Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
January 26, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
12:59 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
MS. PSAKI: Welcome back, those of you who were in Cuba or other places around the world. I have a couple of items at the top.
The Secretary remains on travel today. On Saturday in Davos, he met with Canadian Foreign Minister Baird, and in Zurich he met with the U.S. negotiating team on the Iran nuclear talks, which are ongoing there.
On Sunday, he traveled to Lagos, Nigeria to emphasize the importance of ensuring the upcoming elections are peaceful, nonviolent, and credible. The Secretary met with candidates President Goodluck Jonathan and Major General Retired Buhari. He also met with staff and families from Embassy Abuja and Consul General Lagos.
He's currently in Geneva, where he met with staff and families from the U.S. mission. Many of you have asked what is next. The White House will, of course, announce the delegation to Saudi Arabia. You can expect the Secretary will be a part of that.
A couple of other things: The United States Government continues to urge all parties, including former General National Congress members to participate in the discussions that are underway in Geneva, convened by Bernardino Leon, the special representative of the UN Secretary General, to form a national unity government. Those who choose not to participate are excluding themselves from discussions which are critical to the peace, stability, and security of Libya. The United States Government does not recognize the Government of National Salvation, GNS, in Libya, and is not engaged with any person purporting to act on behalf of Omar al-Hassi or the GNS, contrary to some reports.
Finally, we congratulate SYRIZA and the new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, on their victory, and look forward to working with the new government in Greece. Greece is a historic friend and ally of the United States, and we look forward to continuing to work closely with the Government of Greece to the benefit of both of our nations. As the new government begins its work, the United States will continue to support domestic reforms and international efforts to foster Greece's economic recovery. The U.S. interest has been and remains that Greece emerge from its prolonged economic crisis stronger and more stable.
With that – I like that you two come together. It's so sweet. Go ahead.
QUESTION: We're a matched pair.
MS. PSAKI: I know.
QUESTION: Or not.
MS. PSAKI: Or not. Let's see.
QUESTION: Since I was late, being held up by security outside, I will let my colleague Brad ask the first question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, Brad.
QUESTION: Just on what you raised at the top, first Geneva. Beyond meeting with – what was it, staff and families – he has no other plans in Geneva?
MS. PSAKI: No, and I wouldn't over-read into it. He's going to be traveling, as I mentioned – once the delegation has put out – you'll see this, but as a part of the delegation and – it was sort of a place to be and sleep in between.
QUESTION: And then secondly, on Syriza, you said you looked forward to working with them. Do you think that their election will have any implications for not so much the diplomatic policy, but the financial policy and the policy of helping the Euro emerge from its troubles?
MS. PSAKI: Well, European leaders have made clear that they want Greece to remain in the Euro area while respecting its commitments to reform. And the United States supports these efforts. To that end, obviously, these elections just happened. We remain in regular contact with the IMF and European leaders on the measures necessary to secure the progress that Greece has achieved in its economic recovery, which has required great sacrifices by the Greek people. There's no question Greece has made significant progress on a very difficult economic adjustment and reform program. There are indications that the economy is poised for renewed growth, but many challenges remain. So at this point, we're in touch with our European counterparts, with the IMF, and we'll see what happens from there.
QUESTION: Now that the election's over, can you say if you were concerned by any of the rhetoric during the run-up to the election, including suggestions of not paying back debt or demanding significant changes in how Europe – in conducting the bailout process?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I'm not going to wade into domestic elections, one that happened in Greece certainly, and kind of the back and forth of the views of different candidates. It hasn't been a concern that's been expressed by the team I've talked to.
QUESTION: Can I ask you – stay on Greece?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I just want to clear up the logistical questions about Yemen.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Which, over the course of the last hour or so, or two hours, or three hours --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I know there's been some confusion on this.
QUESTION: Yeah. Can you just explain to us what exactly is going on with the Embassy there and if you think that – is this something unusual, what's going on?
MS. PSAKI: No. As we indicated --
QUESTION: Well --
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me be clear.
QUESTION: -- there is something unusual. I don't know --
MS. PSAKI: I think you're asking me – obviously, the situation on the ground in Yemen remains tense, difficult --
MS. PSAKI: -- and there's ongoing concern about violence. In response to the changing security situation in Yemen, as we announced last week, we further reduced our personnel – I know this is not what you asked me, but just it's part of it – and non-emergency employees and family members were ordered to depart last September. So there's been a series of building up. The U.S. Embassy in Sana'a remains open. Only routine consular services are closed to the public. We're still providing emergency consular services to U.S. citizens in Yemen. And due to ongoing security concerns, which we indicated last week we'd continue to evaluate and make staffing and other decisions accordingly, we're unable to provide routine consular services, but as I mentioned, we remain open and operational.
We're continuously analyzing the security conditions and will remain – will resume regular consular operations as soon as possible.
QUESTION: What's an example of an emergency consular situation? Like if you lost your passport or something? (Inaudible.)
MS. PSAKI: That's a good example. If there's a death. I mean, obviously this is something that the consular officials evaluate on the ground.
