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Daily Press Briefing

Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 13, 2015

Index for Today's Briefing




12:57 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hello, everyone.

QUESTION: Happy Friday the 13th.

MS. PSAKI: Happy Friday the 13th, Valentine's Day eve.

QUESTION: President's Day weekend.

MS. PSAKI: President's Day weekend.

QUESTION: And Friday the 13th.

MS. PSAKI: So many things to say.

QUESTION: All rolled into one.

MS. PSAKI: It is. I have one item for all of you at the top. Yesterday, Pakistan marked its national women's day, so it's fitting that this afternoon we – or this morning, we opened the first WECREATE center in Islamabad. WECREATE centers are safe spaces for women to access essential resources for starting or growing businesses. We believe that unleashing the potential of half a country's population is a powerful tool to drive economic growth and prosperity. This is the first of a number of WECREATE centers that the State Department will launch worldwide, including in Africa and Southeast Asia.

With that --

QUESTION: Let's – there's a lot going on, but let's start with Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: So the ceasefire is not supposed to take effect until midnight Saturday.


QUESTION: But it does not appear that the run-up to this is that – since the deal was done and ahead of the ceasefire, it looks like things are just getting worse, and I'm just wondering what the Administration thinks. Is this a harbinger of doom, or do you still think that this is – that this will work, that the agreement will work?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are very concerned about continued fighting along and beyond the line of contact, including in heavily populated civilian areas, and reports of additional resupplies of tanks and missile systems coming across the border from Russia in the past few days, and I have a little more detail of that I just want to go into for a moment here. The Russian military has deployed a large amount of artillery and multiple rocket launcher systems around Debaltseve where it is shelling Ukrainian positions. We are confident these are Russian military, not separatist systems. The Russian military also has air defense systems deployed near Debaltseve. We are also confident these are Russian military, not separatist systems.

Russian units along the border with Ukraine are preparing a large shipment of supplies to pro-Russian forces fighting in eastern Ukraine. This is clearly not in the spirit of this week's agreement. All parties must show complete restraint in the run-up to the Sunday ceasefire, including an immediate halt to the Russian and separatist assault on Debaltseve and other Ukrainian towns. Clearly, the same options that have been on the table remain on the table, and obviously we'll be watching closely to see what happens over the course of the coming days.

QUESTION: On those – where the information on the Russian equipment is coming from. It's not coming from Senator Inhofe's office I hope.

MS. PSAKI: No, it's coming from our own internal information we were able to make public.

QUESTION: U.S. information, not Ukrainian information?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. And so – but you say clearly it's not in the spirit of the agreement, which would appear to be the case if it's true, but what does this tell you about the agreement itself and whether or not it's even realistic to think that it might produce what it's supposed to produce?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there's no question, Matt, that actions, not words are what will determine whether the agreement will produce what it's supposed to produce. So it technically starts --

QUESTION: Well, from what you've seen so far --

MS. PSAKI: It technically starts at midnight on Saturday night. We will clearly be watching in the coming days to see whether it's abided to – by. A ceasefire is the first part of this.


MS. PSAKI: And so obviously, we're leading up to it, but these actions are certainly concerning and do violate the spirit of the agreement.

QUESTION: Right, but from what you've seen so far, do you have – I mean, yesterday people were talking about the glimmer of hope. This is a – it's a potential step – a potentially significant step forward. What you have seen between when the agreement was signed and now, do you still believe that there's any chance of it working?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we're going to see over the coming days whether it works or not. Obviously, there's a timeline for the ceasefire officially starting, and so we will give it some time to see if it starts.

QUESTION: Last one.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: One of the priorities for you guys and also one of the priorities for Ukraine has been the release of this woman --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, Nadiya Savchenko.

QUESTION: -- Savchenko. You've raised her case numerous times from here as have – the Ukrainian authorities have as well. And today – and it was understood, I think at least from your point of view, you believed and the Ukrainians believed that she would be released as part of the release of all the prisoners.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: This does not appear that it – it does not appear that this is going to happen from the – the Russians say that it's not going to happen. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just reiterate that we've called for Nadiya Savchenko's release since she was first illegally spirited across the border and put on trial in Moscow. She's a hostage of the Russian Government and she must be released immediately. This week's agreement calls for the exchange of all hostages and illegally held persons taken during the conflict. In our view, this clearly includes Nadiya Savchenko. We've seen the comments of some Russian officials. Obviously, this will continue to be a point of discussion in the implementation of this agreement, but we believe that she is part of the agreement.

QUESTION: Okay. So you think – your understanding is then that anyone, regardless of whether they've been charged with or accused of crimes, should be – held by either side should be returned.

MS. PSAKI: Well, our view is that she falls into the category of someone who is illegally detained.

QUESTION: Okay, so --

MS. PSAKI: So she would be – and it's written into the agreement that those people are included.

QUESTION: Sorry, Jen, (inaudible) the ceasefire to take effect – I mean, it's like 24 hours from now. You expressed concern, but you still expect that the ceasefire will be implemented?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think that's the same question that Matt just asked that we just had a dialogue about.

