the University of Paris-Sorbonne in the back. There are three professors studying politics and journalism conducting research here in the United States. So a warm welcome to Adeline Wrona, Valerie Jeanne-Perrier, and Juliette Charbonneaux. Welcome in the back. Thank you.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Matt –

QUESTION: Well, let’s see if we can give them a lesson --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- in politics and foreign policy. It’s rare that I want to start with housekeeping matters, but this is a little bit broader than housekeeping matters. I want to know what the building’s response is to the OIG report that came out yesterday on saving emails as public records.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Sorry. That should have ended with a question mark.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I understood. It was implied. We are reviewing the most recent OIG report on SMART and record email. We intend to provide the OIG with response to the recommendations as we do as standard practice. A SMART, which is what the focus of the OIG report is on, is only one of the Department’s tools used to capture records. It does not represent the full State Department’s efforts in records management. Emails can be preserved by means that predate the introduction of SMART in 2009, and certainly we’ve made many steps to update these efforts in the last couple of years as well.

As the report notes, a SMART allows Department employees to create record or working emails on desktop computers or when Department employees log in remotely. Generally, this is often handled through overseas – with posts and embassies overseas and the channeling or the transfer of cables and things of that sort. SMART is not available on mobile devices. Employees cannot mark or retain records developed on mobile devices using SMART tools. And the reason I outlined that is I think it’s important for people to understand what this is, and it’s not reflective of our entire – all the email everybody uses or a program everybody uses. It’s a – one component.

QUESTION: So one should not take away from the OIG report that only this very, very small amount of email messages that have been marked or put in the SMART program are available as public records?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea – I mean, what does it actually – if a document – if an email is not tagged in this manner, what is the process for releasing that in response to a congressional request or a FOIA?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not exactly what this is related to, but I realize it’s a slightly different question.

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, employees have – go through their own records. They can print their records. That’s typically how it’s done. We’re also – work is also underway to capture working emails from Department principals to ensure that the Department preserves their records and does not add additional burdens to employees trying to meet their records responsibilities. So for example, the Secretary’s emails, as you all know because we’ve talked about it in here, are archived automatically. Obviously, we’re – that’s a process we’re doing with principals, but we’re working to, as many agencies are and many companies, frankly, are, to get up to date with national standards.

QUESTION: It’s – but the takeaway, I think – there was a significant – people – and I don’t know – assumed that only a very small amount of State Department emails are going to be available through the public record, and all of the rest of them that were not tagged – done on this system are just lost and gone forever. That’s not the case, right?

MS. PSAKI: Which is an inaccurate reading of it. I understand because people don’t know what SMART is.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: So that’s why I wanted to explain it.

QUESTION: Okay. Did the Department have a chance to respond to the draft OIG report?

MS. PSAKI: I can certainly check on that, and as I mentioned, we’ll certainly respond as we always do.

QUESTION: And I – one last one on the whole email and the Clinton thing: Do you have any response to the lawsuit that my employer filed yesterday seeking those records?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we did give a comment to many people who asked. As you know, we are – the process is underway to review for public release all of her emails. Now, I think it’s important to note, since you gave me the opportunity --

QUESTION: All of the emails that she turned over to you, not all of her emails.

MS. PSAKI: Correct, but all of the emails she turned over are, according to Secretary Clinton – they cover the span of her time at the State Department. I just wanted to take a moment, and then we can continue talking, to just talk about the redactions, because I didn’t talk about all the criteria the other day. So as I mentioned, this will follow FOIA standards. So FOIA redaction criteria includes national security, personal privacy, privilege, and trade secrets, among others. As – obviously, as a part of the regular process, we’ll identify the basis for any redactions. There also may be emails in the 55,000 pages that are eventually deemed not to be agency records because, for example, they are of strictly a personal nature and will be therefore released – excluded from release entirely. So just wanted people to have an understanding that obviously there are documents – perhaps many; we’ll see – that are not responsive to – they’re not public – I mean, they’re not government records.

QUESTION: Can you explain the redactions? What is privilege?

MS. PSAKI: Executive privilege.

QUESTION: Oh, executive privilege. Okay, not --

MS. PSAKI: That’s an example of it, sure.

QUESTION: And what were some of the other – trade secrets you mentioned --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. National security purposes, personal privacy, personally identifying information --

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton has said that she did not send any classified information in these emails. If there is classified – well, the – I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Well, that doesn’t qualify as classified. It may qualify as information that --

QUESTION: I know, but what I’m wondering is --

MS. PSAKI: -- according to FOIA standards wouldn’t be released publicly.

QUESTION: -- if in the review that you discover that maybe inadvertently there was some classified information put into an email, what would be the reason for the redaction? Would you say that it was because this information was classified, or would it be on national security grounds, which is a much more broader thing that would include classification?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I know this isn’t what you’re asking, but I’m just reiterating that obviously we’re not going to prejudge a process that is just underway in terms of what the content of the emails is. As is true of any FOIA process, there will be – it will be identified what the reason is for the redaction.

QUESTION: I know. But is there – but if you go through it, the reason for redaction, and one of them happens to say this is being redacted because of – it’s classified, that would mean that she was incorrect in saying that she never sent any classified information.

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: But if you just say if it is – if there was classified information, you could, I suppose, redact it on the basis of a much broader reason, which would be national security.

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure, Matt, when we release these documents, we will have to explain the reasons for the redactions, but I just don’t want to speak about a hypothetical at this point.

QUESTION: Do you have the – preferred to make the determination yourself of which emails were personal? Because obviously, Secretary Clinton has taken the step of redacting some of her own, essentially, by saying, “I’ve made the determination that they’re personal, so I’m not giving you everything.” Would you have preferred to make that determination yourself?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Justin, I realize why we’re all focused on Secretary Clinton. I think everybody’s aware of that. But it is – there has been not only precedent, but it has been standard policy for individuals, whether they’re secretaries, whether they’re senior officials, to make those determinations. So those determinations were made with Secretary Clinton and her staff. She turned in and turned over the range of documents we’ve discussed. I would refer you to her for further questions.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, you said earlier – you mentioned that SMART is only one of the tools used to archive these State emails, but then later you said this is not what this is related to in terms of these emails. I just wanted some --

MS. PSAKI: Matt was asking me a different question about release of FOIA, so it’s a separate issue, and I just wanted to be clear for the record that it’s a separate issue.

QUESTION: Thank you for clearing that up. The IG report said that of the one billion emails sent by the State Department in 2011, just over 61,000 were kept, and that’s a very small percentage.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Lucas, I think I answered this, because they’re referring to through the SMART program, which is why I wanted to describe to you exactly what the SMART – what that is. It’s not related to every email everybody sends.

QUESTION: Right, but did Secretary Clinton – a former DOJ attorney has asked if – under department policy, asked if Secretary Clinton, like all officials here in this building when they depart or separate from office, has to sign something called a form OF109. It’s a separation statement declaring that when you leave office, you’re turning in – turn over not just classified materials, but any documents for official purposes. Did she sign --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I think this was asked – it was more than two years ago. I don’t have an update on that specific question at this point.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Justin’s question?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: It may have been standard practice; it may be standard practice for officials to basically act on the honor system and turn over materials that are related to their official business. Shouldn’t the policy be changed at this point, given that there is so much public concern about government officials’ ability to be fully honest and transparent about the work that they’re doing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, as I’ve noted a couple of times in here, but just for everybody to clearly understand, it’s not about the policy changing. We’re updating our own process of archiving information to keep up with the national standards. So the Secretary’s emails now are archived, right, through a standard process. So it isn’t applicable now.

QUESTION: But wouldn’t it be – wouldn’t it just be prudent, if not for the entire government, since you don’t speak for the entire government, but for at least this agency to say proactively: “Everyone who works here, whether you’re the Secretary or you’re a low-level office clerk, if you have email privileges, you will, you shall turn over all of your information if it’s connected to government business, no exemptions allowed”?

MS. PSAKI: That is the policy. I don’t know what your question is --

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up?

QUESTION: But it seems as if there are still some holes that officials are able to use.

MS. PSAKI: In what capacity?

QUESTION: In that they’re able to make a decision about what they should turn over and what they shouldn’t turn over.

MS. PSAKI: Well, those policies – let me repeat this, since I don’t think you’re understanding what I’m saying. Two points. One is that is the policy, to turn over documents that are related to your government work. That is the policy, has been the policy. That’s why we sent a letter following up to secretaries in that regard. Two, as it relates to today and what steps we’re taking technologically, those have clearly updated over time, as would be expected, given the evolving use of email. So Secretary Kerry’s emails now are automatically archived. His work emails are. So it’s not an applicable question to today.

QUESTION: According to this --

QUESTION: Why don’t you archive everything? Not archive everything. Why don’t you keep everything, all emails, so that you can look at whatever you need to over time?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a good question, but the issue is that technologically that this is an evolving process and it’s something that we’re applying to principals, naturally, first. And over time, we’re going to take steps to abide by and keep step with national standards.

QUESTION: But it’s not as if email was created yesterday or last year or five years ago.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’m not suggesting that.

QUESTION: I mean, it’s been 20 years, right, two decades. So the --

MS. PSAKI: But the use of email in government agencies by senior officials has certainly increased and evolved over time.

QUESTION: I – nobody’s disputing that. The question is why the policies that applied to it haven’t kept pace. I suspect you’ll find that major corporations retain vast quantities, if not all their emails --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- for legal purposes. So the question is why the State Department wouldn’t do that too.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I’ve spoken to what we’re making an effort to do. I can’t speak to why five, ten years ago these processes weren’t started then. I can speak to what we’re doing now. What we’re doing now is working to update and get our processes up to national standards.

QUESTION: How – of the principals whose emails are systematically retained in toto, how far down does that go? Is that go beyond the two deputy secretaries? Does it go to the under secretaries? Does it go to the assistant secretaries? Does it go to the principal deputies and secretaries?

MS. PSAKI: I can certainly check and see if there’s more details on that to share.

QUESTION: Well, why wouldn’t you want to share that?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say I didn’t, Arshad. I will check and see if there’s more we can share.

QUESTION: Is it correct – why was the SMART program created? Was this created so that there would be a kind – a clearinghouse for documents that employees felt strongly needed to be part of the public record? Was it just convenience sake for people who are processing congressional requests and FOIAs? Do you know?

MS. PSAKI: I think there are certain documents that are often transferred over SMART, front-channel cables, things along those lines. In terms of why it was created originally, I don’t have that level of information.

QUESTION: But it was created to be more responsive to such requests, correct? Or no? I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on why it was originally created, no.

QUESTION: It seems like if it’s not the only way to flag emails to be recorded, that it’s at least one of the simplest ways. So if it’s being used so inconsistently and infrequently, are we to believe that employees whose emails aren’t automatically archived are printing out all these emails and sending them over to IRM?

MS. PSAKI: That’s one of the ways to do it.

QUESTION: What are the other ways?

MS. PSAKI: I also mentioned that there’s a process of updating our technological capability so that we can archive processes. There are many ways. I mentioned two of them. Obviously we’re continuing to update how we are – can archive, how we can keep track of individuals’ records.

QUESTION: Is it a fact, as was supposed in the question, that the SMART system is user-friendly and easy to use? I mean --

MS. PSAKI: That is a questionable claim.

QUESTION: Okay. So it actually requires – I mean, not that people shouldn’t be making the extra effort to do this --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- but it’s not as easy as opening a regular email.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: So if it’s a State Department policy to turn in all official documents, how did Secretary Clinton wind up with these 55,000 documents?

MS. PSAKI: I think Secretary Clinton has spoken to this, Lucas. I don’t have anything further to add.

QUESTION: I think there’s a few questions still out there.

MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re welcome to pose them to Secretary Clinton and her team.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we clear up one thing?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: One of the things Clinton said was that she didn’t want to use two devices. And there’s been different reporting out there about why that may have been possible or not possible. So could – because I’ve seen tweets from people saying that – who worked in the State Department at the time that, in fact, the devices at the time did not allow for the use of a .gov address and a private email as they do now on everybody’s phone – everybody knows you can use more than one email address. So in 2008, was she restricted from doing that based on State policy?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Prior to early 2014 and the release of the new generation of BlackBerry devices, the security protocols that State deployed did not permit automated access. So I think some of you may have devices today or it’s capable today of having a personal and a work email on the same device. So that wasn’t permitted at the time. Obviously, things have updated post-2014. Secretary Clinton also was not issued a State Department BlackBerry. And that wasn’t a requirement; no one is required to be issued a State Department BlackBerry.

QUESTION: Not even the Secretary of State, whose communications presumably would require a higher level of security than just an ordinary BlackBerry?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, not required.

QUESTION: So – and is that still the policy, that Secretary --

MS. PSAKI: No. Any employee, including the Secretary, is not required to receive a State Department-issued BlackBerry.

QUESTION: Why not?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Why wouldn’t you want to control the security on devices that are being used for official business?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I think, one, it’s – I’m just stating what our policy is. Obviously in --

QUESTION: Right. I’m asking why you have that policy.

MS. PSAKI: I’m answering your question; there’s no reason to take that tone. The second piece of it is, Arshad, that obviously, she had a personal device. I can’t speak to what was done on that personal device and what was not. That’s a question I would pose to her team.

QUESTION: My question, though, to you was why it is the State Department’s current policy that officials who use BlackBerrys --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- for official business do not have to use a government --

MS. PSAKI: That is not what I stated our policy was. I stated our policy is that not required to be issued a State Department BlackBerry. I will check and see if that is still our policy.

QUESTION: BlackBerry shareholders are very upset that you’re not forcing all your employees --

MS. PSAKI: There are many people --

QUESTION: So here’s the alternate question, is: Can you use a non-BlackBerry with a state.gov address?

MS. PSAKI: No. The state.gov is only issued on devices issued by the State Department.

QUESTION: So if you have an iPhone or an Android or something like that, you can’t have a state.gov address on it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there – I have an iPad that has – that is a State Department-issued device. So I have my email on there.