QUESTION: And what is your take now on the political situation, or lack of a political situation, in Yemen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President outlined kind of some of our key priorities and where we stand at this point in time. And obviously, the situation remains fluid, but let me just reiterate a couple of these points to all of you. He – our top priority has and always will be to make sure that our people on the ground in Yemen are safe. Obviously, that's something we're continuing to evaluate and take steps accordingly. A second priority is to maintain our counterterrorism pressure on al-Qaida in Yemen, and we've been doing that. There were some reports over the weekend which have been disputed, but just taking the opportunity, that suggested we were suspending out counterterrorism operations. That's not true; any suggestion to that is incorrect. And we remain, of course, concerned by what has always been a fragile central government and the forces inside of Yemen that are constantly threatening to break apart between north and south, between Houthi and Sunni, inside of Yemen.
As you know, there was a delay in the parliamentary session yesterday. I don't have any analysis of that at this point in time. We remain engaged with a number of Yemeni parties, and obviously, we're continuing to encourage a peaceful transition.
QUESTION: My last one.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: When you say the reports that there was some kind of a suspension or an interruption in the counterterrorism operation, that that's absolutely incorrect, or were there some things that did have to be put on hold?
MS. PSAKI: I asked that exact question, Matt, and my understanding is it's incorrect. We have longstanding partnerships with elements of the Yemeni security forces, and those are continuing. For obvious reasons, I'm not going to get into the specifics of those.
QUESTION: All right. So there was no suspension or delay or alteration --
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: -- of any of the kind – so does that mean then that there are officials in this government someplace who are involved in Yemen who don't have any idea about what's going on there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I – again, Matt, there are ongoing contacts between a range of officials at a number of levels that allow us to continue these operations.
QUESTION: Right, but there were multiple – I mean, there was more than just one report about this, and they both – or – and they – well, the ones that I saw all cited U.S. officials. So they're just wrong?
MS. PSAKI: Well, then the President of the United States and his chief of staff at the White House went out on the record and said it was incorrect. So --
MS. PSAKI: Yemen or --
QUESTION: I was just – yeah, Yemen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: And (inaudible). So it is safe to assume that the strike that took place today and targeted three al-Qaida operatives was not coordinated with any Yemeni official institution, security or otherwise?
MS. PSAKI: Said, as you know, I'm not going to get into operational details.
QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, how do – there are ongoing security arrangements and security measures that are taking place. Are you talking to any --
MS. PSAKI: I think I conveyed that.
QUESTION: I'm sorry?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just conveyed that, right?
QUESTION: I know. And so you're not talking to anyone, I mean, the people that are in control, let's say, of the capital, the Houthis today in Sana'a? So you are not talking to them in any capacity? You have no contacts with them whatsoever?
MS. PSAKI: I'm just not going to get into more specifics. Obviously, as a new part of Yemen's leadership, the Houthis will have many reasons to talk with the international community, including to implement their public assurances regarding the safety and security of all diplomatic personnel and to articulate their intentions. Again, we remain engaged on a number of Yemeni parties, with a number of Yemeni parties on a range of levels. I'm not going to detail those further.
QUESTION: There is an ongoing now, I think, meeting at the United Nations, at the Security Council. What is hoped to come out of that? I mean, as far as the --
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to my colleagues up at USUN, Said, for that.
More on Yemen before we move to a new topic?
MS. PSAKI: Yemen? Go ahead.
QUESTION: It's tangentially related to Yemen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: In your various meetings with Iranian officials, you've often said that you've had side conversations on matters from Iraq and Syria to Americans detained. Have there been any discussions about Yemen in the previous discussions with Iranian officials?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I'm aware of prior to this weekend; not that I've heard of from this weekend. I will check with our team and see. And as you've noted and properly referenced, there are times when obviously there are big events in the news where they come up on the outskirts. That doesn't mean it's a point of negotiation. But I will check with them on that.
QUESTION: Can you – that's all. Sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Any more on Yemen before we continue?
QUESTION: On Iran?
MS. PSAKI: On Iran? Okay, let's go to Iran. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. An Iranian parliamentary committee has been discussing a legislation mandating that the government enrich uranium up to 60 percent and using the new generation of centrifuges. It seems like this is conditional on what the U.S. Congress does, should they pass their legislation on more sanctions against Iran. Do you have any comments on this and how it may impact the ongoing negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I would say a couple of things. One is, as you noted, this is just discussion and reports of parliament drafting a bill. We don't have more details on that. Just as we have kept all of our commitments made under the JPOA, we expect Iran to keep its commitments as well. But beyond that, I'm not going to analyze or speak to Iranian politics.
I think on the question of Congress, I would caution anyone – I don't think there's been – I know there's a lot of reporting on this – but complete, accurate, or confirmed reporting on the connections between all these pieces. Obviously, there's a range of – there's an audience in Iran that many are appealing to, just like there's an audience in the United States, right. We've been clear, the members – foreign ministers from across Europe have been clear, that the impact of sanctions could be detrimental to the talks, could cause the entire international sanctions regime to fall apart. So I don't think there's been any secret about our views on that and whether or not Congress should take those actions.
I don't --
QUESTION: Was this brought up between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif during their stroll in Geneva?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any more to read out, and I don't expect I will in terms of specific details of discussions on Iran.
QUESTION: One of the Japanese hostage --
MS. PSAKI: Well, let's finish Iran --
QUESTION: Staying on Iran, just for a second.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, I was looking at something else.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: But did you – were you – was the original question – did that ask – were you asked about the Iranian parliament --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah. Summoning Zarif?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, no, that wasn't asked.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. Well, that's what I wanted to – I mean, do you – is a stroll in Geneva something that you – that the United States would regard as some kind of an unusual diplomatic activity?
