UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Daily Press Briefing

Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 17, 2015

Index for Today's Briefing




1:25 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. No one wants to sit in the front row with Matt?



QUESTION: Very (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: It is.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Good to know.

QUESTION: Happy St. Patrick's Day.

MS. PSAKI: Let it be noted.

QUESTION: Nice green.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone. Oh, you have a little clover, Samir? Great. Some green in the back. All right. Matt, I don't have anything at the top, so go ahead.

QUESTION: All right. Well, let's hope for the luck of the Irish here. Can you put to --

MS. PSAKI: Let's hope.

QUESTION: -- rest the questions that you have not been able to answer to this point about former Secretary Clinton and whether she signed this separation form or not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have reviewed Secretary Clinton's official personnel file and administrative files and do not have any record of her signing the OF-109. In addition, after looking into their official personnel files, we did not locate any record of either of her immediate predecessors signing this form. It's not clear that this form is used as part of a standard part of checkout across the federal government or even at the State Department. So we're certainly looking into that.

QUESTION: So when you say that you do not have any record of her signing it --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- does that mean that there is no such document with her signature on it in the file?

MS. PSAKI: That we have found access to, yes.

QUESTION: So in other words, she's – you're not sure that she did, or you're still not sure whether she did or didn't, or you're – does this mean --

MS. PSAKI: I think we're fairly certain she did not.

QUESTION: Okay, so she did not.

MS. PSAKI: We don't have record of it.

QUESTION: So when you say – it is my understanding that all employees – and I think you even alluded to this when it first came up, that all employees were required to sign this document on completion of their government service. Is that not the case?

MS. PSAKI: Required is not the accurate term. It's – we're looking into how standard this is across the federal government and certainly at the State Department. But there's no – we're not aware of any penalty for not signing it.

QUESTION: Well, at the State Department, though, is it – it is common practice, though, is it not, for employees, at least employees below the rank of Secretary of State to sign such a thing – to sign such a document when they leave? Is it not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just don't want to characterize how common practice it is. Certainly, I understand there's been a focus on this form. We've answered the question on whether or not Secretary Clinton signed the form, and we'll see if there's more statistics we can provide about how common it is.

QUESTION: It's your understanding, though, that not completing this form is not a violation of any rule or regulation?

MS. PSAKI: It's not a violation of any rule, no.

QUESTION: And when you said that you have found no record of her two immediate – was it her two immediate predecessors?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: So that would be Secretary Rice and Secretary Powell?


QUESTION: And you're certain that none of them signed it? How --

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is the – these are the records we have at the State Department. Clearly, you can pose this question to any of the former secretaries as well.

QUESTION: Right, but you're saying that from your review of these three secretaries' files, it was not unusual, at least from this review, for the Secretary of State not to have completed one of these forms?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: All right. And can you explain, though, what you mean by saying that you're looking into how – into whether or not signing or completing such a form before one leaves – inside the State Department – I'm not interested in other agencies, but just inside the State Department, was it – is it your understanding that some people did and some people didn't, but no one was required to or just the secretaries?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are differences between regulations and certainly recommendations, and I'm just getting at there's a difference between also secretaries of state or former secretaries and staff at lower levels. I just don't want to speak to how common practice it is, and that's something if we can give more information on, we certainly will.

QUESTION: Okay. You just used the word "recommended." Is that the operative language here, that it is recommended but not required?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the form exists, certainly, Matt. I can speak to whether this former secretary, whether we have record of her signing it. Beyond that --

QUESTION: No, I understand.

MS. PSAKI: -- I don't have more statistics on whether – what percentage of State Department employees sign on departure from the building.

QUESTION: Okay. Right, but yes, the form exists, and it exists for a reason. It doesn't exist simply because someone thought, hey, let's have a form that someone has to sign. It exists for a reason and probably a pretty good reason, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are probably hundreds of forms in the federal government that exist --

QUESTION: Thousands I would suggest.

MS. PSAKI: Thousands, tens of thousands of forms that exist. So I don't know that I would overemphasize the existence of a form, but --

QUESTION: All right. Okay. So does this mean now that you have gotten Freedom of Information Act requests – I believe you got them this morning from the RNC and from various other people, asking for these forms signed not just by former Secretary Clinton but also some of her top aides. Have you satisfied yourself, has the building satisfied itself that it cannot respond to these FOIA requests because --

MS. PSAKI: I haven't --

QUESTION: -- these documents don't exist?

MS. PSAKI: I haven't talked to our lawyers about that specific question nor have I looked at their specific requests.

