State Department Briefing by Jen Psaki, July 29, 2014

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–July 29, 2014.


Summer and Fall at Prairie State College

1:28 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. It’s pink tie day in the second row. I like it.

QUESTION: It is indeed. It had to be worn.

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. We also are departing for India shortly, so I ask that let’s try to get through everyone’s questions if we can.

Today, the Administration submitted the 2014 Report on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments to the Congress. This report covers the year 2013. The Administration takes compliance very seriously, and has submitted a report to Congress covering every year of the Administration as well as the years 2005 through 2008. The report is a product of the Administration’s rigorous compliance review process and reflects the concurrence of the Departments of Energy and Defense, including the Joint Staff, as well as coordination with the intelligence community.

In the report, the United States determined that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the INF Treaty as you all know it – obligations not to possess, produce or flight test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 to 5,500 kilometers; or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles. This is a very serious matter, which we have attempted to address with Russia for some time now. The United States is committed to the viability of the INF Treaty. We encourage Russia to return to compliance with its obligations under the treaty and to eliminate any prohibited items in a verifiable manner.

The INF Treaty serves the mutual security interests of the parties, not just the United States and Russia, but also the 11 other successor states of the former Soviet Union, which are also states parties to the treaty and bound by its obligations. Moreover, this treaty contributes to the security of our allies and to regional security in Europe and in the Middle East – and in the Far East, sorry.

The Administration will work to resolve the compliance issues outlined in the report through bilateral and multilateral means. A step that can be taken right away by the Senate is the confirmation of Frank Rose, who has been nominated to be Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance. This lifelong public servant has worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations and he has been waiting for over a year. It is vitally important that he is confirmed without further delay. We need to underscore to the world the seriousness with which we take compliance by having our senior compliance officer in place. He will also need to be in place so we can work to resolve outstanding issues in this report. The unclassified report will be available online later this afternoon.

The Secretary also spoke this morning with Foreign Minister Lavrov. They discussed Russia’s violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty. He said the United States would like to discuss the issue in a senior-level bilateral dialogue immediately. Foreign Minister Lavrov said he would consult and respond to the request soon.

On Ukraine, the Secretary urged Foreign Minister Lavrov to agree to a comprehensive border-monitoring mission to provide international transparency on the ongoing flows of weapons and firing of artillery from Russia into Ukraine. He also urged Russia to return to EU-facilitated gas talks with Ukraine, which Foreign Minister Lavrov said Russia is ready to discuss. They agreed to continue their dialogue in the days ahead.

And final item before we get to your questions: As we announced yesterday, Secretary Kerry, joined by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and other senior U.S. officials, will travel to New Delhi for the fifth U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, which he will co-chair with the Indian minister of external affairs. The Strategic Dialogue is an opportunity to reinvigorate our already strong relations with India and to begin working with the new government to advance shared bilateral and regional interests. Discussions will focus on expanding trade and investment to achieve greater shared prosperity; ensuring India’s energy security through cooperation and clean energy and energy access; ensuring the safety of both our nations through expanded counterterrorism and homeland security cooperation; and tackling global issues such as the looming threat of climate change.

In addition to holding the Strategic Dialogue, Secretary Kerry will be meeting with Prime Minister Modi, the first Cabinet-level meeting with a U.S. official since the inauguration of the new Indian government.

And finally, I’d like to welcome the IO class from the back of the room. Thank you for attending and joining us today.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. I’m sure we’ll get back to Russia in a second, but I want to start with the Middle East and some comments that the Secretary made earlier with the Ukrainian foreign minister.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: He said that Prime Minister Netanyahu had asked him to try to put together a humanitarian cease-fire. When – he didn’t say exactly when that was. Was that in the phone call that they had last night, or the night before?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Secretary Kerry, as you all know, has been speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu two times, three times, sometimes more every day, and naturally a cease-fire is a prominent part of that discussion, as that is the focus of what our efforts are underway here. So we have been closely coordinating with the Israelis, and they were aware of and supportive of his trip there last week, and they’ve been aware of and engaged – and supportive of our engagement to date. So it was simply a discussion last night, as it has been throughout the course of the last several days, about where things stand and where we go from here.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, when specifically did Prime Minister Netanyahu first ask the Secretary to try to arrange a cease – a humanitarian cease-fire?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, to be clear, that’s been a central part of it, and Secretary Kerry has obviously been advocating for that and pushing that and raising it with the parties, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

QUESTION: So it goes back to – last week during his trip was when the prime minister first asked the Secretary to do this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, again, to be clear, Secretary Kerry, which is why he went to the region and what he said publicly many times, has been the one advocating for, along with the UN, a humanitarian cease-fire. He’s been the one asking and raising that with the parties. So there’s a discussion about it with the parties, but —

QUESTION: So the Secretary was wrong when he said that Prime Minister Netanyahu asked him to —

MS. PSAKI: I think —

QUESTION: — try to get a cease-fire?

