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Daily Press Briefing

Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 16, 2015

Index for Today's Briefing




1:17 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Happy Monday.

MS. PSAKI: Happy Monday – almost St. Patrick's Day Eve, as the Irish Americans might say.

I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. Today, the United States honors the memory of the more than 5,000 innocent men, women, and children killed and another 10,000 who were severely wounded in a chemical weapons attack by Saddam Hussein's regime 27 years ago in the city of Halabja in Iraq's Kurdistan region. This is a day of mourning for all Iraqis, and especially in the Iraqi Kurdistan region as we uphold the memory of the victims of this vicious crime. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of all those who suffered in such a horrific way. That brutal attack in Halabja served as – serves as a stark reminder of why we must all persist in our collective efforts to prevent such atrocities in the future.

On Malaysia, we are deeply concerned by – with the detention of opposition member of parliament Nurul Izzah and have expressed those concerns to the Malaysian Government. The Malaysian Government's recent investigations and charges of sedition against critics raise serious concerns about freedom of expression, rule of law, and the independence of the judicial system in Malaysia. To further restrict freedom of expression will only lead to further erosion of important pillars of Malaysia's democratic system. We encourage Malaysia to take steps to apply the rule of law fairly, transparently, and apolitically in order to promote confidence in Malaysia's democracy, judiciary, and economy.

On Cyclone Pam, we offer condolences to the people of Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, and Kiribati as they cope with the devastating impact of Cyclone Pam. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and loved ones. In the wake of Cyclone Pam, the United States Government immediately issued disaster declarations from Embassies Port Moresby and Suva, and we are working with the NGO – with our NGO partners and other nations on the most effective ways to deliver our relief assistance. An OFDA disaster relief team will assess conditions in the areas and work with partners on the ground. The first team members arrived Monday – today, Monday, March 16th.

Finally, on Pakistan, we strongly condemn Sunday's attack on innocent people at two churches in Lahore, and we extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the victims. The United States stands in solidarity with the people and Government of Pakistan in confronting this type of extremist violence. We support the right of every person to practice religion without fear of intimidation, death, coercion, or any form of reprisal. This is a basic human right both in Pakistan and throughout the world.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: All right. Before we get back to any or all of those issues, I just want to clear up some housekeeping stuff --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- from last week. Hopefully, you have gotten answers.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, okay.

QUESTION: One is, on Friday, the Department took down its – most of the unclassified system, resulting in email disruptions and more. I'm just wondering, is that – is the – have the upgrades or whatever it was that was being done – are they finished, and is the system back up yet? Or if it's not, when do you expect it will be back?

MS. PSAKI: It is ongoing. As we indicated in a note that we sent out to all of you, the Department has been implementing improvements to the security of our main unclassified network during a planned outage of some internet-linked systems. We hope to have our email up and running by the end of tonight.

QUESTION: By the end of tonight?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, by tonight.

QUESTION: By midnight?

MS. PSAKI: By tonight. I don't have an exact time. Sometime this evening.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so tomorrow, you would expect that everything will be back to normal?

MS. PSAKI: We do, and we will send you all a note when it's up and running again.


QUESTION: And just one other thing on that, you said --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- you expect to have the email back tonight.


QUESTION: Does that also apply to internet access?

MS. PSAKI: It will take some time for each of the pieces to be implemented, so the email is the first step, as I understand it. It may take a little bit longer for other components.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the other thing is last week, I think a couple times, you were asked about whether the Department has a record of former Secretary Clinton signing the separation form.

MS. PSAKI: I don't have an update on this, Matt. We're still working on it. I understand.

QUESTION: I mean, the human resources department presumably has a file on every employee. It can't be that difficult to --

MS. PSAKI: I don't think former secretaries are --

QUESTION: They don't have files?

MS. PSAKI: -- standard employees. Certainly --

QUESTION: They might not be, but I mean, how hard can it be to find whether she did or not?

MS. PSAKI: I understand why you're asking. We're looking to get an answer. I don't have an answer today.

QUESTION: Well, do you know if someone – has anyone in – where do these forms, once they are signed, go?

MS. PSAKI: Where in the building do they go?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, is there – if I ask for the form of someone else who left – say, Secretary Powell – where would it be?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not sure how many forms we'd be willing to give you access to. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I mean, you might know that – you would know, presumably, if someone had signed one or not.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, we certainly keep records. I don't have an update on this particular question today.

QUESTION: Do they go into the same --

MS. PSAKI: I have a couple of other updates I can give you if you'd like, or we can keep --

QUESTION: Well, yes, I would, but I mean, do they --

MS. PSAKI: -- going back and forth on this particular question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, no, I just – they don't go into the ether like --

MS. PSAKI: No, we keep records of --

QUESTION: -- so many other emails seem to have.

MS. PSAKI: We keep records, yes.

QUESTION: So if someone had signed one of these forms, it would be on file someplace?

MS. PSAKI: We do keep records, yes. It would be on file.

QUESTION: Okay. Then I can't understand why it's – anyway, whatever. Can you please endeavor to get an answer?

MS. PSAKI: I will certainly endeavor.

QUESTION: And then – sure, go ahead with your updates.