QUESTION: All right. And do you know if the FOIA, at least from the RNC, includes Secretary Clinton's chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, or deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin and Deputy Assistant Secretary Philippe Reines --

MS. PSAKI: I don't have additional details on other individuals who may or may not have signed the form.

QUESTION: All right. So is this – as far as you're concerned, is this now case closed?

MS. PSAKI: I hope so. There's quite a bit going on in the world, so --

QUESTION: Yes, all right.

MS. PSAKI: -- we can also discuss that.

QUESTION: Change of topic?

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh, wait, I just wanted --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on – it's not on this specifically, but you – the announcement came out just before the briefing about the end of the internet outage and emails.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So what can you tell us about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the notice that I think all of you should have received noted that we've concluded this morning the scheduled worldwide network security upgrade activities, and email to and from non-State.gov addresses has been fully restored as well as GO and other services we use here. The system is operating on a normal schedule. Any delays in delivery and receipt of email you may experience are temporary as the system resumes normal operations.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can we change topics?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you a little bit about the Israeli elections --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- as the day, of course, draws --

MS. PSAKI: Keep your expectations low, Said, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. I'll try to – well, you know – okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. I'm sorry. Go ahead. What are your questions?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) my expectations are always high, right?

MS. PSAKI: Good, all right.

QUESTION: And so – okay. So as the polls are about to close – maybe it will be a couple of hours and so on – and statements were made, very emphatic statements about the not allowing a Palestinian state to emerge and so on. But we've seen no repudiation from the other parties either. So – and there's another deadline that is ongoing now. Today is the 17th. On the first of this – I mean next month, the ICC is supposed to review its first case against settlements and so on. Would you ask or did you ask the Palestinians to sort of back away or not pursue any of that effort?

MS. PSAKI: I have no updates for you on this topic. Let me say, since you gave me the opportunity, we congratulate the citizens of Israel on today's election. The reported large turnout is another reminder of the vibrancies – vibrancy of Israel's democracy and why the United States will remain firm in our commitment to our deep and abiding partnership with Israel. Voting is still ongoing and no official results have been released yet. We look forward to working with the next Israeli Government, including on our shared agreement for peace and security in the Middle East. I don't have any other predictions for you.

QUESTION: Do you find it – I mean, since you talked about the vibrant democracy and so on, do you find it a bit frustrating or annoying that the prime minister of Israel said – complained that Arab citizens were casting their votes in droves?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Does that offend you in any way?

MS. PSAKI: -- we have seen reports about his statements. What we've always admired about Israel is its vibrancy as a democracy, which includes the right of all citizens to vote, whether they're Arab or Jewish citizens. And we're always concerned, broadly speaking, about any statements that may be aimed at marginalizing certain communities.

QUESTION: And lastly, I know you said yesterday that this is really a lot of maybe campaign rhetoric in referring to what Prime Minister Netanyahu said about he will never agree to a Palestinian state. You still believe that? You still – that this is no more than just campaign rhetoric?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't think I said "no more than," Said. I think that was just a reference. I think I also repeated yesterday that our position in support of a two-state solution is very clear. Only a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and independent Palestine can bring lasting peace and stability to both people. Of course, we will continue to pursue this goal with the new Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Any more on this before we continue?

QUESTION: Well, can you – I'm sorry, I got distracted with something. Did you ask – were you asked about Prime Minister Netanyahu's comments?


QUESTION: You were?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Russia? Sure.

QUESTION: I was just wondering --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: You expressed some concern whenever there seems to be an attempt to malign a group of people or people --

MS. PSAKI: I don't think that's what I said, but I would point you to what I said in the transcript. But go ahead.

QUESTION: But given that, was anything expressed to the Israeli Government about this kind of language being used?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything more to read out for you, Roz, today.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Russia's going to sign the new treaty on union relations and integration in South Ossetia tomorrow. I was wondering if could you make State Department's position on that, please? Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, and I think we'll have a statement that goes out as well shortly, so I can reiterate some of those points – or not reiterate; I can preview some of those points, I guess I should say. The United States position on South Ossetia and Abkhazia remains clear. These regions are integral parts of Georgia. We continue to support Georgia's independence, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity. The United States does not recognize the legitimacy of any so-called treaty between the de facto leaders of Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and the Russian Federation. Neither this agreement nor the one signed between Russia and the de facto leaders in Abkhazia in November 2014 constitutes a valid international agreement.

Russia should fulfill all of its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, withdraw its forces to pre-conflict positions, reverse its recognition of the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, and provide free access for continued humanitarian assistance to these regions. We continue to support the Geneva international discussions as a means to achieving concrete progress on security and humanitarian issues that continue to impact the communities on the ground in Georgia. And again, we'll have a statement out soon, or probably this afternoon.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Elliot. Mm-hmm. Iraq?

