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Daily Press Briefing: April 9, 2014

Daily Press Briefing: April 9, 2014

Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 9, 2014

1:21 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Thank you for your patience. Turns out there’s quite a bit going on in the world today, as all of you know. I have a couple of items at the top.

The Secretary spoke this morning with Foreign Minister Lavrov. He also spoke with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk separately. When he spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov, he reiterated our concerns – his concerns about escalating tensions in the east. They discussed the possibility of a quad meeting next week that you all saw EU High Representative Ashton refer to yesterday. He spoke with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, thanked him for his leadership, encouraged him to continue efforts at inclusiveness across Ukraine. They discussed the ongoing efforts by the Ukrainian Government to continue to address the situation in eastern Ukraine peacefully, and they also discussed the possibility of a quad meeting next week.

One other item: With us at today’s briefing, we have eight students from the U.S. Defense Information School sitting in the back. Hello, everyone. They’re here today as part of a public affairs course for international students, a DOD initiative to build effective media relations in partner nations. They represent six different countries and upon graduation will serve as public affairs officers within their respective defense ministries.

Hello, Matt. Welcome back.

QUESTION: Thank you. Same to you, although, I guess you were back on Monday.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: So just on the – (laughter) – Ukraine thing. Just on --

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Jo. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Exactly. Just on the Ukraine thing for a second. Has it been settled that this thing, whatever this group is going to be called – the quad?

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t intending to give it any arbitrary name, just it’s been called that in the press. But it would be a meeting of the EU --


MS. PSAKI: -- the United States --

QUESTION: Because if it was --

MS. PSAKI: -- the Russians and the Ukrainians. Yes.

QUESTION: So that would be four, right?

MS. PSAKI: That is. That’s four.


MS. PSAKI: So that is quad.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. So was Quartet.

MS. PSAKI: I know none of us are math majors. Quartet, too.


MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: How successful has the Quartet been? And based on that, just – the troika. There was a quad before. Does that mean that this new quad will supersede the old quad?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, you’ll have to stay tuned for when the meeting is finalized to just see what the name will be.

QUESTION: All right. I’m sure there are other questions on Ukraine, but I’ve got to start with the Middle East --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- because of the Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lieberman, which I assume is going ahead later this afternoon, yes?

MS. PSAKI: It is.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to curtail ministerial level meetings with the Palestinians, with I guess the exception of Livni --

MS. PSAKI: The negotiators?

QUESTION: Right. And then also about some comments the Secretary made yesterday on the Hill.

So starting, one, with the first – the meeting with Foreign Minister Lieberman, the foreign minister has said that he – said in the past that he would vote against – had there ever been a cabinet meeting, vote against the prisoner release. What’s the purpose of this meeting this afternoon? Is the Secretary hoping to get him on board with the peace process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I am certain they will discuss the ongoing negotiations between the parties. But he is his counterpart in the Israeli Government. They have met many times before, as you know. And we’ll do a readout after the meeting. But it’s been a scheduled meeting, and I think he’s in town for other meetings as well.

QUESTION: All right. Secondly, do you have any reaction to the prime minister’s decision to suspend or to cancel ministerial level meetings with the Palestinians?

MS. PSAKI: I do. We are certainly aware of the announcement. We regard it as unfortunate. We believe that cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has provided benefits to both sides. We continue to urge both sides to take steps that contribute to a conducive environment for peace. We note that the contact in meetings between the negotiators are continuing, and note that they are engaging in serious and intensive efforts to find a way out of the current impasse. We do consider it very important that security-related cooperation is not affected.

QUESTION: Okay. And then you said that the meetings are continuing. There’s reports in Israel today that Ambassador Indyk will be having another meeting – the third since Sunday, I guess – tomorrow. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I have nothing to confirm for you at this point. Let me talk to him and the negotiators after the briefing and see what we may have for you.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one on this is the Secretary on the Hill yesterday managed to get the Israelis, in particular, upset about him when he described, what he called a “poof” moment when things went, for lack of a better word, to hell. Given the fact that you guys have made clear for some time now, for at least two weeks now, that both sides have taken negative steps: one, would it have been perhaps more appropriate for the Secretary not to use his “poof” moment comment; or, if it was appropriate, do you think that it was – that he put it in the context of the timeline at the wrong place?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I spoke with the Secretary about this this morning, and he was, frankly, surprised by the coverage of his comments because he doesn’t believe, as you noted and has said repeatedly, that one side deserves blame over another media note because they’ve both taken unhelpful steps – that’s something you’ve heard him say frequently. And at no point, including yesterday, has he intended to engage in a blame game.

The truth is even yesterday, if you look at the full context of his comments, he went out of his way to credit Prime Minister Netanyahu for making tough choices. And you’ll remember, as you also noted, that he began his comments by very matter-of-factly referring to the unhelpful and provocative steps the Palestinians took by going on television and, of course, announcing their intention to join UN treaties.

So what he followed yesterday or what he did yesterday was simply restate the chronology of events of last week that took place, which ended, of course, with the step by the Palestinians to announce plans to join international conventions. So that was the intention of his comments, and he certainly stands by them and was surprised that there was there a view that he was one-sided.

QUESTION: Well, he was surprised by the fact that people took him at his word, because that’s what he said? If we look at the chronology going back this week – and I don’t want to belabor this, but on Saturday – Saturday was when the prisoners were supposed to be released.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: They weren’t. Saturday, Sunday – after they weren’t released, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, nothing really major happened. The Palestinians didn’t take any action.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: On Tuesday, the new Gilo announcement – settlement – or construction announcement was made.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: That is when the Secretary said the “poof” moment was. It wasn’t until the next day, Wednesday, when we were in Brussels, that President Abbas came out and said that he was going to sign onto these UN conventions.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And it wasn’t until the next day after that, Thursday, that Justice Minister Livni came out and said that the prisoner release was now officially canceled. So in retrospect, wouldn’t it have been more accurate, given the fact that you blame both sides, for the Secretary to have identified the “poof” moment not as the housing announcement but rather either the Palestinian announcement or Justice Minister Livni’s announcement that the prisoner release had been canceled entirely?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would caution you against over-emphasizing the meaning of “poof,” which we’ve now talked about a lot here. But he was – his view is that there were unhelpful steps by both sides. That’s what he was conveying yesterday. Again – again, as we look forward to the coming days, it’s clearly counterproductive when either side takes steps that aren’t conducive to an environment moving forward. So we’re not going to spend our time recounting every single step as it relates to the events of last week. We’re going to see if there’s the will and the desire to move things forward.

QUESTION: Right. But that’s what he did yesterday. In recounting the chronology, he did exactly what you say you don’t want to do.

