Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 29, 2015.
1:27 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. All right. I have a couple of items for all of you at the top.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: We strongly condemn the intensifying attacks over the last week by Russia-backed separatists in – on Debaltseve, a town approximately 13 kilometers beyond the Minsk ceasefire line, a boundary that Russia and the separatists committed to respect when they signed the Minsk agreements. There can be no mistake about this violation of the agreements and who is responsible. The head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic stated on January 24th that, “In a few days, we will surround Debaltseve.”
Over the past week, the separatists have fired countless rockets at the city, killing and wounding scores of innocent people, and prompting the Ukrainian Government and local NGOs to organize a city-wide evacuation. There can also be no mistake about Russia’s role in the escalation of violence, which is causing suffering and death among those Russia has claimed it wants to protect. Russia has equipped the separatists with tanks, armored vehicles, heavy artillery, rocket systems, and other military equipment, while the Russian military continues to provide ongoing tactical support for separatists’ operations. We call on Russia and the separatists it supports to cease immediately offensive military operations in eastern Ukraine and implement fully their commitments under the September Minsk agreements. Otherwise, U.S. and international pressure on Russia and separatists will only increase.
I’d also like to welcome the group joining us from the University of Southern California – hello in the back – the Public Diplomacy Masters program. They’re in town this week for a series of meetings and we’re happy to have you here at the State Department today. With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m sure we’ll get back to Ukraine a little later on, but I wanted to start with a couple of – basically they’re housekeeping things —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — that have to do with Israel from yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: The first one is: Did you – were you able to get an answer to the question about the funding for OneVoice —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: — when the last payment of – for the grant that ended in November was made and how much it was for?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. The U.S. Government grant to OneVoice Israel was for $233,500. The duration of this grant, as I mentioned yesterday but just to reconfirm, was from September 23rd, 2013 through November 30th, 2014. No payment was made to OneVoice after November 2014.
QUESTION: And the project was, again, for what?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the project was to support efforts to support a two-state solution.
QUESTION: Despite the fact that you said that yesterday without the specific dollar amount and money, there was – another report emerged today that says that the State Department is funding an anti-Netanyahu lobbying campaign ahead of the Israeli election. Can you just say once and for all whether that – there is any shred of proof for that? Has your looking into it uncovered some kind of —
MS. PSAKI: It’s —
QUESTION: — funding for this purpose?
MS. PSAKI: No. It’s an absolutely false report. The reports were stemming from inaccurate reporting – and a lack of reporting, perhaps I should say, on this grant that I’ve given you many details on.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you for clearing that up.
Now, the second one on – housekeeping thing on Israel is the other day, I asked you about any reaction that the Administration might have to comments that Ambassador Dermer made in a speech in Florida on Sunday night. At the time, you said that we’re not going to lose any more sleep over this particular issue. And I thought – I had presumed, perhaps – obviously erroneously, that you were speaking for the entire Administration. Because this morning, there was a report in The New York Times which was highly critical of Ambassador Dermer, quoting senior U.S. officials which also contained the rather bizarre suggestion that the Administration might move to declare Ambassador Dermer persona non grata. Is – have you not – are you still losing sleep over this? Because it certainly seems that way.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, first of all, as is true of the anonymous quotes that appear in newspapers every day, I don’t know who this person is. They don’t represent or speak for the Secretary of State. And so I would stand by the comments he’s made and I’ve made.
QUESTION: But you do agree that —
QUESTION: I’m sorry, hold on. So there is no suggestion – have you – that there might be some kind of punishment coming to or some kind of – I don’t know – something to respond to Ambassador Dermer’s comments or his actions? There would – there’s no punitive measure that’s being considered?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think there’s a punitive measure that is coming, no, Matt.
QUESTION: I mean, have you been – has the – you said that you recalled that the Secretary had a meeting with the ambassador —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — for two hours or so before the whole Netanyahu invitation was announced, and that it hadn’t come up and that the Secretary was surprised that it hadn’t come up. Would you – would the Administration prefer to have Israel represented by someone other than Ambassador Dermer, or is he okay by you?
MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t suggesting that, and I have no idea who the source was in the story.
QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t have any problems with him representing the government, the Government of Israel as their ambassador?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think there’s any concerns we’re expressing from this building, no.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: I have a couple question on Israel, but I wanted to ask you about the ambassador. You do believe that what he did was actually breach diplomatic protocol? Did he?
MS. PSAKI: I think we spoke about this pretty extensively last week, Said.
QUESTION: To hear it again, he did breach diplomatic —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we need to repeat it. I think we can point to the —
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Let me ask you —
MS. PSAKI: — twenty times I said it last week. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Great. Let me just follow up on —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — some Israeli issues. The Israelis today cut off electricity or reduced the electricity to the Palestinian Authority areas, saying that they owe them about $450 million or something to that effect accumulated over the last few years, that of course coming at a time when the Palestinians claim that you have reduced their aid to them by a huge amount, more than 50 percent. Is there anything that you can do perhaps —
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, Said, on the second piece, I think I’ve spoken to this several times in here about the fact that reports or claims that we have reduced our aid or changed our aid are not accurate. Our aid is continuing.
On the first piece, I have not seen those reports. I don’t have confirmation of them. I’m happy to talk to our team about it.