QUESTION: I understand. But you don't – you still believe that it is --

MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything new to what I just answered in response to the same exact question.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Back to the Russian equipment coming from Russia into Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You have seen this deployment of military equipment over the last 24 hours, since the agreement has been --

MS. PSAKI: Past couple of days, past couple of days I think is an accurate way --

QUESTION: And not since the agreement has been signed in Minsk?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, it was signed I guess it was two days ago. This has been a bit of a long week, so I think that's correct. So yes, the past couple of days this has been happening.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Jen. Would you be willing to present the evidence that you have? Because this is what the Russians keep saying, that all of these allegations from the American side are just words. They've been asking for evidence to be presented to I don't know whom – to the international community I guess, to the press.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that's quite quaint, because not just the United States but – I'm getting to my point --


MS. PSAKI: -- the United States, Ukraine, Europeans, NATO – there are a range of officials around the world who have consistently conveyed; there has been information put out by NATO over the course of time. I am sharing with you information that I am able to share from our own internal analysis. I don't have more details to provide. We always make efforts to provide as much information as we possibly can.

QUESTION: You know how – Jen, I understand. "We all say the same thing" is not proof. You all say the same things, you are all in the same – yes, in the same camp.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to what the prime minister of Ukraine said when he offered to – he offered his glasses to his Russian colleagues so that they could see what's happening in Ukraine.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Jen, in your prepared statement a few minutes ago you – at the end of it you said something that I think was also said during briefings yesterday, that the same options are still on the table. Can you drill into that a little bit for us? What are we talking about, sanctions? Or are we still debating the possibility of arming the Ukrainian military? And has the peace agreement, news of it, changed that debate in the last 24 hours?

MS. PSAKI: Well, defensive supplies, which is what you're referring to, remains on the table, as do additional sanctions. That hasn't changed. Obviously, our priority or preference, I should say, here is seeing this agreement implemented. We believe that the document signed in Minsk this week is an – it's called an implementation plan for the Minsk agreement, and that is something that we believe can be implemented. There are specific steps in there that should be implemented, but we will be watching closely, and obviously, we continue to have discussions about appropriate assistance.

QUESTION: Is there still a possibility that those defensive supplies could go to the Ukrainian military even if the peace process and the ceasefire works during the weeks ahead?

MS. PSAKI: Well, if the ceasefire works and it's being implemented, I think it's obvious we would calibrate what we would do. But let's talk about it and see where we are in a couple of days.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Jen, I wanted to follow up on another point made by Matt about this Ukrainian lady.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Russian press actually speculates that there may be an exchange in preparation, an exchange between the Americans and the Russians who hold this prisoner. Would this be something that would be interested in?

MS. PSAKI: No, that's not being considered – never heard it discussed.

Oh, do we have any more on Ukraine before we go?

QUESTION: I just want to go back to the question before. I mean, when you say that you have this information about this – the buildup and the transfer of these weapons systems, and what was it, the air defense systems and other stuff, that – well, one, does the OSCE – is the OSCE aware of this stuff as well? Do you know? I mean, are they – because they've been looked to as being the impartial --

MS. PSAKI: We do. Regularly stay in touch with them. I haven't heard them make comments this morning, but we regularly provide any information we have.

QUESTION: Okay. And then – so assuming that what you say is correct, is that in itself a violation of the agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it's a violation of the Minsk agreement that was signed last September. Technically, is it a violation of the new agreement? Well, that doesn't officially start until midnight. But regardless of all of that, all of that needs to be implemented. So --

QUESTION: I understand. And you already said it's – it is not in the spirit of the agreement.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But looking at the agreement just as itself, as this document is, the withdrawal of heavy artillery --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and foreign fighters is not supposed to happen until after the ceasefire takes effect, which is midnight Saturday. Is that – am I correct in thinking that?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. But regardless, Matt, I think again the implementation of the Minsk agreement is still part of what we're talking about here, and it's still a violation of that and certainly a violation of the spirit.

QUESTION: Right, but it was – is it – am I not – okay, maybe I've gotten – maybe I'm misunderstanding this. So the clock doesn't start ticking on the timeline contained in Minsk II until Saturday, but you still are expecting Minsk I to be respected now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Minsk I is – the title of this entire agreement is the implementation of.


MS. PSAKI: So Minsk I remains part of what we're talking about being implemented here.

QUESTION: Right, but – all right. I'm just – you expect all the parties to still abide by Minsk I even though this, Minsk II, which calls for Minsk I to be implemented, doesn't begin until Saturday night?

MS. PSAKI: I don't think we're looking at it with the same level of --

QUESTION: Okay. I --

MS. PSAKI: -- how you're looking at it. It violates the spirit. We want to see it implemented. We'll be watching closely over the coming days.

QUESTION: You are sure to be asked by others --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- not just you – I mean, not just you personally being asked on this podium – to provide the evidence that you say that you have. Is that something that --

MS. PSAKI: As you know, we declassify as much information --


MS. PSAKI: -- as we can. We provide as much information as we can.

QUESTION: Is that something that you can say that the Administration will be forthcoming with?

MS. PSAKI: I – we always make that effort. There's nothing new there.

Go ahead.


QUESTION: If I may, one last thing on Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I'm listening to you now, and I have a feeling that you are talking with authority, like basically --

MS. PSAKI: I hope so.

QUESTION: -- a party to the process. But then I have to remind myself that you are not, by your own choice maybe, I don't know – a party to that. So how do you define the American role in making sure that the Minsk – Minsk II is implemented?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, it's not any one country who will implement; it's the OSCE. We certainly support their efforts. We have seen the paper, we've reviewed the paper, we've been in close touch with our European partners and a range of officials who are – who have been engaged in the negotiation. So I would say we're deeply and will continue to be deeply involved in this process.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Sure.