QUESTION: Can we stay with Russia just for a second?

MS. PSAKI: With Russia? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. I don't know if you've seen this, but the Russians are conducting this major military exercises in the Arctic, but also they're doing war games – Kaliningrad, they're going to send some missiles there, and sending advanced and nuclear-capable bombers to Crimea. Do you have any reaction to any or all of this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, while we recognize the need for routine military training activity, any such activity must be consistent with international law and conducted with due regard for the rights of other nations and the safety of other aircraft and vessels. Obviously, there have been many reports. We don't have confirmation of many of the details here. We can see if there's more we would like to say about the range of reports out there.

QUESTION: At this moment, do you have any reason to be concerned about these exercises not being in accordance with international norms?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think at this moment we're watching closely, and certainly, there's a history here that we also look to, and certainly, there's context of what's happening on the ground that's also relevant. At this moment, I don't have any specific expression of concern, but it's something we'll watch closely.

QUESTION: When you say there's a history here, what are you referring to?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I more should say the context of what's happening on the ground in Ukraine is more --

QUESTION: Right now.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, is more of the accurate way of describing it.

QUESTION: This might be a better question for the Pentagon, but when there are large-scale military exercises, does the U.S. notify other major countries, "We're doing operation so-and-so, it's our annual singular exercise" --

MS. PSAKI: I think typically, Roz. But you're right, I would ask the Pentagon that question as it relates to this specific case.

Russia, before we continue? Russia?

QUESTION: I have Russia (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Russia? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. I wanted to know your policy on the relations between Russia and your allies. Why I say that, because on March 7, Marie criticized the president of Cyprus, who went to Russia and signed some agreement. But you never criticize the prime minister of Italy, who went to Russia and signed agreements. You never criticized the president of Turkey, who signed billions of dollars of agreements. So my question is: Why you criticize the president of Cyprus and not the leaders of Italy and Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I'd have to look back at our statements. I'm not going to make a sweeping analysis here, other than to convey that we've been clear that it's not time for business as usual. We certainly understand that there are relationships between many countries in the world, including Russia, and the United States continues to work with Russia on a range of issues, including the ongoing nuclear negotiations. But the devil's in the details, and the specifics of what deals or what the specifics are being discussed, so I can look back and see what we specifically commented on at the time.


MS. PSAKI: Any more on Russia before we continue? Okay.

QUESTION: On South Korea.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Elliot, I think, had his hand up on Iraq, and then we'll go to South Korea. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Just a few on the situation in Tikrit.

MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: There are some reports that some Iraqi officials have suggested that the U.S. take a more active role in that battle. I was wondering if you have any response to that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we remain a stalwart ally to the Government of Iraq in the fight against ISIL and toward assisting Iraq with its long-term stability. The efforts in Tikrit are led – Iraqi-led, as you know. And even as this battle unfolds, the coalition is supporting significant Iraqi operations in Anbar and Kirkuk. The U.S. and coalition partners have assisted Iraqi ground forces in over 20 counter-ISIL operations across Iraq, all of them successful. We have conducted over 1,550 airstrikes in support of Iraqi ground forces. Almost – with cooperation from coalition partners, we've continued our train and assist efforts. Almost 6,000 Iraqi Security Forces have already graduated. Point being, there are a number of efforts underway. Obviously, any question about military assistance should be directed to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: So is that – at the moment, you're not considering getting more involved in the battle in Tikrit, which is what my question --

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Pentagon. And typically we don't make predictions of that advance.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that the Iranians are becoming too immersed, too embroiled in the battle around Tikrit and that would give them more, perhaps, involvement for the whole of Iraq and in running its future?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think you may be referencing – I think there were some stories today. We haven't – we have seen, certainly, those stories. I don't have anything to confirm about the specifics of it at this point in time, but we've said previously that we know that Iran has provided some supplies, arms, ammunition, and aircraft for Iraq's armed forces. Our – we continue to emphasize that it's important that actions don't raise tensions, don't raise sectarian tensions. Obviously, we've been concerned about some reported actions of unregulated militia, as we've talked about in the past.

But while sectarian tensions remain a deep concern with this specific effort in Tikrit, in recent days we've seen many Iraqi political and religious figures, including Sunni leaders, express support for the Tikrit operation as well as the role of popular mobilization forces, the role they've played. The defense minister, who's also Sunni, as well as KRG Prime Minister Barzani, have welcomed the role of these volunteers organized under the government's authority, and have called on all communities in Iraq to support their efforts. Our emphasis is on the role of all of the different factions in Iraq working together. We'd be concerned about efforts to divide that. And we're certainly very focused on what happens after Tikrit as well.