MS. PSAKI: Well, some of you had asked about the process. So the technical process of document review will be conducted by personnel in the A Bureau, overseen by the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Information Services Margaret Grafeld within the A Bureau. As is standard, and as we've talked about a bit in here, there will be many times when experts, including within the regional bureaus and the Office of the Legal Adviser, among others, would need to be consulted, so – for redaction purposes. And we're trying to do this in the most efficient way possible. We expect, as I've said before, we will find exemptions from public release if documents do not meet FOIA standards for release. I've outlined some of those before. And separately, there – if there are any totally personal non-work-related emails, we would not be releasing those either.

QUESTION: But presumably there aren't any of those in there if – because they've already been looked at, right?

MS. PSAKI: I think we assume there may be some. We'll see if there are. If there aren't, then that won't be an issue. But that's another component that would be pulled back that wouldn't be in FOIA-standard redactions.

QUESTION: Has the review actually begun?

MS. PSAKI: It's ongoing, yes.

QUESTION: So it's – when did it begin exactly?

MS. PSAKI: I think I said last week at some point it was underway.

QUESTION: It began last week --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or it began when she – when they were turned over?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Yes. It began shortly after.


MS. PSAKI: Oh, and somebody asked last week – I can't remember who it was – about the differences between what's sent to the Hill and what's made public. Under an agreement previously made with the select committee, which protects sensitive information, Secretary Clinton's emails were produced with only limited State Department redactions. For the public production, there would be separate standards for FOIA, which we've talked about, which as we've said is the standard we'll be using. And obviously, that would – could require and likely would require additional redactions for personal information and all of the reasons I've outlined, which include national security, personal privacy, trade secrets, among others. Therefore, a privacy concern may be an issue as it relates to public release, which – where it wouldn't be as much of an issue as it relates to providing documents to Congress.

Okay. More on this topic?


MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have – and forgive me if you've disclosed this and --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- I just don't know it, but what is the date on which Secretary Clinton turned over all the emails?

MS. PSAKI: Secretary --

QUESTION: Former Secretary Clinton turned over the selected emails?

MS. PSAKI: I can check on that, Arshad. I believe it was sometime in December. I don't have the exact date in front of me.

QUESTION: And then just to go back to Matt's question, did the review begin immediately after they were turned over?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: -- or did the review only begin after she tweeted out that she wanted them to be released?

MS. PSAKI: Well, remember there were documents that were given to Congress. So certainly the review of those that would be applicable was done, and those were submitted to Congress several weeks ago and long before she said – did that email. But the review of the other documents wouldn't have started until there was a plan to publicly release those, because otherwise they wouldn't --

QUESTION: And when was that? Was that subsequent to her tweet?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: But that review that you just talked about was only stuff related to Benghazi and Libya, right?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, responsive to Congress, exactly.

QUESTION: Right. So the review on what to release publicly can only have been ongoing for a week or so now?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Yes. Yes. That's right.

QUESTION: And is it still your estimate that it'll be a matter of a couple of months --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, several months.



Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the unclassified email system? Is this an – this outage?

MS. PSAKI: As it relates to this weekend?

QUESTION: As – yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Was this about upgrading security systems, or sort of repairing damage, or removing some sort of malware, or fixing problems? Or was this just all sort of preventative measures you were taking over the weekend?

MS. PSAKI: It was about further enhancing our security capabilities. So we obviously did – took steps in November. These were further steps to do – to follow up on that. It's not – as we've talked about a bit in here, we deal with thousands of potential threats every day. This isn't about a new intrusion into our system.

QUESTION: Right. But – so – but more specifically, was it about – I mean, the way you phrase it doesn't answer that question.

MS. PSAKI: I'm just not going to go into more detail, because obviously, we're trying to protect our computer systems. And so we're just – it's not to our benefit to go too in the technical weeds.

Do we have more on emails or computer systems before we go to another topic?

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: I know you said you were going to endeavor, but can you give us some sort of reasonable timeframe as to how long it's going to take to find whether or not she signed this one piece of paper?

MS. PSAKI: We will do it as quickly as we can.

Go ahead --

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: -- Said. Sure, Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, obviously there was confusion yesterday with regard to the Secretary's statement and then he came out and tweeted and so on. And it is no more clear today; it's – so could you --

MS. PSAKI: I have to say we're all a bit perplexed by the confusion. But let me --


MS. PSAKI: Let me restate and we can certainly have a dialogue about this. As Secretary Kerry and many members of the Administration have said many times, the only way to bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people is through a genuine political solution consistent with Geneva principles. By necessity, as we have long said, there always has been a need for representatives of the Assad regime to be a part of that process. It would not be and would never be, and it wasn't what Secretary Kerry was intending to imply, that that would be Assad himself. As you know, we have been guided by what the opposition has been saying, or what their principles are, which is who they would sit at the table with and vice versa. But certainly the opposition, they could sit at a table with themselves or with their partners, and that wouldn't result in a political process or the conclusion of a political process that would bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people. So it's always been the intention for there to be representatives from both sides, including representatives from the regime.