QUESTION: Well, the Israelis, I mean, they announced that the Palestinian Authority said yes, it’s true, they reduced their electricity. Is there something that you can do in this case, perhaps infuse the Palestinian Authority with some emergency funds to deal with this issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we provide a range of funds to the Palestinians. That’s continued. I’ll talk to our team and see if this is an issue that we’re closely tracking.
QUESTION: Okay. And let me just quickly —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Israelis, of course, have decided to hold or freeze the tax monies that was going to be – so it seems ironic that on one hand, they’re saying there’s an unpaid bill, but on the other hand, they’re holding the money that they haven’t released to the Palestinians.
MS. PSAKI: Well, and we’ve talked about that in the past. Obviously, we remain engaged with both sides, but I don’t have any other update from here at this point in time.
QUESTION: Would you encourage the Israelis, in this case, to take that tax money and put it towards the money owed by the Palestinian Authority?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not encouraging anything at this moment.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: I want to look into more details.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. I just have a couple more questions.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Both secretaries general of the Arab League and the United Nations spoke today about the situation in Gaza, and it was really deteriorating. I know you from this podium the other day —
MS. PSAKI: About the funding issue?
QUESTION: — right, about the funding issue – you did call for – on the donors to go ahead and meet their obligations, but nothing has transpired in the last 48 hours, and the situation is really deteriorating, where the school year has not even started.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: I mean, the school – the new semester.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I outlined the other day, we remain a steadfast supporter of UNRWA, we – which plays an indispensable role in the region, particularly in Gaza. We’ve provided over $100 million to UNRWA for their 2015 needs, including 38 million for emergency needs in Gaza and the West Bank. This is something that we continue to support, and we certainly understand the dire needs of the people living there at this difficult point in time.
QUESTION: And finally – I know that the Quartet met the other day, and they issued a statement calling for resumption of talks and so on. Is there anything that this building is – or the Secretary of State is doing, actually, to restart any kind of talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think, as we’ve said many times, we continue to believe that a two-state solution that would come through negotiations is the only way to have peace – a lasting peace and lasting security in the region. As you know, that needs to be up to the parties to take the steps necessary. Israel is in an election season right now, so clearly, this isn’t a process that’s happening right now.
QUESTION: So you expect right after the Israeli election that there may be some sort of initiative?
MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t making a prediction of that. We’ll leave that up to the leaders and the parties to determine.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Israel before we continue? Okay. Should we go to a new topic?
QUESTION: Can we go to Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you really quickly —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — because this is just happening now, there was an attack in Afghanistan at an airbase, and there’s some reports that there were two Americans killed. Do you know anything about that?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen the reports. I think my Department of Defense colleagues may have a little bit more on that than I do, and certainly we can get you something after the briefing if they are able to put out more information.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Belarus has announced today there’s going to be a new round of peace negotiations on Friday. I wondered if you had a position on that, given the fact also that the rebel leaders have said that they’re going to send a lower level negotiator because they don’t believe that anything is going to come from these talks.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re referring to another meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group – am I right —
MS. PSAKI: — which they’ve had ongoing meetings, as you know, over the course of the last several months. It remains the case that you can continue to have negotiations and agreements, but if Russia doesn’t back up their words with actions, it’s very difficult to make progress. So certainly, there is some irony in the separatists conveying that they may not attend the talks at the same level. We see that, of course.
But ultimately, we think talking and negotiating is an important thing. Obviously, implementing the Minsk protocols, which have been in place, which have been agreed to, is the action steps that the separatists and Russia can take, and that’s something we’re continuing to push and encourage.
As you also know, the FAC is meeting today in Europe, and they’re discussing further consequences. I don’t have any update on that, but I think that’s just another sign of how concerned we all are about what we’re seeing on the ground.
QUESTION: Well, I think they just believed – the EU’s Federica Mogherini has just said that they’ve agreed to add new names to the sanctions list and are going to work on further restrictive measures. Do you have a reaction to that? Is adding names for a sanctions list enough, or should you not now be thinking about deeper, more biting sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Jo, because you follow this closely, this has been a building process. And the EU and the United States have put in place a range of sanctions on sectors, on individuals. And this is just a further sign that the actions of the last several days and weeks are absolutely unacceptable and that there will be new consequences put in place.
As you know, we work closely with the EU. We’ve been adding – sometimes we add names, sometimes we add sectors or companies, and that’s the same thing for the EU. But it doesn’t mean – the totality of what they’ve done, as you know, is not just a couple of individuals. It’s building on a large sanctions effort that’s been going on for months now.
QUESTION: So you welcome this move that’s just happening?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly we welcome it. It’s a positive step.
QUESTION: And should we anticipate – since you guys have been working in tandem with the EU, should we anticipate today, tomorrow, or over the weekend a similar move by the U.S. Administration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, over the course of the last several months, we haven’t had exactly the same names and exactly the same sectors or companies. Obviously we’ll continue to consider others that we could add, but I don’t have anything to predict for you in terms of a next –
QUESTION: Nothing to predict tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing to predict —
QUESTION: Because it has happened sometimes within a few hours.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. It has. Sure, it has. But nothing to predict. I don’t think there’s anything to expect today.