MS. PSAKI: No --

QUESTION: And he – and because he used the “poof” comment where he did, some in Israel – many if not all in Israel – took that to be an indication that you regard them as more to blame than the other side. You’re saying that that’s wrong. So if it’s – correct? You’re saying that that is wrong?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I --

QUESTION: He wasn’t meaning to single out Israel for more blame than anyone else?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to his own comments he’s made many times over the past week about the unhelpful steps by both sides, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. And you say that he doesn’t want to get into the blame game. But is he – aren’t you, in fact, blaming both sides? Isn’t that the blame game?

MS. PSAKI: Well, often the blame game means blaming one side over the other, and that’s what I’m using it as a reference to.


QUESTION: Jen, can I ask – you’ve mentioned that there’s hopefully going to be or there’s possibly going to be another round of negotiations on the ground involving Ambassador Indyk. What is --

MS. PSAKI: I think Matt mentioned that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay, okay. There’s going to be – but there is another round planned, in fact?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I said I’m happy to talk to Ambassador Indyk and our team on the ground to see what the next steps are here. As you know, they’ve had two rounds of discussions, and I’m happy to discuss with them what’s up next.

QUESTION: But you said the idea was to try and get things back on track, yeah?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly that’s been our effort that’s been underway for the last several days and the purpose of those meetings, absolutely.

QUESTION: So how do you do that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think it is going to be up to the parties to determine whether they have the will and the intention to take the steps necessary for things to be back on track. So we’re having discussions with them about what’s possible.

QUESTION: But are you all looking at putting the things back on track fully so you have also another planned prisoner release and then another planned step towards – April 29th is the deadline – so another plan for an extension of the talks beyond April 29th or --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of steps that are being discussed. Obviously, both sides have indicated what’s important to them, so it’s safe to assume that all of those issues you mentioned and more are being discussed. And naturally, our goal here remains a final status agreement, and certainly that will take more than a couple of weeks to accomplish.

QUESTION: And at what point do you determine that it’s not possible to put the talks back on track?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s going to be determined by the conversations the Secretary and our negotiating team has with the parties on the ground and their willingness to engage in a constructive process moving forward. So I can’t put a specific checklist out there for you.

QUESTION: But you don’t actually know at this point that they are willing to go forward?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t know yet. That is the proposition we’re testing now.


MS. PSAKI: More on Middle East peace? Go ahead Samir.

QUESTION: Yes. Did the Secretary discuss the peace process with the President yesterday, and what is the conclusion of that?

MS. PSAKI: He did, but I would remind all of you that he has a weekly meeting with the President whenever he’s in town and that was what this meeting was, and certainly they discussed the peace process and they discussed the peace process when they were on the trip traveling together over the – two weeks ago as well. So the Secretary updated him on his conversations with the negotiating team and with the parties on the ground, and we’re all going to work together to continue to test the proposition of what’s possible.

QUESTION: Will you change the approach now toward the peace process?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think it’s just as I’ve laid out to all of you. We remain engaged with the parties. As you know, the parties have met twice over the last several days. Our negotiators remain on the ground and we’re going to see what’s possible.

QUESTION: Did they make the review or not, regarding the negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Did they review the negotiations when they started to --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s an overemphasis on what that means. Just in any policy process you make decisions day by day on what’s productive and what the right steps are, and certainly the Secretary has been working in lockstep with the President and the national security team throughout this process, and so they did discuss, of course, yesterday, and those discussions will continue.

Middle East peace or another topic?


MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Palestinians have been asking for the release of Marwan Barghouti quite regularly in this process. Has that become more of a key bargaining factor in this whole process of getting things back on track? Has it taken on extra importance or can you give us an idea of where that is?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any specifics of what each side is pressing for. We certainly understand they’ll make their own public comments about what’s important to them, but I’m not going to get into any more detail on that.

QUESTION: One more. The Arab League decided today to – or refused today to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and asked the United States to continue its efforts in the negotiations. Any reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we’ve said all along, support of the Arab League and their support for a final status agreement between the parties is incredibly important and has been an important aspect of this process. It’s up to the parties to determine what their negotiating agreement would be. We know that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is important to the Israelis. We’ve seen the public comments of the Palestinians. You know where the United States stands. It’s up to them to determine that moving forward, not the United States, not the Arab League, not outside parties.

QUESTION: Can I just ask – Ambassador Indyk remains in the region?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are there any plans as yet to pull him back?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think we evaluate day by day. Obviously, at some point it may make sense to have discussions with him in person. He’s been there for some time, but I’m not aware of any plans for that at this moment.

New topic?


MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let – okay. Go ahead. Syria?

QUESTION: Thank you. So yesterday was a press conference on the Hill about Syria and about the recent attack against town of Kessab. And several representatives from the Congress who were present, Brad Sherman, Jim Costa from Fresno and others, and I am quoting Brad Sherman saying, quote, “I want to join with several of my colleagues in urging that the intelligence community and the State Department provide a classified briefing on what was Turkey’s role in assisting and providing shelter to al-Qaida-linked terrorists who carried the ethnic cleansing in Kessab.” So do you have any comment on this? Are you planning to initiate any investigation about this attack?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I would say that, as the Secretary himself said yesterday, we engage with classified and unclassified briefings with the Hill on a regular basis. It’s something he feels is vitally important. I don’t have any updates on that for you or any particular reaction to the congressman’s comments.

QUESTION: You haven’t replied to Congressman Sherman and others?

MS. PSAKI: I believe they made comments in a press conference. But our Hill team is engaged closely with the Hill team and I’m sure that will continue.

Do you have any more on Syria?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: In follow-up with the same question, I mean, two weeks ago, I mean, it was almost 10 days, there was a statement came out of this podium about the same issue about the Kessab and Armenians in there. And it was said that it was – we are deeply troubled. And it was mentioned – Marie mentioned that it was ongoing and we are following. Is there any update about following or ongoing process of watching what’s going on there? Because it’s, like, lack of information is there, it’s like. Maybe he is – my colleague is asking about the political side, I am asking about the reality side.

MS. PSAKI: I understand what you’re asking. I don’t have any particular updates. I will check with our team and see if there is anything we can offer to all of you.

QUESTION: About Syria again?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, yesterday Secretary Kerry mentioned that almost 54 percent of the chemical weapons --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- are shipped outside Syria. Is there any, like, let’s just say always we said, optimistic view that this going to be continued, knowing that what’s going on now with the relation with Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And is there any kind of, like, step forward and 10 steps backward in this regard?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we have continued to press the Syrian regime and continue to ask the Russians to press the Syrian regime to ensure a successful handoff by transferring all of the declared chemicals to Latakia by April 27th in accordance with its own proposed timeline. We know they have the ability to do so. You may have seen that the – Sigrid Kaag’s briefing to the Security Council. She made clear that the Syrian Government has the resources it needs to safely remove all chemical weapons materials by June 30th, and she also urged that large volume based movement must occur right away in order for the Syrian Government to meet the approaching deadlines. So we continue to encourage that.