QUESTION: So do you think that the opposition perhaps is being a bit foolish by saying there is no way, no how we can negotiate with the regime and Assad to bring about a – the peaceful solution that you want?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I'm not sure what you're referencing or if there were --

QUESTION: Almost all the statements by all the different opposition groups basically were critical of the Secretary's statement, and basically saying there's no way that they would negotiate with Assad. Do you see any other way --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just stated that's not what we're indicating. Obviously, there would need to be representatives of the regime. That's always been the case. But I think it's also important to remember, for everyone, unfortunately there's no process that's ongoing right now, so we're purely talking about how it would work potentially if there were to be a process in place.

QUESTION: And in retrospect, do you think it was precipitous, perhaps, to say that Assad's days were numbered – at the time, three and a half years ago?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to believe, as the Secretary stated even – perhaps even more recently, but I recall even as recently as his comments in Munich, that there's no future for Assad in Syria. That remains the case. So certainly, we're taking every step we can to bring an end to his rule there.

QUESTION: And my final question on this: Are there any kind of, perhaps not direct talks, but through a third party, either with the Russian or the United Nations, ongoing between the United States and Assad at the present time?

MS. PSAKI: Not in that capacity. Obviously, there are other – there are partners we talk to, like Russia, who have talks with the Syrians, and certainly when we discuss ways to move back towards a political process, we certainly expect that they would engage with the Syrians. But there's no process underway, there's no process that's about to start, so it's purely a hypothetical at this point, unfortunately.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, can I go back on that --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- thought that when we were in Geneva last – at the beginning of the month when Secretary Kerry met with Foreign Minister Lavrov, he said in the press conference afterwards that they were looking at ways of a new path to peace and he talked about a possible hybrid of the Geneva peace process. What – I mean, is there anything – is – are there the kind of threads being pulled together to try and get the sides back to the negotiating table in any place, even if it's not Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: If that was possible, Jo, that would be great. But what the Secretary was referring to is obviously there were meetings in Geneva – which I guess were not in Geneva, they were in Montreux about a year and a half ago, if I remember the dates specifically, or a little less than a year and a half – and there were a large number, over 60 countries and representatives of different governing organizations there. Would it require every single representative there in order to have a discussion? No, it probably wouldn't. But we're not at a point where there's an active plan to put together any sort of meeting of that in that regard.

QUESTION: Is there any hope or idea that perhaps these talks that are being held in Russia, which would be the second round of such talks, could possibly unblock or unlock some kind of process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think they've had one round, obviously. And I'm not – I don't have all the details in front of me in terms of who was invited to this or not. Obviously, any effort consistent with the Geneva process to bring both sides back to the table, we'd be open to hearing more about that. But I'm not going to predict that there will be an outcome that will move the ball forward. I don't think we have enough information to suggest that.

QUESTION: Would you be amenable to going to Russia for these talks in April that the Russians --

MS. PSAKI: I don't think --

QUESTION: Her personally?

QUESTION: Not you personally. (Laughter.) Jen won't be in her job anymore in April.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, yes. I am not currently planning a trip to Russia.

QUESTION: There will be many --

QUESTION: But no, I mean someone from this building.

MS. PSAKI: I understand what you're asking.

QUESTION: Obviously, I don't think it would be the Secretary himself, but someone from (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: We were not invited to the last round. I'm not aware of us being invited to this round. Obviously, there are many discussions, not just with the Russians but with our Gulf partners, Europeans, many countries that have a shared concern about what's happening in Syria, but I'm not aware of plans to participate or an invitation that's been issued.

QUESTION: Jen, do you still subscribe to the notion that Said raised that Assad's days are numbered, and if you do, what number would you like to give that? Perhaps a sideways eight?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to give a number, Matt, but certainly our objective here is to bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people, and obviously we're discussing a range of ways to get there.

QUESTION: And then just the other thing is you said that we're all a bit perplexed by the confusion about what the Secretary said. I mean, I find it unusual that there was – there are so many people who are insisting that whatever the – what the Secretary said was – meant that there was some change in policy, that he is announcing a change in policy. But yet, he did say what he said.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Was he – can you say that he was imprecise and that he perhaps should have answered the question, "Will you negotiate with him," in a little better – in a little more precise fashion to say that he means the regime?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I will say that he was using Assad as a shorthand, obviously, representative of the regime. Certainly, I think that's why people ask questions, but we've ventured to make clear that there isn't a change in policy, and unfortunately there also isn't a process that's ongoing.

QUESTION: Hey, Jen --


QUESTION: -- when did you adopt the policy position that you would not negotiate directly with Assad, though you would negotiate with members of his government?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it's not about us negotiating. I think the opposition has been clear for years now that they would not. We've obviously been open to and willing to and supportive of playing a facilitating role. These negotiations would be between the opposition and representatives of the regime, but we're not going to speak on their behalf. That's just what they've said in the past.

QUESTION: But I mean, I'm trying to understand – you're saying that there's no change in policy here --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and I understanding your saying that, and you're saying that he – the Secretary did not mean to suggest that he himself would negotiate with Assad --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- although he's obviously met Assad and had with dinner with Assad.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, years ago before all of this happened. It's a little bit different, but --

QUESTION: Yeah – no, no, but it shows that you can actually talk to people, even if you don't like their government.