QUESTION: Today the SRSG de Mistura in Vienna said that Assad must be part of the solution. What kind of comment would you have on that?

MS. PSAKI: I'm – we're aware, of course, of the comments. I can't speak for Special Envoy de Mistura and would refer you to him for a response. I understand that he also clarified his remarks today with Reuters, so I would point you to his clarification.

QUESTION: Okay. But you said the other day that you do support his effort.

MS. PSAKI: We do.

QUESTION: You do support his effort, but he's also saying that – in fact, the Austrian foreign minister said the same thing – that we may not like him and so on, but in this fight against ISIS particularly --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, again, I think before you quote him, I would point you to what he said in his clarification back to Reuters.

QUESTION: And how does that clarification work with your position, which still remains – I assume – that Assad cannot be part of any future arrangement?

MS. PSAKI: Our position is that Assad has lost all legitimacy and must go. I would refer you to Special Envoy de Mistura and his clarification if you would like to talk about his comments.

QUESTION: So in any peace forum, you would expect the Syrians to be represented, and there are all kinds of figures and all kinds of data that proves that, actually, Assad does represent a sizable minority, including Alawis, Christians, all the different groups and so on that are really quite hefty in Syria. So should they not be presented at the table?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not sure what table you're referring to, Said.

QUESTION: I'm saying in a – let's say in a Geneva III forum or another kind of venue where the opposition and the government --

MS. PSAKI: I think you're talking about a hypothetical that doesn't exist, so we're going to move on.

Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION: Thanks. As you're aware, the State Department, working with the UN, is undertaking an effort to bring in a large number of Syrian refugees – at least that's the hope – to the United States.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And then earlier this week on the Hill, House Homeland Security held a hearing where the leadership there said, quote, "It would be a huge mistake to bring in refugees to the U.S. from Syria." It's their worry that they – that terrorists or extremists could infiltrate that program and pose a risk to the homeland. So what is your reaction to that type of thinking? What is the U.S. obligation when it comes to these refugees, and how do you respond to that – those fears?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, the United States has a strong tradition, a long tradition of welcoming refugees, many of whom have fled unspeakable horrors and persecution, and there have been long – there has been longstanding bipartisan support for this in Congress. And certainly, I think if we look at the crisis in Syria and the unspeakable horrors that many people in that country have gone through, what many people have called for is support for more refugees, which certainly we are open to.

To answer your question on what we do, they're – ensuring we admit refugees in a way that is safe and consistent with our national security interests is absolutely a priority. That's why the process can take months, if not longer. And we have a lot of experience with this with Afghanistan, with Iraq, with Somalia, and other places where the United States has taken refugees in from. Refugees are the most carefully vetted of all travelers to the United States. Every refugee under consideration for admission to the United States undergoes the same intensive security screening involving multiple federal intelligence, security, and law enforcement agencies. These include the NCTC, the Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Defense, the FBI. This process includes a lengthy overseas in-person refugee determination and security screening interview conducted by specifically trained – specially trained DHS officers. There's a lengthy process that is every refugee is vetted. But one of our values is bringing in and welcoming refugees who have fled horrors around the world, and that continues to be central to what we believe in.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Jen, may I – may I ask one on Syria?

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Let's stay with the refugees for just a minute.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you – you said you have a – the government – the Administration as a whole and not just this Administration, previous administrations as well --


QUESTION: -- has long experience with admitting refugees. To your knowledge, are you aware of any refugees from Iraq or Somalia or Afghanistan – the countries that you mentioned – who have been admitted and then been discovered or found to have been a terrorist or somehow who is plotting against the United States?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, again, there are a range of precautions taken into place.

QUESTION: Well, I understand that.

MS. PSAKI: I can certainly look into that specific question on the history, but obviously, there are precautions taken into place to avoid that.

QUESTION: Right. But the question raised on the Hill --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and here, again, is whether or not bad people have gotten in in the past and been caught. Is there any evidence to suggest that the screening system may not be as rigorous as you hope or believe it is?

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen evidence to suggest that the screening system is not as rigorous as it needs to be.

QUESTION: There was one example – just to clarify that – if I'm not mistaken, there was one example where an Iraqi – now, the U.S. has brought in around 120,000 Iraqis, and one was found – when his fingerprints were more thoroughly checked through, matched fingerprints found on an IED in Iraq. Is it safe to say that lessons have been learned from the vetting process for Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, we are always learning lessons about how to most efficiently do the process, what questions to ask, how to take things into account. And that is certainly factored into how vigorous our measures are. Additional measures were activated as a result of evidence that came in on two Iraqis after they were admitted to Kentucky. Those measures are now applied to all refugees. So we always evaluate and use information as it becomes available.

QUESTION: So there is evidence that --

MS. PSAKI: Two incidents is what I have information on.

QUESTION: But – and what happened to those people? Do you know?

MS. PSAKI: I can certainly check. But we certainly apply the lessons learned in the future.

QUESTION: Is that figure correct? Two out of 120,000?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can check, Matt, on the specific statistic.

QUESTION: Because I mean, I think that --

MS. PSAKI: I know. I understand why you're asking.