QUESTION: So on this very point, you see as part of a larger – the larger calculus, the Iranian effort on this part is positive. Correct?

MS. PSAKI: I didn't say that. I think I'll leave it as what I said, Said.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Isn't it – I mean --

QUESTION: I mean, they are on the same side; they're fighting the same enemies.

MS. PSAKI: We're not coordinating with them, as we've said many times before. I think I emphasized what our focus is on.

QUESTION: But just allow me for a second, because they both – you and the Iranians both sort of support the Iraqi Government, you support the Iraqi effort and so on. You both fight ISIS and so on. So you are on the same side.

MS. PSAKI: It doesn't mean we approach things in the same way. It doesn't mean we don't have concerns about any effort or a history of inflaming sectarian tensions.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, in addition to the sectarian tensions issue, which is valid, isn't there also the concern that the – with the U.S. staying on the sidelines in this important battle, that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we're hardly staying on the sidelines, Elliot.

QUESTION: Well, in this battle right now, as of now, you are.

MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that as well, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, well, in any case, isn't there also the question that going forward, in order for the U.S. to continue to take a really active and – active role, that you would need to show a little bit more of an effort?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Elliot, I would just refute the notion of your question. I just gave you several statistics on our involvement and our engagement. And I think it's hard to see countries that are more engaged or more involved in every component of the political process, the process of training and equipping, the process of uniting the factions in Iraq than the United States.

QUESTION: I thought you were talking about Iran.

MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that notion.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the issue of THAAD system replacement – deployment in South Korea. This morning, South Korean defense ministry announced that if the United States is formal request for THAAD system deployment to South Korea, then South Korea willing to make a decision. Will the United States deployment of THAAD in South Korea?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that Assistant Secretary Russel is there now. We have not formally consulted with South Korea on THAAD deployment, and no decisions have been made on a potential deployment to the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: Yeah, but THAAD is the defensive system against the North Korean missile threat. Why the Chinese is opposed to THAAD placement in South Korea?

MS. PSAKI: Why are the Chinese opposed?


MS. PSAKI: I would ask the Chinese Government that question.

QUESTION: But what is your United States position --

MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to speak on behalf of the Chinese Government.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Jen, France and Italy and Germany just announced they are going to follow UK to join AIIB. What's your reaction on that?

MS. PSAKI: I know we spoke about this a little bit last week, I believe it was.

QUESTION: Yeah, to respond to UK --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. No, I understand. Our position remains – on AIIB remains clear and consistent. We believe there is a pressing need to enhance infrastructure investment around the world. We believe any new multilateral institution should incorporate the high standards that the international community has collectively built at the World Bank and the Regional Development Bank.

As was true with the United Kingdom, the decision of any country to join is certainly a decision made by a sovereign country, but it will be important for prospective members of the AIIB to push for the adoption of those same high standards, including strong board oversight and safeguards. And the international community certainly has a stake in seeing that AIIB complements and works effectively alongside existing architecture – excuse me – that's already in place that does have those high standards.

QUESTION: But are you disappointed to see your major allies, they're not standing with you, and ignored the concerns you shared?

MS. PSAKI: I would not at all put it in those terms. These are decisions made by sovereign countries. Our view continues to be that any member needs to hold this organization to the highest standards.

QUESTION: Well, in the future, though, United – consider or reconsider your decision to join the AIIB?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not aware of a reconsideration.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: About the AIIB issue, Chinese communist party's propaganda paper, People's Daily, made an editorial that's saying there's a rift between G7 countries. Do you agree with that?

MS. PSAKI: Between which countries?

QUESTION: G7 countries. G7 countries.

MS. PSAKI: Based on what?

QUESTION: The difference towards AIIB stance.

MS. PSAKI: I would not – no, I would not characterize it in those terms. We certainly discuss issues, of course, through diplomatic channels, through bilateral channels. What I've just expressed publicly is certainly what we've expressed privately to our partners.

QUESTION: Does the addition of these – of the UK, Germany, France into the AIIB allay some of your concerns that you've stated previously? Does it give you any hope that the structure might be a little bit more transparent, given --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we'll see. I think it provides an opportunity for any of these countries to make the case that there should be high standards held by AIIB.

QUESTION: Jen, over the past few days, we see reports that seems to conflict with the public remarks from this podium. We heard reports saying that the U.S. un-named officials during a private conversation is opposing or signaling concerns on the major allies to join AIIB. My question is: Is there a coherent position from this government on this China initiative infrastructure --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we clearly haven't made the decision to join. We believe that while there's a need to enhance infrastructure around the world, that multilateral institutions should have the highest standards that the international community has built. This is a point we've expressed publicly and privately. I don't think it's inconsistent in any way.