MS. PSAKI: I think there's a great deal of evidence of that going on even currently.

QUESTION: So – but the question to my mind is, then, when did the United States adopt the position that any negotiations toward a political solution could not include Assad himself?

MS. PSAKI: We've long been – and this has consistently been our view – respectful of the view of the opposition and the fact that they have conveyed that that is not something, as recently as the last 24 to 48 hours, that they would be open to. Now, we're not going to prejudge what they would do in the future, and if there is a process and it gets to the end, I'm sure we'll talk about it at that point.

QUESTION: So if they were willing to negotiate with Assad himself, you'd be okay with that? It's their call?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that's not currently what they're saying. It's purely a hypothetical. There's not a process that's going on, so I'm just not going to speak to that.

QUESTION: But what I'm trying to figure out, though, is that – you say that your policy position is based on their policy position, which is that they won't deal with him. And what I'm trying to – I think it's reasonable to ask, well gee, if that's true your position is based on their position, then if their position changes, I think it's not unreasonable to ask if yours would change too.

MS. PSAKI: We'll talk about that if their position changes.

QUESTION: So Jen, can I also just challenge that? Why wouldn't you act as some kind of go-between? I mean, in the past, as you say, right now – well, right now and in the past. Right now, Secretary Kerry is in Lausanne talking to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, with whom a --

MS. PSAKI: He's not negotiating about an Iranian civil war.

QUESTION: No. I appreciate that, but he is negotiating about something which is in the interests of the international community.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The end of a civil war in Syria --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- would be in the interests of the international community.

MS. PSAKI: And we've been clear – and, again, there's no process that's ongoing. We have been very clear. We want to play a supportive role, a helpful role, and that was indicative of the fact that we helped organize the conference a year and a half ago. What I'm just conveying is that obviously it would need to be representatives of both the opposition and the regime at the table. The discussions between them is the most important component.

QUESTION: Jen, I'm trying to understand the wisdom behind casting some sort of an element of finality, saying that he cannot be a part of Syria's future and so on, when in fact – I mean, I saw the envoy to Syria, and he said we think that Assad was serious, he wants an end to the violence. He represents a large segment of the population – the minorities, Christians, and so on. Whether like him or not like him, he is part of Syria. So in that sense, why cast the finality that we will not negotiate with him under any conditions?

MS. PSAKI: Because somebody who's killed tens of thousands of his own people doesn't have legitimacy to have a role in the future of the country.

QUESTION: I understand, but it's not someone – you negotiate with people that you don't like because you want to reach an accommodation.

MS. PSAKI: That's true, and certainly, we don't like the actions of the regime. But I just also said a few minutes ago that clearly you can't have negotiations with yourself. So obviously, that would be part of the negotiations. That's different than the question of whether Assad should have a place in the future of Syrian leadership.

QUESTION: Can we move on to other non-effective peace processes?


QUESTION: I just have one more on Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: It is.

QUESTION: One more on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: He's been saving that one all day, I'm sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: There's – they've announced that there's going to be another donors conference.


QUESTION: Syria in Kuwait on March the 31st at the foreign minister level. Of course, March the 31st is a much-anticipated date for other reasons.

MS. PSAKI: It is. I've heard, yes.

QUESTION: So I wondered whether you had any --

QUESTION: Jen's last day.

QUESTION: Yeah, it is Jen's last day, that's right.

MS. PSAKI: Before that, but --

QUESTION: So I wondered if you had any indications about – of what level the representation would be from the United States. And also, given the fact that for the last two conferences they've had, the UN has said that many of the pledges haven't simply been met, what's your reaction as to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, on the second piece, 80 percent of the pledges for Kuwait II were met. While that's encouraging, we urge all donors to follow through on their commitments as soon as possible. The needs both in Syria and throughout the region are staggering, and there's no time to lose. And clearly, pledging is one thing, to your point. Delivering on that pledge is what actually can make a difference.

In terms of – and for our part – and you may know this, but just for everybody – we only announce funding that has been committed, so there's never any question about whether we'll follow through. It's already money that's been committed.

QUESTION: Wait. You just announced some money on – last week that – for the opposition that still needs approval by Congress.

MS. PSAKI: But we have committed to it through any process getting up to that point. I think it's going to move through Congress, Matt.

QUESTION: Well yeah, but if Congress hasn't said yes yet, how can you say that it's been approved?

MS. PSAKI: Okay --

QUESTION: I mean, there are times when – that – when you announce money that still needs congressional approval, right?

MS. PSAKI: There are times, that's true.

QUESTION: Right. So, like, as you have said with the Palestinians, you're not going to ask for more money for them right now because you know it won't go through Congress.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So I think that saying --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, fair enough. We anticipate the ask will go through Congress. But fair enough; I hear your point.