QUESTION: Oh. So you can.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, if it’s State Department-issued.

QUESTION: Jen, there’s something I don’t understand.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m genuinely confused. You said that it was not State Department – at some indeterminate point in the past, it was not policy that State Department officials were required to use a State Department-issued BlackBerry?

MS. PSAKI: Well, no, no – not required to use; not required to be issued.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Some people may not use BlackBerrys.

QUESTION: Right. No, no, I get that.

MS. PSAKI: You can’t get state.gov email on a BlackBerry that’s not State Department-issued.

QUESTION: Cannot?

QUESTION: You cannot?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: So in other words, the state.gov email, if – assuming that Secretary Kerry has a BlackBerry with a state.gov address on it, that is a State Department-issued BlackBerry.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Now, there are remote ways, but obviously, in terms of getting it automatically as your email, that is the policy.

QUESTION: So the Secretary does have a State Department-issued BlackBerry?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Really? What kind of apps does he have on it? (Laughter.) Maybe there should be a SMART app in these things. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Maybe there should be, to make it easier to use.

QUESTION: Make it easier for everyone. On the select – some members, or at least one member that I’m aware of, of the select committee has said that when they get the Secretary’s emails, that they want them electronically. Is the building – is the State Department in a position to be able to fulfill that, or would the committee have to go directly to the Secretary’s office?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it has anything having to do with going to her office. I can check and see if there’s a plan at this point in terms of how they would be received. Well, let me – actually, though --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on paper?

MS. PSAKI: The emails?

QUESTION: The 55,000 pages --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: As I’ve stated maybe a thousand times in here, yes, we do. That’s how we received them. Okay.

QUESTION: I don’t think it was 1,000 times.

MS. PSAKI: Maybe 500. Okay.

QUESTION: Twenty, maybe.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, fair enough. (Laughter.) Twenty times. We are going to be releasing them publicly on – electronically. So --

QUESTION: Yeah. So the committee won’t have a problem getting them electronically?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: I mean, are you going to – how are you going to do it? Are you going to scan them in, which is not always as – it’s not --

MS. PSAKI: I can’t speak to at this point in time --

QUESTION: Will they be searchable?

MS. PSAKI: -- how they will be going to the committee, Matt.

QUESTION: I think that the – but what the committee wants is something that they can search electronically instead of --

MS. PSAKI: Well, they can join the rest of the American public in searching them electronically when we post them online. So – as I stated --

QUESTION: So they’re going to – so they will have – so they will not get them early?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just suggesting – I don’t have anything to outline for you in terms of how the committee will receive the documents at this point in time.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Yes, so do I. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: On this issue?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: On the SMART question.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So the IG report indicated that there are a number of offices and individuals that don’t use the SMART system at all, apparently. They’re mostly higher-level Department managers; you call them principals, I guess. So just to, for clarification, can you say --

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t necessarily call them principals. I don’t think Secretary Kerry uses the SMART system, so I think I wouldn’t define it in that exact way, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Right – no. But I think the IG report said they don’t use the SMART – the senior Departmental offices don’t use the SMART system.

MS. PSAKI: Right, okay. Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: So just for clarity’s sake, so you’re not in a position to say that all emails sent to everyone that doesn’t use the SMART system are archived permanently as federal records?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. As I’ve stated, we are in the process of updating our means of archiving and keeping records, but as – to date, there has been a process I’ve outlined several times from here.

QUESTION: So there’s no guarantee that if you sent an email to a .gov address where someone didn’t use the SMART system, that that would be kept indefinitely?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: As of now, at this moment.

QUESTION: As of now. The archiving systems were no better in the past, though, right? So they’re getting better in the future?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re – our effort is to improve them, I think it’s fair to say.

QUESTION: And then two other questions. One is you mentioned earlier this week that Under Secretary, I think it is, Kennedy sent the letter to the former secretaries asking for their records.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does that mean that he was the decision-maker in terms of making the decision that that’s what the State Department was going to do, or did someone else, Secretary Kerry, or some other --

MS. PSAKI: In terms of sending the letter to former secretaries or --

QUESTION: In terms of sending a request, whatever form it was going to take. Does the fact he signed it mean that he made that decision, or was there some other decision-maker and perhaps he was just asked to sign the letter?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think people were aware of the decision to send a letter, which I’m not sure is an overly – it may be overstating it to say it’s a decision. It was simply an effort to be able to receive and archive past records that we may or may not have had. He’s the natural person to sign it; since he’s the under secretary who oversees management, he often signs these type of documents.

QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t know who made – if there was a decision to send it out, whether there were other officials involved?

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s fair to say he supported it, as did the Secretary, as did any senior official in the building.

QUESTION: Okay. And Secretary Clinton in her statement or I think in some of the Q&A materials her office released said that one of the searches they did to determine whether records were work-related was whether they contained the words, “Benghazi” or “Libya.” Under Secretary Kennedy’s letter didn’t suggest that the former secretary or any of the other former secretaries provide records pertaining to Libya or Benghazi, did it? And so do you have any idea why – was there maybe some other request the State Department communicated to the former secretary saying, could you please produce Benghazi or Libya --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think everyone’s aware of the request by Congress that we’ve been responsive to. I would otherwise refer you to Secretary Clinton’s team.

QUESTION: Can we go – move on --

QUESTION: Can we – I have another on this.

QUESTION: On this?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Going back to the OIG report --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- apart from the SMART whole issue, it found that there was general sort of lack of understanding among employees about the recordkeeping roles more broadly. It said, quote, “Many officers and employees – not just those new to the Department – had little idea about what makes an item of information a record.” So what’s done to, I guess, educate those employees? And if they’re not either using a SMART tool or printing out their emails or whatever other avenues are available to them, how is it being, I guess, enforced that they’re recording everything?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, I think as I’ve said, there’s an ongoing effort to continue to improve the ways that not only we are archiving information but also that we’re communicating. There are Department-wide notices that go out on a regular basis. There were Department-wide notices that went out last year, that went out early this year about how to archive your information, what information should be kept. There’s obviously online courses we have to take about a range of issues, including cybersecurity, including many issues. So there’s a range of ways that employees are provided with information. Clearly, this is something that we will continue to build on and continue to improve ways that employees learn and understand how they should be archiving or keeping their information.

QUESTION: Jen, just a follow-up. The director of national security archive at George Washington University told NPR that, quote, “Within 90 days the IT folks at State wipe out their accounts unless there’s a special intervention.” Is that true?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not even sure what that’s a reference to, Lucas --

QUESTION: By just wiping out --

MS. PSAKI: -- or how that person would have insight into the process here.

QUESTION: What he means is upon leaving the State Department, his or her account would be wiped clean after 90 days. Is that true?

MS. PSAKI: I can certainly check on that. I have never heard of that before.

QUESTION: But you can see why there’s some outrage in Congress and some people at home about how emails are recovered. Is there a recovery process that State Department does?

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

QUESTION: Can we move on to something that --

QUESTION: Yeah, on --

MS. PSAKI: Substance?

QUESTION: -- of substance?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Not substance. This is substance.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Sure.

QUESTION: It’s just not policy substance.

MS. PSAKI: Fair enough. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So looking at the report and just trying to understand the difference between SMART and the other emails – so the other emails are kept, as you said, either by printing or in other methods. Is there a period of time that they are kept? Is that – I mean, since they’re not going to be archived and they’re not determined to be record emails, is there a length of time that they are held onto?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check on that and see if there’s more information we can provide, sure.

Justin, did you have a question?

QUESTION: I just wanted to go to Iraq.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. We can certainly do that.

QUESTION: Can we go with Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Start with Iran.

QUESTION: Is that all right?

QUESTION: What the hey.

QUESTION: Well, you can get into Iraq from Iran.

QUESTION: They’re close.

QUESTION: They’re close. There’s also Iranians in Iraq right now. So to actual foreign policy, not management policy, or non --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. All substantive. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- or non-policy, as the case may be, can you clear up this whole nonbinding agreement thing? Seems to be a lot of confusion everywhere about why it is the Administration would even bother, commit the time and energy and expense to negotiate something that neither it nor the Iranians nor any other member of the negotiating team are going to be bound to.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me make a few points here. As I mentioned on Tuesday, but it’s worth repeating, this would be the same kind of arrangement as many of our previous international security initiatives, which I think everybody feels were worthwhile in making – so such as the framework negotiated with Russia to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Missile Technology Control Regime, and non-security initiatives such as the recent U.S-China joint announcement on climate change. Also, the most relevant and recent example is, of course, the JPOA itself, which was designed as a preliminary step towards a joint comprehensive plan of action, but it also highly – is a highly successful example of a nonbinding international agreement, as the JPOA is the first thing in the past decade that has led to a freeze and rollback of Iran’s nuclear program and more transparency and verification measures.

But the overriding reason to prefer a nonbinding international arrangement to a treaty is the need to preserve the greatest possible flexibility to re-impose sanctions if we believe Iran is not meeting its commitments under a joint comprehensive plan of action. And we believe that the success of this arrangement will depend not on whether it’s legally binding or not, but rather on the extensive verification measures we are seeking to put in place, and Iran’s understanding that we have the capacity to re-impose and ramp up our sanctions if Iran does not meet its commitments.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Well, but – wait a – you want a nonbinding agreement because that will give you more flexibility to re-impose – I mean, Congress wants to put sanctions on now that would take effect if --

MS. PSAKI: Which would prevent us --

QUESTION: -- if – which would go into place if --

MS. PSAKI: -- which would likely lead to the international sanctions regime falling apart and the deal falling apart.

QUESTION: -- which would go – only go into effect if Iran is not violating – or if the framework isn’t reached or if Iran is found to be in violation of it.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And you’re saying you want a nonbinding agreement to do precisely the same thing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m saying what this – the nonbinding international arrangement or international arrangement that consists of political commitments provides us with that flexibility to snap back sanctions in a faster manner.

QUESTION: Why can’t you do that --

QUESTION: With --

QUESTION: -- in a binding agreement?

QUESTION: Exactly.

MS. PSAKI: Because it’s an international – you’d have to have approval of all countries involved.

QUESTION: And you don’t --

QUESTION: Well, couldn’t you devise a binding agreement that would provide you with the flexibility to impose sanctions quickly or immediately if you conclude that one of the other parties to the agreement has violated it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Arshad, what I’m trying to explain here is why we’re pursuing this particular path, and why our policy team has determined this is the right approach. So I’m not going to play the game of what other options could have been discussed. This is the path that we’re pursuing and those are the reasons why.

QUESTION: But your argument is that it would not – your argument is that you have more flexibility with a nonbinding agreement. And what I don’t understand is why you couldn’t have the same flexibility in a binding agreement.

MS. PSAKI: Because that’s not how these have typically worked. This is the path we’ve determined is the best path forward.

QUESTION: Right, but the people on the Hill, including the 47 that signed this letter that you guys are so upset about, make the case that the reason you are doing it this way is because you don’t want to – you don’t want congressional oversight. You don’t want to allow Congress to have a role in an agreement that has profound security implications for not just the region, but for the U.S. as well. And --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been clear that, one, Congress does have a role. We’ve done more briefings on this issue than perhaps any other issue in recent memory, more than 30 briefings with Congress on this particular issue. That’s an appropriate place for their voices to be heard. Obviously, if we’re at the point where there’s an agreement and there are sanctions that are rolled back, then that’s a role that they would play. But there is a long history, a long precedent for these type of international – government-to-government international agreements.

QUESTION: It is the case, though, that Iran wants sanctions relief – permanent sanctions relief not just from the United States, but from the United Nations Security Council.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So at some point, this is going to have to go to the Security Council if there is a deal, correct?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to prejudge what step would be taken or wouldn’t be taken. I can’t speak to that at this point.

QUESTION: So Iran is out of luck if they want the Security Council sanctions lifted because you’re --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just suggesting I’m not getting ahead of the process. Obviously, we know that that’s their objective --

QUESTION: The point is, is that --

MS. PSAKI: -- and certainly part of the discussion.

QUESTION: -- what they want and what you’re willing – what you have offered them is an easing of sanctions, and those sanctions are not just imposed by Congress and the U.S. Administration, but by the United Nations and other places.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In order to get the United Nations sanctions lifted, you have to go to the United Nations Security Council and get them lifted in --

MS. PSAKI: I understand how it works.

QUESTION: -- what would be a binding resolution. So isn’t this whole non-binding argument a bit, I don’t know --

MS. PSAKI: We don’t view it that way, Matt.

QUESTION: -- unusual, to say the least, not – disingenuous? Because there is going to be – there is going to have to be some international – binding international commitments here.

MS. PSAKI: At the point a long time from now where that is an issue.

QUESTION: Can I ask one thing?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You said that the – I think you used an adjective to modify the principle, I think you said – although I may have gotten the word wrong – reason for this was so that you would have the flexibility to impose sanctions quickly.

MS. PSAKI: Or react. I mean, that’s the obvious way.

QUESTION: Yeah, or react. Sure, I get it.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So did – was any part of your reasoning for the decision to proceed in this manner, the nonbinding agreement – which I understand and I realize is quite common, right --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- so as to not trigger the advise and consent role played by the Senate when the United States Government undertakes to sign and ultimately ratify treaties? Was any part of the reasoning to prevent or to skirt the advise and consent role that is there for treaties?

MS. PSAKI: We would not be consulting with Congress, briefing them, making clear that they have a role to play at the appropriate time if we wanted to skirt their involvement or their engagement.

QUESTION: But my question is not skirting their involvement or engagement in general, because I’m aware of the consultations and all the hearings and so on. My question is whether you were – whether there was any part of your reasoning in choosing to go for a nonbinding agreement that had to do with skirting the specific advise and consent requirements --

MS. PSAKI: The reason is as I’ve already outlined it.

QUESTION: Then – so wait, but you’re not – you can’t say, “No, that wasn’t a reason at all”?

MS. PSAKI: I just outlined what the reason was. Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION: Was there (inaudible) --

MS. PSAKI: Oh.