MS. PSAKI: I think he said – and I have the transcript right here —


MS. PSAKI: — “talk to me about an idea and a possibility of a cease-fire.” So they have – that’s the focus of the discussion, is about how to get a cease-fire, what’s required.

QUESTION: But Jen, further down in the transcript, the second time that he mentions it, he says that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself asked me to try to arrange a cease-fire and that he took that commitment – he used the word “commitment” – at face value and that if – and then went on from there. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office, or at least officials in the office, say that Prime Minister Netanyahu never asked Secretary Kerry for – to try to arrange a cease-fire and that it was Kerry that was pushing it on him. So what’s the truth here?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think, one, there have been efforts underway for some time, as you know, including the Egyptian proposal, to put a cease-fire in place. Secretary Kerry has, along with the UN, introduced the humanitarian cease-fire as a way to get food and medicine in as well as a way to de-escalate the crisis.

QUESTION: Okay. So does that – so, in fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t ask Secretary Kerry to try to arrange a cease-fire?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s been an ongoing discussion about the issue and a great deal of engagement with the Israelis about it.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m going to try it one more time.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Because I think it’s a pretty straightforward question to ask, if you – to answer. When was it that Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Secretary Kerry to try to arrange a humanitarian cease-fire?

MS. PSAKI: There’s been a discussion about a humanitarian cease-fire for days now, Matt.

QUESTION: I think the answer to the question is a day, not that there’s been a discussion over the last —

MS. PSAKI: Well, no, for days there’s been – we’ve been talking about a humanitarian cease-fire.

QUESTION: When – and so every single day Secretary – every single day that they have talked, Prime Minister Netanyahu has asked Secretary Kerry to try to arrange a cease-fire?

MS. PSAKI: They have discussed the issue nearly every time they talk, Matt.

QUESTION: But there’s a – you understand there’s a difference between discussing the issue and him actually asking for it and then – and the prime minister asking for it and then the Secretary saying that the reason that he’s doing this is because Prime Minister Netanyahu asked him to do it.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, we know that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to see an end to the threats that are facing the Israeli people. That’s the premise of his discussion.

QUESTION: But that doesn’t necessarily mean a cease-fire, though.

MS. PSAKI: He agreed to a cease-fire earlier this weekend.

QUESTION: But that doesn’t mean that he’s been asking for Secretary Kerry to arrange one, which is what the Secretary said. I’ll drop it. I’m just trying to – it sounds as though the Secretary in his comments extrapolated a little bit in turning a discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu about a cease-fire into Prime Minister Netanyahu asking him to actually go out and arrange one. Is —

MS. PSAKI: I think he said – and I’ll leave it at this; I know there are other issues – there was a discussion about ideas. I think, to be clear, the Secretary is the one who has introduced and been advocating for this issue with both parties.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you —

QUESTION: Can I just follow on to that one, because it made it sound – I wondered after he said there were new ideas or something more specific that had come out of that conversation last night.

MS. PSAKI: With Prime Minister Netanyahu?


MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the focus of the discussion right now continues to be on short-term cease-fires that can build on each other and serve as a mechanism for getting the parties together to have a discussion about the key issues. There are different lengths of time. Obviously we would like to see a prolonged cease-fire. So that’s really what the discussion is about at this point in time, more than a 24-hour cease-fire.

QUESTION: So was there anything that Prime Minister Netanyahu came up with last night in their conversation that would have added more specifics or more of a commitment?

MS. PSAKI: I’ll let the Israelis speak to that. I think this is – just to reiterate, they speak multiple times a day, and there’s a very high level of engagement here, so – and it’s safe to say that a cease-fire is a prominent part of their discussion.

QUESTION: Let me just follow up a little bit. First, I wish you a speedy recovery. It’s not the LCL or anything like that?

MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Thank you, Said.