MS. PSAKI: No. I think, Matt, as you know because you've been on a number of these trips, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif have now met innumerable – I'm sure it is numerable; we can count them – but a number of times in various venues working towards arriving at a final agreement. We believe these meetings are useful and important, and certainly, we don't think anything out of the norm. Beyond that, I'm certainly not going to comment on internal Iranian politics.
QUESTION: All right. Well, how about just the Secretary's strolls in general? With Foreign Minister Lavrov --
MS. PSAKI: He likes to stretch his legs.
QUESTION: With Foreign Minister Lavrov, these strolls do not appear to have had much of an impact on the situation in Ukraine as it relates to Russia. So do you continue – does the Secretary continue to believe that his strolls through various world capitals with his foreign minister colleagues are an effective and useful tool of diplomacy?
MS. PSAKI: I think his strolling will continue, Matt.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Can I ask just on the Iran negotiations, there was some talks in Zurich on Friday, Saturday – bilateral negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: I don't think we ever had any kind of readout or note about what happened.
MS. PSAKI: I will check with our team and see. I don't expect we're going to give an extensive readout, which I'm sure won't surprise you. This is one in what will be a series of meetings, and we're not getting into the content. But I will check with them and see if there are any comments we'd like to offer on it.
QUESTION: When is the – that you'd like to offer. Okay. When is the next in this series of meetings going to be held?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything on that yet at this point. As you've seen over the past couple of weeks, often it's announced in a couple days in advance and sometimes the Europeans do. So I can check and see if there's anything we know about the next set of meetings or round of discussions.
QUESTION: And there wasn't a meeting between Secretary Kerry and the Iranians whilst he was in Zurich?
MS. PSAKI: Right. There was a – because of the Saudi Arabia and the, obviously, the funeral and the decision for many to travel there, correct.
QUESTION: Jen, as you know, that one Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, has been murdered by the ISIL terrorist group. How did you support to Japan for the remaining one person in – still hostage in there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I'm sure many of you saw the statement we put out from Secretary Kerry this weekend. The White House also put out a statement from the President. So certainly, I would just reiterate we strongly condemn ISIL's murder of Japanese citizen Haruna Yukawa. We extend our condolences to his family and to the people of Japan.
We continue to call for the immediate release of Kenji Goto and all other hostages. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our ally Japan and continue to coordinate closely. We also applaud Japan's commitment to peace and development in a region far from its shores and their contributions in that regard.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: So the terrorists have changed their demands from demanding a ransom to having a prisoner exchange with the Iraqi suicide bomber. And I was wondering: What is the U.S. position on prisoner exchange? And then have you made aware your position to the Japanese? When? At what level? And what was their response?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have ongoing discussions, diplomatic exchanges with Japan. I'm not going to detail those further. Our views on this are well known. We've spoken about them frequently publicly and have for years. We don't make concessions to terrorists. That remains the case.
QUESTION: Okay. Sorry --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) about the exchange?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. That's in the same category, yes.
QUESTION: So you don't make concessions to terrorists. But at the same time, was there not a prisoner exchange for Bergdahl?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as we've talked about quite a bit in here, Sergeant Bergdahl was a member of the United States military and he was being held as a prisoner of war. That's an entirely different situation.
QUESTION: So are you – sorry, can I just follow up on this?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Are you communicating to the Jordanian Government that they shouldn't release this woman?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to detail our diplomatic exchanges any further with Japan or Jordan or other countries --
QUESTION: President Obama called to Abe yesterday --
MS. PSAKI: He did. He spoke with --
QUESTION: Yeah, while in India. So do you know what his conversation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I would refer you to the White House. Obviously, they put out, I think, a brief statement on it. So I don't have anything further to add.
Any more on Japan before we continue?
QUESTION: Well, wait a second. Can we stay with the prisoner exchange?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I think we can do this as short work. I'll defer to my colleague over there.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: I think it's the same thing.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Qatar.
QUESTION: Qatar, yeah.
QUESTION: On Qatar. In light of a report over the weekend, was there a proposed swap to release Ali al-Marri in exchange for the American couple held in Qatar?
MS. PSAKI: There was no proposed – there was no discussion of that, no.
QUESTION: Did Qatar approach any State Department official here or abroad about a potential prisoner swap as it relates --
MS. PSAKI: I'm just not going to speak to what Qatari officials did or didn't do. But I can assure you that wasn't part of the discussion.
QUESTION: Could we go back to Japan, for a second?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Was there just a coincidence that last month the Huangs were released and now Ali al-Marri was transferred out of the Supermax (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned in response to your question last week, I would refer you to the Department of Justice and any questions about al-Marri's release. On terms of the Huangs, we've put out all of the details we're putting out on that. We have been asking for their release on humanitarian grounds, as have many international organizations and individuals out there. So I would leave it at that and their release. It was not tied to a exchange.
QUESTION: Can I just make sure I understand what your response to the – you're not saying that a Qatari official did not approach a State Department official and make this kind of suggestion. You're just saying that if they did – and you're not saying one way or another – but if they did, it was never contemplated – excuse me – never contemplated by the Administration? A swap was never contemplated --
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: -- for this specific person?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Can you – but you – can you or do you not know definitively if someone in the Qatari Government approached a U.S. official about this?