In terms of being represented, we will be represented there. I don't have anything to announce today, but I expect in the coming days we'll have more to convey on that point. It obviously wouldn't be Secretary Kerry, but --

QUESTION: So, other non-existent peace processes for 200, and I'm not talking about Northern Ireland yet.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But I am talking about Prime Minister Netanyahu's comments today that if he is reelected, there will not – he will not allow there to become a Palestinian state. Does the – what does the Administration make of this comment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Matt, the elections will happen tomorrow. There are many things said leading up to elections. Given the sensitivity of that and the fact that we're not going to under any circumstance weigh in, I'm just not going to have a specific comment on this. Obviously, our view continues to be that the only way to have peace and stability in the region is for there to be a two-state solution.

QUESTION: So you're prepared to just think that this is a campaign promise that doesn't really mean much?

MS. PSAKI: We'll see when the elections are completed.

QUESTION: I do understand that you don't want to be seen as injecting yourself into the election. I have another question about that, too.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But it seems, though, that this has been one of the President's top foreign policy priorities – not just this president; previous presidents as well. And if you have a candidate who is running on what appears to be a platform that – opposed to this, opposed to this goal and the goal of a nuclear deal with Iran, it seems to me that you would not be particularly sanguine at the prospect of this candidate winning. Is that not correct?

MS. PSAKI: As would be true in many countries, we will work with whomever is the winner of the election, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. And then on – and just on the election, the idea of election interference, over the weekend, there was a report that there's – or there's – some committee on the Hill is going to look into allegations that the State Department – the Administration, but in particular the State Department was – through funding this one OneVoice NGO was interfering in the election process. I know that you have denied that that's the case and said that the funding happened all before the election was even announced, but I'm just wondering: If there is such an investigation, are you prepared to say that the State Department will cooperate fully with --

MS. PSAKI: Well, that's historically what we've done, of course. I mean, in this case, we've only seen the reports. We don't have any more details. I've asked this morning. I don't think we've had any official notification of this inquiry or this investigation.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. So to the best of your knowledge, you haven't been notified that there is going to be one?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Yes.

QUESTION: And when you say "historically" that is the case, what – historically what, that you have --

MS. PSAKI: I mean we would participate in --

QUESTION: -- cooperated?

MS. PSAKI: -- efforts underway by Congress.

QUESTION: There's a certain select committee that I think would disagree with --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we would disagree that we haven't cooperated, and so would 40,000 pages and dozens of hearings' worth of evidence suggest.

QUESTION: Jen, campaign rhetoric notwithstanding or Mr. Netanyahu's statement notwithstanding, your position is still that you support the two-state solution --

MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn't changed, and I think I just reiterated it in response --

QUESTION: Right. (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: -- to Matt's question.

QUESTION: But in all fairness, I mean, the other party has not really come out forward to say that we support a Palestinian state and so on, so that has been absent – I mean, in all fairness to Mr. Netanyahu.

MS. PSAKI: I'm just not going to weigh in on this issue a day before the Israeli elections.

QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts at all about the possibility that Tony Blair will be replaced by – or not the possibility, the apparent fact that he's going to be replaced as the --

MS. PSAKI: Well, he's been a valued partner in the effort to bring peace to the Middle East. We'll continue to value his support. Secretary Kerry met with him just this past weekend in Egypt. We're all grateful for his service and efforts on his behalf of the Quartet for the past eight years. This is a natural time to reflect on the way forward for the Middle East peace process and the role of the Quartet going forward. So we value his role and we'll see what happens from here.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you're not sure that the Quartet plays a --

MS. PSAKI: No, I think we valued his role and the role the Quartet has played, but --

QUESTION: Right. But you said you're going to evaluate the Quartet's role?

MS. PSAKI: I think it's a natural time to reflect on it, but I don't have any predictions of what that will mean in the future.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean you could just end it?

MS. PSAKI: I don't think I was intending to indicate that, Matt.

QUESTION: The band might break up?

MS. PSAKI: I was not intending to indicate the band will break up.



MS. PSAKI: The Quartet.

QUESTION: The EU's policy – Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini has actually said that she would like to see a more expanded role for the Quartet, expanded to include Arab nations, for instance. Is that something that you would support?

MS. PSAKI: I don't think we're at a point where we're going to weigh in on what role it could play, if the role will change. Certainly this is new news, and I'm sure we'll have that discussion with many of our partners.

QUESTION: And in the meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh over the weekend, did former Prime Minister Blair actually inform the Secretary that he was stepping down? Was that the purpose of the meeting?

MS. PSAKI: I'm happy to check. I haven't had an opportunity to ask that question, and I can check if it was raised in the meeting.

QUESTION: Okay. And there's some – in the reports of his – of Mr. Blair stepping down, there's some suggestion that it was because of – there was unease in Washington about his apparently or reported poor relations with the Palestinian Authority. Is that --

MS. PSAKI: That's incorrect. There's been no effort to push him out of his current role as Quartet representative. He's been in it for eight years, including the last two-plus that the Secretary has been in office, and the Secretary meets with him and talks with him on a regular basis.

QUESTION: Maybe that's why, he's been there too long. I mean, can we do like bookkeeping and see what are the pluses and minuses of the Quartet? What have they done?

MS. PSAKI: I'm sure we'll look forward to reading your report if you do analysis of that, Said.


MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: One question about – I don't know if you all have seen this, although it was out this morning. This is Prime Minister Netanyahu's comment about his 1997 decision to approve construction at the Har Homa settlement. And although it was at a campaign rally --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and I acknowledge this is part of their domestic political process, on the other hand, it is also a statement of his motivations for an action that he took in a prior government --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- so I think it's not unreasonable to ask you for a comment. He said, quote, "It was a way of stopping Bethlehem from moving toward Jerusalem." He said of the Har Homa construction, "This neighborhood exactly, because it stops the continuation of the Palestinians," close quote. I mean, the gist of what he said according to multiple reports is that it was a deliberate strategic act on his part to approve that so as to essentially prevent a Palestinian state from moving toward Jerusalem. What is the U.S. Government's position on that?

MS. PSAKI: I had not seen it, Arshad, perhaps because we've had email issues and there's a swirl of things happening in the world. I'm happy to talk to our team and see if that's something we can weigh in on this afternoon.

QUESTION: Can I ask one last question on this?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, you can, Said. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. I appreciate it.

MS. PSAKI: Is this the last one of the entire briefing?

QUESTION: No, no, not – (laughter) --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. Just checking. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On this topic.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: If a new government emerges, if a new party takes office in Israel, do you expect the Palestinians to back away from, let's say, the ICC or their efforts at the United Nations?

MS. PSAKI: I'm just not going to make a prediction of that. I'm sure once the results are concluded and we hear more from all sides, we'll continue to have a discussion about what it means.

QUESTION: Do you expect that there will be a push for them to backtrack, to give them a chance, so to speak, (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I'm sure that will be a topic we'll discuss next week or in the coming days.

New topic?


MS. PSAKI: Syria. Sure.

QUESTION: Turkish foreign minister criticized Secretary Kerry's remarks on negotiation with Assad regime.

MS. PSAKI: I just spoke to them. I don't know – were you here for that or --


MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But the Turkish – about the Turkish foreign minister's comments (inaudible) on that. He asked, quote, "What are you going to negotiate with Assad and what do you negotiate with a regime that killed more than 200,000 people and has used --

MS. PSAKI: I think I answered this. I'd refer you to what I said in my statement that made clear what he meant and what he didn't mean, and I would just point you to that.

Go ahead, in the back.


MS. PSAKI: Or any more on Syria before we continue?

QUESTION: I've got one on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION: New accusations from the Kurds that ISIS used chlorine gas against Peshmerga fighters. Do you have any reaction, verification, comment – any of it?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we continue to take all allegations of chemical weapons use by ISIL and other actors, including these recent allegations regarding the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon, very seriously. We're, of course, aware of the reports, but we have no credible information at this time that ISIL is connected to chlorine attacks in Syria. The use of chlorine as a chemical weapon is an abhorrent act. These recent allegations certainly underscore the importance of our work to eliminate chemical weapons in the volatile region, including our recent efforts at the OPCW. But again, we don't have additional confirmation at this point in time.

QUESTION: I believe – I'm just trying to check my facts here – this most recent was an accusation that took place in Iraq. I'm not sure about that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't have any details on any confirmation of that, either.


MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we look into all allegations, but don't have --

QUESTION: You said --

MS. PSAKI: -- and we take them seriously.

QUESTION: -- no credible information of chlorine attacks in Syria. That would apply to Iraq as well?

MS. PSAKI: That's my understanding, yes.


MS. PSAKI: Any more on Syria before we continue? Okay. Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Shifting to the – President Putin.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: During his ten-day disappearance, how confident was the Administration if it actually had to get ahold of the President Putin they could have gotten ahold of him?

MS. PSAKI: I think the Kremlin spoke to this report shortly after there were reports. I just don't have anything more to add.

Any more on Russia?

QUESTION: Oh, actually I do.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Just – I'm wondering if there's been any communication between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov over the course of the last couple days.

MS. PSAKI: In the last couple days, Matt? Not in the last couple of days, no.

QUESTION: I have one on Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Today actually marks one year since Crimeans held a referendum to join the Russian Federation. I wanted to know if the State Department has taken this occasion to reaffirm its belief that the annexation of Crimea was illegal for Russia and if you have communicated any messages to them on this --

MS. PSAKI: Well, that remains our position. And just since you gave me the opportunity, last year the people of Ukraine chose a future based on the values of democracy, free trade, and rule of law. In response, Russia used its military to forcibly seize and occupy Crimea, sovereign Ukrainian territory, and then staged an illegal, so-called referendum in a feeble attempt to justify its actions. Over the last year, Russia has instituted repression on a mass scale in Crimea, driving out NGOs and leading non-Russian minorities, including the Crimean Tatars, to flee or go into hiding. This last year, Russia also continued to engage in destabilizing activities in southeastern Ukraine that have left more than 5,800 people dead and displaced at least 1 million more. So certainly our position has not changed in this regard.

I'm not sure if all of you – or maybe this is the next question – also saw the documentary that came out this weekend. And it was lengthy, so I'm not sure who watched the entire piece of it. Elliot is nodding. Perhaps you did, with popcorn. Said did. (Laughter.) And if you look at that, related to your question, a year ago President Putin told the world that Russian military forces were not intervening in Crimea. He now acknowledges to the world that Russian forces did, in fact, intervene. And those are his own words. So it certainly brings into question the credibility of claims being made today that the Russian military is not intervening in eastern Ukraine. Obviously, we've spoken to that countless times from here, as has NATO, as have another – a number of countries around the world.