QUESTION: Can we go to Yemen?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish Ukraine. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Stay on that just for one second. Has it hit your radar yet that Greece, the new Greek Government, may not be as enthusiastic about sanctions on Russia as you would like them to be?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we talked about this a little bit yesterday, as you know.
QUESTION: I know. But I’m just wondering if after today – there was the EU meeting today that —
MS. PSAKI: Well, and the EU it sounds – and I hadn’t even seen this before I came out – had made some announcements about additional steps they’re taking.
QUESTION: Right. Well —
MS. PSAKI: What I said yesterday is we’ll let that be debated within the EU.
QUESTION: — I don’t know about adding new names, but I do know that they’ve extended their initial tranche of sanctions, which were put in place as a result of the Crimea annexation. But the Greek Government – the new Greece – Greek Government – has – is not enthusiastic about sanctions. And I’m just wondering if that has caused any concern here yet, since yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to add since yesterday.
QUESTION: No. All right.
QUESTION: What would you —
QUESTION: Can I just clarify —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Are you actively working on new sanctions at the moment, from the U.S. side?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, as you know, unfortunately this conflict is ongoing, so we’re always considering options. But I don’t have anything to predict for you in terms of anything new.
QUESTION: Because —
QUESTION: Jen, the last leader of the Soviet Union —
MS. PSAKI: Is this Ukraine?
QUESTION: — Mikhail Gorbachev – yes – today said that you are thrusting Russia into a new cold war and this can actually evolve into a hot war. Do you have any comment on that and —
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: — have you seen those comments?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen the comments. We disagree. We continue to work with Russia on issues ranging from Iran to the situation in Syria. We have discussions about a range of issues. Even the tensions on the ground in the Middle East, that’s continuing. That is – our intention here is to bring an end to the illegal actions that are happening in Ukraine. That’s why we continue to work with the Europeans to put in place more consequences.
QUESTION: There are some analysts who suggest —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: — that the ongoing imposition of sanctions isn’t deterring Russia from apparently sending in its own forces, providing equipment and support to the separatists. What is this building’s reaction to that analysis, that maybe the sanctions regime just isn’t the tool to persuade Russia to back off?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s no question – I don’t think anyone questions that the sanctions that have been put in place have had an enormous impact on the economy of Russia. Now it’s up to President Putin and the Russians to make the choice as to whether they want to see those sanctions eased, to ease the burden on their economy, or they want to continue down this detrimental path.
We continue to believe that this is the right approach. We also continue to support Ukraine with a range of support, as do the Europeans. But again, there’s been an agreement. The question is will they implement the agreement. So this is something we’ll continue to negotiate on. We’ll put consequences in place if needed. But this is our determined approach at this point.
QUESTION: Just going back to Gorbachev and the Cold War —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: The argument that no, this is not a new cold war or resurgence of the Cold War – the basis that you used to make that argument, that we still work together with Russia on numerous issues, doesn’t really hold water. Because during the Cold War, even at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union cooperated on things. There was Apollo-Soyuz. There was —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — were arm control agreements. So can you offer any other bit of evidence —
MS. PSAKI: Well, tell me more about what was said and what you need a response to.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just wondering if it is not – I don’t know – if it is accurate to continue to say that no, we’re not in a new cold war just because you are able to cooperate on a very limited number of issues, which is essentially the same as what you had cooperated on during the Cold War.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re also in discussions, as are a range of countries, with Russia about how to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine. I don’t think – I think the question is what are the similarities, not what are the differences.
QUESTION: So you think he —
QUESTION: Oh —
QUESTION: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: No. You think that the former chairman of the Communist Party, the last leader of the Soviet Union, is being hyperbolic and —
MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve answered this question, Said. Do we have any more —
QUESTION: One more.
MS. PSAKI: — on Ukraine before we move on?
QUESTION: Can I —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: One on – and I appreciate you may not be able to answer this, actually. We’re reporting out of Moscow today that there was a young – a mother of seven children who has been arrested and accused of treason because she called the Ukrainian embassy and apparently discussed some kind of Russian troop movements. I wondered if you’d heard of the case —
MS. PSAKI: I have not. This was in Moscow, or —
QUESTION: This was in Moscow, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen the —
QUESTION: No, sorry. Her – she lives in the town of Vyazma. Sorry, my Russian’s non-existent.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have details on that. I had not seen the report. I’m happy to take it and we can see what —
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: — if we can get more details on it.
QUESTION: Turkey, Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s finish Ukraine. Go ahead.
QUESTION: It’s —
MS. PSAKI: Or Russia or anything else.
QUESTION: — yeah, related to Russia. Victoria Nuland said all NATO allies must contribute to the defense of “NATO’s eastern frontline,” and she went on to say, “We must install command and control centers in all six frontline states as soon as possible.” What are those six frontline states that need defense right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – I don’t have more details on what Assistant Secretary Nuland – and I think you’re referring to her speech yesterday. I don’t have more details. I’m happy to talk to her about it. I think, as you know, we’ve been in touch with and even the President and the Vice President have visited a number of our NATO allies who are concerned about some of the aggressive actions that have happened in Ukraine, and we’ve supported them. But I don’t have a list of six countries for you right now.
QUESTION: Can you name some of those that she may have meant?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that.
Do we have any more on Ukraine before we continue? Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Iran.