QUESTION: -- in consultation --

QUESTION: But you can’t say that that wasn’t the reason?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve addressed the question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Was there a --

QUESTION: You have not addressed the question.

MS. PSAKI: I have. Thank you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, I’m going to take a slightly different --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- take to Arshad’s question. Was there an agreement among the members of the P5+1 that this should be, at least under U.S. law, an executive agreement and not a formal treaty in order to make it easier to put any strictures on Iran’s ability to develop a weapon?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to discussions within the P5+1.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: But it goes to the whole nature of what the duration of any deal, if it is concluded --

MS. PSAKI: How so?

QUESTION: Basically, if there is a treaty, there are going to be more requirements that all parties involved would have to ascribe to, whereas under an executive agreement, there would be the flexibility that you alluded to earlier.

MS. PSAKI: Well, if Iran doesn’t abide by their agreement, there would be consequences regardless. So I don’t think there’s anything to do with the duration as you suggested.

QUESTION: Can I ask how you expect or what the anticipation is for your other partners, how they’re going to put this to their governments, particularly the EU component of it, given that that’s a body with a large number of members?

MS. PSAKI: That’s a fair question. I’m not sure what – we’ll be in a position to outline publicly. I can certainly talk to our team and see if that’s something we can discuss.

QUESTION: And since we’re talking about it, I mean, obviously the Secretary has just left. He’s on his way to Egypt and then he’s going to go to Lausanne, where he’s going to be meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif. You said this morning on CNN, and you repeated several times, that there is no deal yet.

MS. PSAKI: Right.

QUESTION: How close do you think you are?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I appreciate the opportunity. I think we’re all aware that the next couple of weeks are going to be important. They’re vital; we’re at the crunch time here. We expect to continue to make progress to close the gaps. We’ll take breaks as needed. As you all know, the Secretary will be returning in about 10 days or a little less than that. But in about 10 days, I should say, President Ghani and the Afghans will be coming here for meetings, which he’ll be here for. And obviously, the Iranians will be celebrating Nowruz. We’ll continue to pursue a political agreement and do that through the end of March.

QUESTION: Is it conceivable that it could happen in this 10-day period, little less?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction of that. I think our expectation is that we will work ‘til the end of March.

QUESTION: Just on the letter issue.

MS. PSAKI: The letter --

QUESTION: The letter.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: You know the letter I’m talking about?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, the letter.

QUESTION: Signed by 48 minus one senators?

MS. PSAKI: I’m well aware of the letter, yes. Yes.

QUESTION: You have seen what the supreme leader had to say about this letter and what it indicated about the current state of the American political system? It sounds, from what the Secretary said yesterday, what the President said before, what your – what you and what your colleague at the White House have said, is that you would agree with the supreme leader that this shows the disintegration, or whatever the phrase he used, of the --

QUESTION: Deceitfulness.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) he said things were coming apart at the seams, something like that, of the American political system. Is that correct? Do you agree with his characterization of what this letter --

MS. PSAKI: We certainly wouldn’t echo or quote comments from the Supreme Leader. I will say that we believe we’ve negotiated in good faith from the beginning of these talks. We’ll continue to do so. We’re going to leave the negotiating to the negotiating room. I don’t have any specific reaction to his comments.

QUESTION: European diplomats are saying that they’re concerned that the letter undercuts the credibility, or at least the perception of American – specifically American but then more broadly the whole Western or European component of the negotiations, undercuts the credibility of that. Do you think that is the case?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look more completely at their comments. I think it was certainly, as we’ve stated or discussed a couple of times in here, and as the Secretary has talked about – there are a number of inaccuracies in there about how it works. It certainly doesn’t acknowledge the role of many European countries and – that are an important part of the P5+1. So certainly, perhaps, it was speaking to that.

I have a time issue here, so I just can do a couple more.

QUESTION: Jen, can you explain how a nonbinding agreement is enforced?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I mean, there are – one, through robust and effective verification members – measures to detect any Iranian failure to meet its commitment, including the additional protocol through the NPT. So that’s part of it, so that would be required. And obviously there are certain steps that would be put into any agreement. And also by making clear, as I have today, that there would be clear and immediate consequences if Iran fails to meet its commitments.

QUESTION: But there’s a lot of people at home wondering how a nonbinding agreement – they’re asking how it’s enforced, but also they’re saying what’s the point of a nonbinding agreement. Can you explain?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would pose the question what was the point of the chemical weapons deal; what was the point of the missile treaties that I referenced? There are certainly – and I think it’s --

QUESTION: They weren’t treaties that you referenced. Everything that you referenced previously was nonbinding, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: That’s what I was – that’s why I used them as examples. So there are many ways to have an international agreement. And I think that’s something, clearly, we’ll be educating and we’ll be discussing over the coming weeks.

QUESTION: On Iraq --

QUESTION: Can we go quickly to the Asia Pacific?

QUESTION: Well, I just got – I know you – sorry, Roz.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Justin. And we’ll go to you, Roz. That’s probably the last I can do.

QUESTION: I just wanted to get Iraq in.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: There’s some really disturbing images coming out of Iraq, which appear to show uniformed Iraqi soldiers committing atrocities – beheadings, torture. Are you – I mean, Iraq has said they’re investigating. Do you have confidence in their investigation, their ability to investigate this alone? Will you, the State Department, do any investigating? That’s the first question.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, these are clearly disturbing and serious allegations, ones that we’ve, unfortunately, spoken about many times before, including from this podium, because we’ve been – there have been a range of reports out there for some time about these types of abuses. So we’re, of course, deeply concerned by the reports. The Iraqi Government, as you mentioned, has indicated that it will investigate to determine the facts behind these claims. We urge it to conduct a transparent, thorough, and timely investigation.

I would also note that Prime Minister Abadi, I think including in his inaugural remarks, spoke about this, has stated that he – not about this specifically, but about efforts to kind of address unregulated militias, which is part of the problem – has stated that he has a zero-tolerance policy of human rights abuses by any security element. U.S. officials from Washington and Baghdad continue to raise our concerns with senior Government of Iraq officials, and we have been doing that for some time.

This behavior is clearly – their behavior must be above reproach or they risk being painted with the same brush as ISIL fighters. And certainly that’s a message that we are making clear. But they’ve indicated they’re investigating. There’s no plans for the United States Government to investigate, no.

QUESTION: Okay. But do they not also risk, then, the U.S. sort of cutting off funding and pulling out of the coalition and sort of stopping their involvement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have withheld assistance from certain Iraqi units on the basis of credible information in the past. There’s an entire process of review that happens. And certainly if new information surfaced that warranted that – the Leahy law being put into effect, we would do the same thing.

QUESTION: Right. So unlikely that you would – as a result of these types of crimes, if proven true – I mean, there’s images supporting them at this point. But if proven true, it’s unlikely that you would do some sort of broad pullout of Iraq as a result, just stopping financing to certain brigades?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are laws in place, that have been in place for time, that we have applied to some Iraqi units. And certainly we would continue to apply those if applicable. Obviously we look at any information that was available, including reports and media reports as well. But I’m not going to prejudge what that would mean in the future.

Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Any clarification --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’m sorry, Roz. We’ll go to you next. And then I have to go here in a moment.

QUESTION: Any clarification about the friendly fires in Anbar today that killed about 50 Iraqi soldiers?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen that report. Let me see if – I think I do have something on that, Samir. And if not, we can get it to you right after the briefing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: One moment. And I believe this may have been spoken to – sorry for the delay here. Let’s see. Let me – we’ll get you something right after the briefing. I apologize. Go ahead, Roz.

QUESTION: Apparently Russian military jets have been using Cam Ranh Bay Air Base in the – in Vietnam to refuel as part of their showing their military might in the Asia Pacific region. Has the U.S. talked to Vietnam about this? Does the U.S. want Vietnam to stop allowing Russian military craft from refueling?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are certainly – we’ve urged Vietnamese officials to ensure that Russia is not able to use its access to Cam Ranh Bay to conduct activities that could raise tensions in the region. Obviously we’ve done that privately with Vietnamese Government officials, and certainly our preference is that they would not.

QUESTION: Has there been any inclination from the Vietnamese to comply with the U.S. request?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other updates on that, beyond what I just conveyed.

QUESTION: Why is it a problem for the Russian military to be flying its jets along the southeastern edge of Asia?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, as I referenced, I think our concern is about steps that raise tensions in the region.

QUESTION: Perhaps – so you believe that Russian flights have been raising tension --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have --

QUESTION: -- in the region?

MS. PSAKI: -- confirmation that they have. I think there have been reports. We obviously don’t want them to use Cam Ranh Bay.

QUESTION: Right. But if they haven’t been raising tension, why would you ask the Vietnamese to stop? I mean, first of all, Cam Ranh Bay used to be yours, but hasn’t been since 1975, and it was the Russians’ more recently.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s why we’re talking to our --

QUESTION: So --

MS. PSAKI: -- counterparts in other countries. Right.

QUESTION: Well, yeah. But I mean, why can’t the Vietnamese – or why can’t they allow the Russian jets to refuel if you don’t – if you’re not accusing them – these flights of raising tensions, which I don’t think you are – maybe you are, but --

MS. PSAKI: We believe that they could. That’s why. That’s the issue we’re raising.

QUESTION: But that they could?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have confirmation of what’s happened or hasn’t happened to date. We’re referring to conversations about concerns that allowing them to use Cam Ranh Bay could raise tensions in the region.

QUESTION: So – yeah. Okay. But you don’t have – you’re not basing that on anything that has actually --

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have --

QUESTION: -- already happened?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on what’s happened, Matt, but I’m --

QUESTION: Okay. Could you find out if there have been Russian flights that you believe have --

MS. PSAKI: Have landed? Sure. I can see if there --

QUESTION: -- raised tensions? Well, no, no, not have landed, but that their activity in this area has been raising tensions?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. But regardless of whether it has to date, we could still express a concern about what it could do in the future, which is the point I’m making.

QUESTION: Sure. You could express that concern, but it’s a little – it’s a step from going to expressing concern to actually telling the Vietnamese: Hey, we don’t think you should refuel – you should allow them to – allow them access to this base. That’s – I --

QUESTION: Is there a concern that this is putting a strain on U.S.-Vietnamese relations?

MS. PSAKI: No. I wasn’t suggesting that. Certainly we raise concerns as we have them.

I can only do kind of two more here.

QUESTION: Jen, the Polish Government says it would like to buy U.S. Tomahawk missiles to use in their submarines. Do you have a reaction?

MS. PSAKI: I think I do have something on that. We’ve seen the reports, and I think that senior officials – senior officials, very senior officials there have spoken publicly about this. As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until we have completed congressional notification as required and work through the necessary administrative and technical details with receiving partner countries. Poland is a valued ally and partner of the United States. We fully support its defense modernization efforts, but I have nothing to predict or confirm for you on these reports.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have one quick on Secretary’s remarks on climate change.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the Indian prime minister said that the threats posed by climate change is as serious as that posed by terrorism. Do you agree with his view?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary has spoken to climate change countless times, probably more than any other past secretary of state in history. He even gave a speech this morning. So I would have you quote him. Certainly it’s a national security issue. That’s obviously one of the reasons why the Secretary of State is discussing it.

QUESTION: And do you think India is --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Oh, you do. Okay. Well, that would be interesting and historic if that was the case.

QUESTION: And do you think India is doing enough to address this challenge, the two countries, the same page?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we work very closely with the Government of India on this issue through the U.S.-India Joint Working Group on Combatting Climate Change. President Obama and Prime Minister Modi expanded the agenda of this working group during their meeting in January. Specific initiatives with India include cooperation on clean energy, a Department of Energy-led initiative on smart cities, expansion of our existing cooperation. We look forward to continuing to build on these efforts, but obviously we’ve made great progress in recent months with India.

QUESTION: And are the two countries working together for the Paris meeting? Paris --

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. That was one of the points of discussion in January, and I expect we’ll continue to discuss. I really have to go here.

QUESTION: Jen, can I just ask one about the – some comments made this morning by the Turkish foreign minister?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) said that Turkey had detained an intelligence agent from one of the coalition countries --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- not the EU or the U.S. who apparently helped these three British teenagers to cross into Syria last month. Do you have any information on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I don’t have any information. I know that his comments were just this morning. I would refer you to the Turkish Government at this point for details.

QUESTION: Do you have --

QUESTION: You don’t know which country he was talking about, whether --

MS. PSAKI: Don’t have any more details than what he said.

QUESTION: The Israeli foreign minister was reported earlier this week to have made some unusual comments regarding what should happen to disloyal Arab Israelis in terms of beheadings. Do you, one, know if he actually said – made these comments? Two, do you have any reaction to them? And three, have you – if there is a reaction, has this been conveyed to him?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more of a confirmation than seeing the same reports you have seen. The statements are extremely disturbing and inciteful. We would reiterate our call to avoid provocative actions and rhetoric such as this. I can certainly check and see if we’ve been in direct touch. I don’t have that information.

Okay. Last one. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. The UK announced today that they have plans to join the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. Does the U.S. welcome this decision by the UK?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, obviously individual countries make their own decisions. We have expressed a desire to see a increased level of transparency and more details on how this – the Asia Infrastructure Bank would work. Beyond that, I don’t have any particular comment.

Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:31 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 10, 2015

Tue, 03/10/2015 - 16:16

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 10, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:19 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Two from the AP, Justin in the front row. It’s going to be a big day. (Laughter.) Michael Gordon’s son, Chris, is here who, as we all know, had an interview with Secretary Kerry, I think, before his dad, not to raise a sensitive issue but – (laughter) – just joking.

Okay. I don’t have anything new, so why don’t we start with what’s on your mind.

QUESTION: You have nothing new at all? All right.

MS. PSAKI: I have many things new. I don’t have anything to start off as a topper, I should have said.

QUESTION: All right. Since we all want to turn our attention, I think, to some press conference that might be happening a little later in New York, let’s try to get through this quickly.

MS. PSAKI: I’ve heard such a thing may be happening today --

QUESTION: Indeed. Can we --

MS. PSAKI: -- from the media.