QUESTION: I guess --

QUESTION: Well, do you think the participation of your allies – Britain, France, Germany, and Italy – will help that goal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think Elliot just asked that question. We'll see. I mean, I think we've obviously --

QUESTION: You don't trust them?

MS. PSAKI: No, I was saying that it provides an opportunity for any member countries to bring and hold AIIB to the highest standards, and so what – they just announced they were joining, I think, today.

QUESTION: I guess it's hard to confirm a private conversation with un-named officials in private. But then --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I've just expressed what our views are. We have expressed those views privately. I think that's consistent with the comments that you're referring to as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Other question: Do you have anything regarding the trilateral ministerial meeting between China, Japan, and Korea, which will be scheduled later this week? Do you think it's a positive development?

MS. PSAKI: We certainly do. As you know, we've long been supportive of dialogue between these countries and strong relationships in the region. I believe this is the first time this type of a meeting has happened, and you may know --

QUESTION: Three years.

MS. PSAKI: Three years, right? And so that is certainly a positive sign.

QUESTION: Jen, sorry, just going back to the AIIB (inaudible). So China said that it wants South Korea to be a member and asked the South Koreans to announce its decision to join within the month. Do you have any comments about that?

MS. PSAKI: I think that's a decision for South Korea to make.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the other thing is, do you think that there will be other countries, more countries that would follow Italy, Germany, France, and the UK?

MS. PSAKI: We'll see. I can't make a prediction of that.

QUESTION: Okay. Are you not concerned about that?

MS. PSAKI: I think we've expressed what our view is, and we've expressed the same view I've stated publicly to any country that's considering joining.



QUESTION: Jen, can we stay in Asia, one more?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: This might be still in planning stage, but it won't hurt to ask.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Have you received any request from the Chinese counterpart to schedule a meeting with Wang Qishan, who is a former vice premier, who is now a big hand weighing the – in China's anti-graft efforts? And who – he might be a familiar figure in this building because of the S&ED talk that he (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: A meeting to come to the United States or --

QUESTION: Right, with the --

MS. PSAKI: Is there a planned visit?

QUESTION: Well, the – it was reported that he planned to visit United States, and I wonder, have you received any --

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any confirmation of a visit. I would obviously refer you to the Chinese Government on that specifically. I can certainly check if there's a confirmed meeting, if there's a plan for a confirmed visit, if there's a plan for a meeting. But I think to your point, we're a little bit – we're not quite there yet.

QUESTION: Well, it's reported that his visit may be something to do with China's fox hunt operation efforts to seek extradition of Chinese officials who escaped to the United States, who are also charged of corruption.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't have any details on a planned visit. I don't think it's been confirmed. As you know, we don't speak to extradition requests, even if that is a part of a discussion.

QUESTION: Well, let me put my question this way: Have you received any request from the Chinese counterparts to extradite any Chinese officials or --

MS. PSAKI: We don't speak to extradition requests as a matter of policy.

QUESTION: Jen, Assistant Secretary Russel visit to South Korea meeting with his counterpart in South Korea, do you have anything (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: With Assistant Secretary Russel's meetings?

QUESTION: Yes, mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let's see. Assistant Secretary Russel was in South Korea on the 15th and 16th of March, so over the last two days, to meet with Ambassador Lippert and the U.S. Embassy community and to consult with the South Korean Government. He met with senior Blue House and ministry of foreign affairs officials on March 16th. He reaffirmed the enduring strength of the U.S. alliance with the Republic of Korea and discussed a broad spectrum of alliance issues. He also expressed our gratitude for the outpouring of support from the Korean people in the aftermath of the attack on Ambassador Lippert.

QUESTION: He – also a discussion about the THAAD system issues with South Korean (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: He discussed a wide range of issues. We have not – as I stated before, we have not formally consulted with South Korea on THAAD deployment. I don't have anything else to read out about his visit.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment on – about South Koreans being asked from the United States to refuse AIIB, but accept THAAD and be – from China being asked – accept AIIB but refuse THAAD, and they are torn apart between United States and China?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just said that it's a decision of any sovereign country, including South Korea, to make on AIIB. We have obviously expressed the same views I expressed publicly through private channels, but I don't have any further comment beyond that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) THAAD system issue is a diplomatic issue or a defense issue? What is --

MS. PSAKI: I'm sorry, is which issue?


MS. PSAKI: It's really a defense issue, and certainly you're welcome to ask my colleagues over at the Defense Department. I'm not sure they'll have much more to add, but – to Asia or --

QUESTION: Change topic?