QUESTION: And now that you bring up the documentary, I have one related to that as well.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In that same documentary, Putin also stated that during the – his incursion into Crimea, he had the – his nuclear forces on high alert. Just wanted to ask if you have any comment on that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think not only that – did he acknowledge to the world that Russian forces did in fact intervene, but that they were prepared to take even more aggressive action. Obviously, they didn't do that, so I don't have any particular comment beyond that. But again, I think what we're focused on is where we are now and the question of what's happening in eastern Ukraine and whether there's credibility to the claims.

QUESTION: Prior to the vote, the referendum --


QUESTION: -- and then the subsequent annexation, do you believe that Russia – the Russian military was occupying Crimea?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think in the – in his President Putin's own words, they were planning – they were making plans, if I recall the specifics from the documentary, as late as – as early as late February.

QUESTION: Right. But one of the points that the Russians have made in the past is that there of course were Russian troops in Crimea at Russian bases, that they were legally there with the permission of the Ukrainian Government. So I'm just wondering if you believe that prior to the vote and prior to the annexation, if those Russian troops that were there under an agreement with the Kyiv Government – if they were occupying.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I'd have to look back of our – on our information at the time, Matt. Obviously, we spoke pretty early on to concerns about Russians in – the engagement of Russian troops and Russian military in eastern Ukraine.

QUESTION: Right, but I mean, unless those forces seized and – forcibly seized and occupied – I mean, it just seems to me that if you're saying they forcibly seized and occupied, it would have to be – they would have to have done something more than just be there, which is – I mean, they were there legally prior to the annexation.

MS. PSAKI: Well, but I think the question is where did the equipment, where did the training, where did the materials, where did that all come from.

QUESTION: Oh, you're talking about in eastern Ukraine now, not Crimea.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. No, I – but I'm also talking about back then.

On Ukraine?


MS. PSAKI: Sure. Is yours on Ukraine, or – okay. Go ahead. Let me just do a couple more here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I'm curious if the Secretary had any specific conversations about Egypt's LGBT rights record this past weekend while in Sharm el-Sheikh, especially considering the recent arrests of the men in the Cairo bathhouse on debauchery charges, and then the transgendered people who were arrested. Did he have any specific conversations with people al-Sisi and any other members of his government?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – he held a press conference this weekend, as you know. And obviously, he raises human rights – it's all – at every opportunity. And as you know, we still have not certified the additional assistance. I can certainly check on the specificity of the recent reports that you mentioned and whether those were raised in the meeting.

QUESTION: One on Cuba.

MS. PSAKI: Cuba? Sure.

QUESTION: I have been asked to ask why there is so little access to the participants in the current round of normalization talks in contrast to prior rounds, when there had been camera sprays and news conferences afterwards. Why is that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think Assistant Secretary Jacobson took also a smaller team there. I think their focus is on rolling up their sleeves and having tough discussions and getting the work done, and thought they'd do that at a bit of a lower-key level.

QUESTION: They can't do that and still talk to the press?

MS. PSAKI: I think – at some point I'm sure they will, but again, I think their focus right now is on the work of discussing these difficult issues – more that than on camera sprays.

QUESTION: Well, doesn't – but I mean, just the work of the Secretary in trying to get a nuclear deal with Iran, and you had --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: My recollection is that there are generally camera sprays --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and there're generally background briefings.

MS. PSAKI: There are, and there'll be more rounds of – and we did a background briefing just this weekend – or on Friday, I should say.


QUESTION: Do you have any update from --

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead – well, I got one last one on this --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- which is: Does the decision not to have access to the media, at least so far, have anything to do with the contretemps with Venezuela? Does it have anything to do with other policy issues?

MS. PSAKI: No, it does not.


MS. PSAKI: Completely unrelated.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any update from the talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they have been meeting this morning. As you know, technical communications is difficult with Cuba – I mean, with officials in Cuba given the email issues not just here but on the ground. I know that's confusing.


MS. PSAKI: There're email issues everywhere.

QUESTION: Are the Cubans using their own private email accounts and not – (laughter) --

MS. PSAKI: I don't – I mean with our team on the ground. They've been meeting today. We expect the discussions to proceed at least through today, but I don't have any updates from the ground at this point in time.

QUESTION: Do you think they'll go into tomorrow? Is there --

MS. PSAKI: We'll see. We'll see. They'll go through at least today.

QUESTION: And I had one just kind of logistical question --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on the removing the state – if – the review on removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Whenever that decision is made, it comes – it's a recommendation from the State Department that goes to the President, correct?

MS. PSAKI: That's my understanding of the process.

QUESTION: And then the President has to inform Congress.

MS. PSAKI: Congress is informed. I can check if it's us or if it's the White House that informs Congress.


MS. PSAKI: It may be us. We can certainly get you the answer to that.