QUESTION: Can we start with Iran? The White House today went further than it did yesterday regarding the letter, calling it a flagrant partisan attempt to interfere in the negotiations, reckless, irresponsible and misguided. I assume that you would agree with those --

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: -- those terms. The author of the letter was on a television show this morning talking about what his reasoning is behind – or the main author of the letter talking about what his reasoning is behind it. I’m a little bit confused because the reasons that he said for writing this letter appear to be exactly the same reasons – the same thing that the Administration is negotiating for. Can I just go through a couple of these?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: It said that Congress won’t accept a deal because we’re committed to stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Is that not the Administration’s point of view?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to go point by point through out-of-context points, Matt. I think the same --

QUESTION: Well, this is not --

MS. PSAKI: Let me make a point here. The same principal author of the letter made clear that their goal was to undermine these negotiations. That’s the issue we’re taking with the letter.

QUESTION: I understand. But is it not the Administration’s goal to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

MS. PSAKI: Of course it is. But what’s --

QUESTION: Okay. That’s number one. Number two --

MS. PSAKI: What’s your contextual point here?

QUESTION: -- Iran’s leaders need to understand that any deal that gives them a path to a bomb today, tomorrow, 10 years, 15 years from now will not be accepted by the United States Congress. Would such a deal be accepted by the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: If a path to – say that one more time.

QUESTION: If Iran’s leaders need to understand that any deal that gives them a path to a bomb today, tomorrow, 10 years, 15 years from now will not be accepted by the United States Congress.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, can we --

QUESTION: Will such a deal be accepted by the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: -- can we get to the point of why you’re raising these points?

QUESTION: I want to --

MS. PSAKI: Because I think we were – we’ve been pretty clear about what issue we were taking with the letter signed by 47 senators.

QUESTION: Right. I’m asking you, though, based on what he said this morning, his goal and the goal of the signors of this letter appear to be exactly what the Administration has said its own goal is. Is that not correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, as we outlined yesterday, we believe – and as my colleagues at the White House have spoken to extensively – and I – well, I’ll get to this point – this type of letter, which was signed by 47 members of the Senate, is harmful to American national security because it inserts these members into the middle of very sensitive negotiations, negotiations that have historically for not just decades, but centuries, taken place between the president, the executive branch, and foreign countries.

Furthermore, as we’ve seen historically – or not just seen historically, as we know historically – we believe that there should be continuity from president to president in terms of U.S. foreign policy. Of course, there are differences of agreement, but you can’t – representing that you’re going to change things or you’re going to change the policy is what we see as the issue here.

QUESTION: Right. I’m just – he was asked what would an acceptable deal look like to you, and his response was: “complete nuclear disarmament by Iran.” Is it your understanding that Iran currently has nuclear weapons?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken extensively to --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- our concerns about Iran’s --

QUESTION: Is it not, in fact, the case that what the Administration is negotiating for, the deal that it wants to see would result in Iran never – not being able to have a nuclear weapon and the dismantlement of what infrastructure it --

MS. PSAKI: Of course, Matt, but I’m not going to respond anymore to --

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MS. PSAKI: -- an interview done by the author who already has done the damage of putting the letter out.

QUESTION: Okay. So the – my – I guess my question is: The goal that he outlines and the other signatories of the letter presumably outline is the same as the Administration’s goal, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Clearly, there’s a problem because they don’t believe you. Can you think of a reason why 47 members of the Senate would think that the Administration is bent on allowing Iran or giving Iran a pathway to develop a nuclear weapon?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak for what their thinking is. I think we’ve spoken to what our view is on the letter.

QUESTION: Is the Administration’s position – opponents of the emerging deal, or what looks like it’s going to be, have adopted the slogan, “No bomb for Iran.” Is it not the case that the Administration, given what it said, could adopt the same slogan?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not putting out new slogans here. Do you have a specific additional question?

QUESTION: I’m saying, is no bomb for Iran the goal of the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve stated our goal many times. Do we have --

QUESTION: Which is that, right?

MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Do we have more on Iran before we continue?

QUESTION: I have one.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION: Some argue that the letter amounts to treason, that it’s a violation of the 1799 Logan Act.

MS. PSAKI: It’s a big day for John Adams, isn’t it?

QUESTION: Yeah, right. So what’s your take on that? Do you think it is in violation of the law?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not aware of any conversations within the United States Government regarding whether Senator Cotton and the other signatories violated the Logan Act. This is a legal question, so I’d certainly defer to others on that.

QUESTION: Okay. So but do – but generally, you think it’s within their legal rights? You’re not --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do legal analysis.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken to what our concerns are, Justin, which is a combination of the fact that we believe it’s harmful to America’s national security for anyone to insert themselves into the middle of a very sensitive negotiation, and the long history we have of working cooperatively with nations around the globe in seeking to advance our interests where we allow bipartisanship issues to stop at the water’s edge.

Go ahead, Michael.

QUESTION: Jen, if there is an Iran agreement, it could very well last for 15 years, which would be through the next presidency and beyond and several presidents could have to administer this agreement, then there could be actions required by the Congress in terms of removing sanctions. Why shouldn’t an agreement of that duration, which requires some congressional action at some point to remove sanctions, be submitted to the Congress in some form for approval or a vote of some kind?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have envisioned – I will get to your question, but let me just reiterate: We have envisioned a role for Congress – there has been in the past, there is right now, and there will be in the future. Congress had a role in building the sanctions regime, to your point, and so at some point in the duration of this agreement, Congress will be heard on the sanctions relief and there will be a role for Congress to play in lifting sanctions down the line as part of the agreement.

Also to your point, that would be some time from now, because as we know, that’s not something that we’re discussing as an immediate part of this discussion. This is not – it wouldn’t be accurate, and I talked about this a little bit yesterday, but it wouldn’t be accurate to call this – it’s not – I’m not – I know you’re not comparing it to a treaty, but it’s different from past – there are comparisons I think I could make to some historic examples, but this is a multilateral understanding between many countries, including the P5+1 and the Iranians. So there’s a role for Congress to play not just in consultations, which is something that’s ongoing, but obviously as part of the sanctions regime, which would be the implementation of it.

QUESTION: But the role that you envision Congress playing, just to be clear, and I know you addressed this before but just to make it as clear as possible --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- you do not envision presenting this multilateral agreement to Congress for any kind of vote as to whether they think it’s in the nation’s interest, even though it’s going to be an agreement of huge consequence and for a significant duration. Is that fair?

MS. PSAKI: And that’s one of the – correct, but that’s one of the reasons we have been consulting very closely with them. There have been a range of hearings, both public hearings, many, many private hearings to hear from them, to discuss with them the status of the agreement.

QUESTION: And so my last question is: Why do you not think it’s appropriate to ask the Congress to vote on it?

MS. PSAKI: We think Congress has an appropriate role, the one that I’ve outlined. We’re not considering a different role for Congress.

QUESTION: Jen, can you explain how --

QUESTION: (Off-mike) --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Oh, sorry.

QUESTION: -- well, why it’s not a treaty?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me – I think I talked about this a little bit yesterday, so let me see if I can go back to some of the points I made then. Let’s see. So a treaty – unlike a treaty or other types of international agreements in which parties are generally required to take similar actions themselves, this deal will primarily reflect the international community putting strong limits on Iran’s nuclear program and Iran making verifiable and enforceable commitments to adhere to those limits. So these are political understandings between a multi – several countries, as you know, through the P5+1.

QUESTION: So wait, hold on, hold on. Just – I mean, the fact that it’s several countries doesn’t preclude it from being a treaty. You have United Nations treaties, you’ve had the Potsdam Treaty or the Treaty of Versailles.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So what is it that – is it the fact that the responsibilities are Iran’s and you don’t negotiate an international treaty on Iranian obligations? Is that --

MS. PSAKI: It’s not about Iran. It’s about what would be needed to be agreed to and committed to by all sides.

QUESTION: But why can’t that be --

QUESTION: Well, could it be --

QUESTION: Why isn’t that a treaty? I mean --

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can get you the specifics of what compose or what requires a treaty legally, Brad.

QUESTION: But I guess the question is: Do you know, was there a decision made? It seems to me that an international agreement like this could be a treaty if all sides wanted it to be a treaty and that was agreed to. Do you know if it was ever discussed with --

MS. PSAKI: Discussed with whom?

QUESTION: Well, among – inside the Administration but also with the rest of the P5+1 and also with the Iranians if it – it’s just whether or not, hey, maybe instead of a political agreement here, we should make this a treaty that has to be ratified and adopted by all of the – all of the governments, however that works in each country.

MS. PSAKI: Our objective, Matt, has been obviously getting to a point of agreeing to the components that would prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: I guess --

MS. PSAKI: That’s been the focus.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to read out in terms of other discussions.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, it’ll be interesting to know if there was ever any consideration of should we make this a treaty and then there was a discussion about that.

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: And then --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, but you had --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: -- just – sorry to --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Not to belabor this point, but you guys spent many months talking about the format for how you would create an agreement. And clearly, one of the things that had to have been discussed at some point was what are we actually going to agree to. Is it a treaty, an understanding, a memorandum, a handshake, a tea – a sharing of tea? I mean, you had to have figured out --

MS. PSAKI: A sharing of tea. I don’t think that was an option. But --

QUESTION: That is a contract in some places in the world.

MS. PSAKI: Fair enough.

QUESTION: You had to have a discussion on what you were actually going to agree to. How did that come about that you decided political framework or whatever?

MS. PSAKI: Not going to outline that further, and I wouldn’t assume that what you just outlined is correct in terms of discussions. Again, our focus has been on technical details and on trying to reach the content of political commitments – on what the political commitments would be by the participants. That’s been the focus of the discussions.

QUESTION: What would be the potential difference between – in terms of the role of Congress – a treaty versus a political agreement?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can get you the historical --

QUESTION: Okay. Now --

MS. PSAKI: -- documentation on that, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. The flip side of this argument: The Iranians, have they conveyed to you in any way that as a result of this letter, they may not have confidence in the United States of America and they may soon not – to sign an agreement? Have they?

MS. PSAKI: No. Let me also just speak to some historical examples, which may help you a little bit, Brad, under – or perhaps not. I don’t want to speak to what will help you or not. But historically, under many administrations, the United States has pursued important international security initiatives through nonbinding arrangements where that has been in our national interest. In the arms control and nonproliferation area alone, some representative examples include the U.S.-Russia deal to remove chemical weapons from Syria, the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Nuclear Supplier Group Guidelines, the Missile Technology Control Regime. There’s a lot of precedent for this being political commitments made by all sides.

QUESTION: In that statement you just described them as nonbinding.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that’s a legal term, Matt.

QUESTION: I mean, presumably everyone who agrees to this – if there is something to agree to – is bound by it. Right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, yes. But there’s legal terminology --

QUESTION: All right. And --

MS. PSAKI: -- so obviously there’s differences you use depending on what it is.

QUESTION: -- in your answer just previously you said that no, the Iranians have not – has there been any contact between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif or --

MS. PSAKI: No, there has not.

QUESTION: -- Under Secretary Sherman or --

MS. PSAKI: I can speak to the Secretary. I don’t believe there’s been other discussions --

QUESTION: Okay. The foreign minister – the Iranian foreign minister said today that this letter shows that the United States Government cannot be trusted. Would you agree with that assessment?

MS. PSAKI: As we’ve said, and I think you and I have discussed before, this has never been about trust. This has been about coming to a point where both sides agree to political commitments about what steps they’re willing to take.

QUESTION: All right. And is it your view that whatever damage you say that this letter has caused is done and is – in other words, you think that the damage is over, or is it going to bleed into the next round of negotiations? And can the damage that you say has been done be repaired?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is, again, I mean, a negotiation, of course, between nations, not individuals, not between political parties. And so we certainly anticipate the negotiations will be able to proceed from here.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so if that is the case, what’s the big deal?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve stated what the big deal is. This is inserting – this is 47 members of Congress from one party inserting themselves into an international negotiation.

QUESTION: Right. Well, I understand that you’re – that people are – in the Administration are offended by this and think that it is – it shows a lack of respect. But if it really doesn’t affect the negotiations at all, from your point of view, why get so upset about it?

MS. PSAKI: Because it’s important to convey that when leaders of other countries are doing business with the United States, they’re doing business with all of the United States. And so this is a – was an effort to insert themselves into a sensitive negotiation. That’s the issue we raised with --

QUESTION: Jen, just to clarify Matt’s point --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- when you were giving examples of agreements, national security agreements --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: -- that Congress didn’t vote on, you said that from a legal perspective, the examples you gave were nonbinding. So is it – are you saying that this Iran agreement, if it materializes, from a legal perspective is also nonbinding? It’s somehow binding politically, but from an international legal perspective it’s not binding?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I used the example of Syria, right, as an example. This framework was not legally binding and was not subject to congressional approval. It outlined steps for eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons and helped lay the groundwork for successful multilateral efforts to move forward. So I’m just conveying what we’re talking about as it relates to the political understandings and what we’re discussing with the parties.

QUESTION: I guess maybe this a question you could ask the lawyers, because I’m sure it’s not there. But I mean, if it was nonbinding, why did the Syrians comply with it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we – there was an agreement – there were discussions, and they agreed to certain terms.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: And then it went to the OPCW and then it went to the UN. So --

QUESTION: Actually, in the case of the security – the Syrian agreement, there was a Security Council vote, which I think made it binding.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that – I just said. And then it went to the UN to the Security Council vote.

QUESTION: Right. So could this --

QUESTION: But you’re not going to have that in this agreement.

QUESTION: Exactly. Could you go for --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just – I don’t have more to outline for you in terms of the implementation of a political understanding that doesn’t yet exist.

QUESTION: Wait. Just to clarify, is it legally binding or not, this Iran agreement? Will it be legally binding from an international legal perspective if you negotiate this agreement, or will it be something lesser than that, a political commitment?