MS. PSAKI: On Iran? Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, please. The Senate sanction – Banking Committee passed the bill that stipulates some new – further sanctions on Iran, should the talks fail.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Any comments on that? Are you worried, concerned?
MS. PSAKI: Well, today’s vote was just the first step in a multistep legislative process before a bill could be enacted into law. But I think, as you all know, the President clearly stated that he will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo the progress we’ve made in freezing and rolling back Iran’s nuclear program. So it’s gone through the Banking Committee, but that’s where it is at this point.
QUESTION: Do you intend to talk more with senators and congressmen on the Hill in this regard?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. We’ve been in regular contact, as you know. Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken testified this week, and I expect we’ll continue to have discussions and consultations next week as well.
QUESTION: Jen, as you noted, the President has said he will veto any bill that he – that the Administration believes will interfere with or affect – I just want to make sure: Does the bill that passed the Banking Committee today meet that standard for a veto?
MS. PSAKI: I think there’s no question, yes.
QUESTION: Yes? Yes?
QUESTION: Jen, you’ve also —
MS. PSAKI: But it hasn’t even passed Congress, so —
QUESTION: No, I know, I know. But the bill that has now gone to the full Senate —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — would be vetoed if it —
MS. PSAKI: Right. That’s my understanding.
QUESTION: We’ve heard from different Administration officials that should this bill be approved, it’s counterproductive. Senator Corker today said that, “This is a process.” Would you agree with him?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what they mean by that. Or can you —
QUESTION: That they’re getting ready for when and if necessary to impose the sanctions.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve been clear about what our view is, that imposing new sanctions through our Congress would be detrimental to the negotiations, that the negotiators need the room and the space to negotiate. And our counterparts around the world have also spoken to what kind of an impact – a detrimental impact – this could have on the entire sanctions – international sanctions regime. So our position remains the same.
I’m not sure what you mean by their process. I mean, there’s a process by which a bill becomes a law, but obviously, the President’s spoken to what he would do if this bill passed.
QUESTION: Can you sing us the song?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not a great singer, but perhaps somebody can volunteer.
QUESTION: I just want to make what happened – I want to make sure I understand one thing: Do you think that it’s – that passing – that the Banking Committee’s approval of this is detrimental, in and of itself?
MS. PSAKI: No. Putting it in law would be detrimental.
MS. PSAKI: Putting new sanctions in law.
QUESTION: But just the committee’s action today you don’t think will have any effect on the sanctions regime or on the negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: No. I don’t think we’d state it that way. I wouldn’t state it —
QUESTION: During the —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: — all the negotiations that have been going on among the P5+1 with Iran —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: — have the Iranians in any way hinted or said that such a thing would – they would walk away should such a bill pass?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak on their behalf. I think we expect the Iranians to abide by their obligations under the JPOA. We want to do the same. That’s part of the discussion. But I think many of the P5+1 partners have obviously also spoken to how detrimental this would be, so —
QUESTION: We’re reporting on similar efforts among conservatives in the Iranian parliament to try to punish the U.S. for curtailing Iran’s nuclear program. Does this building have an opinion of those efforts?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything, other than to say again that we expect they’ll abide by their obligations under the JPOA. And obviously, they have their own political constituencies as well.
QUESTION: The Israeli prime minister accused Iran of being behind the attack in Shebaa Farms and so on. How does this – if it turns out to be true, how does it impact the ongoing negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve —
QUESTION: Or does it?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve long been concerned, as you know, Said, about Iran and Hezbollah’s troubling ties and work together. I don’t have any confirmation of what the Israeli prime minister tweeted, I believe it was, or said publicly in some capacity, so I’m not going to speculate on that. I will say that, outside of the negotiations, as we’ve said many, many times, it doesn’t mean that our concerns about their human – Iran’s human rights record, about their state sponsorship of terrorism, about their engagement in some parts of the world that we find troubling hasn’t changed. It’s hasn’t changed. That remains. But we still believe that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is a – beneficial to the global community.
QUESTION: On this —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: — well, on the Hezbollah issue, yesterday we had a somewhat lengthy discussion about escalatory and what is – what escalates the crisis. And missing from that – I was remiss – missing from that was your reaction to the mysterious airstrike that happened a week or so ago that many people have attributed to Israel. And I’m just wondering if you regard that – would regard that as a self-defense – legitimate self-defense, or if that was escalatory in its own —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think anyone, including the Government of Israel, has confirmed that —
QUESTION: I know.
MS. PSAKI: — so I’m not going to speak to that.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re – basically, you’re off the hook in making a determination because no one has claimed – no one has given —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to the military actions of another country.
QUESTION: Well, you do all the time with Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: To confirm them? No.
QUESTION: Well —
QUESTION: Why isn’t the U.S. now with the – with Germany, Britain, and France now —
MS. PSAKI: In Turkey?
QUESTION: — in Turkey? Yes.
MS. PSAKI: Well, throughout this process over the last several months, we’ve had bilateral meetings. The Secretary has had bilateral meetings with Foreign Minister Zarif. We’ve had meetings with different P5+1countries. This is a meeting, I believe, with the Europeans, so it’s a normal part of the process. We consult very closely and expect we will after this as well.
QUESTION: I have one more on this congressional legislation.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: In the Senate, there was a bill introduced today that would lift the travel – Cuba travel ban for all Americans. I’m just wondering if the Administration would support this or if you – this is something that you think should only happen once the normalization is more fully underway or complete.