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) regarding the --

MS. PSAKI: We'll go to you, Pam, next.

QUESTION: Okay. Regarding the nuclear talks in Switzerland, the Iranians say that 90 percent of the technical issues have been resolved. Would you characterize the negotiations the same way?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to put a statistic or a percentage on it from here. We've made an effort from the beginning to keep the private ongoing discussions private. Certainly, there are technical issues that will continue to be discussed. There are also difficult political decisions that will need to be made by the Iranians. Our focus now is on ongoing meetings this week. As you all know, the Secretary continued his meetings with the Iranian foreign minister today, Under Secretary Sherman, and the U.S. negotiating team, including Energy Secretary Moniz. They're continuing their discussions with their Iranian counterparts as well.

The discussions thus far have been solid, substantive, and difficult, but constructive. We expect that will remain the case as we continue to try to close the gaps. We're continuing, of course, to work towards the end of March to see if we can get to a political framework, but I don't think we'll put percentages on between now and then.

QUESTION: Would you say you're pleased with the progress?

MS. PSAKI: I think, again, there are difficult issues that are being discussed. They've been substantive conversations. We're just not going to give a day-to-day analysis of where things stand.

QUESTION: When you say "constructive" --

QUESTION: Your colleague at the White House said that there was a 50-50 chance. Are you not --

MS. PSAKI: I think we've been saying that for some time now.

QUESTION: Well, but somebody else – so you are willing to put a percentage on it?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any new percentages to add from here.

QUESTION: When you say "constructive," does that – are you acknowledging that there was progress made in the last 24 hours? Because the message that came out --

MS. PSAKI: I said "constructive" yesterday as well, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. You said "constructive" yesterday as well.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, I did.

QUESTION: Now the reports from there were saying that they're difficult, no progress was made. So are you disputing that?

MS. PSAKI: They're difficult, of course. We're not going to give day-to-day analysis. There are several more days where the Secretary's going to be on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. So are we expected to see something, let's say, by the 24th and by --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as you know, the Secretary has commitments with the Afghans in D.C. early next week. We're pushing forward as much as we can now to see what we can get done this week. The deadline is the end of the month and that's what we're working toward, so we'll see where we are at the end of this week.

QUESTION: Do you feel that if you don't really achieve, like, a major breakthrough in the next few days, that the momentum will have been slowed down?

MS. PSAKI: I don't think you know if there's been a breakthrough or not because we haven't spoken to that.

QUESTION: Well, I'm saying if you don't achieve a breakthrough.

MS. PSAKI: I'm just not going to address that, Said.

QUESTION: Senator Corker said he could bring his bill to a vote by the – as early as the 25th. If we get to the point where it is the 25th and there is not a framework deal, would you – are you – would you still be opposed to – would you still advise him not to – to hold off? I mean, this was part of a compromise. He said he would wait until your deadline, which there's some debate about what the deadline is, the 24th or the 31st, but, I mean --

MS. PSAKI: It has long been the 31st.

QUESTION: Right. I understand that. But I mean, it was the – whatever you were going to say. I mean, do you – if there is no deal, are you still going to be pushing for a framework? Are you still going to be pushing for a delay in a vote on --


QUESTION: You are.

MS. PSAKI: And I think that the letter from the White House chief of staff from the weekend addressed that as well.


MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: Just to follow-up on Iran nuclear also --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- related to Matt's question --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- and the Republican indication that congressional Republicans may push forward with this plan to have some kind of a vote next week that would give them a role in approving an eventual Iran nuclear agreement. This comes after Iran, in the negotiations between Kerry and Zarif, raised some concerns about the Republican letter. Would this type of effort further complicate negotiations at a very sensitive time?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you're talking about two separate issues. I realize it's all related, because we're all talking about the nuclear negotiations. As I spoke about a bit yesterday, the letter did come up. It came up more extensively during the meeting with the political directors, and certainly it's a distraction and certainly a time-suck, so – and it has been – it was on the first day of negotiations. Obviously there are a lot of technical issues, a lot of political issues to be discussed, and we have a limited amount of time. So that, alone, is – makes it more difficult.

However, we continue to believe that these negotiations are not about a letter that was ill-informed or ill-advised. They're about the issues at hand. And that's what the focus of the negotiations have been on today and yesterday, aside from, of course, it was discussed for a short portion, as I mentioned yesterday.

As it relates to legislation – and again, I would point you to the lengthy letter that the White House chief of staff sent this weekend to Senator Corker – I think the question here is: What is the goal here? We are at crunch time. There's no question – the Secretary and the President have put out there that they are willing to walk away if this is not a good deal. But obviously we're – we have – we're at a time where the negotiations are pivotal, and we've conveyed clearly that putting new sanctions legislation in place could be detrimental to the process.