MS. PSAKI: I understand your question, Michael. What I’m referring to is the political commitments in terms of what the next additional steps would be. I’m not sure how much farther or more information we would have. I’m certainly happy to check with our team and see if there’s more we can clarify.

QUESTION: The problem is is that you’ve stressed over and over again this is not about trusting, right? This is about verifying. But then you’re saying that these are political commitments but not necessarily binding. It would seem to me that if this wasn’t about trust, you would want them to be binding, not political commitments, which are your word. That’s what a political --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, we’re talking about specifically how pieces --

QUESTION: Political commitment just means “I will do this.”

MS. PSAKI: It is not that. We’re talking about how specifically pieces would be agreed to between the parties. In terms of the implementation of it, I’m sure we will talk about that at the time we would have an agreement.

QUESTION: Since I don’t understand then what a political – as I understand a political commitment, it means a person or a political entity saying, “I will do this; I commit to doing this.” How is that not anything other than giving your word?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Brad, if we get to the point where we have a framework, where we have an agreement, I’m sure we will have a discussion about how things will be implemented.

QUESTION: I’m just asking for the concept of political commitment. What does that mean, beyond giving your word?

MS. PSAKI: I just gave you additional examples of how that has been implemented and how it has worked in the past.

QUESTION: The Iranians have talked about this, whatever it is, that if anything happens, that it being – the idea that the UN Security Council would at least endorse it if not enshrine it in some kind of a resolution. Is that something that you think would be useful?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get ahead of how this would be implemented at this point in time.

QUESTION: So --

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done between now and then.

QUESTION: Okay. But then can you understand the – if you can’t talk about how it’s going to be implemented, can you understand the concern that people have when you tell them, “Trust us”?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re saying that, Matt.

QUESTION: No, “Trust us to deliver a good deal. If we can’t get a good deal, then there will be no deal.”

MS. PSAKI: The discussion about a good deal or a bad deal is about the content of the deal. We agree it’s about the content of the deal that we would have to discuss --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- and defend and obviously have a discussion with Congress about.

QUESTION: And – but the content of the deal also includes its implementation, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: And if you can’t get into how it would be implemented, then there are obviously open questions --

MS. PSAKI: There is not an agreement yet at this point in time, Matt.

QUESTION: I understand. But – so you can understand that the questions are open and that people would have concerns about them. Correct?

MS. PSAKI: We will certainly have a discussion about the content and every component of this if and when there is a framework and an agreement.

QUESTION: Do your experts believe that perhaps there is a lack of understanding of the United States Constitution on the part of the senators that signed this letter? I mean, there are legal --

MS. PSAKI: I would pose that question --

QUESTION: -- there are constitutional experts that say --

MS. PSAKI: I would pose that question to them, Said.

Do we have any more on Iran before we continue?

QUESTION: Yeah. I have one more.

MS. PSAKI: I know we have a limited amount of time.

QUESTION: One more.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: So you said that Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif hadn’t spoken in the last couple of days. Was the last time that they’ve actually spoke the in-person meeting last week?

MS. PSAKI: I believe that’s correct, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the EU is hosting a meeting on Monday with the European foreign ministers in the P5+1.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Which --

QUESTION: Is the Secretary going to be involved?

MS. PSAKI: -- they just put out, I think, in the last hour.

QUESTION: Right. Will Secretary Kerry be involved in those?

MS. PSAKI: No, he wouldn’t be. It’s an EU meeting.

Any more on Iran?

QUESTION: Can I have one more on Iran? Iran.

MS. PSAKI: Iran? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Your objection to this letter is because the content or just because they have reached out to the Iranian Government directly?

MS. PSAKI: I think – just – I want to just make sure we get to as many issues as possible and I have talked about this extensively yesterday and today, as have my colleagues --

QUESTION: I’m asking --

MS. PSAKI: -- so I’m going to point you to the transcript.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Look, I’m asking --

MS. PSAKI: Abigail, go ahead.

QUESTION: Because I have follow-up question on this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m asking this because two years ago, around 20 senators from the U.S. wrote directly to Indian prime minister economic reforms idea.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Then again, more than 120 House of Representative members wrote a letter to the Indian prime minister.

MS. PSAKI: Do you remember the content of the letters?

QUESTION: Yeah. It was for the economic reforms in India. They had expressed concern and wanted Indian Government to --

MS. PSAKI: It’s an entirely different thing. We’re talking about inserting yourself into international negotiations that are ongoing --

QUESTION: So both are different.

MS. PSAKI: -- that involve the executive branch.

Go ahead, Abigail.

QUESTION: Sorry --

QUESTION: And you have no objection to those letters, right?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have those letters in front of me. Go ahead. I don’t believe we have expressed any though.

QUESTION: One of the responses of Foreign Minister Zarif was he said that if the next administration revoked an agreement with the stroke of a pen, it would be a blatant violation of international law. Is that an accurate --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to Foreign Minister Zarif’s comments.

QUESTION: One more Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: A quick question, madam. Many countries wants Iran to stop the nuclear program. And also, as far nuclear program and dissensions are concerned, are you going after those who are helping Iran as far as their nuclear program is concerned? And also, who is buying their oil under this international sanction?

MS. PSAKI: Who is buying their oil? We do reports on this every year, Goyal, so I would point you to that. There’s a lot of information available.

QUESTION: One last thing on the broader issue here.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You said that it’s important for the Iranians and the rest of the world, in fact, to know that this agreement is being negotiated by you and the other others – but on the United States side, by the entire United States. And wouldn’t it make more sense, if that’s the argument you want to put forth, to have congressional buy-in, to have the House and the – or the Senate, at least, in this case --

MS. PSAKI: Well, that would change centuries of historic precedent for how international negotiations work, so --

QUESTION: Right, but some of the most important treaties that the United States has signed – or international agreements, I should say, that the United States has signed, have been treaties. Not to say that there haven’t been one – important ones --

MS. PSAKI: There have been some, yes. There have been some that are not.

QUESTION: Right. But if your argument is that this letter undermines the U.S. position because it makes it look like the entire government, all branches of it, aren’t behind this agreement --

MS. PSAKI: Well, that wasn’t exactly what I was intending to say.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we know members of Congress have their own views – Democrats and Republicans, members from both parties – and they’ve spoken out publicly about that for years now. We don’t expect nor would we attempt to change their right to freedom of speech.

QUESTION: And this will be my last one. Is it the suspicion of the Administration that the 47 senators who signed this letter are not – is it your suspicion that they are not interested in any deal?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak on their behalf. I think this type of step doesn’t show support for our efforts to achieve a deal.

QUESTION: Do you think they have been highly influenced by the speech made by the Israeli prime minister last week?

MS. PSAKI: I encourage you – it sounds like you need to get yourself to the Senate and ask them some questions.

QUESTION: But Madam, are you --

MS. PSAKI: I think we need to move on, because we have a limited amount of time here, I think, because of – for – to be responsive to the request. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any update on Ambassador Lippert?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Ambassador Lippert – you may have seen he gave a press conference when he came out of the hospital this morning. I can – I’m happy to touch on some of the points that he made during that. He obviously thanked the South Korean Government. He thanked the doctors. He has been – his heart has been warmed by the outpouring of support from the people of South Korea. That’s what he spoke to. He didn’t give an indication of when he’d return, but obviously, we’re pleased to see that he’s home with his family and will continue his recovery.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: Can you tell us about (inaudible)? Can you tell us about any additional security measures taken to protect the ambassador since the attack?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into specifics. I think we have said that we’ve been working with the South Korean Government to make sure he has the security that he needs.

QUESTION: And getting to the topic of the press conference that shortly will be held in New York --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that is, to the emails. I’m wondering if you were able to get an answer to the question yesterday and from before about whether the servers had been checked to make sure that – no answer to that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on the server. I have a couple of other updates, but go ahead.

QUESTION: There was – okay. Well, there was a report this morning that this vetting or that this review of the emails that you all are going to have to do of this 55,000 pages is going to cost millions and millions of dollars. Is that accurate?

MS. PSAKI: It is not accurate. The cost and work of reviewing Secretary Clinton’s emails for release would’ve been roughly the same regardless of whether she had a state.gov email or a personal email and regardless of where her email was housed. The story said, of course, millions that’s – the cost and work would have had to be done regardless, because you’d have to review these documents as part of a FOIA process, so --

QUESTION: So, in fact, it will cost millions, it’s just not – it wouldn’t cost any more than what it would have had it been a state.gov --

MS. PSAKI: Millions – I don’t have a cost estimate for you. I don’t anticipate we would, but millions is far outstated regardless.

But I think the important point here – one other point – is that this is – has generally been a paper process, so the review paper-wise, which is one of the points made in the story, is generally how any FOIA process would be done.

QUESTION: So the – are you suggesting, then, that her office handing over the emails in large boxes of paper, aside from any environmental concerns this current Secretary might have about that, that is standard – that’s how this stuff is usually done?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: I mean, doesn’t that seem to be a waste of a lot of --

MS. PSAKI: Paper? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Paper and man/woman power, having to go through and sort – I mean, look, paper cuts – there are all sorts of risks here. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Paper cuts is a risk.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t it make more sense to have this stuff on an electronic database that’s easily searchable?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there is some long precedent here for how this is done. I’m not saying that this is how it will always be done. As you know, we are updating – the entire government is updating how they do many, many processes.

QUESTION: Well, right, but --

MS. PSAKI: But one – well, let me just make one point. There is some desire at times when people request FOIAs – and I’m sure there are some people in here who have submitted FOIA requests – to see the original documents and notes that may have been made and things along those lines, and so there is some history here in terms of why, but it’s traditionally been a paper process. Whether or not it should be, that’s a larger question.

QUESTION: Right. Well, maybe it would be both, which doesn’t exactly save the paper, but at least people can search and more quickly, presumably, take – would take much less time.

MS. PSAKI: Your point is a valid point.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: What I was trying to convey is that this is how it’s typically been done, so --

QUESTION: All right. And then last one from me on this: Democratic members of the House – the Select Committee on Benghazi have written – asked Secretary Kerry to expedite the release – or the review and the release of the 300 emails that were relevant to – that you turned over. And I’m just wondering if you have a response to that.

MS. PSAKI: So that is consistent with what we have been discussing internally. Let me just give you just a brief update on kind of where we are. We’ll review the entire 55,000-page set and release in one batch at the end of that review to ensure that standards are consistently applied throughout the entire 55,000 pages. We said we expect the review to take several months. Obviously, that hasn’t changed. The release will be posted on a publicly available website. I will have more information about that hopefully soon.

The only documents from that 55,000 pages that we will review for a separate earlier release are the approximately 300 emails already produced to the Select Committee. Those will be reviewed and released prior to completion of the entire set. Those will also, of course, be posted and made publicly available online.

QUESTION: So in other words, even if you haven’t filed a FOIA request, you’re going to be able to see these – you’re going to put them up publicly anyway so anyone can see them?

MS. PSAKI: The 300 page – all of them?

QUESTION: No – well, both.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. They’ll be publicly available.

QUESTION: All – not just the Benghazi ones?

MS. PSAKI: We’re just using FOIA standards. Yes. We’re using FOIA standards, but they’ll be publicly available.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you have any idea – I realize that it might be hard for 55,000 pages for you to have an estimate of how much time it will take to go through them by hand, but on 300, it seems a little bit easier. I mean, are we talking weeks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s 900 pages, which is the 300 emails. It is shorter than 55,000 technically --

QUESTION: By --

MS. PSAKI: -- by mathematics. I don’t have --

QUESTION: Technically, but actually --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an estimate on that particular piece. I can check and see if there’s more specificity.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Let me just add one more thing, and I think Brad asked this last week. Specific FOIA redaction criteria has included and would include, since we’re following the same standards, national security, personal privacy, privilege, and trade secrets among others. As per our regular process, we will identify the basis for any redactions. And that’s, I think, something that Brad asked about last week.

QUESTION: And just one last thing.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you know, did anyone ask – given the amount, the volume of this, did you all ask for a electronic version of it as well as the paper?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe so, Matt. I think this has been handled in a specific way for some time.

Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION: And those were the announcement – you just read the updates that you mentioned, right?

MS. PSAKI: Those are, I believe, the updates --

QUESTION: You said you had updates.

MS. PSAKI: -- that I have, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. One of the things we expect Secretary Clinton to say today was that Colin Powell did it too essentially, that he used a private email account. And in fact, his people have said that that account has been shut down for some time, and they suggested that they don’t really have access to it. So my question is: Are you satisfied with the records-keeping job that Secretary Powell has done and with the documents that he’s handed over to you, per your last request?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give you a quick update – actually, this is another update on former secretaries. Also we intend to – I think some have asked about the letter sent to secretaries. We intend to release that as well, the text of that letter, so hopefully soon. Former Secretary Rice – I’m just going to go through all of them if that’s okay – responded to the Department’s letter and informed us that she did not use personal email for official business. Early in March of this year, General Powell advised – and I think he’s spoken to this publicly as well – that he used a personal email account during his tenure as Secretary of State. He did not take any hard copies of emails with him when he left office and has no record of the emails, with the account he used having been closed for a number of years. Former Secretary Albright advised that she did not use email as secretary and has no records in her possession.

I think we are all aware, broadly speaking, that email is an imperfect process, and obviously, we have taken and we will continue to undertake steps consistent with national standards to update what we’re doing in the federal government. And I have spoken to in the past what Secretary Kerry is doing and how we preserve and archive his emails and his documents, and that reflects our commitment to doing that. But clearly, there were more technological changes prior to our efforts to do this.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, The Washington Post reported this morning that a Foreign Affairs Manual update dated October 30th, 1995 mentions the emergence of something called “electronic mail,” and it noted that all employees must be --

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) That brings us all back, doesn’t it?