Yes, there has been progress made in recent weeks, but there is more that needs to be done. This is an issue that Secretary Kerry discussed with Foreign Minister Lavrov when he met with him about a week and a half ago in Paris, I believe it was, and it’s one that we’ll continue to press the Russians to work with us on.

QUESTION: There is the issue of refugees too, because it’s becoming like – I know it’s everybody is – I mean, it’s not the headlines, it’s always forgotten. I mean, it was the latest thing which was mentioned it was like 1 million people were the number of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon or entered Lebanon, recorded – I mean, according registration. Might be maybe more even. Is there anything going on regarding this location? Especially we know it’s like, okay, now we are talking about polio, too. It’s like the possibility of polio is, like, spreading among the refugees’ camps and all these things. How you are following these issues, whether with United States or with regional powers or international entities?

MS. PSAKI: Well, sure. The United States and the UN and international entities are all following this very important issue every single day, and we have very senior-level officials in the State Department who work on the issue of refugees every single day, whether it’s in the region or in our building here in Washington. And as you know, but it’s worth repeating, the United States remains the largest donor of humanitarian assistance, and that includes assistance to neighboring countries like Lebanon, like Jordan, who have taken in a countless number of refugees and continue to. So this is an issue that we remain concerned about, we remain focused on, and one that – you’re right – does deserve more attention than it receives on a daily basis.


QUESTION: In Bahrain?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There’s more trouble for medics who helped those injured in the Arab Spring uprising, one questioned for allegedly insulting the ministry of the interior in an interview that she had on France 24 about teargas, another sentenced to a year in jail for allegedly insulting the king during remarks at a funeral. Is this in keeping with the understanding that you were given about the reforms that the government there would undertake?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Scott, we are certainly following these cases closely, and you’re referring to the cases of two doctors, just to be clear to everyone – one that was previously sentenced and one that’s a newer case. We have a regular and ongoing conversation with the Bahraini Government on human rights practices. We make our concerns known when warranted, and this is certainly an example of that. We’ve repeatedly voiced concerns about legal action against medical professionals, including in these cases, both publicly and privately, at the highest levels. And we continue to urge the Government of Bahrain to protect the universal rights of freedom of expression, just as we urge all elements of Bahraini society to engage in peaceful expressions of public opinion.

And to your point and to your question, we continue to convey that in order to have a climate conducive for reconciliation, for meaningful dialogue and reform, they need to take these necessary steps to create that climate, and that includes reforms and observations of human rights practices.

QUESTION: And so just, I think, to make sure I understand --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you said that you’re aware of these cases and you’ve expressed concerns, and this is an example of that. So these two cases that Scott mentioned --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- have been raised with the Bahrainis?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, yes. And there have been some conflicting reports about the exact situation, and I talked to our team about this before I came down, so I’ll see if there’s any update but –about the charges and what has or hasn’t been filed.

QUESTION: Can I go to Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: In the Secretary’s conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov, was the foreign minister able to answer or give any kind of assurances to the Secretary about what is going on? And presumably, the Secretary talked about what’s happening in the east and the U.S. concerns about – that have been expressed in public on the Hill --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- yesterday and today about Russia’s involvement or – in fomenting unrest in the east. Was the foreign minister able to speak to these things?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary, as I mentioned, certainly expressed his concerns, and the foreign minister expressed a willingness to take those back. It wasn’t a long phone call, and I’m not going to speak on their behalf, but certainly, we remain concerned about Russian military intervention and we remain concerned about all of the issues the Secretary talked about yesterday. And as he made clear in his testimony, we have no doubt that Russia’s hand and money are behind these actions we’ve seen in recent days.

QUESTION: Right. But previously to this – and specifically with – in relationship to Ukraine, the Secretary and you and other members of the Administration have not had a problem by – in saying – in describing the Russian response or in saying that the Russians have assured you, whether it’s Lavrov or anyone else, that they will respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Those assurances were broken, I guess, when they went in and annexed Crimea.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So is that – does that mean that the foreign minister was unable to offer any kind of assurance to the Secretary on (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not – I don’t want to characterize it further, Matt. You can certainly reach out to the Russians or they may have put out their own readout of their comments.

QUESTION: And then in line with the – your allegations that the Russians are – there is a Russian hand involved in what’s going on in eastern Ukraine --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- are these types of activities that could draw additional sanctions? Or does there have to be an actual move – a military – a formal military incursion for the sanctions – for additional sanctions to be considered?

MS. PSAKI: Well, no sanctions to announce today. Certainly, we look at a range of steps, including escalatory steps. And obviously, their involvement through financial means and through other means in the actions over the last couple of days have raised concerns and --


MS. PSAKI: -- they’re all factors that we look at.

QUESTION: But do you regard those as being escalatory steps?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly.


MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So in other words, they could, in themselves, draw additional sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to make a prediction of that.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not looking for a prediction.

MS. PSAKI: But I will say that we look at all of these. We don’t have a question – as was clear by the Secretary’s – the strength of the Secretary’s testimony yesterday --


MS. PSAKI: -- of their involvement here. So we certainly look at that as we make decisions moving forward.

QUESTION: And do you understand that the Europeans have similar concerns to you about the activities going on in the eastern part of Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: I believe some have expressed similar concerns, but I’ll let them speak for themselves.

QUESTION: And as you review your sanctions and these escalatory steps with respect to possible additional sanctions, would you been encouraging the Europeans to look the same way?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have been working in lockstep with them all along. Certainly we’ve made every effort to be coordinated and take complementary steps, and I’m sure that will continue.

QUESTION: You’ve been working with them in lockstep all – this is presumably post the – Toria’s phone call with Ambassador Pyatt? This is since then?

MS. PSAKI: You always love an opportunity to bring up the phone call, Matt. I think Toria has moved long beyond that, as have the Europeans.

QUESTION: I don’t know about the Russians, though.

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) More on Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yeah, more on Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Could you confirm that this quad or quartet or four-way meeting will take place in Vienna on the 17th of April? It’s what EU diplomats said in Brussels.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And what the point of joining, organizing this meeting when Assistant Secretary Nuland has just said on the Hill that the U.S. doesn’t have high expectations for it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of reports out there, I understand. But the date and the location and the agenda and the details haven’t been finalized yet, so when they are, I’m certain there’ll be a more formal announcement from all parties.

In terms of the purpose of this, we’ve always seen diplomacy and the opportunity to sit at a table and have discussions as being an important component of our efforts here. At the same time, as you’ve seen, we’ve also taken steps, including sanctions, in response to the unacceptable and illegal steps that the Russians have taken. But the process of discussion and diplomacy, the process of having the Ukrainians and the Russians at the same table, we think would still be a positive step.