QUESTION: But you will also walk away if there's no good deal, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I said the Secretary and the President.

QUESTION: Have said that they will. You weren't referring to Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I will as well. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, no, no. I mean, there has been concern expressed that if this sanctions legislation goes ahead, that the Iranians might walk.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we'll let the Iranians speak for themselves.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: And they have spoken to that. You're right.

QUESTION: Can I ask an Iran-related question?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Have you seen or are you aware of this letter that the American former Marine Amir Hekmati has written, seeking to renounce his Iranian citizenship?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. We --

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: We absolutely – and I'll get to your question, but I just want to speak to the whole issue. We absolutely hold Iran responsible for the treatment of U.S. citizens in custody there and reports of Amir Hekmati's abuse and mistreatment are deeply worrying. We expect Iran to respect its obligations to treat prisoners humanely, and we hold the Iranian authorities responsible for the welfare of Amir Hekmati and other U.S. citizens detained in Iran. We have raised his case repeatedly with Iranian officials and will continue to do so.

We've seen reports that you referenced, of course, that Amir wants to renounce his Iranian citizenship. This is obviously a personal decision for him to make. Our position continues to be that the Government of Iran should release him immediately.

QUESTION: Right. When you say that you expect Iran to treat all Americans being held there, your Human Rights Reports are highly critical of the treatment that Iran provides to all prisoners, or many prisoners, not just American citizens.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. You're right.

QUESTION: How is that you can expect them to treat them humanely?

MS. PSAKI: Should I say instead we hope and this is a case that we continue to --

QUESTION: Or demand.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, absolutely. And that certainly is a case we continue to make in our discussions.


QUESTION: Just on the – just back on Iran for --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- one quick one. You said that – I think you said yesterday also, regarding the issue of the letter, that it took a very small amount of time, relative to the – what? – five hours --

MS. PSAKI: Five hours of the negotiations with the Secretary, yes.


MS. PSAKI: There were also meetings --

QUESTION: Five hours?

MS. PSAKI: They met for five hours. No, no. But there were also meetings with the political directors the day before. It was a larger chunk of those meetings. And certainly taking up time is not only a time-suck, it's distracting.

QUESTION: Okay. Just wanted to clarify that.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Despite your explanation yesterday as to the Secretary's statement --

MS. PSAKI: You're still not convinced, Said?

QUESTION: No, I'm convinced.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I'm saying that your allies are not convinced. I'm convinced. But today, the Foreign Minister of Turkey Davutoglu – basically he lambasted whatever statements were made by the Secretary, saying that negotiating with Assad is like negotiating with Hitler. First of all, do you agree that negotiating with Assad is like negotiating with Hitler?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to put new terms on it.


MS. PSAKI: I think I addressed this pretty extensively yesterday, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. So – but you are fine with what the Secretary said? I mean, he has not backtracked in any way? I --

MS. PSAKI: Correct. And again, any discussion we have with any of our partners we will make clear what I said publicly yesterday.

QUESTION: So your policy remains that a negotiated settlement will have to bring all the combatants in --

MS. PSAKI: By mutual consent, yes. Representatives from the regime and representatives from the opposition.

QUESTION: Okay. But would any sort of negotiations in the near future – should they include Iran also? Like the last time Geneva I and Geneva II did not include Iran, was that a mistake in hindsight?

MS. PSAKI: There's no negotiation – or no process happening right now. There's no process being planned right now, Said, so that's purely a hypothetical.

QUESTION: Yeah, but there's an implicit message when you say there's no military solution. We're talking about the political solution that should be done in a negotiated kind of forum, which would include --

MS. PSAKI: We agree. If there is a process that is reignited, I'm sure we can have a discussion about that issue.

QUESTION: Do you know, Jen, if the Secretary has reached out to either the French foreign minister or the Turkish foreign minister about this or --

MS. PSAKI: He did speak with Foreign Minister Fabius I think, and I think the French have spoken to that.

QUESTION: -- or have they – or if they have reached out to him to ask for the same kind of clarification that you gave publicly yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: He did speak with Foreign Minister Fabius on Monday. I think he – they discussed this issue and he certainly conveyed what our position is and has long been.

QUESTION: Did he tell him to calm down?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any quotes from the conversation, Matt, but I think he reiterated what our longstanding position has been.

QUESTION: Can I jump back to Korea just for one second?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify something.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I don't mean to harp on this --

MS. PSAKI: No, no.