QUESTION: -- yeah, it does; you’re right – and that all employees must be aware that these are important and, quote, “must be preserved.” So to say that it’s an imperfect thing and that he didn’t know what he was doing and they’re all gone now --

MS. PSAKI: Well, but --

QUESTION: -- that doesn’t – I mean, they knew in 1995 that they had something here worth keeping.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Justin, with all due respect, I don’t have from 20 years ago the FAM --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- nor do I think that’s exactly a silver bullet. I think we’re talking about how former secretaries archived their emails and the challenge of doing so. Certainly --

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the way Powell archived his emails?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly we respect the fact that former Secretary Powell responded to our request and looked through what was possible, and we’re going to move forward.

QUESTION: What was it? A silver bullet? (Laughter.) Are you accusing one or several former secretaries of state of being werewolves or something? I mean, what is – what does that – (laughter) – I mean --

MS. PSAKI: I’m referring to Justin’s quote from The Washington Post.

QUESTION: Well, what you’re saying – what he --

QUESTION: Well, no. I think he was quoting the FAM. Weren’t you?

QUESTION: I was quoting the FAM.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: And essentially what you’re saying is ignorance of the law is justifiable. And --

MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I’m suggesting, Justin. I’m suggesting you’re referring to a line – I don’t have the FAM from 20 years ago in front of me – from one report. I don’t have the FAM in front of me. I can certainly check and see if there were certain policies, if there were regulations. The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations. So suggesting that a line saying that you should be cognizant of your email is indicative of somebody violating something I don’t think is a direct connection.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: But just following up on the question that I asked yesterday --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- about the FAM, and not necessarily --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- regarding emails, but about the whole thing, the whole voluminous FAM.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Everyone who works for this building, from the Secretary on down, is – every employee, including the Secretary, whoever that is, is – “bound” may be not the right – is supposed to follow the guidelines in that. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you make an effort to follow the guidelines. Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: Well, making an effort is not the same as following them. And I recognize that it’s not a law, but it is policy, and guidelines --

MS. PSAKI: They’re guidelines for the entire Department.

QUESTION: But everyone is expected to follow them.

MS. PSAKI: They’re guidelines for the entire Department.

QUESTION: And --

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, there’s – the FAM is a large document. So --

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: I just want to understand something here. So it is a guideline and not a law.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Does that – doesn’t that leave a great room of discretion or latitude for employees to do whatever they want?

MS. PSAKI: No, it doesn’t. It’s very specifically written. But I think it’s important to differentiate between a guideline and a law.

Go ahead, Lesley. New topic?

QUESTION: Change of – yeah, new topic.

QUESTION: One thing.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure, Elliot. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify on the 300 emails.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Are those going to be released publicly at the same time that they’re transferred to the Select Committee on --

MS. PSAKI: They’ve already been transferred to the Select Committee.

QUESTION: Oh, they have. Okay. Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, a couple weeks ago. So this would be about publicly releasing them, which requires sort of a certain type of review.

QUESTION: Got it. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, does the State Department have a comment on Myanmar’s violence?

QUESTION: Can I follow up on (inaudible) though?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. And then we’ll go to Lesley.

QUESTION: Yeah, I had a --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: When Secretary Clinton needed to communicate classified information, how did she do it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, I would let Secretary Clinton and her team speak to that. I think they have spoken to or we have spoken to the fact that this is an unclassified email that was used here. There are many ways to get classified information, and many secretaries get them through paper. So I don’t have any more of an update for you. I’d point you to Secretary Clinton.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a – in her book Hard Choices, Mrs. Clinton has said that she used – she fell in love with her iPad. When she was Secretary of State, do you know if she used her iPad for --

MS. PSAKI: I was not working here at the time, so I would certainly point you to Secretary Clinton and her team on whether she used an iPad and what she used it for.

QUESTION: Can I --

MS. PSAKI: Another email question, or --

QUESTION: No.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, well let’s go to Lesley, and then we’ll go to you.

QUESTION: So a Myanmar – do you have a comment on the violence? Myanmar police beat students, monks, journalists calling for academic freedom. Any comment on that? And where does the U.S. stand?

MS. PSAKI: The protests, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: We urge the Government of Burma to respect the right of protestors to assemble peacefully as a means of expressing their views. Freedom of assembly is an important component of any democratic society. We condemn the use of force taken against peaceful protestors. We are deeply concerned by reports of violence by police and other individuals against protestors and journalists in Letpadan. We are deeply concerned by the reports of arrests and will continue to closely monitor the situation.

To your second question, we are, of course, in regular contact with the Government of Burma. We’ve repeatedly called on all parties to exercise restraint at this point. We are speaking to all the relevant parties and our international partners to ascertain the specific cause of the clashes, and we’re also working to confirm the number of individuals arrested and injured.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MS. PSAKI: Nicolas, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can we go to Sharm el-Sheikh?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Apart from meeting with President Sisi, you announced yesterday --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- are you aware of further additional meetings between Secretary Kerry and other leaders? Palestinian sources said this morning that you would be meeting with President Abbas.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I expect there will be, and we’re still finalizing those details. Let me see if there’s anything that we – is finalized that we can get around to you about additional meetings beyond the conference he’s going there for.

QUESTION: Related to the (inaudible) meeting with Abbas --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Today King Abdullah, one of your allies, spoke to the European parliament in Strasburg, and he said that putting off or deferring the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict only adds fuel to the extremists and so on, all that rhetoric that he uses. Do you agree with him?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve said many times in the past that the lack of a peace agreement provides or allows for a vacuum that often is filled by other sources. So I think that’s consistent. I’d have to look at his comments, though, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. He also said that the time has come (inaudible). I mean he’s sort of underscoring a line of urgency, so to speak.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, we all feel an urgency. We see an urgency, but as you know, there’s an election going on in Israel, and it’s up to the two parties to determine whether they’re willing to take the steps to move forward. Let’s go ahead.

QUESTION: On Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Thank you. Today – oh, sorry. Yesterday, Senators Corker and Menendez asked the Administration to submit a report to Congress on plans to provide in defense lethal assistance to the Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: The Freedom Support Act report?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The deadline was February 15th, but it probably wasn’t submitted to Congress. So do you have any schedule for sending it to Congress?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the reports are currently undergoing an interagency review. We’re committed to delivering these reports to Congress as soon as possible. The situation – as you know, because we discuss this in here almost every day – is extremely fluid. We want to ensure that Congress has the most complete and up-to-date information, so we hope to submit that soon.

QUESTION: And could you clarify what agency is in charge of doing the report? Is it White House, State Department --

MS. PSAKI: Well, the – President Obama delegated to the State Department certain reporting requirements in the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, but there are several agencies who weigh in on the content.

QUESTION: And another question. Yesterday, the president of European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, expressed – there was a publication when he called for creation of European army – European Union army.

MS. PSAKI: European Union arming Ukraine?

QUESTION: No, in Europe.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, arming --

QUESTION: As a --

QUESTION: No, an (inaudible) army –

QUESTION: -- armed force of Europe.

QUESTION: -- for the EU.

MS. PSAKI: An army for the European Union. Oh, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Sorry. I was misunderstanding what you were saying. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: So (inaudible).

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on that?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the EU. No, I don’t --

QUESTION: I thought they have NATO.

QUESTION: No, but many of European Union countries are members of NATO, and the United States has legal obligations --

MS. PSAKI: I understand. I don’t think we’ve seen the EU countries speak to that, though.

QUESTION: Venezuela?

MS. PSAKI: Venezuela? Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday, President Maduro had a three-hour speech in which he charged that the United States and President Obama particularly had mentioned the seven names and that was a clear signal that he wants to oust – to bring his government down, and as a response named the – one of the seven, the intelligence chief as minister of the interior, justice, and peace. Your reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say the sanctions that we announced yesterday are directed at individuals – human rights abusers and corrupt individuals, not the Venezuelan people or the economy. There are specific reasons why each of those individuals under the executive order were sanctioned. The United States remains an important trading partner, is actually Venezuela’s largest trading partner, and despite the statements to the contrary from Venezuelan officials, we are not promoting instability in Venezuela. Rather we believe respect for democratic norms and human rights is the best guarantee of Venezuela’s stability. Hence our executive order. So allegations that these actions are an attempt to undermine the Venezuelan Government are false. The goal of these sanctions is to persuade the Government of Venezuela to change their behavior.

Let me touch on one thing, because I think somebody asked it yesterday. It came up on the background call, which is the specifics of the language used in the fact sheet that stated that this was a national emergency. I think it’s important for everybody to understand – I think Elliot asked this yesterday if I remember – that this is how we describe the process of naming sanctions, and there are 20 to 30 other sanctions programs we have. So if you look at similar fact sheets – I understand people look at the context of what’s happening on the ground, but it’s consistent with how we announce and how we describe putting sanctions and putting these executive orders in place.

QUESTION: There’s another angle here. President Maduro is using this action by the President as an excuse to ask today and probably will get special powers, like President Chavez did several years ago, to allow him to do anything he wants to. And he’ll probably get that today.

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those announcements. I think our view, obviously, continues to be that he needs to spend more time listening to the views of the Venezuelan people. So that’s what we would recommend.

QUESTION: The – one more?

MS. PSAKI: Anymore on Venezuela before we continue?

QUESTION: The --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The charge d’affaires, Maximilian Arvelaez, was called today by the minister of the exterior, Delcy Rodriguez. Do you have any readout on the meeting, what they talked about?

MS. PSAKI: The recall of the charge back to Venezuela or another meeting are you referring to?

QUESTION: Another meeting, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any readout of that. We’ve been having ongoing discussions about their desire to have a dialogue about our presence in Venezuela. I don’t have any specific readouts, though.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to --

QUESTION: I’ve got another one on this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Cuban state press is saying today that Fidel Castro penned a letter to President Maduro congratulating him for his, quote, “brilliant and valiant speech in the face of U.S. brutal plans.” First of all, do you have a reaction to that? And could this kind of rhetoric affect ongoing talks between the U.S. and Cubans?

MS. PSAKI: Discussions on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba will continue as planned, so no, we do not. On the first part, I think I would go back to what I stated about our intention here. It’s not promoting unrest in Venezuela, as was suggested in the speech, or undermining Venezuela’s economy or its government. It’s making clear and sending a strong message about how – about the fact that we don’t accept human rights abusers, corrupt officials – it’s the sanctioning of seven individuals and giving the President the authority to do more as needed.

QUESTION: So there’s no --

QUESTION: So you would say, then, that Cuba, which had a little bit of experience with American attempts to destabilize it, to change its regime, to ruin its economy through an embargo, is not correct --

MS. PSAKI: In our – in their assumptions?

QUESTION: In the – well, sorry, that the Venezuelans are – if you really did want to do everything that Maduro is claiming you would do, you would do it overtly with an embargo, with this invasion attempt like the Bay of Pigs, like assassination attempts on the leader, and with the full force of what American foreign policy was towards Cuba for 50 years. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I would say that the sanctions are directed at individual human rights abusers and corrupt individuals, not at the Venezuelan people or the economy.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you – because it’s just a weird juxtaposition today --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- in that you’re saying a Republican letter to Iran – I’m sorry to connect these – undermines --

MS. PSAKI: I know. I’m interested in what’s happening here, but go ahead.

QUESTION: -- is an effort that undermines the Administration’s negotiating capacity, but directly sanctioning officials in another government isn’t an effort to undermine that government, it’s an effort to change its behavior.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – I’m not even sure what your comparison is here, Brad.

QUESTION: Well, how is sanctioning government officials --

MS. PSAKI: Of which we’ve done in many countries.

QUESTION: -- not undermining that government?

MS. PSAKI: It --

QUESTION: That seems like a direct effort to undermine a government, not necessarily topple --

MS. PSAKI: We’re not talking – and also, Congress isn’t suggesting – I mean, there’s no comparison. I’m not sure what your point is.

QUESTION: But not necessarily topple, but --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- how does sanctioning government officials not undermine the functioning of that government?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re sanctioning individuals who are human rights abusers, Brad.

QUESTION: Who happen to be in the government.

MS. PSAKI: Well, they happen to be, some of them, but that’s --

QUESTION: That affects the running of that government, does it not?

MS. PSAKI: That’s not the focus of our sanctions. I don’t even know what your point is here, but maybe you have another question.

QUESTION: You’re saying that it doesn’t undermine the government, and I just don’t understand how that’s fathomable.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to add for you, Brad.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Bangladesh, I have heard that 11 member of the congressmen – 11 congressmen wrote a letter to the Secretary Kerry to resolve Bangladesh political crisis, but still, Bangladesh Government is denying to hold any dialogue with the opposition for a free, fair, inclusive election. And my second question is the Avijit trial, last month murdered. The FBI team visited Bangladesh to investigate the whole thing, so do you have any update on it?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update. I’m happy to take it and see if there is one from our team and check on the letter that you said was sent to Secretary Kerry from officials, or – tell me one more time who it was sent from.

QUESTION: Two question. One --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, the first one, on the letter. Who was the letter sent from?

QUESTION: The 11 congressmen --

MS. PSAKI: Eleven congressmen. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- wrote letter to the Secretary Kerry.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: And second question was the – regarding Avijit trial. The FBI visited Bangladesh --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’m happy to take them and check on both of them for you. Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: If you don’t mind, I wanted to go back to Egypt for a second, please.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: During an interview, President Sisi mentioned that Egypt is in – needs U.S. help more than ever, especially military assistance. He said the need for American weapons and equipment is dire, also saying that the suspension of arms was a negative indication to public – to the public that the U.S. was not standing with the Egyptian people. Do you believe you’re meeting this dire need for Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, let me say that we recognize that Egypt is facing a significant terrorism threat, and we continue to support the efforts of the Egyptian Government to combat this threat. As you know, we have provided a range of assistance, including – we released Apaches, several Apaches in recent months. And our counterterrorism cooperation with Egypt is part of the President’s broader efforts to work with partners across the region to build counterterrorism capacity. We continue to review our assistance policy in light of developments in Egypt and U.S. interests.

Obviously, we have not certified – and there are certain requirements to that that have not been met – we have not certified the additional assistance that’s been held. I don’t have any update on that.