MS. PSAKI: That's all I'm going to offer at this point in time.
QUESTION: Or is it just that it might have happened but – and if it did, it was no dice from you guys --
MS. PSAKI: I think I'm going to leave it at what I've said.
MS. PSAKI: Iraq. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Let's do Iraq and Syria. Does that work? Okay.
QUESTION: I sent a question to your colleagues. I'm not sure if you have a response to this.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I think they mentioned it to me.
QUESTION: Okay. Mullah Krekar – he's an Iraqi Kurdish Islamist. He was running an Islamist group in Iraqi Kurdistan. In 2003 the bases of that organization were bombed by the United States because of alleged links to al-Qaida. Now he was released in Norway because he's based in Norway two or three days ago. I wonder what – what's his status in terms of – is he a terrorist from the U.S. perspective?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the U.S. Government designated this group as a specially designated global terrorist entity in 2006, which I'm sure you're aware of. The consequences of that designation include a prohibition against U.S. persons engaging in transactions with the group and the freezing of all property and interests. In terms of specifically what would happen or what we would do, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: Why haven't you sought his arrest or handover from --
MS. PSAKI: I would refer you to the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: On Iraq, can you share with us any more information with the tribal leaders that were here last week and that may still be here?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any more details on that, Said. I can see if there's anything more we have to offer on that.
QUESTION: Jen, on ISIL.
MS. PSAKI: On ISIL? Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. Can I ask if you have any confirmation about the reports today that the Kurdish fighters seemed to have chased ISIL out of Kobani?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I've seen those reports and I think my colleagues over at the Department of Defense may have addressed this a little bit this morning. ISIL – Kobani remains contested. We continue to support local forces contesting ISIL territory, and our efforts alongside brave fighters on the ground have reversed ISIL's gains. Anti-ISIL fighters now control approximately 70 percent of the territory, and – in and near-Kobani, and certainly that is progress being made. As we all know, ISIL has put a great deal of resources into Kobani. They're clearly not succeeding and we are pushing them back. But I don't have confirmation fully of it being a complete process.
QUESTION: Sorry, one question.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Initially, as you know, most – many of the U.S. leaders – military and political leaders – they said Kobani was going to fall. What's your – what do you think now, when Kobani is actually – it didn't fall?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we said it certainly could. And obviously, there are – in our effort to degrade and defeat ISIL, our point was this was not the only place that we were fighting, and certainly our efforts were widespread for a range of strategic reasons. Certainly, this is a positive that anti-ISIL – an anti-ISIL effort has had success in pushing back against ISIL here, and we support those efforts. And the fact that they have put so much – so many resources in, financial resources, human resources in and they are not successful is a good sign.
QUESTION: Can we say you either overestimated initially the power of ISIS or underestimated the power of the Kurdish fighters in that city?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn't put it in either terms. There is a – continues to be a long road ahead to degrading and defeating ISIL. Certainly, we support and think it is a positive sign that we are having success working with Kurdish fighters, working with anti-ISIL – the anti-ISIL coalition to push back in Kobani, but there are a range of efforts that continue to be underway.
Syria? Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Syria. Just one Kobani to follow up. Are you satisfied with your Turkish ally in terms of cooperating against ISIL with regards to Kobani?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – and we haven't seen you in a while, because this is your favorite question, which is perfectly fine. Look, I think we have been very closely engaged with Turkey, as you know. I don't have the number of trips that General Allen and Ambassador McGurk have taken there and the number of times they've engaged with our Turkish partners. They have contributed in every line of effort, so we certainly feel good about our ongoing cooperation, which is not just about one area but is about this entire effort to defeat ISIL.
QUESTION: Today President Assad gave an interview to Foreign Affairs, I think. Did you have a chance to look at it? What do you think about the --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I've seen, certainly, the reporting on it. The delusions that Assad presents here only reaffirm our – reinforce our firm belief that he no – he long ago lost all legitimacy and must go. There can never be a stable, inclusive Syria under his leadership. There are a range of pieces to pick apart in his interview, but the fact that he seemed to deny the existence or the sufficiency of the Caesar photos, that he denied or didn't seem to be aware – not aware of, but kind of conveniently forgot the fact that tens of thousands of people have died in his country on his watch is, I think, all we needed to know and all the international community needed to know.
QUESTION: May I ask you a second question?
QUESTION: Even though, Jen – one more --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Even though you continue to say that the Assad must step down, there seems to be a consensus building in U.S. media and international media that Assad is becoming this Administration man, as Wall Street Journal put it, in Damascus. What – why do you think there is this image for --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can just reiterate to you what our position is. There's no question Assad has been there longer than we would like, and we've long felt that he's lost his legitimacy. Obviously, there are a range of circumstances that have made it difficult on the ground, including the fact that a year and a half ago, a range of external forces began to help and boost support for him. We've talked about that quite a bit. Our position hasn't changed. Some of it, I think, is an over-reading into one comment the Secretary made that is an inaccurate reading of what the United States position is.
QUESTION: Can I ask for sort of (inaudible) the weekend that the Secretary had spoken with Foreign Minister --
MS. PSAKI: Foreign Minister Lavrov.
QUESTION: -- Lavrov and asked to be updated on progress of the talks in Moscow this week. Has he – have they spoken at all today since the Secretary's been in Geneva?