QUESTION: All right. So was there any – today, was this brought up today? Because just a short while ago the Israeli television said that they have agreed to a humanitarian cease-fire but they did not specify as to when it will start. Are you aware of that?

MS. PSAKI: Well —

QUESTION: That report has been retracted.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, you mean —

QUESTION: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: That report has been retracted.

QUESTION: Oh, it’s been retracted. Okay, then I stand retracted. So you don’t know anything about this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Ambassador Dermer – I just saw him also during an interview convey, which is accurate, that the Israeli cabinet certainly has to vote on that. I would defer to them on the likelihood or timing of that.

QUESTION: So, I mean, in view of the ferocity of the attacks on Gaza last night or yesterday, is there, like, any kind of urgency to bring about a cease-fire as soon as possible?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there certainly is an urgency. Our objective remains stopping the rocket fire and tunnel attacks against Israeli citizens and deaths of innocent Palestinians and bringing about negotiations through a cease-fire. Every photo we see, every video we see, every mother who’s mourning reminds us why this is so important. And the Secretary certainly feels an urgency in doing everything he can to get it done. But as he said this morning, it’s ultimately up to the parties.

QUESTION: Okay. Just to wade through all the murkiness that is going on, because there are so many different statements coming out from all over the place, like Hamas is saying that we’re – they want to announce a 72-hour, and the Israelis are saying that Hamas should come out and say it themselves, and the Palestinian Authority is leading a delegation to Cairo. So do you have, at least at this stage, the United States input or position on these activities that are taking place right now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, what – can you be a little bit more specific, Said?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, are they in conversation with the – with – let’s say, with the Palestinian, I guess, delegation that includes Hamas and Islamic Jihad and so on that are going to Cairo?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the United States, as you know, but it’s worth reiterating, doesn’t speak to Hamas.


MS. PSAKI: We do speak to the Qataris and the Turks, who are serving as our interlocutors, as well as the Egyptians.


MS. PSAKI: They have been engaged. There have been a range of comments made, both through anonymous sources and on the record by Palestinian sources about their willingness to engage in a discussion in Cairo. The Egyptians are happy to host a discussion, but obviously we need to see a cease-fire, even if it’s a shorter one, though we’d like to see a prolonged one in order to have that discussion.

QUESTION: And my last question on this. Because the Israelis, they don’t want any role for Turkey or Qatar. And the last we heard that Egypt was willing to sort of readjust the points. Are you aware of that? Is that something that was discussed with the Secretary of State?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what that would be a reference to, but – though it’s important to note, Said, that the Egyptians – it’s the Egyptians proposal that the discussion has been based on. The Egyptians have been in the lead. They would be the host of any longer term negotiation. I think the Qataris and the Turks – the Secretary’s been engaging with them on this issue, though we do on many other issues, because they have an influential role to play with Hamas. And obviously you can have a discussion with one side, but that doesn’t get you to a negotiation.

QUESTION: Jen, can I just go back to this —


QUESTION: I really want to try to clear this up. The Secretary – and I’m reading the transcript right now. He said: “Prime Minister Netanyahu who himself said to me, quote, ‘Can you try to get a humanitarian cease-fire for this period of time?’” end quote. Now, I assume that that’s kind of a paraphrase of what he’s trying to say that Netanyahu said to him. Then he goes on to say: “If it weren’t for his” – Netanyahu’s – “commitment to it, obviously the President of the United States and I would not be trying – would not be trying to make this effort. Now either I take his commitment at face value or someone is playing a different game here, and I hope that’s not the fact.”

One, are you sure that Prime Minister Netanyahu is – did he, in fact, give some kind of commitment to a cease-fire? Because his office says he didn’t. Or are you just saying that because they had agreed to the Egyptian proposal earlier on, you’re assuming that they want a cease-fire?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they agreed to the proposal early on, and they agreed to a short-term cease-fire over the course of the weekend.


MS. PSAKI: I think there shouldn’t be any confusion that the Secretary —


MS. PSAKI: — and the UN have been the ones driving this process and proposing and advocating for different types of cease-fires.