QUESTION: What kind of discussion might the Secretary bring up to President Sisi during his trip in Egypt in terms of U.S. concerns on democracy, on human rights, or on just meeting those requirements? What do you --

MS. PSAKI: I certainly expect that those issues will be a part of the discussion, as they always are when they have meetings.

Go ahead, Elliot.

QUESTION: New subject?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: On Ukraine. I just wanted to go back and – I don’t think you discussed --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- anything related to the ceasefire or new developments with any --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new updates today, but --

QUESTION: Okay. I was – well, Assistant Secretary Nuland said --

MS. PSAKI: Testified this morning, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, said that there are new Russian supplies and tanks and military equipment crossing the border.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that this is kind of like the calm before the storm, that they’re amassing these weapons in order to launch a new offensive?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you noted, Assistant Secretary Nuland just testified and spoke extensively to the situation in Ukraine. I don’t have much to add to what she said. She talked a little bit about the fact that Russian military forces continue to operate in eastern Ukraine, where they provide command-and-control support, Russia continues to transfer military equipment to pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine. In the last few days, we can confirm that Russia has transferred additional tanks, armored vehicles, heavy artillery, rocket systems, and other military equipment. And as of March 10th, which is today, Russian battalion tactical groups remain deployed near the Ukrainian border.

We’ve obviously seen trends like this in the past. I’m not going to speak to what we think it means. It’s something we watch very closely, and obviously, further aggressive tactics will warrant responses on our end. But certainly, we are hopeful that there are areas where we can continue to implement the ceasefire and we can continue to build on that.

QUESTION: She also said that you guys need to see a complete implementation of a ceasefire within weeks – or within days and not weeks. Should we take that to mean that new sanctions will be forthcoming in a matter of days if you don’t see --

MS. PSAKI: I have nothing to predict for you. As I’ve stated from here before, we’ve continued to have not just an interagency discussion about sanctions and other consequences, but also one with our European partners who we coordinate closely with.

QUESTION: But I thought the president – Ukrainian president said today that in fact, both forces were pulling back from lines of confrontation --

MS. PSAKI: Well, but --

QUESTION: -- that the ceasefire was holding.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are areas where it’s holding, Said, but I think what Elliot’s referring to are some concerns that Assistant Secretary Nuland expressed this morning about the movement of Russian military forces and equipment over the border. And so, unfortunately, both things are happening at once.

QUESTION: I have a new question. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) over the border, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s approaching the blue line.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, but there still is – we still have concerns about that for obvious reasons.

QUESTION: New subject?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I have one more on Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Russia today announced that it is halting its participation in a consulting group of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Force in Europe. It was suspended – Russia’s participation was suspended from 2007, I guess. So now Russia ends completely its actions in this treaty. Do you have any reaction?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any comment on that, no.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I have another one?

MS. PSAKI: We can do one more here --

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Thank you, madam.

MS. PSAKI: -- and then I think we’ve got to wrap this up. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just wanted to clarify, or if U.S. has any information. According to the press reports in Pakistan, and also government official statements that there is an internal problem in Saudi Arabia – internal threat, not from outside, but Saudi Arabia has asked Pakistan’s help in dealing with the internal security problems. Are you aware of that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that, Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you, madam.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on Saudi, did you get an answer to my question on Bahrain and Saudi yesterday, the human rights --

MS. PSAKI: I did not, Matt. My apologies. We will venture to get that to you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - March 9, 2015

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 17:36

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 9, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:44 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. Secretary Kerry will travel to Egypt and Switzerland later this week. He will travel to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on March 12th to attend the Egypt Economic Development Conference. While in Sharm el-Sheikh, Secretary Kerry will also meet with President al-Sisi and other senior Egyptian leaders to discuss a range of bilateral and global issues, including Coalition efforts against ISIL, the situation in Libya, and the ongoing crisis in Syria. Other meetings may be added, as often happens, as you all know.

The United States is committed to strengthening its long-term strategic and economic partnership with Egypt. We continue to work with the Egyptian Government to help the Egyptian people stabilize and grow the economy, create jobs, educate young people, improve access to health care, and to help realize the aspirations of the Egyptian people for an inclusive, rights-and-freedoms-respecting, and peaceful political climate.

The Secretary will then travel to Switzerland on March 15th to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif as part of the ongoing EU-coordinated P5+1 nuclear negotiations. That is the only item I have for you at the top. I thought I had a few.

QUESTION: Oh.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, actually, sorry, one more. We have a couple of visitors in the back, Kit Rasmussen from Seattle, Washington, a return visitor to the briefing room because it’s so fun in here, who is also Amy’s mother, and Steve and Cheryl Schurtz from Mason City, Iowa. So thank you for joining us here today.

Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I just start with the trip for one second?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Where in Switzerland?

MS. PSAKI: Lausanne.

QUESTION: Lausanne?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m just curious why – who is the – who is officially the host of this next --

MS. PSAKI: The United – we – we are. Well, the --

QUESTION: Is there – I’m just curious. I mean, a lot of – these meetings are making Swiss hoteliers very rich. (Laughter.) I’m just wondering if anyone has thought about maybe changing the venue back to Vienna or something like that. Is there some reason why they have to be in Switzerland, particularly when there seem to be hotel inconveniences all the time, like not being able to stay in Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: I know you have a penchant for Vienna, Matt, but we like Vienna as well. There are obviously a range of factors, including hotel availability and the accommodations and what’s available. So those are all factored into decisions.

QUESTION: More substantively, on Iran --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- and I know that your colleague at the White House spent a good deal of time addressing this, but I wanted to ask you here as well about the letter that these Republican senators have sent or published. Your colleague at the White House said that this is an attempt to undermine the Administration’s diplomacy and a key foreign policy goal of the President. And I’m just – well, do you share that?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, I’m happy to repeat, but obviously, my colleague has spoken to it. So --

QUESTION: There is nothing in this letter that provides the Iranians with any secret special insight into the workings of the U.S. Government. I mean, it’s all pretty much – if it’s not common knowledge, you can find it online in two seconds. And it’s not as though the people in the Iranian Government, particularly Foreign Minister Zarif, are uneducated rubes who don’t know what’s going on, how the U.S. Government works. If that’s – and given that that is the case, if this just sets out what – how the executive and the legislative branch work on foreign policy, what’s the problem with it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as my colleague may have stated, our view – I mean, what we’re talking about here is an arrangement between countries that – an executive arrangement between countries. And I know we’ve talked about this quite a bit, but clearly, our view, as my colleague stated, is that this type of letter signed by dozens of members of Congress undermines our efforts and what the ability of the Commander-in-Chief and the executive branch is to undertake as it relates to negotiations.

QUESTION: I don’t understand how it undermines. How does it undermined – how does it undermine the ability of the Administration to --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our point is that it’s a letter that was sent on behalf of representatives of the United States Government, members of Congress, and it doesn’t represent how, actually, these negotiations would work or how they should work or history. And frankly, as my colleague may have outlined, there are many – our view is that this – this letter designed to score political points would ignore – ignores the fact that executive agreements between countries provide things like protections for troops that we rely on every day, allows for the basing of American service members overseas, allows to disrupt – us to disrupt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on the high seas. There are several inaccuracies in the letter about how things work. And yes, you may feel – and we all know how this works and the Iranians may know how our system works, but it’s important for us to convey what the actual facts are when you have this outlined from 43 members of Congress.

QUESTION: Forty-seven. But --

MS. PSAKI: Forty-seven. I apologize.

QUESTION: But I don’t understand, though, why – surely the Iranians are aware that this is not an agreement that the President envisions sending to Congress for their advice and consent.

MS. PSAKI: As we’ve said publicly, yes.

QUESTION: So they already know this.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s important for us to convey how this process works, how it would work. And when there’s inaccurate information put out that --

QUESTION: Okay. What’s inaccurate about it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, Congress doesn’t have the power to alter the terms of international arrangements negotiated by the Executive. The letter is incorrect when it says that Congress could modify the terms of the agreement at any time. There are – that is just one example, but a significant one.

QUESTION: Well, that’s if it goes – that’s if it goes through them, right? In other words, if the President presents a treaty to the Senate for --

MS. PSAKI: It’s not a treaty, as we know.

QUESTION: I understand that. But if the Senate – if the President presents a treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent, they can withhold their consent, and that means that it can’t be ratified. So I don’t understand – if it’s an executive agreement and the President is no longer the President because his term has expired, that doesn’t bind the next president. Or are you saying it does?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m suggesting that – not just suggesting, but the Constitution assigns the authority to the Executive to negotiate these deals with foreign partners. And so implying that Congress has a role that was implied in this letter is inaccurate. It’s also a negotiation and it’s important to us – for us to send this message to our partners around the world. That is with not just the United States and Iran, but with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the European Union, China, and Russia.

QUESTION: Well, if it’s inaccurate --

MS. PSAKI: This is a multilateral effort.

QUESTION: If it’s inaccurate, then, I don’t understand why you’re concerned. Has the Secretary gotten on the phone with Foreign Minister Zarif or some other Iranian and said, “Hey, don’t worry about this”?

MS. PSAKI: No, he has not spoken to him, but we felt it was important to speak out strongly about what’s inaccurate here, how it doesn’t represent how the negotiations go, and --

QUESTION: Well, but it does represent how almost half of the Senate feels.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re conveying what the authority is of the Commander-in-Chief and the executive branch of government.

QUESTION: Right. And so it doesn’t matter, you’re saying, what the Senate – what half of the Senate thinks.

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say that. I was saying it’s important --

QUESTION: Well, you said that it’s intended to score – your words – you said “to score political points.” And I’m just curious, what is the political point there’s – that is scored here?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the letter implying that Congress could modify the terms of the agreement at any time is just not accurate with how our Constitution works.

QUESTION: Can you tell us if you – to the best of your recollection, if there is any agreement in the history of the United States where it was once the President is gone under whose administration this treaty was signed ceased to exist?

MS. PSAKI: Any agreement – well, this isn’t a treaty. It’s an international --

QUESTION: No, I mean any agreement. I mean, at the end of the day, there’s going to be some sort of an agreement. I don’t know under what legal term it would be signed, but there is an agreement that is – that has an international dimension. To the best of your knowledge, has there been a case where an international agreement signed by a president of the United States became null and void once he left office?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I encourage you to write a story about that and spend your afternoon doing research.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: I would rely on you to do that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Looking forward to the talks on March 15th --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- are you anywhere close to some kind of a political framework deal? I mean, or are these – well, let’s start with that one.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as the President said over the weekend, we’ve made progress in narrowing the gaps, but gaps still exist. Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be able to determine whether or not Iran is willing to make the difficult decisions. You obviously get to a point in negotiation where it’s not just a matter of technical issues anymore; it’s also about political decisions and political – tough political decision making. So clearly, the coming weeks are pivotal in that regard, but I’m not going to make a prediction of where we’ll end at the end.

QUESTION: And will there be foreign ministers from elsewhere, or is this still just Kerry-Zarif?

MS. PSAKI: Next week – I do expect that they will be a part of this as well, but we’ll let them announce their participation.

Do we have any more on Iran before we continue?

QUESTION: I just want to go back – I want to go back to the letter for a second because I don’t understand. I mean, you can make the argument that these senators are not simply trying to educate the Iranian leadership on the fundamentals of how our constitutional democracy works. You could make that argument that this is intended to score political points. But I don’t – I still haven’t – I still don’t get how it undermines the President or the Secretary of State’s ability to negotiate with the Iranians who presumably are already aware of what’s in the letter, inaccuracies and all.

MS. PSAKI: Of how the process works? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: But, Matt, I think there is, as we’ve talked about a little bit already – but there are centuries of precedent here in terms of the authority of the executive branch, of the President of the United States, in terms of international negotiations. And so an attempt to suggest otherwise is something that we naturally felt strongly about refuting.

QUESTION: I – okay, I understand that, but how does that undermine your negotiate – your ability to – how does that undermine this foreign policy goal?

MS. PSAKI: I think the point is, Matt, that the letter itself was an effort to do that and that was why we came out strongly to refute the accuracy of the letter and how these negotiations work.

QUESTION: Right. And then just you said that the Secretary has not been in touch with him. Do you know if there has been any contact with the Iranians about the letter and what you think about --

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Matt.

QUESTION: -- what you think about it? You know that Foreign Minister Zarif has said it’s propaganda and do --

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen his reported comments.

QUESTION: So you would agree with the Iranian foreign minister’s assessment?

MS. PSAKI: We wouldn’t put it in the same terms. I think I’d leave it as I just stated it.

QUESTION: But your assessment is roughly the same, that it doesn’t make any difference.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not an accurate assessment of how negotiations work. So in that regard it doesn’t.

QUESTION: The President said yesterday that if it’s not to our liking we will just walk away. What does that do to the process? Does that completely scuttle everything that has been done? Or if there’s a point in the future where we can begin, you begin from the point where it stopped? What happens in this case?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not a question we can answer. Obviously, Said, our preference is to come to a framework, an understanding – a political understanding – so that we can move these negotiations forward. But the point the President was making, that the Secretary has made as well: We’re not going to accept a bad deal. We’re willing to walk away. The question now is whether the Iranians will make the difficult choices necessary. As to what’s next, certainly that’s not our preference.

Iran or – Iran? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, on the Secretary’s statement on Robert Levinson.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In light of this anniversary, can we expect any kind of renewed push on this issue – maybe on the sidelines of these talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Secretary Kerry has raised Mr. Levinson’s case directly with Foreign Minister Zarif on several occasions, in addition to the cases of detained U.S. citizens – Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Jason Rezaian. He will continue to do that. So it is not about a renewed push; there’s been a consistent push. And obviously, seeing these American citizens come home is – remains a top priority.

QUESTION: Is there hope that as there’s increased dialogue with the Iranian delegation on the nuclear issue that that could lead to perhaps a goodwill gesture on the part of the Iranian Government when it comes to these Americans?

MS. PSAKI: I just wouldn’t want to speculate on that. Obviously, we’ve raised these issues. Our Swiss protecting power have also been a tremendous help to us over the past eight years – not just on the Levinson case but on all cases related to United States citizens. So I can’t predict for you what will happen; we will continue to press as we have been.