QUESTION: Well, right. But I mean, if that's correct, it suggests that it works pretty well. It's not 100 percent, but it --

MS. PSAKI: That's correct. I will see if there are any other incidents that we have had concern about.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you on the number of Syrian refugees. Do you have any figure on the number of Syrian refugees and where they are located or relocated?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the United States has admitted 524 Syrians since 2011. We're likely to admit 1,000 to 2,000 Syrian refugees for permanent resettlement in Fiscal Year 2015 and a somewhat higher number, though still in the low thousands, in Fiscal Year 2016. I don't have any more details on where. There's obviously an entire process that is undergone.

QUESTION: 524 or 424?

MS. PSAKI: 524.

QUESTION: On this issue.

QUESTION: Jen, on --

MS. PSAKI: On Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: On this same issue.

MS. PSAKI: On refugees?

QUESTION: On the refugees.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: The congressmen were saying that the difference between the Syrian refugees and the refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan, that the U.S. was there in Afghanistan and Iraq and was able to check their – the security clearance, but this is not the case in Syria. The U.S. is not there and they cannot check their status there.

QUESTION: Are there Syrian refugees inside Syria?

QUESTION: Inside Syria or in the region --

QUESTION: No, no, Jen. I'm asking you.

QUESTION: -- but they have to get their (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Well, the vast majority have moved outside of Syria, as you know.

QUESTION: They wouldn't be refugees if they were still in Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Right.

QUESTION: The United States still has an Embassy in Turkey, it still has an Embassy in Lebanon --

MS. PSAKI: Jordan.

QUESTION: -- and Jordan, right?

QUESTION: That's what the congressmen were saying yesterday about the refugees issue.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I'm not sure what they were referencing, because again, refugees are people who have departed the country. I can certainly – and obviously a range of the countries where millions of refugees live, which as you know, is an issue that we work closely with these countries on, are outside of Syria. But I will check if that's actually an issue. I'm not sure it is.

QUESTION: If I may, I have a question on Syria, but for a second to come back to my previous question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The President, your President, referred to the U.S. as a broker in bringing to power the current government in Kyiv. Would you refer to the U.S. as a broker – an honest broker for the Minsk agreements?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, I would.

QUESTION: Okay. And my question on Syria, and I apologize to my colleagues. I see that whenever my foreign minister, Mr. Lavrov, speaks about the region, he seems to be laying the blame for ISIS at your door, sort of see what your interference has brought us. And I want to give you an opportunity to respond to that and to explain your position as to how --

MS. PSAKI: I want to give you the opportunity to show me a comment he's made that suggests that.

QUESTION: Most recently at the Munich conference.

MS. PSAKI: What specifically did he say?

QUESTION: He said that the interference from the outside led to the emergence of ISIS. But even – and obviously, he did not mean Russian interference. But --

MS. PSAKI: How do you know he meant the United States? It seems like you may have a little bit more homework to do.

QUESTION: Well, they do speak very carefully. And I'm not a diplomat. I am a journalist. But even if we leave him out of it, what is your position as to how the ISIS emerged and why, and what role the states in the region played in that process, what role the U.S. played in that process, if any?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I've spoken about this quite a bit in here, but I'm happy to reiterate a couple of the points in a shorter form, for the benefit of everybody. I would say that we continue to believe that Bashar al-Assad is the biggest magnet for terrorism in the region, that he allowed ISIL to grow and prosper in his own country and allowed them to have safe havens in his own country. And that has led to the strength that they have built over the past couple of years.

We've certainly seen that in Iraq – the other neighboring country, as you know, that has had also some challenges dealing with fighting back on ISIL – that we needed to work with the Iraqi Security Forces to make sure they were better equipped – not just the United States but other countries – to fight back against this. The lack of inclusivity under the past government, the unpreparedness of the past security forces certainly contributed to their growth.

So there were a range of factors, and we obviously are addressing those in our anti-ISIL coalition that takes on not just a military component, but delegitimizing what they're doing, also going after foreign fighters, their financing that has gone unchecked. And these are all areas that we're working with a coalition of more than 60 countries and entities to address.

QUESTION: So two specific things about this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: One, do any of the forces that you support in Syria – do any of those forces, have they joined ISIS, to your knowledge?

MS. PSAKI: Who are you referring to specifically?

QUESTION: As I explained – I'm not an expert on --

MS. PSAKI: The moderate opposition? No, they haven't.

QUESTION: In the opposition.

MS. PSAKI: What's your second question?

QUESTION: So you are saying that none of those whom you supported have joined ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: Do you have a specific example you want to bring up here?

QUESTION: No, I mean, you know better than I do whom you support.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, why don't we get to your second question and then we'll move on to another topic.

QUESTION: And second question I already mentioned: Did any of your friends and allies in the region play a role in the emergence of ISIS – like the Saudis, like the Turks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, there are a range of issues, including cracking down on foreign fighters, including cracking down on financing, that we've seen the need to do more on, and we have been working with countries in the region that perhaps could have done more in the past to do more now. So these are all issues we're addressing. I don't see you taking notes right now on what I'm saying, but --

QUESTION: I'm taping this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Good. (Laughter.) Should we move on to a new topic?

QUESTION: New subject – on Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.