MS. PSAKI: They haven't spoken today. I will tell you that their conversation was really focused on Ukraine. It was briefly at the end about the upcoming meetings in Moscow.
QUESTION: So does he expect to be briefed at the end of the talks? Because they're two or three-day talks, aren't they?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I expect they'll talk in the coming days. I don't have anything set in terms of a time or anything like that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Ukraine?
QUESTION: How did those conversations on Ukraine go?
MS. PSAKI: How did they go?
QUESTION: How did they go?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you're familiar with our view on Ukraine, and certainly the events over the past couple days. And we put out a statement, but let me just reiterate some of the important points included there. We join our European counterparts in condemning in the strongest terms this weekend's horrific assault by Russia-backed separatists on civilian neighborhoods in Mariupol, and a peaceful city 25 kilometers outside of the Minsk ceasefire line, using Grad rocket systems and other advanced weaponry. OSCE monitors have confirmed at least 30 dead, including women, children, and the elderly. It is reprehensible that the separatists are publicly glorifying this and other offensives in blatant breach of the Minsk agreements they signed.
And let's be clear – this wasn't in the statement, but I think it's been widely reported – the shelling of Mariupol was conducted by Russian-backed separatists on a peaceful city. As I mentioned, the shelling cost the lives of 30 innocent civilians. While Russia talks about peace, the separatists they support continue to kill, and we continue to believe that they will be judged on their actions, not just on their words. The OSCE has also confirmed the shelling came from separatist territory, as has been widely reported in major media outlets as well.
QUESTION: President Putin seems to have a different view of it. He's blaming the Ukrainian Government for all of the latest violence. Do you share that opinion?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think not only do we not share that opinion; that opinion isn't shared by the OSCE, which has confirmed that the shelling came from separatist territory, and I think it's clear what happened here.
QUESTION: So I'm just trying to understand what's been the effect, then, of all this diplomacy, including these latest discussions on Ukraine, if essentially you're having even worse violence and a completely different view of everything that you hold for reality here.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, one of the impacts of what – the steps we've taken, which isn't the negotiations, has certainly been a dramatic impact on the Russian economy. And we've seen fits and starts of abiding by the Minsk protocols – obviously, not enough. There continues – we remain and continue to have a range of tools at our disposal. Secretary Lew spoke about this today in Europe, and I believe European leaders have said the same exact thing. We continue to believe that abiding by the Minsk protocols and the path that has been laid out there is in the interest of Russia, it's in the interest of Ukraine, it's in the interest of everybody involved in this process.
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: But even the President – I mean, the President himself said in his State of the Union Address the other day that the effect of your – of your – of you and the EU sanctions policy has been to leave the Russian economy in tatters. But that doesn't even seem to have convinced President Putin at all to pull back his forces, to stop his backing for these Russian separatists. Destroying the economy of Moscow – or Russia, rather, doesn't really seem to be helping to stop the war in Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned, there have been some fits and starts. There have been agreements. The issue is implementing and abiding by the agreements. And as I mentioned, there are also more tools at our disposal. I don't have anything to announce or predict for you, but that's something that we continue to discuss with our European counterparts as well.
QUESTION: And can I just ask, there's been some reporting out of eastern Ukraine about the measures that Kyiv have taken, including – such as sort of a no-travel policy, and they've stopped medicines going into that part of Ukraine. It seems that the residents who are caught between the Russian-backed separatists and the Kiev authorities – and I just wondered if you had any opinion about whether Kiev should actually allow things like medication and stuff through to the residents who need it.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me look into this with our team and the specific details of it. Obviously, I've seen some of the reporting, but I just want to get a little bit more of the facts and we'll get you a response.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Ukraine?
QUESTION: Yeah, staying in Ukraine: Is it the Administration's position that the government, that the Ukrainian Government has committed no violations at all of the Minsk accords?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as we've said, we expect both sides to abide by the Minsk protocols. I don't have anything. I'm not going to use a straw man on accusing them of not abiding by it. I haven't seen accusations out there that they haven't.
QUESTION: Well, they're all over the place in --
MS. PSAKI: But from the Russian side, where it's been --
QUESTION: Well, right, but I --
MS. PSAKI: -- disproven by the OSCE and other independent monitors?
QUESTION: Well, surely there must be some violations by – I mean, there has to be some violations by both sides. It's not just one side that's fighting here, right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly as I mentioned last week – and we had a similar discussion, Matt – obviously we would ask both sides and call on both sides to prevent civilian casualties. We'd call on both sides to abide by the Minsk protocols.
MS. PSAKI: That doesn't change the fact that Ukraine has completed and made significant progress on abiding, while – as Russia and the Russian-backed separatists have not.
QUESTION: Well, I understand what you – but you have not, that I can recall yet, accused or condemned any action by the government of Kiev, the government in Kiev, for violations which you say – or I don't know. I mean, are there no violations on the government's side?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this sounds similar to what Russia Today was asking last week.
QUESTION: Well, right, but I mean, if you look --
MS. PSAKI: Is there a specific violation that we're talking about that we should discuss?