QUESTION: Okay. Does Congress then have the right to vote on that or not, or is it a pure and simple communication and the decision's already (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I believe it's a communication, but we have all of this, so let me get you the process so you have an understanding of that.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Yesterday in DRC, a U.S. official – USAID's Kevin Sturr – was among about 40 people who were arrested at a pro-democracy demonstration. He was later released, but has State received any information, first of all on why he was initially arrested?

MS. PSAKI: We have not. Let me see if I have anything in addition to what you stated. The diplomat, as I think you know, but just so everybody knows, is the USAID Democracy Rights and Governance Director Kevin Sturr. He was detained by Congolese authorities on Sunday, March 15th. He was released unharmed. Several hours later, following an inquiry by the Embassy in Kinshasa, we have not been officially informed as to why he was detained. He was attending a press conference about a civil society event that brought Congolese youth together with several youth activists from the continent to exchange ideas about the importance of civil engagement in the political process. That was where he was when he was detained. And our ambassador in Kinshasa has raised this at the highest levels with the DRC Government, and we've, of course, contacted the embassy in Washington as well.

I can only do about two more here, but --

QUESTION: Can we stay in Africa?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: There was the Sierra Leone situation yesterday or over the weekend, where the vice president has apparently gone into hiding and has apparently asked for political asylum in the United States. I understand he's not hiding in the Embassy, as there were some erroneous --

MS. PSAKI: There were some reports of that, yes.

QUESTION: -- there were some erroneous reports of that. But could you let us know if he has actually applied for political asylum? Is that something you can tell us?

MS. PSAKI: I just don't have more details, not something I could tell you even if I did. But I can confirm, as you said, that he is not at the U.S. Embassy, as some had reported initially, I think, on the ground. But beyond that, I don't have additional details.

QUESTION: So you can't tell us if there's a political asylum request for anybody?

MS. PSAKI: In general, that's correct, yes.


MS. PSAKI: Let's just do two more. Felicia?

QUESTION: Back to Cuba. Do you have any readouts or details on meetings Roberta is having outside of the talks, like with dissidents, civil society groups?

MS. PSAKI: Not yet, but we can see if there's more. Hopefully, we'll have an update from our team on the ground.


QUESTION: It's been reported that the Iranians have twice now raised the issue of the Republican letter Sunday, and today again. Any indication or can you tell us at all how that came up? Was it a negative thing that – has it undermined the process at all? Can you confirm that the Iranians brought it up twice?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. It was raised at the political directors level and then again during meetings with the Secretary today. I think it's important to just note that the Secretary had five hours of solid, substantive, difficult but constructive conversations today. This was a small part of that. It was simply raised, as we have said before. It certainly is a distraction, but negotiations in our view, and I think most people's view, are not about a letter that was ill-informed and ill-advised. And we certainly anticipate that the focus of the discussions will remain on the issues at hand.

QUESTION: So was he able to deflect these issues as distraction or was it problematic?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I think given the fact that this was raised but it was a small portion of the discussion in really of five hours, the vast, vast majority was about the substantive issues.

QUESTION: What was your --

QUESTION: And speaking of --


QUESTION: Oh, no. I was going to say on substantive issues, does the Secretary bring his own bike with him when he goes to – overseas, or does he rent all that gear --

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) I don't have that level of detail, Justin.


MS. PSAKI: Would you like to bike with him the next time?

QUESTION: Well, maybe, yeah. (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: How good of a biker are you?

QUESTION: I could probably hang with him.

MS. PSAKI: We'll try you out and see.

QUESTION: I actually have a substantive question about two brief things.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: One, on Bahrain, did you get an answer to my question about Nabeel Rajab, the appealed hearing?

MS. PSAKI: I did. We've seen reports that the court date will be – has been moved to April 15th. We certainly would expect to attend, as we've said in the past.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. And then I previewed this, Northern Ireland. So Sinn Fein – Gerry Adams specifically – seems to be upset because he is not going to have a meeting at the State Department. Can you explain – on his current visit to the U.S. Can you explain why that is?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we understand that the first and deputy first ministers have determined that the best course of action is to postpone their travel to Washington and continue their work to reach a durable agreement on the ground. We support this decision and we'll continue to provide our support for their efforts as well.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, I didn't miss the Gerry Adams/Sinn Fein part of your answer?

MS. PSAKI: A meeting at the State Department? I'm sorry, I thought you were talking about the group meeting. I – was there a planned meeting here?


MS. PSAKI: I'd have to check into that, Matt. Do you know who he was planning to meet with?

QUESTION: I don't know who he was planning to meet with, but he's not – he says that he way that the State Department has handled this is bizarre. Anyway, it would be interesting to know if you have decided, and due to the fact that the other people aren't coming, if it was decided that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the question --

QUESTION: -- it would not be appropriate to meet with him.

MS. PSAKI: Was it all a part of the same set of meetings, would be my assumption, but --

QUESTION: Well, whether it was or not --

MS. PSAKI: I will check on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, I'm sorry.

Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You said that the Secretary had five hours of solid, substantive, difficult – what was your fourth adjective?

MS. PSAKI: What was my fourth – constructive.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:04 p.m.)

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