MS. PSAKI: Yemen? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah. According to reports, yesterday al-Qaida did take over a major military base in, I think, Shabwa province. Now, given the fact that the Houthis are the major power in charge it looks like in Yemen, do you intend or did you try to get in touch with them to confront that major development in – on Yemen – in Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we've seen the same reports. I don't have any independent confirmation of it. I would say that, as you know, AQAP has posed a threat to Yemen long before the events of the last couple of days that – and weeks, I should say – that caused us to bring our staff out of Yemen. We're in touch with a range of officials and parties on the ground. We continue to work on counterterrorism operations. I'm certain that these recent – reported attacks are part of those discussions, but I don't have any more detail to lay out for you.

QUESTION: But if it is true, do you agree it's alarming and you have to do something?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that we've been alarmed and concerned about the threat of AQAP in Yemen for some time now, and that's one of the reasons why we would like to continue our counterterrorism operations in coordination on the ground. And obviously, that's something that has been a priority for our team on the ground – not having embassy staff there certainly makes diplomacy more challenging. That's why it's suspended and we want a return. But we still have an ability to communicate and work together.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the embassy specifically.


QUESTION: It's been two days now or a little over two days since – and I'm just wondering if the Houthis have responded to your calls to return the embassy vehicles and the disassembled – inoperable weapons.

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any update on that and they haven't been returned.

QUESTION: They have not. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: In the – following the U.S. lead on this, a number of other embassies have closed down – most European embassies, I believe, as well as the Saudi embassy. Are you aware if any of them – any of those embassies encountered the same issue with vehicles and potentially weapons as you guys did?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any details on that. I haven't seen reports of it, but I don't have any details.

QUESTION: I know you haven't heard from them – from the Brits – these are countries that area allies – Italy, Netherlands, Britain --

MS. PSAKI: Not that I'm aware of, Matt. Obviously, we remain in touch with all of those countries. So --

QUESTION: And do you know if there has been any direct communication with the Houthi leadership about the property that you say must – that you want returned?

MS. PSAKI: We have conveyed our desire to have those vehicles returned. I'm not going to get into more details on how.

QUESTION: Okay. But can you say if you've gotten a response, not – maybe not what the response is, although that would be nice, but has there been a response?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any other update beyond that?



MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: You said that counterterrorism operations are still going on. Do you have any specifics, given the exit of diplomatic personnel, on whether those conversations or that coordination is going on from personnel in Washington or – this might be kind of a roundabout way to ask this question, but when the embassy compound was closed, was anyone still working out of the compound that's not U.S. diplomatic personnel?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can only confirm for you that State Department personnel and U.S. diplomatic personnel obviously left a couple of days ago. I believe my colleagues at DOD have spoken to their presence. I'm not going to speak about more specifics. Although U.S. staff have been temporarily relocated out of Sana'a, we remain engaged with parties in Yemen and the international community to advance U.S. policy objectives, including counterterrorism. We continue to actively monitor threats emanating from Yemen and have resources and capabilities postured in the area to address them. And obviously, we're not going to hesitate to protect our interests or the interests of the American people. But we don't get into intelligence operations from the podium, so I just won't be able to go into more detail.

QUESTION: Any word on where you'll relocate that staff?

MS. PSAKI: They're back in Washington now, Justin. I don't have any update. I know there've been talk about whether some would be relocated more in the region. That certainly remains a possibility, but I don't have an update at this point.


QUESTION: No, no --

MS. PSAKI: Let's finish Yemen. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On this. Two days ago, you said that the UN will be using one of the buildings at the --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is it – what building? The main embassy or --

MS. PSAKI: It's not the embassy building. It's a former residential building.

QUESTION: And the protecting power is still --

MS. PSAKI: Don't have an update on that either.

QUESTION: Middle East?

MS. PSAKI: Can we – any more on Yemen? Do you have Yemen, or – okay.

QUESTION: So a militant group in Libya, they claimed in a video the kidnapping of 21 Christian Egyptian.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And do you have any comment or you have any more information about it?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have a lot of information. We've seen photos showing Egyptians kidnapped by terrorists in Libya. We strongly condemn these kidnappings and express our sympathy to the Egyptians who have been involved in this ordeal, and to their families, as well as the Egyptian people. I don't have confirmation; we have just seen the photos. The Secretary also spoke with Foreign Minister Shoukry this morning and reiterated our condemnation of this incident and our commitment to the strategic partnership with Egypt.

But go ahead.

QUESTION: Did the Egyptians or the Government of Libya ask you for any help to rescue these people?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Government of Egypt and the government – and any others to speak to that. I don't have anything more to update on it from here.

QUESTION: Okay. Also, mainly, these people were kidnapped because they are Christians. Do you have any concerns about the status of the minorities in the Middle East right now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I would look at this – or the way we look at this, I should say – is more about Libya than it is about Egypt. This happened, reportedly, in Libya, right? And we know that this incident underscores the need for the international community to continue to strongly support the efforts of the United Nations. And it really, again, reminds us of how volatile the situation is there on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. One last question about Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The French Government, they announced yesterday that the Egyptians will buy 24 fighter jets. Do you have any concerns or any comments or – on this deal? And also, do you feel or do you think that the Sisi regime is trying to replace the United States and this partnership with another countries like Russia and France?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly don't think we see it that way. Every country has – Egypt is a sovereign country. They have maintained relationships with other countries, as does the United States. We have our own security relationship, so I wouldn't say there's a concern from this end.