QUESTION: But some of —

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Some of the criticism in Israel and among the pro-Israel community has been that the Secretary is unwantedly inserting himself. I think one of the thing – was some commentator called him a nudnik, someone who is constantly barging in and wasting your time and not doing – actually doing anything. But he’s saying here that he wouldn’t be doing this if Netanyahu didn’t want him to. And it doesn’t sound, from what we’re hearing from Israel, that Netanyahu really wants him to. So I —

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – and I’d refer you to them, Matt —


MS. PSAKI: But of course, as Said or as others have raised, there have been reports – I know they’ve been retracted – but there have been a range of reports over the last —


MS. PSAKI: — several days about an openness or a willingness to engage in short-term cease-fires. So I don’t want to overcomplicate what the issue is we’re talking about, which is whether we can get to a point where both sides agree.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Away from his comments, do you have any specific reaction to the activity that happened in Gaza overnight, the strike on the power plant, et cetera?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. We are aware of these reports. We’re working to confirm the extent of the damage. We’re deeply troubled by the humanitarian impact of reduced electricity in Gaza, particularly for emergency services, and urge all parties to respect the civilian nature of these facilities. I know there was also a bombing at the hospital; I can speak to that as well if you’d like.


MS. PSAKI: The reports of the children killed while playing on a playground is devastating and tragic. I don’t have more information at this point, but we certainly urge all parties to respect the civilian nature of schools and medical facilities. These facilities, which serve as shelters for many of those fleeing the conflict, must be treated as inviolable and off-limits from military use and targeting by all sides. As the violence continues, we are concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides, and we continue to urge all parties to do all they can to protect civilians.

QUESTION: So the power plant strike was clearly done by the Israelis, I think, right? But are you —

MS. PSAKI: We don’t have any confirmation of the specific details at this point in time.

QUESTION: Well, how about – are you ascribing – I don’t want to use the word blame, but are you ascribing the attacks on – the explosions at the schools and hospitals, are those Israeli strikes or are they Hamas errant missiles or —

MS. PSAKI: We don’t have any blame to ascribe at this point in time. Obviously, these events just happened over the past 24 hours.

QUESTION: All right. When the Secretary – the 47 million that was announced, that’s still on, right?


QUESTION: What is that – is the money going to go for immediate needs or – eventually this is going to come to an end, one way or another. There’s – the fighting is going to stop and people are still going to have to live in Gaza, and it’s going to have to be rebuilt. Who’s going to pay for that? Is that a question that you’re not yet – it’s premature?

MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question. I probably will need to get more information. The 47 million is intended to go to immediate needs.

QUESTION: Okay. So in the longer term, do you believe – and this may be an unfair question and may be very premature. Do you believe that Israel will have the responsibility to rebuild at least some of the – and repair some of the damage that they have done in Gaza? Or is that something that you’re not even thinking about yet since you’re —

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speculate on that. What I will say is that, as you’ve seen, not just the United States, but there are other countries who have put forward assistance and emergency assistance and said they would give additional assistance, both immediately and longer term. So we’ll see how that adds up.

QUESTION: Can you confirm whether Saudi Arabia did discuss with you sort of an aid package for Gaza when the fighting stops?

MS. PSAKI: Well —

QUESTION: Because the Saudi or the Saudi press —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — as restricted as that might be are stating that they have discussed with Secretary Kerry somehow about an aid package with the —

MS. PSAKI: And honestly, we’re not trying to be shy about our discussions with any country about the fact that we gave $47 million in emergency assistance here. Obviously we encourage other countries to do the same. We know there are longer-term needs regardless, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise we’d have that discussion.


QUESTION: Back on the power plant, there are reports that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the U.S. Government, is – actually insures the plant. Do you have information on that?

MS. PSAKI: That is a good question. I don’t have that level of detail. We can certainly check and see, and you were wondering if they insure it and what it means for them?

QUESTION: And then if there’s a – if they actually are going to be – end up —



MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm, thank you.

QUESTION: I just want to get back to Matt’s question about the rebuilding.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, do you think it should be the international community, and particularly the United States responsibility to keep rebuilding Gaza once it’s destroyed by these offensive operations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think one of the values that the United States has is to help with humanitarian assistance where it’s needed, with rebuilding where it’s needed, with helping people in need when it’s needed, and this is certainly an example of that. Obviously, it can’t just be the United States; it has to be other countries, and it is. And there are a range of countries who have shown a willingness to assist.

QUESTION: I understand, but just kind of a little bit to flesh out Matt’s point —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — a little bit more, I mean, should any type of resolution to at least this immediate crisis and any cease-fire, do you think that Israel should bear some responsibility?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speculate on that, and that’s not a discussion I’m aware of at this point in time.