MS. PSAKI: That’s a good question. I’m happy to talk to our team about it. I mean, broadly speaking, as you know – and the President spoke to this in the State of the Union – we would support action to end the embargo.
MS. PSAKI: But let me talk to them about whether we have a view on timing.
QUESTION: Do you – and yeah, on timing and ending the embargo, do you think that it is – that the embargo – yesterday Raul Castro gave a speech. He said that if you want to normalize relations with his country, you’ve got to close down Gitmo and give it back, pay reparations, and end the embargo. Do you think that the – well, what do you think of that, first; and second, would the President or would the Administration support legislation to end the embargo before you have completed the normalization process?
MS. PSAKI: Well, on the second one, I don’t think I’m going to be able to speculate on the timing or the order of it. I would say in the first one there’s a difference between – and in his comments there’s a difference between the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, which is what we’re working on now between our countries and the longer process of normalizing relations. So the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, that would be things like opening of embassies in our respective countries so that we may work toward the longstanding list of issues that have festered over the last half-century and are more about normalization.
So our focus is on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. There’s still a great deal more work to do there. We understand there are going to be demands that are put out there publicly, and we’ll certainly be discussing a range of issues in the negotiations.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, are any of those demands that he made ones that you’re willing to go along with?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to negotiate from here. I mean, I would say that we – the President has said he wants to close Guantanamo, so we’re working on that now.
QUESTION: Well, there’s a difference between closing Guantanamo, the detention center, and giving Guantanamo back to the Cubans.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’m not going to negotiate from here, though.
QUESTION: All right, fair enough. But is that off the table? Will the United States ever abandon – get rid of Guantanamo Bay as a U.S. base?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think there are a range of demands that are out there. I’m just not going to speculate on them from here.
QUESTION: Can I also pick up on that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: And you may want to take this one too, but —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — if there is a lifting on the economic embargo, what would be the U.S. position on Cuba rejoining economic institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, which they left —
MS. PSAKI: We’re a long time from there, so I don’t – I’m not even going to take it because we’re not going to speculate when we’re not even there at this point in time. We’re far from there.
QUESTION: Okay, fair enough. And can I ask: Do you have a date yet for when the talks will be held, the next round?
MS. PSAKI: For – no, not yet. We don’t have a date yet.
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Cuba before we continue? Okay.
QUESTION: So it may be under this —
QUESTION: Would the next round of talks be here?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, in Washington.
MS. PSAKI: In Washington. I don’t have a location on it.
QUESTION: And are there any senior officials going to the Cuban national day party, do you know?
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t get an update on that. Our team was looking into it. We’ll follow up with them after.
QUESTION: Just quick on Iran?
MS. PSAKI: On Iran? Sure.
QUESTION: A follow-up. What is the reaction to Iran’s latest election of a UN envoy – a UN ambassador? The last one the U.S. refused to grant a visa to because of his alleged ties to the 1979 —
MS. PSAKI: Yes, and we’d spoke to that, which you repeated, at the time, and why we had concerns at the time. We’re aware of reports that Iran has appointed Gholamali Khoshroo its permanent representative to the United Nations. I don’t think I have any other comment or reaction than that.
QUESTION: Would you expect him to take up his position in New York soon?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we don’t speak to visa —
QUESTION: I’m not asking about visas.
MS. PSAKI: I understand.
QUESTION: I’m just asking him – asking you if you expect him to be in New York —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to tell you about the expectations of timing either, since they’re all linked.
QUESTION: Well, do you expect him to at some point take up his position, the position that he’s been nominated for?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll let the Iranians speak to where the process sits.
QUESTION: Would Ambassador Power be even meeting with him?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re getting way ahead of where we are.
QUESTION: Shortly after the Kurdish rebels announced a victory in Kobani, there have been two different reactions from Washington and Ankara. You congratulated the Kurds for the victory and praised the rebels for being brave and so on, but we saw something different from President Erdogan and the military there. First of all, they raised a massive Turkish flag near the border of Kobani. That’s something that could be visible from Kobani, something that the Kurds saw as provocative. And also, Erdogan said what is this, we would not support another autonomous Kurd government to emerge in Syria, and Kobani should not be a cause for celebration. What’s your reaction?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think —
QUESTION: Are you in, like – do you have a entirely different perspective of what’s happening in Syria in relation to Erdogan’s or Turkey’s —
MS. PSAKI: I think we work closely with Turkey on a range of issues, including our effort to degrade and defeat ISIL. That’s ongoing. We continue to believe and agree there needs to be a political solution to have a transition in Syria. Beyond that, I’m not going to comment on their comments.
QUESTION: More specifically, what is your position on a Kurdish government in Syria, an autonomous one similar to the one you have in Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we have supported a autonomous government there either. Our position hasn’t changed on this issue in some time.
QUESTION: But related to this issue —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
QUESTION: — the Turkish Government also shut off roads and supply lines and so on to Kobani, preventing Kurdish fighters from going to reinforce those that are in the city.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think more than 90 percent, if not 100 percent of Kobani is now overseen and run by anti-ISIL forces.