QUESTION: Well, maybe instead of confirming the 17th, confirm the 16th.

MS. PSAKI: We’re still working through the final details and I hope we have more of a formal announcement soon.

More on Ukraine? Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There was a report that American officials, at least, are citing concern that the Ukrainians aren’t getting the full measure of U.S. intelligence on Russian troops massing at the border. So I’m wondering if you’ve – if the State Department, if the Secretary has received any of those qualms from the Ukrainians. And if so, how do you respond to the concerns that they’re not getting adequate U.S. intelligence?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve seen those comments, but I would just – I just read out at the beginning of this briefing a call the Secretary had with the prime minister just this morning where they talked about ongoing efforts, and this wasn’t an issue that was raised. I will say we’ve of course been --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, it wasn’t an issue that was raised?

MS. PSAKI: Was not, no.


MS. PSAKI: On the call this morning. We’ve been working closely – we’ve demonstrated our strong support for Ukraine throughout this crisis, including diplomatically, including economically with the package the President signed into law last week. I’m not going to comment on intel matters or intel cooperation or any issues as it relates to that.

QUESTION: Jen, can I just ask, going back to Nicolas’ question, but – I understand that you think it’s important to have the Russians and the Ukrainians talking together in the same room --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and that having EU and U.S. is – perhaps helpful as a mediator. But what would you actually concretely be hoping to see out of the meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: What would you hope would happen from it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously there are a number of days between now and any meeting next week. And as you know, this is a very fluid situation. So I don’t want to make a prediction of that. Let me just add that beyond efforts to engage the parties discussing at the same table, the Ukrainians and the Russians, and beyond sanctions, there’s also an ongoing process that the legitimate Government of Ukraine has going on the ground which we’re supporting them in, and that is leading up to an election that is the effort at constitutional reforms. So it is not as if we are all holding our breath waiting for this meeting. This meeting is a part of many steps that we are taking in working closely with the Government of Ukraine in their efforts to go through this transition period.

QUESTION: But I mean, some of the list of things that have been talked about in the past few days, such as pulling back troops, OSCE monitors, that sort of stuff – is that the sort of thing that you hope will be --

MS. PSAKI: Those have consistently been on the agenda, in terms of the need for OSCE monitors to be led into a broad swath of Ukraine, in terms of support for the constitutional reform effort already underway, in terms of de-escalating, and de-escalation is certainly a big part of our effort here. And at the end of the day, a primary focus here is also making sure that decisions about Ukraine are made only with the Government of Ukraine. They are the key deciding force here and they should be at the table.

QUESTION: But I’m interested in that you’re also giving Russia a say in decisions about the future of Ukraine. If you talk about constitutional reform, why do the Russians get a say in what – on the reform of the constitution of Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not – we’re not suggesting they do, but certainly that process has already been underway. We’ve been supporting them in that effort. There have been concerns expressed by the Russians, as you know, about issues like support for ethnic minorities in Ukraine. Well, one way to do that is to let OSCE monitors in to a broad swath of the country. So what I mean is there are a range of issues that have been part of the discussion and on the table for discussion, and certainly the Government of Ukraine needs to be the deciding force in those efforts.

More on Ukraine? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is there discussion about adding officials – Russian officials to the sanctions list in response to the provocative actions, as you define them, in eastern Ukraine? And is – because – is that something that could happen very quickly?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to make a prediction, but I will remind all of you that when the President signed the executive order just a couple of weeks ago, we gave ourself extensive flexibility to not only put in place sanctions for additional individuals, whether they’re Ukrainian or Russian officials, but also sectors, so all of those remain an option. We look at escalatory steps, whether that’s military steps or steps including the events over the last couple of days in eastern Ukraine, but I don’t have any announcements or predictions to make for all of you in terms of a next round of sanctions.

QUESTION: But can you say whether that is under discussion in response to those escalatory steps, not --

MS. PSAKI: I think I answered this a little bit before with Matt. I mean, look, I think we look at a range of steps that are taken. Certainly, what we want them, the Russians, to do is de-escalate. And when they take escalatory steps, which includes, of course, their clear involvement in the events over the last couple of days, those are all factors we look at as it relates to making decisions about putting additional sanctions in place.

QUESTION: And does it remain a State Department goal for the Russians to pull out of Crimea?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t recognize, as you know, Lucas, their illegal intervention into Crimea, and certainly that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: So you would like to see the Russians pull out their forces?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. If they could do that tomorrow, that would be great.

More on Ukraine? Ukraine or --


MS. PSAKI: Egypt. Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Today you – State Department released media note regarding the terrorist designation of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The simple thing: What is the significance or the importance or the meaning or the wisdom, if I can use this word, to use this now – I mean – or to release this now? Do you have any explanation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we provide – our team does regular reviews of designations and they announce them typically when a decision is made. I know we put out an extensive media note on this. I’m not sure I have very much to add. I would point you to that. And if you have any specific questions, I can certainly connect you with our team who handles that.

QUESTION: So you want me not to ask now or --

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Go ahead? Okay. Because the reason I’m asking is that – the question I want to ask about this media note was: Do you think that this designation of this Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis help the – better understanding or the understanding or your cooperation with the Egyptian Government to combat terrorism in that region, in Sinai? One of these question is this or --

MS. PSAKI: Is it going to help with our cooperation?

QUESTION: Or help – I mean, helping more or --

MS. PSAKI: In what capacity?

QUESTION: Because it’s like – it was – this issue was raised almost – like, almost a year now, and more than a year – the presence of these terrorist entities or militias or whatever, jihadists, whatever you can call it. And the Egyptian Government was raising the issue and necessity to combat it and terrorism and even sometimes use means that it was criticized or, let’s say, by – not just by (inaudible), by international community regarding how they handle these issues and violate some of the human rights.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. And as you know and as is noted in the media note, there are a number of reasons including a recent July 2012 attack against a Sinai pipeline that have led to this designation. In terms of what it will mean, I don’t have any prediction of that. Obviously, these decisions are made for a range of reasons and based on what our team feels is necessary, and there are a range of consequences, as you know, as well.

QUESTION: The third one, maybe you have announced (inaudible) not just it’s fine that I can ask: It’s the – this issue was raised when the Secretary was on the Hill, like, three weeks ago on the House --

MS. PSAKI: During his hearings?


MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And it was mentioned by the members of the House Foreign Affairs Committees that in particular, the Egyptian Government – or Egyptian army, in particular, using the Apache helicopters to follow this or to combat this kind of terrorism. And it was because these Apache helicopters for a while, it’s like if they’re suspended or whatever you can call it.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How is this issue going to be reviewed on base of this media note or recognition of, designation of Ansar Bayt as a terrorist group, or --

MS. PSAKI: Apache helicopters or which piece?