QUESTION: You're – the U.S. is very quick to condemn the separatist side and the – for violations of the Minsk agreement, and your allegations about them, which may or may not – which you say have been proven by the OSCE, are fine. But the Russians make their own allegations. And you're saying that all of those are flat-out wrong --
MS. PSAKI: Well, they're --
QUESTION: -- and all of yours are 100 percent --
MS. PSAKI: They're standing alone while the rest of the --
QUESTION: -- correct?
MS. PSAKI: -- international community is on the other side with a different understanding of what's happening.
QUESTION: Okay. I – there have been – there are – and Russian media has made a big deal out of some – apparently, some fighter from the Ukrainians who spoke – speaks fluent English and suggesting that there are U.S. mercenaries or U.S. troops operating with the Kyiv government. Can you speak to that? Is that not true? Is that --
MS. PSAKI: There are not U.S. troops operating. There was also an accusation that there was a NATO legion in Ukraine --
MS. PSAKI: -- which NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg has spoken to. So there have been a range of rumors out there, which are inaccurate. And again, if there is a specific violation that Ukraine is being accused of, I'm happy to discuss that. But --
QUESTION: Well, there was the bus incident.
MS. PSAKI: Of which there is an investigation into it, and we made clear that we would condemn either side being responsible.
QUESTION: Are you aware of private armies that operate in Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: There have been rumors of that, which my understanding is they're false, Said. So --
QUESTION: Okay. And let me ask you about the Minsk protocol.
QUESTION: Is there, like, a watchdog group that determines who violated what, when?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the OSCE --
MS. PSAKI: -- is an international organization that is there monitoring a range of actions and inactions in Ukraine.
QUESTION: And do you have, like, a balance sheet on this thing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to the OSCE. I think they've spoken to that as well.
Any more on Ukraine before we continue?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Pam.
QUESTION: You mentioned that the U.S. and its allies have more tools at their disposal in terms of responding to Russia, but specifically with the State Department, considering that Russia has stepped up its attacks and also its rhetoric and its accusations, what's being done on the diplomatic front to address these concerns directly with Russia? What are – is the State Department looking at or has the State Department implemented any new tactics, any new approaches in its response to Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of things that are happening at the same time. As I think we've discussed a little bit and we put out a readout of, the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov just yesterday. So obviously, that's a part of our diplomatic effort in terms of outreach. There are ongoing meetings. There's an EU meeting on Ukraine this week. That is for them to discuss where things stand and have a discussion about that internally. We, of course, stay in lockstep with them. There have been a range of meetings. There is a meeting in Berlin, which the United States wasn't a part of but we're in close touch with all of the participants in. And for any decision made in the Administration, whether it's sanctions or otherwise, we're part of an interagency process of determining that. So anything that is done as it relates to our policy with Ukraine is something that we would weigh into and be a part of the decision-making on.
QUESTION: But, Jen, has anybody talked with President Putin? I mean, with respect to the Secretary and his efforts with foreign – with Minister Lavrov, in the past months, State Department officials have conceded that Minister Lavrov doesn't actually hold the power in this dossier. So is anybody speaking to President Putin about it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you would know if there were conversations between President Obama and President Putin, which would be the proper channel for that. There have been over the course of time. I obviously don't have anything new to read out for you. There are other officials we work – I shouldn't say just officials – government leaders we work closely with around the world, whether that's Chancellor Merkel or others who have had conversations and engaged with President Putin as well.
QUESTION: But it does seem that currently, the U.S. diplomacy on this is stalemated, that it's not – in fact, the fighting's getting worse. A year ago almost, we had the annexation of Crimea. Now we've got almost full-out war in eastern Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't agree with that. I think, one, obviously, we are concerned about the violence over the past couple of days, but it's inaccurate to say diplomacy is stalemated. It's not just the United States. In fact, many of these negotiations and discussions we're not a part of. They're happening with European leaders; there were meetings just last week in Berlin where there were discussions and agreements that came out of it. Those are ongoing. So there are several different diplomatic efforts that have been ongoing and will certainly continue that we'll be engaged in in one way or the other.
QUESTION: Jen, can I --
QUESTION: So is it something that's better left to the Europeans, do you feel?
MS. PSAKI: I think there are times when it's appropriate for those discussions to be with European leaders. There are times when the United States is involved. Our efforts and our goals remain the same.
QUESTION: Jen, just two very brief things on this. One: Over the weekend, the Security Council was unable to reach agreement on a statement that would've condemned the violence in Ukraine. I'm wondering if you have any comment on that or why that happened.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we saw where Russia stood on that statement, so that's why that happened. But in terms of the language in it or the effort behind it, obviously, as you know, that was something we reported and it's similar to condemning, as we have done publicly.
QUESTION: Right, right. But you don't see that as your – I mean, there's two ways to look at it. One is that Russia was pushing to get language that it wanted in there and you guys refused, or the other side – the other way to look at it is that you had language that you wanted and Russia refused to agree to it. The reason I bring this up is it goes back to my – the earlier question, which is: My understanding of what the Russians wanted in there was condemnation of both sides, or of killings committed by both sides. And by – if you guys refuse to have that language in there, it suggests that you don't believe that there are any violations by the Ukrainian Government. Now, that may – or maybe not – may not be true, but is that – I mean, does it suggest that you don't think that there have been violations of the Minsk accord on both sides?
MS. PSAKI: I'm just not going to speak to hypotheticals, Matt. Obviously, we continue to --
QUESTION: But it was – it's not a hypothetical. I'm asking you whether --
MS. PSAKI: But you're using a straw man as if I should just condemn violations that only the Russians have accused the Ukrainians of. If there's a specific violation, then let's talk about it.