QUESTION: Madam, India --

QUESTION: Jen, just on – can I just --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I want to – I didn't hear – I may have missed you say it, but in the answer to the question about when – the last question about the 21 who were kidnapped and them being Christians, did you – in your answer, did you say that you were concerned about ethnic and religious minorities in Libya?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we've – I mean, we've talked about the volatility on the ground and the issues at play in Libya for some time now. We don't have even confirmation of this or the details of it, so --

QUESTION: Right. Well, even without this incident, are you concerned about the treatment or the – well, are you concerned about their safety – of ethnic and religious minorities in Libya?

MS. PSAKI: I don't think we have new concerns, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Existing --

MS. PSAKI: We've long been concerned about the entire circumstance on the ground in Libya.


QUESTION: Jen, on Egypt, too. Did the Secretary discuss with his Egyptian counterpart the deal, the arm deal with France and President Putin's visit?

MS. PSAKI: No, he didn't. The focus was on the reports of the kidnapping of the individuals.

QUESTION: Madam, India?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead, Lalit. I mean go ahead, Goyal. Sorry. I'm looking at Lalit. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Two quick – thank you. Two quick questions, thank you. One, Madam, tomorrow will be the swearing-in ceremony for the landslide victory of a opposition leader in Delhi. How it's going to affect the U.S.-India relations as far as – because Delhi will have two governments: at the central level, Prime Minister Modi; at the Delhi level, the Kejriwal. And if anybody's going to attend this swearing-in ceremony from the U.S.?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Goyal, I'm to check and see if anyone on the ground is. Not that I'm aware of, but I will check. Beyond that, I'm not going to weigh in on politics in India. As you know, the Secretary has a great relationship, as does the President, with Prime Minister Modi and his entire cabinet, and we expect that will continue.


MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: And second, Madam, as far as Alabama case is concerned, it has gone beyond the families in India and the people of India. What – even in the government of ministry at the – at Delhi. My question is that people in India is asking that they thought police brutality is only in India because that's what they feel, there is police brutality in India.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Goyal, I'm not sure if you saw this this morning, but the individual officer – and this is reported, so I'm just speaking to reports; I don't have any separate confirmation, we don't deal with that from here from the State Department – but that the individual officer has been fired, the local police chief spoke to it and gave a very strong statement. So I would certainly refer you to that.

QUESTION: So justice has been done. Thank you.

QUESTION: Jen, since you're now on the – commenting on criminal matters in the United States, the Administration has –

MS. PSAKI: I'm happy to report – point you to public comments that have been made if useful, but go ahead.

QUESTION: The Administration has been criticized by many in the Muslim community for not – the White House in particular for not commenting on this, the murder of these three Muslims in North Carolina. I realize that this is not generally a State Department issue, but you were – it has echoes of the whole Ferguson thing in terms of this building being involved at least in public diplomacy efforts abroad. President Erdogan of Turkey mentioned this at a stop in Mexico either this morning or yesterday, the fact that the President – this president, President Obama, hasn't spoken about it, and it's being used – or the lack of comment from the Administration on this from the federal government is being used by some in ISIS and other jihadi-type groups as alleged evidence that the Administration doesn't care about Muslims. How do you respond to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe my colleague over at the White House briefly spoke to this a couple of days ago, but let me just say we are saddened, of course, by the senseless acts in Chapel Hill. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the deceased. We're moved by the way the Chapel Hill community has united and shown its support to the grieving families. This case is, of course, under investigation by the Chapel Hill Police Department, but I don't think anyone should question how much as a human being the Secretary and anyone in this building sees these reports and feels for the families and the entire community.

QUESTION: And what would you say to President Erdogan?

MS. PSAKI: I think I would point him to the comments I just made.

QUESTION: So in other words, you don't accept his – you reject his criticism?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian issue?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Alabama?

MS. PSAKI: You want to go – go ahead. Go ahead. Let's go back, and then we'll go to you, Said.


QUESTION: And then I have a few questions from South Asian countries. First one, is State Department sending any officials to Alabama to meet the victim along with Indian officials? I saw some reports in this. I just wanted to confirm with you.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't believe there's a role for the State Department here. We certainly wish Mr. Patel a full recovery from his injuries. Our thoughts are with his family. As I mentioned, this case is under investigation. The local police have spoken to the behavior of the police officer. I would point you to all of that.

QUESTION: I'm going back to India again. Today the prime minister called – made phone calls to four of the – four South Asian leaders, including Pakistan, on the cricket World Cup which is being inaugurated in Australia. But the question is about the call he made to Prime Minister Sharif about revival of the peace talks. He is sending his foreign secretary to Islamabad. How do you see this development as?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Lalit, we believe that India and Pakistan stand to benefit from practical cooperation and are encouraged that they may resume dialogue aimed at reducing tensions. The relationship between India and Pakistan is critical to advancing peace and security in South Asia, so we would certainly welcome any resumption of talks between the two countries.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the chairperson and the ranking member of House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote a letter to Secretary Kerry seeking a new policy on Pakistan, which should – according to them should include sanctions, travel restrictions on Pakistani officials, sanctions on Pakistan, because they argue that the present policies are not – is not working. The Pakistani Government, according to them, continues to shelter Lashkar-e Tayyiba and Haqqani Network. Has – there are two questions related to that. Has the Secretary received the letter? Secondly, does he agree with the statements made by these two congressmen?