QUESTION: Apache helicopters.

MS. PSAKI: They’re separate issues, and obviously, the materiels and – that we provide and sell Egypt are a separate issue. This is an issue – I think it’s pretty clearly outlined, the reasons for the designation in the media note.

QUESTION: Yeah. The reason that I’m asking, because Egyptian Government, as they said, they are using these Apache helicopters to combat this terrorist group.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Now, you are recognizing this terrorist group as a dangerous entity.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So somehow, somebody has to combat these terrorists using Apache helicopters.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of any change on our position on that issue.

QUESTION: Okay. That’s fine. Thank you.


MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: This has to do with Iran, but I – and it has to do with their nominee or their proposed ambassador to the UN.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, yes.

QUESTION: And I recognize that you can’t talk about individual visa cases, so I don’t want to – but – I don’t want to ask specifically about this gentleman, but I do want to ask in general, in terms of the host country agreement --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- is it the Administration’s position that a person who – is it the Administration’s position that a person who you – who was once perhaps a threat to U.S. national security but is no more can be denied a visa under the host country agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get into that level of specificity, but I will tell you what our position is in terms of our host country obligations.

QUESTION: Well, let me refine my question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Does a person have to be a current threat to the United States to be denied a visa under the national security exemptions that are in the host country?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of exemptions, so let me just outline those a little more broadly. As you know – but worth repeating – as the host nation of the United Nations, except for limited exceptions, the United States is generally obligated under Section 11 of the United Nations Headquarters Agreement not to impede the transit to and from the UN Headquarters. And that, of course, means admitting the chosen representatives of member-states into the United Nations – into the United States, excuse me – for the purposes of representing their country at the UN.

As you also know, all visas are of course evaluated in accordance with all applicable U.S. law and procedure. But broadly speaking, among other grounds, there are – they are not exempt from inadmissibility provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act, Sections – to be specific – 212(a)(3)(A), (B), and (C) for security and related grounds. And that includes security, terrorism, and foreign policy concerns. So there are a broad range of, broadly speaking, reasons that a visa could be deemed ineligible.

QUESTION: Foreign policy concerns?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What, so if they disagreed with you on something, you could deny them a visa?

MS. PSAKI: I am not – it is not --

QUESTION: On that basis, former UN Ambassador Lavrov might not have been granted a visa to come to the United States.

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I know you know that’s not the case.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just outlining for you, broadly speaking, what the exemptions are.

QUESTION: I understand, but – and – but do they get more specific? I’m just back, so I haven’t looked at the law. Do they get more – the foreign policy --

MS. PSAKI: I would encourage you to look up those specific sections. I don’t have any other details to outline.

QUESTION: Okay. But does the person have to currently be a threat or be considered a national security concern or a foreign policy concern for them to be denied a visa? Or do past actions come into play?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any greater level of specificity on it.

QUESTION: All right. Just one more on this?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, Lucas – one, has the U.S. Government ever denied a visa for a country’s proposed ambassador to the United Nations?

MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question, Arshad. I know we were looking into it, and I believe we have an answer, so let me get back to you as soon as the briefing ends on this.

QUESTION: Okay. That would be great.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Second, is there an actual visa application that has been submitted by Mr. Aboutalebi?

MS. PSAKI: As in any case with visas, I’m not going to get into that level of specificity.

QUESTION: Okay. If it were to be – if such an application were to be turned down – in other words, the process would subsequently then be completed – would you be able to disclose the outcome of the process, or do you believe that the confidentiality of visa records prevents you from doing so?

MS. PSAKI: I believe it’s the latter, but let me check with our team and get a more concrete answer on that question.

QUESTION: And while you’re looking at the question of whether the U.S. Government has ever refused a visa, or simply not acted on a visa request by a proposed UN ambassador – by a proposed foreign government’s UN ambassador – can you also check whether the U.S. Government has ever refused a visa for a foreign head of state? I’m aware of the – I think it was in 1988 that then-PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat was denied a visa, but he was not a head of state or not treated as a head of state at the time. So I’m interested in knowing whether you’ve ever actually refused to issue such a visa for a head of state.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. We will check on the available historical information on that front.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I have another one on Iran.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: All right. The Secretary, in his testimony yesterday, was talking about – or was asked about and was talking about, the P5+1 talks in Vienna. And he talked about, at one point, Iran’s breakout capability. And this has raised some concerns among people because – the concerns are – is not the point, the whole point of the P5+1 process, to dismantle any part of Iran’s nuclear program that could be used – that could have a military application?

MS. PSAKI: There’s a range of purposes of the discussions, yes, Matt.

QUESTION: Is that – that is correct, right? I mean, what you’re going for here is the dismantlement of anything that Iran can do and it --

MS. PSAKI: Steps that would prevent them from acquiring a nuclear weapon, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. That remains the goal?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It doesn’t remain to keep them at some point where they’re only six months away from having the ability to make a weapon?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m just not going to parse it further. Obviously, these negotiations are ongoing, but --

QUESTION: It’s just – right. But I just want to make sure the goal is for them never to be able to have the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The goal is not just to keep them six months away from developing that?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just – I don’t have anything more for you on this particular question. I will check and see if there’s more.

QUESTION: A question on Blackwater? Blackwater?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There was an exceptionally harsh memorandum opinion issued yesterday by a judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in which the judge said – it essentially raised questions about the State Department’s decision to grant immunity to Blackwater contractors in the 2007 killings in Iraq.

And the judge, in addition to sort of excoriating the State Department for this decision, questioned whether the State Department had asked the Justice Department for an advisory opinion on whether it could issue – or it could grant immunity; whether the State Department, absent the permission of the attorney general, could in fact grant such immunity from criminal prosecution; and it specifically asked the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia to ask the State Department’s inspector general to investigate and report on this issue.

What is your response to the judge’s questions about the propriety of the State Department having granted immunity from criminal prosecution in the immediate aftermath of that incident to the Blackwater employees?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first I would say soon after the incident in Nisour Square, we – the Department, the State Department, moved to address concerns about the investigation into the incident immediately, including developing improved policies and procedures to investigate use of force incidents by security contractors.

Regarding the judge’s recommendation that the State Department IG should look into why the contractors were granted immunity, this issue was looked at extensively in the aftermath of the incident and addressed any improved investigative policies and procedures. And let me be a little more specific here. There has been since that time increased interagency cooperation. There’s been a standard procedure, operating procedure put in place, including forms developed in conjunction with the Department of Justice, and training on how to use these forms as it relates to contractors. These steps, as I’ve said, were taken immediately. They continue to be implemented.

As you know, this is a matter still currently in litigation, and so we’d refer you, of course, to the Department of Justice for most comments.