QUESTION: I just have one more. There’s a report in Israel that President Obama, in his conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday, responded to the prime minister’s concern and objection to Turkey and Qatar being used as mediators. He basically dismissed that and said: You, Israel, don’t get to choose who the mediators are.

I’m wondering – I realize you can’t speak to the President’s phone call, but is this something that the Secretary has made in his – a point – a case that the Secretary has made in his conversations with the prime minister that they don’t get to decide who the mediators would be for a cease-fire?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say, obviously – and I know these reports just came out about the reports of a leaked transcript. We don’t have any confirmation of that at this point in time. Naturally, if that’s true, that would be a severe violation of a private discussion – a private diplomatic discussion.

The way the Secretary has been talking about his role with engagement with the Qataris and the Turks is actually how we’ve outlined it publicly, and that while we work with them on a range of issues, they have a role they can play in influencing Hamas. We don’t talk directly to Hamas, Israel doesn’t talk directly to Hamas, and that’s why we’re engaging with them. So that’s how he’s talked about it with them.

QUESTION: Right. Well, okay, but I mean has he said basically: You, Israel, tough luck, hard cheese, we’re going to talk to the Turks and the Qataris whether you – about getting them to put pressure on Hamas whether you like it or not. Has —

MS. PSAKI: That’s not how the Secretary puts it. I think there’s a – his view, I think that many would share, is that you have to talk to both parties; otherwise you can’t reach a negotiation, and this is our means of doing that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: A new topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any details to share —

MS. PSAKI: Hold on one second. Do you have one on —


MS. PSAKI: Okay. We’ll go over to you.

QUESTION: You mentioned – when you are mentioning the talk with Qataris and Turks, you mentioned that we discuss with them the issues; we don’t negotiate with them. I don’t know if it’s – this is true or —

MS. PSAKI: We don’t engage with Hamas, so they are our – they have influence with Hamas, so they are the interlocutors we work with to engage through that – with what —

QUESTION: What was – what I am trying to understand, it’s like a lot of people are understanding – was there any kind of Qatari or Turkish proposal regarding this ceasefire or anything, or they were just trying to be taking the message from Kerry to the Hamas?

MS. PSAKI: I’ll let them speak to that. Otherwise, I don’t think I have more to add than what I just shared.

QUESTION: So how do you describe their role? Because now, it’s a little bit confused because you – when you are answering Matt question, you mentioned about the Israeli comment about the Qataris and Turks, that we will not – I mean, we will not discussing with them issues, we are just – we are discussing with them issues. We are not negotiating with them. Is it true?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I said that exactly, but I don’t think this is confusing, so let me try this again.


MS. PSAKI: Obviously, there are a range of parties here. There’s the Israelis, there’s Hamas.


MS. PSAKI: We don’t talk to Hamas.


MS. PSAKI: In 2012, the Egyptians were the main interlocutor with Hamas. They continue to be the lead party here. But the Qataris and the Turks both have a relationship and an influential role to play with Hamas, so we have engaged with the Qataris and the Turks given that role they play.

QUESTION: There’s – you’ve been saying – I’m just – Hamas is a – you designated as a foreign terrorist organization —


QUESTION: — right? Should your NATO ally, Turkey, and your Gulf friend if not ally, Qatar, even have this influence? Or are you just resigned to the fact that they do, and so you’ll use them because it’s – basically, they’re the only ports in the storm?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t put it either of those ways, as would come as, I’m sure, no surprise to you. We know about their relationship. We’re all aware of it. We think, obviously, it’s important to engage with partners that we work with that can also work with them since we don’t engage with them.

Go ahead. Nicolas, go ahead. Sorry.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine?

QUESTION: On Ukraine, yes. Do you have any details about the sanctions the Secretary was mentioning this morning? And apparently, according to the White House, the U.S. is ready to take these sanctions as soon as today.

MS. PSAKI: That’s right. I don’t have any details for you at this point. As the Secretary mentioned this morning, we’re preparing and coordinating with the EU. We certainly welcome Europe’s determination to take strong new steps and the strong – this transatlantic community, and G-7, are united in their determination to respond to continued and intensified Russian aggression. And we expect a statement from the EU on sanctions against Russia shortly, and I expect you’ll hear more from us on ours shortly as well.