QUESTION: All right. I'm --
MS. PSAKI: And let's – it's also divorced from the reality of what's happening on the ground, which is the preponderance of attacks, the preponderance of violence --
MS. PSAKI: -- is happening from the Russia side.
QUESTION: Well, all right – preponderance. But that's not all. Preponderance is not all, and so I think that it might not be a bad idea to have to look at it with a – to even it out a little bit if it comes close to – if it even comes close to being even. So if you're suggesting that --
MS. PSAKI: It doesn't come close to being even.
QUESTION: Okay. But it doesn't merit a mention at all? That's the – I guess that's the question.
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think we're talking --
QUESTION: The other thing --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- is totally different.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The other thing – well, it's not totally different, but do you have the – Standard & Poor's has just cut the Russian bond rating to junk levels. Is this the kind of thing that you think is good and helps put pressure on the Russians and follows with what President Obama said about their economy being in tatters?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I think President Obama's lines in the State of the Union were about what the results have been of the actions that we've taken. It wasn't that our goal is to have a negative impact on the Russian economy. Our goal is to have a peaceful resolution to the situation in Ukraine. So certainly, we've seen that our sanctions have had an impact, the impact of the European sanctions has had an impact, and this may be one of the latest examples of that.
QUESTION: Okay. But you don't have anything specific on this --
MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything specific, Matt.
QUESTION: I mean, talk about specific – that Matt was – Moscow is saying that where Kiev has been particularly – has broken its word is that it hasn't – it's refused to pull back its heavy weapons from the front and negotiate directly with the rebels.
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, I think we all know that the rebels have been invited – the Russian-backed separatists to a variety of different meetings by the Ukrainian Government. So that's just false. The second piece is Ukraine is a sovereign country. Russia has heavy weaponry, has materials, has individuals who are in Ukraine and on the border of Ukraine violating the sovereignty of their country. Do they have the right to defend themselves? Absolutely they do, and putting the two in the same category is ludicrous.
QUESTION: You're saying that there are Russian arms and heavy equipment?
QUESTION: Under the Minsk accord, are they not required to at least pull back from the Minsk separation line their heavy weaponry?
MS. PSAKI: Well, but again, remember why we're in the situation we're in. Are we expecting they're going to pull back when the Russians are not when it's talking about defending their own territory?
QUESTION: No, I know we're getting into a chicken-and-an-egg situation --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- but neither side has fulfilled its requirements. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, but I think the context of it is incredibly important here as to why we're in the situation we're in.
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: I just want you to clarify something that you just said. You're saying that there are Russian arms and heavy equipment inside the Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we've seen Russian-backed separatists using a range of equipment. Yes, we've seen all that.
QUESTION: Yeah, but not Russian-backed separatists, I mean actual Russian units and heavy --
MS. PSAKI: Russian-backed separatists. I think we're moving on from this topic. Do we have anything new?
QUESTION: Can I change the subject --
MS. PSAKI: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: -- to the Philippines?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: We've been asking your bureau about the Philippines – this clash between security forces and Muslim rebels, and apparently, you have a comment for us. We're particularly interested whether – in whether the U.S. knew about this operation, and whether you can confirm that one of the leaders, Zulkifli, has been killed.
MS. PSAKI: I've seen the reports. I can't confirm any individuals who have been killed or haven't been killed. I don't have much to offer, Lesley, aside from saying we've seen media reports that at least 41 members of Philippines – of the Philippines elite police forces were killed, and a handful more captured in a firefight with one or more armed groups. We offer our condolences to the family members of those who died. It's uncertain at this point which armed groups were involved. And otherwise, I would refer you to the Government of the Philippines.
QUESTION: And can you give us a little bit – this leader that I'm talking about, this Zulkifli, has he – is there a bounty on his head, I understand?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any more details on it – on him specifically. I can see if there's more we can – I'm sure we may have more on that.
QUESTION: Can we go to Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Any – Philippines or Egypt?
QUESTION: Back to Japan, actually.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. We'll go back to Japan in a second. Let's do Egypt and then we'll go back to Japan.
QUESTION: Okay, great.
QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted your comment on this past weekend that was marked by violence and repression of demonstrations and so on. And I wonder if you have any kind of direct communications with anyone from the Egyptian Government to ease up.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as you know, we have an embassy in there that's --
MS. PSAKI: -- widely staffed and also an ambassador on the ground. So we certainly have ongoing communication. We strongly condemn the violence that took place over the weekend in Egypt, whether against peaceful protestors or security forces. We urge the Egyptian security forces to show restraint and to provide a safe environment in which Egyptians can peacefully express their views. We urge all Egyptians to exercise calm and restraint, and to unequivocally condemn all acts of violence.
QUESTION: Are you urging the government to allow peaceful protestors to protest as they please?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, that's been one of our universal values that we talk about around the world, Said.
Let's go to Japan. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Jen, on this one, a news report said today that a Muslim Brotherhood delegation is in town and meeting with State Department and other U.S. officials. Do you have anything on --
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any details on that, but we can certainly look into it.