QUESTION: So one thing --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: First, you said “soon after” the State Department evolved new procedures, and then later you said “immediately.” Which is it? Was it --

MS. PSAKI: They seem to be synonyms, but --

QUESTION: “Soon after” and “immediately” I don’t think are necessarily synonyms. Soon after the barn door – soon after the horse ran out of the barn, I closed the barn door, right? So which was it? Was it soon after or was it immediately?

MS. PSAKI: Immediately.

QUESTION: Okay. If it was immediately, were those new procedures and the new forms designed to address the question of whether the State Department had the authority to offer immunity from criminal prosecution absent the authorization of the U.S. Justice Department which engages in such prosecutions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, given the efforts that were undertaken were to be more closely coordinated with the Department of Justice, these forms were created in cooperation with the Department of Justice, it was to address some of these concerns you express.

QUESTION: But was it to address that specific concern that the State Department should not make or purport to make grants of immunity absent the concurrence and explicit authorization of the Justice Department? I mean, I’m glad you have new forms, but if you don’t tell us what the forms say, and you don’t say what their purpose is, and if you don’t explain to us whether you’re actually addressing the specific concern that the judge raised, then you’re not explaining whether you’ve actually done anything to address this specific point.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I pretty clearly said, Arshad, that obviously, when we’re putting in place new forms that can be used with the contracting process in conjunction with the Department of Justice, that we’re addressing the concerns that have been expressed. I don’t have any other details for it – on this issue for you.

QUESTION: Can you say that that includes the immunity concerns?

MS. PSAKI: I will --

QUESTION: Because if you can’t say that, then it’s hard to say the State Department said it had addressed the immunity concerns.

MS. PSAKI: I will check with our team and the Department of Justice and see if there’s more we can specify out for you.

QUESTION: And one --

QUESTION: And can you also check --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or you can tell us now, maybe, if you’re aware, if Judge Lamberth was aware of this – of what you did immediately/soon after – I mean, did he know, or do you disagree with his rule – with his finding here?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – I’m not going to parse it further. Obviously, I would refer you to the Department of Justice for that. It’s a legal case.

QUESTION: All right. But then can you just find out, though, if the judge was aware – if you made – if either you or DOJ made Judge Lamberth aware of the changes and that – because if you have, he either thinks that they didn’t address the concerns or something else, which I don’t know, and I guess we have to ask the judge about that. But if you didn’t tell him this, then maybe he would take it back (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I would suspect that would happen through the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: Right, but --

MS. PSAKI: So I would point you to them. But I will see if there’s more we can convey.

QUESTION: One other thing on this. Regardless of whether the judge knew or didn’t know --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- if – and we don’t know if, from your comments, if the new State Department forms and procedures were indeed designed to address whether or not the State Department had the ability without reference to the Justice Department to grant immunity, then it would appear that the judge was right and you didn’t have the right to do this without Justice Department approval in the first place.

MS. PSAKI: Noted. New topic?

QUESTION: So the – well, let me ask the question in a very simple way.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. State Department believe that in 2007, it had the legal right to grant immunity to Blackwater employees in Iraq in conjunction with this incident? Do you believe you had that right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, this is an ongoing legal case. I’ve said all I can say at this point. We will circle back and see if there’s more we can add to address your question.

QUESTION: Okay. If you can try to take that one, because I think that’s the nub of the issue. You say you’ve changed your procedures. We don’t know if they address this issue, although you’re suggesting but not explicitly stating that they did. If you – if they did address the issue, the antecedent or the logical question is: Well, did you have the right to do what you did back in 2007, however wondrous your new procedures may be?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, it’s a legal case, and as you know, because you’ve been a longtime reporter, we typically don’t wax poetic on legal cases, so I’ll see if there’s more to add.

New topic?

QUESTION: But if somebody’s saying you did something wrong back in 2007, you would think you would want to say, “No, we didn’t, and here’s why.”

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to see if there’s more to add than what I’ve just conveyed.

QUESTION: Back to – thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Back to Iran’s envoy to the United Nations.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Will the State Department block his visa?

MS. PSAKI: I have nothing more to add for you, Lucas. We don’t speak to individual visa cases as a matter of policy, and so I’m not going to speculate on that.

QUESTION: Understood. And yesterday, Jay Carney said that Ambassador Aboutalebi’s nomination to be the new UN envoy is not viable. And I was wondering what exact method – if that was transmitted back to the Government of Iran.

MS. PSAKI: It certainly was. I’m not going to get into more specificity on how, though.

QUESTION: Is that just through the press?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any greater specificity.

QUESTION: And one more?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: Your counterpart in the Iranian foreign ministry --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- the spokeswoman, said that Ambassador Aboutalebi is highly qualified for this position. And I was wondering what about Ambassador Aboutalebi’s past bothers you.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any other detail in a public forum. We’ve obviously conveyed pretty clearly that this wouldn’t be a viable nomination, and I will leave it at that.

QUESTION: Would you like to see his nomination go forward?

MS. PSAKI: I think saying it’s not viable makes clear our view on that.

Go ahead, Ali.

QUESTION: Also following up on the nonviable comment, can we – is it your understanding that that is a comment that is – should be taken completely separately from the issue of a visa application or the denial of a visa application?

MS. PSAKI: Completely separately in which capacity?

QUESTION: In the sense that the – saying he’s not viable, should we take that to be an indication of what way the government would go, assuming he has submitted an application?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t take it as an indication. We obviously don’t speak to the specifics of visa cases, applications, whether we will or won’t, et cetera, but the point here is that we have sent the message very clearly that this is not a viable choice for this position.

QUESTION: And one more. Are there concrete manifestations of the belief that he’s not viable that the United States could express to the Iranians short of anything to do with a visa? Are there any other --

MS. PSAKI: You mean are there other – I’m not sure I understand your question.

QUESTION: Are there other consequences? Are there any other – what else can you do to express that you believe that he is not viable?

MS. PSAKI: I think conveying it makes it pretty clear, and our view is they understand the message we’re sending.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Iran? No more on Iran? Go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, I have one on China.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: So yesterday, Secretary Hagel wrapped up a trip in China, and he had a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart in which his Chinese counterpart said that relations between Japan and China are confronted with severe difficulties and that Japan is to blame for this. He then goes on to say that he hopes the U.S. can stay vigilant against Japan and keep it within bounds and not be permissive and supportive.

Does the State Department agree with the assessment from the Chinese defense minister that the U.S. has been permissive and supportive of Japan’s actions?

MS. PSAKI: I am certainly not going to engage that deeply in your question, other than to say that we believe good relations among China and Japan and all of their neighbors benefit everyone in the region. That’s something we’ve consistently conveyed to all parties, whether that’s the Chinese, whether that’s the Japanese. And that’s something the Secretary has done and Secretary Hagel has done as well. We regularly discuss with China and Japan and others ways to reduce tensions and build trust in the region. That will continue, and I’m certain that was a part of Secretary Hagel’s visit as well.