MS. PSAKI: So I think, one, there has been an effort by many countries to support this effort. There were rumors that there was a not – that they were not letting refugees in. That’s incorrect. There isn’t a rush of refugees into Kobani. As we have also talked about in here – and I think you asked this question – there’s a lot of rebuilding that needs to be done there as well. So there’s a lot of confusing reporting out there. Beyond that, on their border – I mean, that’s a decision they make.
QUESTION: Even though you said just now you don’t support a government in Syria for the Kurds – but, like, your actions – like, seem to contradict that objective. You are providing them with arms, the Kurdish rebels, and the Kurdish rebels have already established several cantons which are basically autonomous governments for every province they have controlled.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we provide arms in coordination with the Government of Iraq —
MS. PSAKI: — and in support through our anti-ISIL efforts. So I don’t think your information is quite exactly correct. Our position hasn’t changed; I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: But you said you will continue to —
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re ready to move on. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: ISIS? ISIS?
QUESTION: Yes, please. Egypt.
MS. PSAKI: Egypt.
QUESTION: Please, can we stay on ISIL?
QUESTION: Another one on ISIL.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, ISIL? Okay. Said, let’s just go around to a few others because —
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: ISIS, ISIS. Pakistan arrested an ISIS commander named Yusuf al-Salafi, who reportedly confessed to receiving funds routed through U.S. banks to recruit people to fight in Syria. Is it possible?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen this report. We’re happy to look into it and we can get something around.
QUESTION: But is it possible that funds can flow to terrorists undetected through U.S. banks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t even know that this report is accurate, so let me look into that first.
QUESTION: My question is about these – if you know anything about the status of the Jordanian pilot and the Japanese journalist, because the deadline has passed and the Jordanians are requesting that they show proof he’s still alive and so on. Do you have anything on this latest issue?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to report for you, Said.
QUESTION: The Jordanian foreign minister told CNN last night that the deal includes the release of not just the Jordanian pilot, but also the Japanese hostage as well. Does that pose more of a problem for you, given that the Jordanian pilot could be seen as a military POW, whereas obviously the Japanese hostage is a journalist?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, as you know, this is a very sensitive situation. These are ongoing efforts. There are lives at stake here. So we’re just not going to speculate or speak to our views while this is ongoing.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
QUESTION: In the past you have sort of refused the analogy between Sergeant Bergdahl and this exchange, but – and you call him a prisoner of war with the Taliban. Now, this Jordanian pilot would definitely qualify as a prisoner of war. Wouldn’t it then be prudent —
MS. PSAKI: Again, as I just answered in response to Jo’s question, I’m just not going to make comparisons at this point in time.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. PSAKI: You want to go to Egypt?
QUESTION: Egypt. Yes, please.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Members of Muslim Brothers were in town, and few days ago they met – had meetings in this building. Do you have any like – any details about the meeting, the nature of the meeting, the purpose of the meeting, and whom they met?
MS. PSAKI: Well, State Department officials meet – recently met with a group of visiting Egyptian former parliamentarians whose visit to the United States was organized and funded by Georgetown University. Such meetings are fairly routine at the State Department where we regularly meet with political party leaders from across the world. The Georgetown group included former members of the Freedom and Justice Party, among others. So this was a meeting – we meet on a regular basis with a range of groups, and obviously, as I mentioned, this was a group sponsored by Georgetown.
The meeting was attended by a deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights, and labor, and other State Department officials.
QUESTION: The reason I’m asking: because you said Georgetown University, because they are in town and they were talking about – first, they are representing alternative parliament whatever, and beside that they were talking about political solution and being representative of an alternative government for Egypt. Do you have anything to say about that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t. This was a diverse group of former parliamentarians. I don’t think I have much more than I just offered.
QUESTION: So let me complete this —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — because the last 48 hours you were silent about these Georgetown visitors.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I was asked about it, so hence I was silent.
QUESTION: No, I mean, you were asked two days ago, I mean, and then we tried to ask you —
MS. PSAKI: And I think I said I need to look into more details.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. That’s hardly silent, but go ahead.
QUESTION: So I’m trying to adjust to – explain myself anyway.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: So in the last 48 hours, just for your information, the tweetosphere, whatever you can call it, was full of members of this Georgetown visitors, saying what they did and what they didn’t do in this town and in this building in particular, saying that it’s a kind of like a – we said our word and we achieved our goals. Are – your team are following what’s going on this town or it’s you don’t care about what they are saying about their meetings here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I have to say there are dozens if not hundreds of meetings that take place in this building every single day. We don’t announce every meeting. That’s a part of our efforts and engagement as diplomats. So I don’t think it’s more complicated than that.
QUESTION: I’m – can I just – I understand completely what you are saying and —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — we all miss kind of meetings. The only thing I am trying to figure out: If two people meet each other and one person is like give his narrative, that’s why I’m asking your narrative was important to say especially in yesterday in Egypt and people asking the embassy people and the embassy was saying we are still waiting for Washington to talk about it.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I just gave you all the details I have. Again, I think – and it takes a little bit of the mystery out of it. This was a group that was organized and funded by Georgetown. It was a diverse group. It had some former members of the Freedom and Justice Party – they’re former parliamentarians. I think we regularly meet with groups like this, so hopefully you can go back and report and defuse some of the confusion.
QUESTION: All right. Since I’m wearing a Georgetown scarf, are you suggesting that the criticism that has been lobbed at this building from frequent critics of the Administration should be directed at my alma mater?