QUESTION: Does the State Department view ISIS as a bigger threat than Iran to U.S. security?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we are in the business – or, I’m not in the business of ranking threats or priorities from here, Lucas.

QUESTION: Are they on the same level, would you say?

MS. PSAKI: I appreciate the opportunity, but I’m just not going to take your bait.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we talk about Iran’s role in Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: In Iraq – or can we finish Iran? Is there any more on Iran before we continue?

QUESTION: About the other leg of the trip – Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s finish Iran-Iraq and we’ll go to Egypt.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Did you have an Iran question, Abby?

QUESTION: Sorry, this is more of a technical understanding --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- but as far as the political framework, what part of that would be publicly presented to understand what has been negotiated?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know senior officials have spoken to this – on background, I should say. It’s not something I can give you a preview of at this point. Obviously, it’s a political understanding to lay out a path for moving forward and focus on the appendixes and the technical details moving forward. But I can’t lay out for you at this point what it will look like.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Local media has reported in numerous articles that the Iranian Government is intervening – helping the Iraqi Government retake Tikrit. There are reports that Qasem Soleimani is there. So I just want to know whether you agree with any of these local reports that Iran plays a role in retaking Tikrit.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve spoken to this before. We’ve said previously we are aware Iran has sent some operatives into Iraq that are training and advising some Iraqi Security Forces. We also know that Iran has provided some supplies, arms, ammunition and aircraft for Iraq’s armed forces. I would point you to what the Secretary said on Saturday, where he addressed a very similar question.

QUESTION: On Tikrit specifically?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, he did on Saturday. I would look at his press avail.

QUESTION: But you’re not opposed to the Iranians being there fighting ISIS, are you?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve addressed this many times, Said. We’ve been clear that Iran – Iraq can best counter the threat from ISIL with a government and security forces that are inclusive, and if the interests of all groups are respected. With respect to the activities of any country in Iraq, including Iran, we believe strongly that Iraq’s sovereignty must be respected and the Government of Iraq must focus on strengthening its internal political and security situation – institutions in an inclusive way. Clearly, that’s what our focus is on. We’re not coordinating with the Iranians; nothing has changed in that regard.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that the militia al-Hashd al-Shaabi, which is an Iranian-backed militia – in fact, an Iranian militia – is – there are claims that they are doing some terrible things to the Sunni populations and so on. How do you raise these issues with the Iranians directly?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve also spoken to this a number of times, but I’m happy to reiterate.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) last 24 hours.

MS. PSAKI: And Prime Minister Abadi has also spoken to this, including, I believe, in his inaugural address, and his efforts to not only regulate militias but to look into these reports. That’s something we certainly support. We’ve raised this issue with – from Washington, D.C. as well as from our Embassy in Baghdad, and we’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: I have been following the CENTCOM announcements. I haven’t seen airstrikes being carried out to help Iraqi forces to retake Tikrit. Why so?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Iraqi forces continue to advance on the city of Tikrit with a combination of regular Iraqi Security Forces, militias and tribes. We’ve seen some success by the Iraqi Security Forces in pushing ISIL back in a number of towns and villages around Tikrit, but operations remains ongoing. Tikrit is one operation of many Iraqi-led efforts to push back against ISIL. The United States and our Coalition partners have assisted Iraqi ground forces in over 20 counter-ISIL operations across Iraq, all of them successful. I would refer you to the Department of Defense about airstrikes.

QUESTION: But why don’t you help them in Tikrit? Is it because of Iran’s role? Do you not want to cooperate with Iran?

MS. PSAKI: I would refer you to the Department of Defense about military action.

QUESTION: This is a political --

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Iraq?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The government is digging a trench right along the entire length of the border with Anbar, between Anbar and the heartland. Are you concerned that this may be sort of a prelude to dividing the country?

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen the report you’re referring to, Said, and I don’t think your question is accurate with what’s happening on the ground.

QUESTION: There’s been over 2,700 airstrikes among the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria. Would you like to see other countries do more – Egypt, for example?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a number of countries, as you know. There are 60 countries in the coalition. Certainly, the military component is a very important component of it. There are a number of countries that have participated in that. But as we’ve long said, it’s not just a military effort to degrade and defeat ISIL. There are several other components many countries are participating in. We also continue to have discussions with a range of countries about the role that they can play. We’ll let them speak to what role they’re going to play.

QUESTION: The United States has taken part in over 81 percent of the strikes. Would you like to see other countries do more? Would you like to see --

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve addressed the question.

Any more on Iraq? All right, should we move on? Oh, Egypt. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, please. You mentioned at the beginning of this briefing the trip of Secretary Kerry to Egypt --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- to attend Egypt’s economic development conference. Knowing the nature of the conference, do you expect anything to be announced regarding support, economic support? And when I say economic support, I expect money, not words, you know?

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) I know what economic support means. I don’t have anything to preview for you. I expect if there is anything to preview, we would do that later in the week. But this is certainly just an opportunity to discuss Egypt’s needs. Certainly, we’re committed to seeing Egypt continue to grow economically and prosper, and that’s in the best interests of the Egyptian people.

QUESTION: So my second question regarding the members of the team that they are going to accompany Secretary Kerry – is it clear from now who is going to be with him beside assistant secretaries, secretary of trade, or somebody else?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on who’s accompanying. I’m sure we can look into that and get you more later this week.

QUESTION: There’s another question you raised in the statement --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- that you said about the coalition efforts to combat terrorism. In the recent weeks, not just in Egypt – I mean, the recent days, let’s say, even in Riyadh and other – even Arab League today, they are discussing the issue of the forming an Arab joint forces. Do you discuss this issue before with the Egyptians or Arabs in general or Saudis?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there have been many public reports about interests or desires of some countries in the region to form a coalition. We haven’t seen details of what that proposal would be. So they’ve discussed it publicly. Certainly, we’ve discussed it privately, but there aren’t more details to share at this point.

QUESTION: So, I mean, do you accept the concept or do you reject it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, there aren’t a lot of details at this point. So we’ve seen many comments publicly from Egypt and other countries about this, but there aren’t a great number of details in terms of any proposal of how this would work or what it would be.

QUESTION: The reason I’m asking is because one of the talks that this town is talking about the necessity of requirement or having, let’s say, quote/unquote, “Sunni forces” to be against ISIL or ISIS or Daesh, as the Secretary said usually. So do you – what is your – did you discuss this issue before?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just said that we discuss with Arab countries, with countries in the region, what role they can continue to play in this coalition. But there aren’t – there’s not meat on the bones at this point in terms of this proposal, so there aren’t more details I can respond to.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: Can we go to Venezuela?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Venezuela?

QUESTION: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I was going to ask --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Whoa. This is like a merging of minds here, okay.

QUESTION: We have a merging of minds. So the President declared Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security. What exactly does that mean – I mean, entail? Does it change any status that Venezuela is under that it can do, or just technically? I know it’s quite technical, but how does it change the relationship in any way?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of any technical changes in terms of the relationship. And I think you’re referring to the executive order that was put out this morning --

QUESTION: Correct.

MS. PSAKI: -- and announced that expands upon the legislation the President signed into law in December. So really, this is an implementation of what we’ve been working on for months, which is cracking down on those who are violating human rights and abusers and those who are cracking down on civil society. And we announced also a couple of individuals who will be named in the first tranche of this today.

QUESTION: So doesn’t that imply that there would be now certain restrictions between the countries as far as even travel or business-related or – I’m just, I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Well, the executive order was related to seven individuals, so certainly against them there would be. And as you know in the past, we also announced visa bans against a number – I think it was more than 50 individuals, although we don’t release those names because of privacy reasons. So there are certainly restrictions against individuals. Separately, we also put out last week some information about what will be required to travel to Venezuela in terms of visas given the restrictions put in place. So there’s a couple of things happening at once.

Clearly, we’ve also seen a pattern over the past several months of President Maduro accusing the United States of being involved in transgressions that we have no involvement in that are, frankly, outrageous and distract from the problems they have in their own country. So in that regard, certainly we’ve been dealing with an uptick in that in recent months.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Well, but Jen, any leader is free to attack the U.S. for its policies. Given that the legislation was signed back in December, why did it take until now for the Obama Administration to take this action against these officials?

MS. PSAKI: Well, just to be absolutely clear – and I know you didn’t ask this question, but in case it’s a follow-up – this has nothing to do with the President’s comments. This is – it takes a while to implement and put in place executive orders that – actually, this one takes it a step farther than the legislation did. It takes some time to work through the process internally. We’re at the point where we finalized that and were able to announce it and obviously implement it with the naming of seven individuals.

QUESTION: But it’s worth pointing out that one of those seven individuals, the prosecutor only very recently brought forth the case against the mayor of Caracas, who is now sitting in jail. That seems pretty quick. Is it really a matter of needing the time, or is this simply sending a message to the Maduro government we don’t like the way that you’re behaving?

MS. PSAKI: No. Roz, we’re talking about two different things. One is the time it takes to put an executive order in place, which takes some time. It’s not something you can do overnight. There’s an entire interagency process on that. That’s something we’ve been working on over the past couple of months. Obviously, there are certain individuals who met the criteria to be named on this list. And this gives the President the authority moving forward, if needed, to name additional individuals.

QUESTION: And what about the ongoing dispute over the number of U.S. diplomats who can be serving on the ground in Venezuela? Did that play a role at all in the Administration’s decision --

MS. PSAKI: No.

QUESTION: -- to levy these sanctions now?

MS. PSAKI: No, it did not. There’s an ongoing discussion about that as my colleague, Marie, addressed last week. Clearly, there are far more individuals working in the United States from the Venezuelan Government than they originally stated, but this is an ongoing discussion. I don’t have a new update on it today.

QUESTION: How likely is it, then, that the Venezuelans are going to be open to the Americans’ argument that its diplomatic corps should be allowed to stay in its full staffing capacity and that they shouldn’t have to worry about any potential retaliation on having their diplomats sent back to Venezuela?

MS. PSAKI: Well, these are separate issues, just to be clear. And one of the points that we’ve made to the Venezuelans is that there are certain capabilities – or certain services, I should say, that our embassies and posts provide when we have a presence on the ground. And when you reduce that you could potentially limit those services. And so that is certainly a factor.

QUESTION: So those discussions about the numbers – that is continuing on a whole separate track?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And you don’t think it’s going to influence what happened today?

MS. PSAKI: The executive order?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Well, in what capacity are you suggesting it would --

QUESTION: Influence what Venezuela – as Roz was saying, that Venezuela will not likely want to see the – I mean, have a big staff of the U.S. in Caracas – given what’s happened today?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what I was trying to get at is that there is a benefit to have a presence on the ground because of the services that are provided. That is separate from an issue of an executive order put in place to, as the press release clearly outlined and as the President’s statements spoke to, follows up on legislation that the United States Congress put in place that targets individuals and entities responsible for undermining democratic processes or institutions. So there’s an ongoing discussion. We’re a part of that discussion clearly. I don’t have a new update on that today, though.

QUESTION: To put a finer point on the diplomatic spat, is it stressing to the Venezuelans that individual Venezuelan citizens could be hurt if, for example, they’re not able to meet with a consular official to apply for a visa to come to the U.S. for business or for pleasure?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, and I think my colleague referred to past – I think 2002 was an example she gave last week – when you have reduced staff in a place, it certainly impacts the services that you’re able to provide. That’s just a fact.

QUESTION: So I – obviously, I was away last week, so – and I know you were too. So you’re saying that Marie addressed all this. You have asked the Venezuelans to drop their order to reduce staff? Is that --

MS. PSAKI: No. We – what she said was, and what I was just reiterating, is that we’re in a discussion with the Venezuelans about this, but I don’t have a new update on it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Right, but presumably you’re asking them not to force you to reduce this number of staff, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re conveying that the benefit of having staff on the ground is to provide the types of services that they would provide.

QUESTION: Right. But you were saying to the Venezuelans: We think this is a bad idea; don’t do this.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we stated exactly that way. We have – we’re having diplomatic discussions about it. I don’t have anything more to update on it.

QUESTION: Well, so they haven’t left yet? I mean, the staff is still the same size as it was since before the President made his comments?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of it changing, no.

QUESTION: Well, isn’t it correct, though, that if they go ahead and do this, you will order them to reduce their staff significantly too here?

MS. PSAKI: We’re having a discussion with them now about it, Matt. I don’t – I’m sure we’ll keep talking about this, but I don’t have anything else to lay out for you.

Venezuela?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Why exactly does the U.S. believe that Venezuela is a threat to its national security?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President was conveying that in his remarks. I’d point you to the White House if you would like to talk about that further.

QUESTION: I mean, I’m just curious about the reason. I mean, I understand all of your concerns about civil rights – civil society and human rights and violence and things like that. Is there some concern that the violence in Venezuela could spread into the U.S., for some reason?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s what he was portraying. I would point you to the White House if you want to talk about the President’s remarks.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: The placement of the people on that list, is that permanent? Is there a way that they get back off the list?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think --

QUESTION: And do you – and are more people expected to be placed on that particular list?

MS. PSAKI: Sure – well, broadly speaking, there – it’s rarely, if ever, permanent. Obviously, it’s impacted by events on the ground, what happens, steps that are taken. But I don’t have any prediction of that. This gives the authority to the President to put additional names on the list or entities, but I’m not going to make a prediction of whether that will happen or when.

QUESTION: What steps on the ground would have to be taken from them to have their names moved off the list?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get into details of that. I’m just making the point that stating it’s permanent, I think, is not exactly the accurate way of describing any individual who’s been listed in this capacity.

Any more on Venezuela?

QUESTION: No.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I go to something else --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- that we were both missing for last week that erupted onto the Washington stage, and that is the former Secretary Clinton’s emails. How is the review of the pages going?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s underway.

QUESTION: The 55,000.

MS. PSAKI: It’s underway. As my colleague mentioned last week, given it’s 55,000 pag