QUESTION: And on that note, what more could the State Department do to aid or to ease tensions between Japan and China?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we are going to continue to convey our belief that that is – that reducing the tensions is to the benefit of all parties in the region, and we’ll continue to have conversations with all countries.

QUESTION: Jen, can we come back to Iran for a moment?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Can you explain under the treaty obligations that the U.S. has for admitting diplomats who work at the UN – what are those treaty obligations? Can you spell out what the requirements are for the U.S. as a signatory?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just did, but I can repeat it again if it’s helpful.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you mind?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.


MS. PSAKI: One moment. So as host nation of the United Nations, except for limited exceptions, the United Nations – the United States is generally obligated under Section 11 of the United Nations Headquarters Agreement not to impede the transit to and from the UN Headquarters District, the UN Headquarters among – and – sorry, this is written in a weird way – District of, among others, representatives of UN member states, meaning that we generally obligated to admit the chosen representatives of member states into the United States for the purposes of representing their country at the UN. I mentioned some specific exemptions for that matter broadly speaking.

QUESTION: Now, obviously, this treaty was reached long before the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA, the background checks, the secret lists, no-fly lists, and that sort of thing.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there anything that precludes these U.S. agencies from putting someone on a no-fly list, a no-admit list, absent the fact that the U.S. may or may not have issued a visa to this person?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that would be under the purview of DHS. I would point you to them. I don’t have any other further details on that.

QUESTION: Is that perhaps one way that the U.S. would be able to indicate its displeasure with having this gentleman to go there?

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

QUESTION: In addition to saying he’s not viable, don’t you have anything more from that podium to suggest why you don’t want him to be the new envoy? What troubles you about his past?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m just – I’m not going to go into further details from here.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. ever objected before to any state’s potential representative to the United Nations? And if so, when?

MS. PSAKI: Arshad asked the same question, and I will see what historical information we have available for all of you.

QUESTION: Do you think that this is an outlier?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that. We’ll see if there’s specific information historically we can provide.

Iran, or another topic?

QUESTION: No, a different topic.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: On Taiwan, President Ma this morning said that the U.S. should include Taiwan in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. What’s the Administration’s position on that request?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we welcome Taiwan’s interest in TPP, noting its ongoing domestic work to assess its readiness to take on TPP’s ambitious commitments. TPP is open to regional economies that can demonstrate this readiness and win consensus support of the current TPP members for them to join. Right now, the 12 TPP members are focused on concluding the negotiations to create the TPP. In the near term, the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement provides an opportunity for Taiwan to resolve existing U.S. trade and investment concerns, demonstrate its preparations to take on new trade commitments, and set itself on a path of new liberalization of its economic regime.


QUESTION: Can we go back to the South Sudan question --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Yes, we can.

QUESTION: -- that I had on Monday and the Secretary’s meetings tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.

QUESTION: And the sanctions issue there?

MS. PSAKI: We certainly can. So as you noted yesterday, tomorrow, Secretary Kerry will meet with Awan Riak, the minister in the office of the president of the Republic of South Sudan, to discuss the urgent need to end the conflict in South Sudan. Secretary Kerry will emphasize the importance of ending the fighting, implementing the cessation of hostilities agreement, resolving outstanding issues through an inclusive national dialogue, ensuring humanitarian and UN access, and putting a stop to human rights abuses during this meeting. And we will venture to also have a readout, of course, following the meeting.

To answer your other question, no individuals or entities have yet been sanctioned under the new authority signed by President Obama last week. As you know, that provides us the framework in order to make those decisions, and we now have the tools to do so. But no decisions have been made yet.

QUESTION: So is there currently some review about who might be eligible for those sanctions? Or is that simply an authority that you’re holding in reserve?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t, of course, speculate or comment on that, but obviously we will look to use this broad and flexible authority as appropriate. And as was noted in the announcement last week, this is applicable to those that obstruct the peace and reconciliation process in South Sudan, as well as against those responsible for violence against civilians, human rights abuses, and the obstruction of humanitarian operations. So, as is applicable and necessary, those discussions will certainly happen internally.

QUESTION: Both Mr. Riak, who was at a think tank this morning, as well as another government minister have objected quite strongly to the President’s decision to issue this executive order. And Mr. Riak said, and I’m paraphrasing: Essentially what we in South Sudan need it not punishment but more U.S. help. Is the U.S. taking seriously the South Sudanese objections? Or is the fact that this executive order was issued a sign of deep displeasure with a government which the U.S. put a lot of time and lot of money and a lot of prestige, frankly, into trying to stand up back in 2011?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, as you know and as was noted last week, this was prompted by certainly the ongoing crisis and the failure to abide by the cessation of hostilities. And they have the power to abide by that cessation, and we certainly do have concerns, deep concerns about what’s happening on the ground. And this was an expression of that.

QUESTION: Is it too much to suggest that the South Sudanese Government of President Kiir is perhaps being self-serving by saying that the U.S. has crossed a line by taking this action?

MS. PSAKI: I am not going to speculate on that. Obviously, this was a step that the President of the United States, the Secretary, a broad scope of officials in the government felt was necessary, and that’s why it was taken.

QUESTION: But you do take the point that given that there is the ongoing IGAD process to try to resolve the civil war – let’s call it what it is – that to invoke the threat of sanctions is a pretty serious step for this government to put on the table and to do so in such a public and legal fashion?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, it provides us the tools and the framework to take those steps. Obviously, we haven’t taken that step at this point. What’s going on on the ground is very serious. It was – it’s a response to what’s happening. Obviously, the Secretary himself will have a meeting tomorrow where he’ll convey these points as well.

Go ahead, Scott.

QUESTION: Could I go to Montenegro?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Prime Minister was here this week. I believe he met with Toria and Bill Burns, and – as well as the Vice President. Do you have a readout on any of those meetings?

MS. PSAKI: The Vice President’s office put out an extensive readout I’m happy to send over to you. We didn’t have anything in addition to add. If I remember, consecutively, I think our meetings here were before that meeting. So --


MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: A very short one on Sudan.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the decision of Khartoum to expel an American country chief of a UN agency? They have accused her of interfering into domestic affairs. Do you have the reasons of this incident?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen those reports, and I believe it was an AFP report. When I came down here, we didn’t have any independent confirmation of that from the ground. So let me circle back with our team and see if there’s anything new, if there’s any confirmation from our end. I suspect we may have a comment on it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: New topic. It’s about international conference – NPDI, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative. It’s going to be held in Hiroshima in this weekend.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And you said that the under secretary is going to attend --

MS. PSAKI: Under Secretary --

QUESTION: Under Secretary Gottemoeller.