MS. PSAKI: No, not at all, actually. I was suggesting that this was a group sponsored by a well-respected national university, Matt, and it was a diverse group and something —
MS. PSAKI: — I’m sure they do regularly, and we regularly meet with these groups.
QUESTION: And when they – in this meeting that they had, that a semi-senior official attended, did they discuss overthrowing the – President Morsy?
MS. PSAKI: No, that was not part of the discussion.
QUESTION: Okay. And then you also said that it was a diverse group, with former MPs and also, you said, former member of the Freedom and Justice Party. They are no long members of the Freedom and Justice Party?
MS. PSAKI: My understanding is they’re former members.
QUESTION: Because the party was outlawed, or – why just former members?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on the group than what I’ve offered.
QUESTION: And who else – who else was in it, then?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more of a description, Matt.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) can we move to —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Why don’t we finish Egypt? Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, just I’m trying to follow up —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — because the question is: You said that they don’t discuss overthrowing it, or whatever. But they – this is what somehow their message was in this town or other places – I mean, in this town especially, in National Press Club, in other places.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t looked —
QUESTION: I know that you are not supposed to censor or whatever —
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me – then let me just answer your question. I’m sure they had a broad schedule while they were in Washington. I would refer you to them and others for what their schedule included. This was a regular meeting that we have with a range of groups. It wasn’t more complex; it wasn’t a discussion, a negotiation; it was a courtesy meeting, and I would leave it at that.
QUESTION: Can we go to Yemen?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Very quickly. Yesterday, your counterpart at the Pentagon said that there are contacts with the Houthis. Can you elaborate on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve said that we are in contact with a range of groups in Yemen. We’ve been saying that for several days now. We’ve also said that we have a range of individuals who remain in contact to coordinate on issues like counterterrorism, but I don’t think I’m going to spell it our more detailed.
QUESTION: So these issues are exclusively connected with counterterrorism and they’re not – they are not involved in any way in, let’s say, security provision and so on for American presence in Yemen or anything like this, is it?
MS. PSAKI: I – we’re not going to discuss it further, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. I know that you did not classify what happened in Yemen as a coup. Is it a coup? Is that a military coup in your judgment?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve answered this several times, so I’d point you to when the last time I answered it was.
QUESTION: Can we go to Saudi Arabia?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the death of an American defense contractor, Chris Cramer, who died in Saudi Arabia?
MS. PSAKI: I do. We can confirm that U.S. citizen Christopher J. Cramer died outside of the Sahara Makarim Hotel on January 15th. We express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. Officials from the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia are in contact with his family and are providing consular assistance. Out of respect of the privacy of those affected by this tragedy, we aren’t going to comment further. I understand there were reports about the police department looking into it on the ground, so we’d certainly point you to that.
QUESTION: Some of the – his family members are saying that Cramer had sent text messages to them saying his life was in danger and asked his friends to reach out to the State Department. Do you have anything on that?
MS. PSAKI: The police department is looking into it. I’m just not going to speak to it further.
QUESTION: Can I ask something about Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: The Iraqi Government apparently is investigating allegations that there was a massacre in Diyala province, in which 70 Sunni villagers were killed by Shiite militias. Do you have something on that, given particularly the sectarian tensions we’ve seen under the previous government? Any U.S. comment on it?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, these are serious allegations. And as you mention, the Government of Iraq has initiated an investigation to determine the facts behind these claims. We strongly support this investigation. If these allegations are confirmed, those found responsible must be held accountable.
I’d also note that Prime Minister Abadi has repeatedly stressed the importance of ensuring that all militia fighters are demobilized and integrated into formal Iraqi security structures, and that is something that he has been working on for months now since he took office.
QUESTION: But isn’t it also policy that some of the militias – or you’re trying to train local fighting forces to come together to ward off the – and fight against the ISIL groups? So how does that fit in with the —
MS. PSAKI: That it should be integrated into the formal Iraqi security structure. And so that is the effort, and regulated through that. So that is the effort that has been underway for several months.
QUESTION: Can I get a reaction to a human rights report – a Human Rights Watch report today that essentially says some world governments, including the United States, make the mistake that when they sacrifice a principle of human and civil rights in the name of tightening security measures – in particular they cite national security policies that include mass surveillance programs, and they also cited the Obama Administration’s failure as yet to hold anybody accountable for the actions spelled out in the Senate CIA torture report. Your response?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that those are programs that – as referred to – your last part of your question – that ended more than five years ago, that we have spoken to, we did an entire report on to be transparent. The Department of Justice looked into this and they’ve made their decision. So I’d point you to them for any questions about that.
I believe this is the 25th, if I’m correct, human rights report that Human Rights Watch has issued. Certainly, we congratulate them on that. It just came out. We haven’t reviewed all of the details yet. As you know, we do our own human rights report that we put out every year that I expect will come out soon.
QUESTION: Can I pick up that?