QUESTION: We have some reporting that the U.S. has information that Ukrainian military has been firing short-range missiles at rebel strongholds in eastern Ukraine. And I’m wondering, given that you’re calling for a de-escalation, if you’re concerned that the Russians will use this as a pretext for greater either involvement in Ukraine or possibly an invasion or something like that. Like it does seem as if this is – Russians’ actions notwithstanding, this does seem to be the most powerful weapon used in the conflict so far, and I’m just wondering if this is a provocation that Russia may seize upon.

MS. PSAKI: Well, you may have seen this morning that the Ukrainian foreign minister was asked about this at the press conference and spoke to it there, so I would certainly point you to that.

QUESTION: Well, he didn’t really answer the question, but okay.

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, there’s nothing I can add to or communicate on this particular point from the podium. Obviously, any escalation we’d be concerned about, but beyond that, I don’t have much more to add.

QUESTION: Can I just – I just want to follow up from my colleague said was – so after the EU comes out with a formal statement, you’re going to have also reciprocal —

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve said we’ve been preparing sanctions. I expect you’ll hear more from us soon. I don’t have anything on the timing of their formal statement.

QUESTION: Sorry, could —

QUESTION: And then something also the Secretary said during his news conference today: He said that he had spoken to Lavrov and agreed there is a way forward to put – agreed there is a way forward and to put very specific proposals – I think he said forward — I don’t have the full quote here. What did he mean by that? Are they talking – it seemed that a readout from Lavrov’s side was that they did discuss some sort of cease-fire around the crash site. Or was he speaking about something more formal on increased dialogue with Moscow?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, there’s been an ongoing dialogue with Moscow, right, that has been taking place through the EU and through —

QUESTION: Politically, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: — Ukraine and through other partners, and we certainly support that. We also support a cease-fire, as the Secretary said this morning and as the foreign minister said this morning. But the challenge is it can’t be a unilateral cease-fire, and that would require the Russians exerting additional pressure on the separatists so that they abide by it on their end.

So there are a couple of issues at play here. There is the future of de-escalating the situation in Ukraine, there’s also access to the crash site. There haven’t been – and you may have all seen this, but for the third day in a row the OSCE reported that the team, along with international police and aviation experts, were unable to gain access. So obviously, that continues to be a challenge. There are still ongoing discussions with the Australians and the Dutch and others about sending a police force to provide additional security, but there are a number of issues that certainly related to de-escalation and a cease-fire – or I should say that a de-escalation and a cease-fire would help address, including access to the crash site, but also including the overarching issues we have with Ukraine.

QUESTION: Jen, beyond any concern you might have that Russia might use the Ukrainian military’s artillery strikes as a provocation, do you have any concern at all about the damage that these strikes are doing? I mean, they hit a home for the elderly today, apparently. Do you share, as you do with Israel and Gaza – do you think that the Ukrainians need to do more to prevent civilian casualties?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any confirmation, Matt, of the root of the – the source of the – these rockets, so I can’t speak to it from that angle.


MS. PSAKI: Of course, we support de-escalation. But for the most part, the vast majority of escalation has been from the Russian side —


MS. PSAKI: — and the Russian separatists.

QUESTION: Right. But I’m just wondering if you think that the Ukrainian military has an obligation to try to minimize civilian casualties, as you do with the Israelis.

MS. PSAKI: Yes we do, and they have throughout the course of the last several months.

QUESTION: They have? You’re – okay. I mean, there – I think there’s a lot of people out there that would say that they haven’t and that there’s been indiscriminate firing, or at least civilian targets are being hit. You’re – that’s not a concern of yours at the moment; is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, any civilian casualties are a concern, but what we have seen is that the Ukrainians have taken every step to minimize civilian casualties.


QUESTION: You think they’re exercising restraint?

MS. PSAKI: We do, and we have for the last several months throughout the course of this conflict.

QUESTION: And when you spoke about this ongoing dialogue with Moscow – I mean, this phone call with Secretary – with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning doesn’t sound like it was a particularly happy phone call.

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t mean necessarily the United States. I meant that there has been an ongoing dialogue with the Europeans, with other parties who have a stake in the outcome.

QUESTION: And the result of that dialogue has been nothing, right? I mean, you haven’t gotten anything you want. So I’m just wondering, what is the value of a dialogue that – it consists of one side accusing the other side of doing something, the other side saying – denying it, and then the first side saying, “Well, we don’t believe your denial,” which is exactly what happened in the conversation that Kerry had with Lavrov on Sunday or Saturday?