MS. PSAKI: -- Gottemoeller? Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Gottemoeller. Do you have some readout or could you tell me why --

MS. PSAKI: An announcement?


MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen a media note come across. It may have. So let me talk to her team and see if they’re going to – I’m sure they will put out more detailed plans for her travel.

QUESTION: Is it a first time to attend for the United States?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check on that question too, as well.


MS. PSAKI: Great. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’ve got one more on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You mentioned that the United States is biggest donor in terms of helping the Syrian refugees, and we are aware of funds that have been allocated to Turkey, Jordan, and other countries for helping the refugees. However, as far as I’m informed, there has been no assistance, government assistance, from Washington to Armenia. And the number of Syrian Christian refugees in Armenia has close to 12,000 I believe one month ago. So could you please comment on this, why there is no official support – financial material support from Washington to Armenia?

MS. PSAKI: Let me check on the details of that. I don’t have that in front of me, but I’m happy to talk to our Syria team about that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I need to get – Cuba --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- and this whole Cuba Twitter thing, which was been discussed on the Hill over the course of the past couple days. Last week, I believe it was on Friday, Marie said that the messages that were sent on this – that none of the messages that were sent via this – I don’t know what even you call it – scheme --

MS. PSAKI: ZunZuneo?

QUESTION: Yes. No, I know that’s the name of it. I’m trying to figure out – this initiative – none of the messages that were sent by – text messages that were sent on these cell phones were political in nature, at least overtly political in nature. Over the course of the past couple days, there have been – some of my colleagues have found messages that were in fact political in nature, or at least involved political satire, and have discovered that a political satirist, a Cuban expat, was in fact hired maybe by the contractors, but as paid for by this. Are you able to say again that there was no political content involved here? Or are you now, on further review, toning that denial down?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, as Marie noted last week, the intention of the ZunZuneo program was to create a platform for Cubans to speak freely among themselves. If the intent went beyond this, that would certainly be troubling to us, and USAID is looking into that as we speak. But it is worth noting that we’re talking about reported text messages from five years ago. We – for – about a program that ended in 2012, and there are some – there’s some uncertainty about whether the timing of these text messages – whether they were drafts or actually released, whether they were linked to the program or not. So those are all questions that USAID is looking into as we speak.

QUESTION: Okay. And we will get – presumably when they discover – when they find out those answers, the answers will be made public, they’re not going to be kept secret?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, certainly.

QUESTION: Okay. And I think that the understanding that the idea was to get Cubans to talk amongst themselves here. The question is whether these messages that were political had something to do with politics or were political satire. Not – the question is not whether – if they originated from within – amongst Cubans using the system, but if they originated with the people who were --

MS. PSAKI: I understand --

QUESTION: -- contracted by USAID.

MS. PSAKI: I understand your question. I understand your --

QUESTION: I mean, one Cuban saying to another that Fidel looks like he died 10 years ago is a lot different than if the U.S. Government was paying someone who then inserted this into the system.

MS. PSAKI: I understand your question. What is unclear is whether they were drafts, what the timing was, whether they were linked to the program or not, and so that’s what they’re looking into now.

QUESTION: Well, I – but the bottom line is that last week, when Marie said definitively that there were no political messages, no overtly political messages sent out on this thing, you’re not sure that that’s correct now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that was --

QUESTION: You’re saying that if there were --

MS. PSAKI: That would be troubling.

QUESTION: -- that would be troubling.

MS. PSAKI: That was the information that was available at the time, and again --

QUESTION: I’m not saying --

MS. PSAKI: No, no, I’m just conveying that was the information that was available. This is a program that, again – and we’re talking about text messages that were from five years ago – it’s challenging to get to the bottom of the details.

QUESTION: Right. No, I understand that. So if they were in fact – and I realize this is a hypothetical, but if in fact it is discovered that there were political messages, that would be troubling you because that would be – would have been inappropriate? Why would it be troubling?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, there were specific purposes of this specific program, and that was to provide a platform for Cubans to speak freely among themselves. Obviously, we’ve conveyed what the program was and wasn’t, but we’re looking into the facts and we’ll make them available as we know them.

QUESTION: Well, I guess I’m just – what I’m wondering is why it would be troubling if in fact there were – there had been – what is the reason that it would be troubling? Because that was not the point of the program, or because – because why?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that wasn’t the purpose of this particular program, and it was to provide a platform for the Cubans themselves. And obviously, we’re looking into the details and we’ll make those available.

QUESTION: Well, so if contractors for USAID inserted messages or sent messages on this system that were political and would be troubling to you, they were acting on their own, they were rogue elements here?

MS. PSAKI: I think we have to look into what the specific details were. These were obviously – the reported text messages were from contractors, I believe. We don’t have the details at this point on the timing, so let us venture to get more and we’ll be able to better answer those questions.

QUESTION: Jen, can you please restate why it was appropriate for an agency that is known for food, water, emergency health care, emergency shelter should be in the business of providing communication platforms? Isn’t that something that’s more appropriate for the private sector?

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of programs around the world that enable people to freely communicate when that’s not an option, and that’s a tool the United States certainly supports. So I don’t think it’s out of the norm at all.

QUESTION: So just to clarify, I mean, it’s – so there is some kind of reviewing going on now to evaluate what was done?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t overstate it. Again, I think there are – these are reported text messages, a handful of them from five years ago, and there’s a question of timing and whether they were linked to the program or not, and we’re just venturing to get --

QUESTION: Because a few days --

MS. PSAKI: -- to the bottom of the facts.

QUESTION: The reason I’m asking: Few days ago, after this question was raised, some officials at AID program was saying that – I’m – I don’t know, if I’m wrong, correct me – it said that we are proud of what we did.

MS. PSAKI: That hasn’t changed. But obviously, we’re talking about a handful of reported text messages, and we just want to get to the bottom of the facts, and we’ll make those available as we know it.

QUESTION: I’m not going to belabor the (inaudible) --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Why is the timing – I don’t understand why --

MS. PSAKI: As to whether it was linked to this program or not or whether it was related to something else.

QUESTION: Well, how would they be – I don’t know how it could’ve been related to something else if the --

MS. PSAKI: There’s a question of the timing, if the program had even started or not. So we’re looking into all of that.

QUESTION: So – well, how could they be sent – I don’t get it. If you’re talking about – you say – as you said, they’re talking about text messages from five years ago.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You’re saying that the program didn’t exist five years ago?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t want to speculate too much because we’re looking to get to the bottom of the facts here, Matt, but --

QUESTION: Or that the program had ended before --

MS. PSAKI: The program ended in 2012.

QUESTION: Right, which is not five years ago, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. But these text messages, I believe, are from about five years ago, these reported text messages.


MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But you’re not – you’re saying you’re not certain that they were sent or they were drafted for this program?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.


MS. PSAKI: Great. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:33 p.m.)


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