QUESTION: Speaking of —
QUESTION: Because – sorry, Matt – they’re actually a little bit more critical – well, they’re pretty critical of the United States. They say that some of the things like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and the policies that were pursued in Iraq in the – under the previous government, to which the United States to a certain extent turned a blind eye, deliberately and directly – not deliberately – directly helped foster the environment in which we’ve seen the Islamic State grow. I mean, how do you account to those accusations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we haven’t reviewed the report yet, Jo, so let us do that. I think, one, I’d point to the fact that the ones you’ve mentioned are long ago policies that are no longer active, and obviously there are a number of policies that we’ve changed because we felt that they were not in – consistent with our own values, but we haven’t taken a full review of it.
QUESTION: But would you accept the premise that some of those things – given that they may have been in the past – actually helped fuel the crisis that we’re seeing today?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to accept a premise when I haven’t reviewed the report and our team hasn’t reviewed the report.
QUESTION: Can I pick up on your mention of the word – use of the word “transparency”?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: You will have seen that the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction put out their quarterly report today, and it turns out that they can’t say a whole hell of a lot because everything’s been classified. Can you explain how that fits in with the goal of this Administration or the commitment of this Administration to be the most transparent in history?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s exactly the issue. I think there’s two issues you’re referring to: one is ISAF’s decision to classify troop training costs, which is one issue.
MS. PSAKI: The separate issue is —
QUESTION: So maybe there’s a misunderstanding, yeah?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me try to clarify it a little bit.
MS. PSAKI: The second issue is the quarterly report that we do before SIGAR, and that includes a range of responses on things from social issues to economic issues, and that’s something we do quarterly. This quarter took longer than expected to collect and distill the requested information, and our response on social and economic issues missed the reporting deadline. We did, however, convey the delay to SIGAR, and we did not intentionally withhold information for these quarterly reports; expect it will be complete in the next quarter with all of the details across the board.
QUESTION: Okay. So this line in the summary that says, “Despite the requirement of public law that federal agencies will allow, the State Department did not answer any of SIGAR’s questions on economic and social development this quarter and failed to respond to SIGAR’s attempt to follow up,” that’s simply not true?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we —
QUESTION: It’s true that you didn’t get them the information, but you did not fail to respond to follow-up requests because, if I understand you correctly, you told —
MS. PSAKI: We conveyed that we did not unintentionally leave it out and we fully intend to —
QUESTION: All right. So from the State Department’s point of view, you can’t speak to ISAF and its decision to classify it?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. So in terms of the State Department, this is not a situation where you have decided that all of a sudden you’re no longer required or obligated to provide information to a congressionally mandated oversight committee?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not. It’s a quarterly report and we fully expect that it will be complete next quarter.
QUESTION: Well, okay. But when – or you mean you can’t get them the information that they asked before the end of the first quarter?
MS. PSAKI: Well, sure, we may, but they’re the same types of questions asked every quarter. So we will continue to work on getting them the information they need.
QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, they’ve been doing this for – they’ve been putting out these reports for quite some time. I don’t remember there ever being a delay like this before. Is there some reason that there was a delay?
MS. PSAKI: It took longer than expected, but you’re right, in the past we have given them all of the information they need in all of the categories, and we expect that will be the case moving forward.
QUESTION: All right, but I mean, it’s no secret that the Administration is not exactly fond of many of – has often not been appreciative, let’s say, of SIGAR findings of projects going on in Afghanistan, and there is no – you’re saying that there is no intention by the State Department —
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: — to deny them, to withhold —
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: — information, or to otherwise – or to massage information to make it look like things are better than they might actually be?
MS. PSAKI: No. No intention. No intention at all.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: For my first question, was it ISAF that has classified the information or the Afghan National Security Forces?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’m sorry, you’re right. I kind of glossed over that. Let me see. I mean, I’d really refer you to DOD, but —
QUESTION: Well, the SIGAR report says here, “After six years of being publicly reported, Afghan National Security Forces data is now classified.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, but ISAF – but I would point you to DOD, but ISAF does it. I mean, there have been —
MS. PSAKI: They can explain to you. I mean, we classify our own troop – our own armed forces readiness reports for security purposes, and so there’s a range of reasons why they’ve done it.
QUESTION: So it wouldn’t be a matter of concern for you that the data on how your money is being spent is now classified?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s a decision made by the Department of Defense —
MS. PSAKI: — so I would point you to them. I was just noting these are two separate issues, so – okay, we have time just for kind of maybe one or two more here. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: You must have heard that the Indian ambassador to the U.S. has been transferred to India as the foreign secretary. Firstly, any broad comment on that? And secondly, would you like to take this opportunity to suggest that India fill his spot here quite quickly, or does that not matter for the progress in bilateral relations?
MS. PSAKI: I think, clearly, that’s up to the Government of India. As you know, we have an important and growing relationship with India, as evidenced by the fact that the Secretary of State and the President of the United States were both there in the last couple of weeks. We appreciate the productive relationship we had with Foreign Minister Singh – Foreign Secretary Singh – I apologize – and look forward to further advancing the U.S.-India relationship with the new foreign secretary, who, as you know, we have worked quite closely with. But obviously, we’ll look forward to working with the new ambassador whenever they are named.
QUESTION: So Russia has confirmed that Kim Jong-un will be attending commemorations for the end of World War II in Moscow in May. Will any U.S. officials be attending that meeting as well?
MS. PSAKI: May may seem close, but it’s a long time away. So in our planning schedules, I don’t have anything to announce for you in terms of plans for attendees from the U.S. Government.
All right, thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:17 p.m.)