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen the letter. I can't confirm for you if the Secretary has received it. I'm sure we will respond to the letter as we do from any letter from a member of Congress.

QUESTION: There's one more related the Pakistan. The former President Musharraf, in an interview to Guardian newspaper today said that it is the ISI which nurtured Taliban. Is that your opinion?

MS. PSAKI: Can you say that one more time?

QUESTION: He said that ISI, which helped establish the Taliban in Afghanistan.

MS. PSAKI: I just don't think I'm going to have any more on that issue for you.


QUESTION: Staying on Pakistan.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: I have one other on Sri Lanka.

MS. PSAKI: On Sri Lanka?


MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have one on Pakistan?

MS. PSAKI: Or Pakistan? Let's do Pakistan.

QUESTION: Just one follow-up on the mosque bombing there.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: It seems like escalation of these bombings that have been claimed – the responsibility has been claimed by the Pakistani Taliban. Even after the country said they have this new policy to counter terrorism, what is the reaction on the continuing violence?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that we're saddened by the latest attack on a mosque and extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the victims. We stand in solidarity with the people and Government of Pakistan in confronting this type of extremist violence. We've certainly seen the claims. I clearly don't have any confirmation of that. As you know, the challenge of taking on the threat of terrorism in Pakistan is something that is a big topic of discussion in our bilateral relationship, and was one when the Secretary was there just a couple of weeks ago. And they have talked about wanting to do more and continuing to do more, and we are willing to and prepared to continue to be a partner in those efforts.

QUESTION: You're more than just saddened by the attack, aren't you? You would condemn it, right? This is --

MS. PSAKI: We certainly would condemn it, absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can I move on to something else?

MS. PSAKI: Do you have any more on Pakistan?

QUESTION: I have one on Sri Lanka (inaudible) --


MS. PSAKI: Oh, Sri Lanka, sure.

QUESTION: Matt's question yesterday about --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- the Sri Lankan foreign minister saying earlier this week that the UN sort of delay its report on human rights. You said you will be speaking about it after the meeting.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first do just a quick readout. The Secretary and the foreign minister met yesterday to discuss our bilateral relationship and other regional issues. The Secretary reiterated our commitment to the people of Sri Lanka after the historic January 8th elections and for the ongoing effort to strengthen democratic institutions in Sri Lanka. The Secretary reiterated support for the new government and its 100-day plan. He also underscored the United States and international commitment to accountability and reconciliation after nearly 30 years of war, and expressed ongoing support for a Sri Lanka that is peaceful, democratic, prosperous, inclusive, and unified.

In terms of the topic of the UN report, they discussed during their meeting, as I referenced, a range of bilateral and regional issues, including this issues – this issue. The United States, our focus and the focus of our partners in the international community is supporting accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. We're determining the best way forward to address these issues. Obviously, it was discussed yesterday, but this is a matter for the UN High Commissioner to determine. We have absolute confidence in him and in this process.

QUESTION: But would you like the UN to delay the report?

MS. PSAKI: Again, we're going to keep these conversations with the Sri Lankans and with the UN private.

QUESTION: I believe he has also extended an invitation to the Secretary to visit Colombo. Is the Secretary planning to visit?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any trips to announce.

QUESTION: Has that been accepted?

MS. PSAKI: I know the Secretary would certainly like to, so we'll see what happens with his schedule.

QUESTION: But he has accepted that invitation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think he expressed that he would certainly love to visit Sri Lanka at an appropriate time.

QUESTION: I've got two on Latin America.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The first is Cuba: So the new regulations have gone up now. Do you have any – for the allowing imports of Cuban – locally produced Cuban – some goods. Do you have anything to say about that, or --

MS. PSAKI: There is going to be a more extensive media note that goes out with more details and a list later this afternoon.

QUESTION: Okay. And then Argentina.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You will have seen that the guy – that the prosecutor who replaced the prosecutor who was – died under mysterious circumstances is carrying forward with the case against President Kirchner and other senior Argentine officials. I recognize that this is an Argentine case, but because it does have broader implications, particularly with Iran, I'm wondering if the moving forward – if the new prosecutor moving forward with this case has any impact on your contacts or relationship with the Government of Argentina as it currently is constituted under President Kirchner.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe we see this, as you know, as a legal/judicial issue. I'm not aware of any changes, but I'm happy to take the question and talk to our team if there's anything specific.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don't have a – there's nothing at the moment to suggest that you're going to have – that this is going to impact the --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- U.S.-Argentine relationship?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: On Venezuela?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: President Maduro last night went on the air and said that they had arrested multiple people who were allegedly behind a coup that was backed by the United States. What is your response?

MS. PSAKI: These latest accusations, like all previous such accusations, are ludicrous. As a matter of longstanding policy, the United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means. Political transitions must be democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and legal. We have seen many times that the Venezuelan Government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela. These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan Government to deal with the grave situation it faces.


QUESTION: Sorry, Jen --

QUESTION: Sorry. The U.S. has – whoa, whoa, whoa. The U.S. has a longstanding practice of not promoting – what did you say? How longstanding is that? I would – in particular in South and Latin America, that is not a longstanding practice.

MS. PSAKI: Well, my point here, Matt, without getting into history --

QUESTION: Not in this case.

MS. PSAKI: -- is that we do not support, we have no involvement with, and these are ludicrous accusations.