MS. PSAKI: The purpose of both phone calls was not primarily on this issue. Of course, it was discussed, but that’s not the only step we’re taking. In addition to sanctions, we’ve also provided a range of assistance that’s continued to increase to the Ukrainians. But certainly, we continue to feel that dialogue and diplomacy should be the first step.

QUESTION: All right. And then just on the INF violations, you said that you take these violations extremely seriously and you need to have your assistant secretary confirmed, that that underscores the seriousness with which the Administration takes these violations. If the Administration takes these violations so seriously, why did it take until now for you guys to report these violations —

MS. PSAKI: Well —

QUESTION: — or to make the allegation that they had been —

MS. PSAKI: — let me first note, just – this doesn’t answer your question, but I think it’s relevant information. We first raised this issue with Russia last year. That happens at Rose’s level, which is the appropriate level – at the under secretary level.

There is – decisions need to be made in these cases based on whether these issues constitute noncompliance after a careful fact-based process, which includes diplomatic work, and through an interagency consideration process. That’s been ongoing. As it was concluded, the information is made available to Congress.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns because of this that the – that more of the arms control regimes that the United States had had with the Soviet Union and then continued on with the Russian Federation are in jeopardy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think one of the reasons the Secretary wants to have a dialogue at a high level is to have a discussion about how Russia can come back into compliance. And —

QUESTION: But I’m talking about with other treaties, not just specifically this one.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think —

QUESTION: Or is there a risk that the entire regime, everything that’s been built up – that was built up beginning in the Cold War and then carrying on after 1991 – is there a risk of that collapsing?

MS. PSAKI: At this point, we have not made a determination that Russia is in violation of the treaty or any other treaty. We certainly are —

QUESTION: Of any other treaty?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, this wasn’t —

QUESTION: You’re saying they’re in violation of the INF, but of any other treaty?

MS. PSAKI: Noncompliance, yes. But our goal is to convince Russia to return to compliance and to preserve the viability of this relationship and the efforts that have been underway for decades now.

QUESTION: What are the consequences for violation or noncompliance?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, I think our immediate focus here is, Elise, is on having this dialogue with them to return them to compliance. It’s in everyone’s interests for – to preserve the work that’s been done over the past several decades.

QUESTION: And are you concerned that this will be seen kind of in the totality of what’s going on with Russia right now, that between your determination of noncompliance and your consultation with NATO allies about it, that Russia will see this as part of a kind of broader escalation of the tensions, and perhaps, as Matt said, this could affect their cooperation on nonproliferation regime?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our hope is that it certainly wouldn’t, because it’s in everyone’s interest to continue to abide by these treaty obligations. To be clear, this has nothing to do with Ukraine. I understand there could be that perception, and the timing is unrelated to everything having to do with Ukraine. There’s a process that is undergone to review whether there is noncompliance, and that was completed, so here we are today.

QUESTION: But you completed that process a while ago, though, didn’t you? I mean, you’ve known for a while that Russia was potentially in noncompliance of the treaty, and it’s just that —

MS. PSAKI: Well, we —

QUESTION: — now you finally, maybe because this congressional report was coming up or – I mean, if you could talk about the timing a little bit more, because we reported on this earlier in the year that this was hanging out there.

MS. PSAKI: This – and we confirmed at the time —

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: — that this issue was first raised with Russia —


MS. PSAKI: — last year.


MS. PSAKI: And the Secretary himself has raised noncompliance issues in general with Russia.


MS. PSAKI: There’s a process that’s undergone with the report every time it’s released. I believe the report is technically due in the spring. You have to go through the process, which includes analysis, an interagency process, a diplomatic process, and as it’s concluded, we make the information available.

QUESTION: Did you – was part of the determination because your diplomatic outreach to Russia was proving unproductive, and at this point, given the climate with Russia, you didn’t think you were going to get any more cooperation? Because I know you did try to solve it diplomatically before putting them in noncompliance.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, there are a range of factors, Elise. I’m just not going to go into them in more detail.

I have to go in just a few minutes.

QUESTION: Just a couple on Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Lucas, go ahead. And then we’ll go to —

QUESTION: When did these violations specifically take place of these test ban treaties?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t get into that level of detail, Lucas.

QUESTION: And tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of Mr. Snowden’s asylum. His – do you have any comment on that? His asylum expires tomorrow.