QUESTION: Yeah. There's been some confusion over the weekend about the authenticity of the video that ISIS allegedly released with regards to the hostage. Does the U.S. believe that this video is authentic, and does it believe that Kenji Goto is actually the person speaking in the video?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first I'd say the Government of Japan has stated that it believes reports of Haruna Yukawa's killing to be highly credible. The U.S. intelligence community has said it has no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video.
New topic? Go ahead, Pam.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: In his comments over the weekend, Secretary Kerry said that – indicated that the United States may be prepared to offer additional assistance in the fight against Boko Haram depending on the election outcome. The U.S. has been involved with some training efforts. What other measures would be considered if the election outcome is favorable and there is a lack of violence?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think everything the Secretary mentioned is that anyone who participates in – including by planning or ordering – widespread or systematic violence against a civilian population may be found ineligible for a visa and would not be welcome in the United States.
We have provided ongoing assistance to Nigeria. We remain engaged, including through military-to-military cooperation on security challenges of mutual interest. We continue to provide intelligence related to Boko Haram and engage on a broad range of security cooperation. I don't have anything to predict for you. I will just convey that, obviously, he was there to reiterate the importance of peaceful elections, and that all candidates encourage that no matter what the outcome.
MS. PSAKI: All – mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Special Representative for North Korea Policy Ambassador Sung Kim traveled to Tokyo for three-party talks – U.S., Korea, and Japan – this week. Is these talks will be prepared for the Six-Party Talks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me see. I think I have some details from last week on his travel. Let's see here. (Inaudible) I think we put out a media note, so maybe those details are out there.
QUESTION: This is for --
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed on our policy here. The fact is that the ball remains in North Korea's court. They need to abide by their international obligations. As you know, we remain in close touch with our Six-Party partners, but nothing has changed or no indications have changed from North Korea.
QUESTION: Can I just ask --
QUESTION: Just – on that?
QUESTION: No, no. I wanted to change topics.
QUESTION: Oh. I just wanted to ask if Wendy Sherman's visit to North Asia signals anything about North Korea possibly.
MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything more on her agenda. I'm happy to get more for you later today or for tomorrow. Obviously, there are a range of issues we certainly talk on these trips with, but it's more about our broad bilateral relationships, relationships in those countries she's visiting.
QUESTION: Staying in the region, I wanted to ask about Assistant Secretary Russel's trip to --
MS. PSAKI: Thailand?
QUESTION: -- Thailand --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and whether you had anything on his meetings today in Bangkok.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let's see. Assistant Secretary Russel met today with Foreign Minister Thanasak, former Prime Minister Yingluck, Democratic Party Leader Abhisit and a roundtable – and he also had a roundtable of civil society leaders. He also gave a speech at a prominent university and gave a television interview to Thai PBS.
With Foreign Minister Thanasak, Assistant Secretary Russel highlighted the importance of U.S.-Thai relations, but also made clear that the lifting of martial law, the re-establishment of fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of assembly and speech, and a transparent and inclusive constitution drafting process are crucial to re-establishing a stable democracy in Thailand. He underlined that our relationship with Thailand cannot return to normal until democracy is re-established. He obviously – those meetings have concluded at this point, given the time change.
QUESTION: And he's staying or he's now leaving Thailand?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything on his forward travel. I believe that concludes his trip there, but --
QUESTION: And what was the purpose – why did he meet with former Prime Minister Yingluck given that she's under an impeachment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he determined that – the team determined, he determined that he would have a meeting with a wide range of leaders and officials in the government. And this is – I think she qualifies in that category.
QUESTION: And it wasn't determined – it could be seen as inflammatory given that some of her supporters have been pretty angry about the impeachment. It doesn't seem to be feeding into the instability in Thailand?
MS. PSAKI: There was a determination made that it was important to have a diversity of meetings, so that's what he did while he was there.
All right, thanks --
QUESTION: I have one more. Just apropos of the Secretary and – or the President and the Secretary's upcoming visit, I guess tomorrow, to Saudi Arabia, does the U.S. – does the U.S. have a global position on the use of beheading as a form of execution?
MS. PSAKI: I think, Matt, any issue like that we address in our Human Rights reports. I would point you to that. I don't think I have anything more for you on it today.
QUESTION: I'm just wondering if you view beheadings by Saudi Arabia – there was one today, the first under the new king – as being part of a legitimate justice system, or if there are some forms of execution that the United States regards as out of bounds or as a violation of human rights.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Matt, we review all of this in our annual report. I'm sure we can get you the specifics on that. And as I mentioned last week, clearly, our relationship with Saudi Arabia is important and vital and one we plan on continuing. But it doesn't mean that there aren't issues that we have – we raise.
QUESTION: Right, okay. I can find the Human Rights report myself --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- so you don't need to do that.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: But what I am interested in is whether or not this is the kind of thing that either the President or the Secretary, for whom you speak, might be raising with the Saudis if it is, in fact, a concern. Now, if – and if it isn't a concern, then I would like to know that as well.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we regularly raise human rights. The Secretary, I don't think, will have --
QUESTION: Is this – but is this one of them?
MS. PSAKI: -- independent meetings on his own. I don't have any more about the President's trip to predict for you.
QUESTION: So we don't know if – it's not clear whether the Administration regards having one's head cut off as a human rights abuse?
MS. PSAKI: We've spoken to this in the past, Matt. I'd point you to that.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:48 p.m.)
DPB # 14
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