QUESTION: In this specific case.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: But if you go back not that long ago during your lifetime, even – (laughter) – this is not that long since --

MS. PSAKI: The last 21 years. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well done. Touche. But I mean, does "longstanding" mean 10 years in this case? I mean, what is --

MS. PSAKI: Matt, my intention was to speak to the specific reports.

QUESTION: I understand, but you said it's a longstanding U.S. practice, and I'm not so sure – it depends on what your definition of "longstanding" is.

MS. PSAKI: We will – okay.

QUESTION: Recently in Kyiv, whatever we say about Ukraine, whatever, the change of government and then the beginning of last year was unconstitutional, and you supported it. The constitution was --

MS. PSAKI: That is also ludicrous, I would say.

QUESTION: -- not observed.

MS. PSAKI: That is not accurate, nor is it with the history of the facts that happened at the time.

QUESTION: Yes, the history of the facts. How was it constitutional?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't think I need to go through the history here, but since you gave me the opportunity – as you know, the former leader of Ukraine left of his own accord --

QUESTION: He did not leave his country.


MS. PSAKI: Okay. I think we know the facts here, and we'll certainly give you an article on the facts to take a look at.

QUESTION: Okay. Very good.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Argentina for a second?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The presidential spokesperson – or a spokesperson for the president said that this was a clear maneuver to destabilize democracy, it does not matter, and it has not legal value. Do you – can you say whether the U.S. thinks it has legal value, whether they have the right to prosecute?

MS. PSAKI: Which specific – the legal case that's happening in Argentina – I'm just not going to have any more comment on the legal case in Argentina.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian issue, please, for a second?

QUESTION: Stay in the region for a second?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I understand you are having a visit, a cabinet-level visit from a Brazilian minister, a trade minister from Brazil. I wanted to see if you have in your magic book anything to say how it reflects on your bilateral relations.

MS. PSAKI: Well, a trade minister typically would meet with somebody from USTR, who oversees trade issues. So I can check and see if there's anyone in this building meeting with the Brazilian trade minister.

QUESTION: And secondly, if I may digress here a little bit, I saw an article yesterday, I think, expressing surprise that the U.S. still provides aid to China. Obviously, that was more in the economic – couched in economic terms, but that led me to thinking of a question: Do you still provide any aid to Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Well, perhaps when you get me the list of Foreign Minister Lavrov's accusations, you can get me that article.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you very quickly, today the Israeli occupation authority released a 14-year-old girl that has been in custody for two months, which is a good thing, but there remains 213 minors in prison. And Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, everybody's been calling for their immediate release because no charges were filed against them. I wonder if you would call on the Israelis to do the same.

MS. PSAKI: Why don't we look into the facts here and we can get you a comment, Said?

QUESTION: Are you unaware of the fact that there are Palestinian minors in Israeli prisons?

MS. PSAKI: I think sometimes we have to check the facts that are raised, so why don't we do that, and we're happy to get you a comment.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up on – yeah. Let me just follow up on the Palestinian issue. Yesterday James Rawley, a UN official, was describing a very difficult situation in Gaza, to say the least, with money not flowing in and so on, despite all the pledges were made, despite what you called for a couple weeks ago and so on. But there are some emergency things that perhaps can be done – something can be done about, such as pushing to allow humanitarian aid to go into Gaza. Why do you think the Israelis are not responding or not opening their entry points into Gaza to allow these --

MS. PSAKI: Why don't we – we'll check all of these facts when we look into everything you just stated.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, I'd like to go back to Cuba for just a minute.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on either (a) when the next series of talks will be, or (b) the status of the ongoing review into the state sponsor of terror designation? Anything you can say about that?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any update on either one. As we – when we announced in December that we would be doing a review, we said we had six months to do that review. So I don't expect I'll have an update on that soon, but it's ongoing.

On the other piece, on the timing for talks, they remain something we're working to finalize in the next couple of weeks. I don't have a date to announce for you today.

QUESTION: So when you say you don't expect an update soon on the review of the state sponsor of terror designation, does that mean that it might be closer to the full six months, as opposed to completing it early?

MS. PSAKI: We see the process through. And just what I'm getting at was just reminding everybody that there's a six-month process we have here. Obviously, we'll see that process through.

QUESTION: So it can't be sped up?

MS. PSAKI: It certainly can, but again, I think it's been not even two months since we made the announcement.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: I have a quick follow-up.

MS. PSAKI: Two quick ones?


MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Have you seen the statement --

MS. PSAKI: They better be good ones. It's a Friday afternoon. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, it will be a good one. Have you seen the statement issued by the Indian home minster saying that India had designated ISIS as a terrorist organization? What's --

MS. PSAKI: I had not. You know where we stand, so I'm happy to take a look at that. And if that's the case --

QUESTION: But do you believe that India is late in declaring ISIS as a terrorist (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I think we believe they are a terrorist organization. We welcome others who also believe they are.

QUESTION: And there's another one: The Pakistani – former Pakistani national but now U.S. American citizen has been arrested in Portland, Oregon, in connection with the attack on the ISI headquarters in Pakistan in 2009. What do you say about that?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any details on that. I can check with our colleagues at --

QUESTION: Have you found --

MS. PSAKI: the Department of Homeland Security and see if they do, and they're probably the most appropriate resource for you.

QUESTION: Are you sharing --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:49 p.m.)

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