MS. PSAKI: Our position remains the same. Mr. Snowden is accused of violating the law and he should be returned to the United States.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Has there been any discussions recently with Russia about Mr. Snowden?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any to read out for you, Lucas.

QUESTION: And then one on Iran real quick?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: As you know, there’s – on Capitol Hill the Iranian opposition groups are meeting. Would you consider recognizing any Iranian opposition groups?

MS. PSAKI: Recognizing officially in what capacity, Lucas?

QUESTION: Financial.

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Lucas.

QUESTION: Could I ask on Syria?

QUESTION: Can I have one —

MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to – can we go to Scott, and then we’ll go back – go ahead, Scott.

QUESTION: The Kurdish oil tanker?


QUESTION: You were right yesterday. I was incorrect.

MS. PSAKI: That may be Lesley’s question, too. Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: So thank you for setting us straight yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: What you said was what was happening, it’s still there. Now that a judge has ruled that that oil should be seized, what happens now and whose responsibility is it in terms of the U.S. Government?

MS. PSAKI: So the Government of Iraq, we understand, has filed suit – they filed suit yesterday in a Texas court against the cargo onboard the tanker. It remains anchored outside of U.S. jurisdiction off the coast of Texas. So the current – because of the current location, the government – the preliminary measure is – the measure that was done to seize the cargo was done in case the cargo enters into U.S. jurisdiction. It has not yet entered into U.S. jurisdiction, and once – our understanding is that if the oil enters into U.S. jurisdiction, the court order against the cargo could be enforced. But at this point in time, it remains – the cargo remains on the ship, which is outside of jurisdiction.

QUESTION: Have you been in communication with the people running this ship about their intentions and what you would like to see them do?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our policy remains the same. There’s obviously a legal case here, and given that, we certainly recommend that the parties make their own decisions with advice from their counsels. There’s a legal case. Our policy position remains the same, which is that we believe that oil should be transferred through the central government of Iraq. But again, this is a case where because it’s not in our jurisdiction, there’s little we can do at this point in time.

QUESTION: But apart from the legal case, if that was not there, would you have a problem with this oil being offloaded, being sold?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think —

QUESTION: I mean, is there some kind of a legal restriction apart from this current case? Is there – does the U.S. policy include some – a ban on Kurdish oil coming into the U.S. unless it comes through —

MS. PSAKI: I’m – I’d have to check, Matt, but our policy position you’re very familiar with.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean, but it’s not prohibited by the U.S., is it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, but it’s U.S. policy that we’d oppose the selling of outside of the central government of Iraq.

QUESTION: Well, but you can oppose a lot of things that are not illegal, right?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can, but it doesn’t mean that we’d participate in it or support it.

QUESTION: No, I’m just wondering if the – if policy includes a ban on the transfer or sale of Kurdish oil outside —

MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if there’s a legal ban. I can just do about one or two more here.

QUESTION: Let me ask on Syria —

QUESTION: Did you get an answer to the question on Venezuela threats to Aruba and now the Netherlands?

MS. PSAKI: It …. there is publicly available information, and obviously we also have a range of conversations.

QUESTION: A quick one on the —

QUESTION: Sorry Jen, quick on Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean – speaking of oil and so on, the ISIS or ISIL has been controlling oil facilities and so on, and in fact they are attempting to sell it overseas, which goes along with what is happening with this tanker. They also overtook a position for the Syrian army, they beheaded a lot of soldiers and they impaled them and so on. What is your – what is the latest on Syria? What’s going on?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those reports, Said. I mean, I think the latest is that we remain closely engaged with the Syrian opposition as they continue to strengthen their leadership and membership, that we have increased and expanded our – the kind of assistance and the scope of assistance we’re providing, that we continue to work with a range of international partners. So that has been an ongoing effort led by Daniel Rubenstein from this building.

QUESTION: Sorry, Jen, but the —

MS. PSAKI: I have to go in just a moment, so let me —

Go ahead. India.

QUESTION: Yes. Secretary Kerry – in his speech at Center for American Progress, he talked about a new set of opportunities, new possibilities. So should we conclude that the nuclear deal which was hibernating is dead? What – and if, can you just give us a quick update on these new possibilities that we are going to explore?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he was referring to the fact that he’s about to lead a delegation, a high level delegation, to India and talk about important issues, including economic cooperation, energy cooperation; there are a range of issues that are of interest to both sides. So I think he was making a broad point about continuing to increase our partnership in the months ahead.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)


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