QUESTION: -- but you said that there were no formal consultations yet with Korea on the THAAD missile appointment, and you also said that Assistant Secretary Russel consulted on a wide range of issues. Is it possible that he – that the issue did come up in some form in those meetings?

MS. PSAKI: I can certainly check if there's more to read out from his meetings.

QUESTION: I guess I'm just wondering what formal – if formal consultation means that it --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- has to happen at the DOD, at --

MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if there's more we can read out from that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

QUESTION: Were you guys --

QUESTION: Jennifer?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mrs. Nuland meets in Athens for meetings with high officials of the new leftist government.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what is the reason of these meetings? And also, the economic situation in Greece is worse than ever, as you know, and there are a lot of reports that Greece is in – there is a real possibility for default. I wanted to know if you worry about it and if Mrs. Nuland is going to discuss the economy with Greek officials.

MS. PSAKI: Well, she certainly will. She had productive meetings today in Athens with Greek foreign – the Greek foreign minister, with the defense minister – and with the defense minister to discuss our bilateral relationship, regional developments, including the situation in Ukraine and efforts to combat ISIL, Greece's economic and financial situation, and defense and security issues. Later today she also plans to meet with the prime minister and I believe she'll be addressing the press later as well.

QUESTION: But do you worry about the situation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we discuss the economic and financial situation in Greece as part of our bilateral agenda, and she will certainly address her meetings at the end of today.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the Palestinian issue for a second?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Today the Palestinians announced an emergency budget. They are obviously cash-strapped, and the formation of the Israeli Government will be long in coming, so to speak. Are you having – independent of the political situation, are you having any kind of discussion to have these funds released in any way, the funds that are being withheld --

MS. PSAKI: The revenues?

QUESTION: -- the revenues that are being withheld by the --

MS. PSAKI: We've spoken about this in the past, Said. I don't have any new updates, though.


QUESTION: It's hard to believe it's taken this long in this briefing to get to it, but Cuba talks?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: They're over now?


QUESTION: For this round at least.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you speak to any progress that has been made, any indication of when the process of at least opening embassies will be done?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think for everybody's understanding, this was one of what will likely be many discussions. They could be at the assistant secretary level; they also could be at the level – or through our Interests Section on the ground as well. So there will be additional discussions. Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson, as you all know, was there yesterday, has – is – remains there today for internal meetings. But the discussion yesterday was positive and constructive and was held in an atmosphere of mutual respect that focused on reestablishing diplomatic relations and reopening embassies. They certainly can – made progress in their discussions, but I'm not going to read out those specifically. We believe there will be many more discussions.

QUESTION: So there had been hope, though, that this could be done by next month, by the middle of next month. If you're saying there's going to be many more discussions --

MS. PSAKI: I don't think we set a timeline or a deadline as well, although I know many externally have.

QUESTION: Well, but the President himself has said --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, there's been a common knowledge.

QUESTION: But the President himself has said that he would be open to having the embassies reopened by the Summit of the Americas.

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we're open to it too, but you obviously have to make progress on these specific issues and get agreement on what needs to be done. Obviously, we'll continue to work on that.

QUESTION: Are you able to say whether the issue of Venezuela affected the discussions between Ms. Vidal and Assistant Secretary Jacobson?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I have heard, Roz. I'm happy to ask that specific question, though.

QUESTION: On the right of Americans to travel to Cuba, do they have to wait until the diplomatic relations are all in place, embassies exchanged and so on?

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of ways Americans can travel. It's – we put out extensive details on that. We can certainly get that to you if that's useful. Are you planning a trip, Said?

QUESTION: I sure am.

MS. PSAKI: You should. (Laughter.)

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Hi. I just have a clarification question on the separation document.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Is there – I guess I'm just confused about the process of the Secretary leaving the State Department. Would she have ever – would that document have ever been presented to her and she didn't – I guess I'm just a little confused about whether she ever would have seen the document to --

MS. PSAKI: I would suggest you ask that question to Secretary Clinton and her staff. I think it's important context that we also don't have record of the prior two predecessors of signing this document.

QUESTION: Is there someone – is there a State Department employee that's in charge of making sure that high-level officials sign that before they leave?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, as you know, or you may not know, there are rotations of staff, including the Secretary's staff, Foreign Service staff who rotate every couple of years. So I really can't speak to what document may or may not have been presented more than two years ago.


MS. PSAKI: Any --

QUESTION: Do you know – you said – you're speaking of her predecessors, her immediate predecessors Powell and Rice.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Did someone check Albright's, or did you only look to the two --

MS. PSAKI: Those are the two I have information on at this point in time – or I don't have confirmation of, I should say.

QUESTION: But you don't know. I mean, I don't know when this form came into --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- being, but it would make sense, wouldn't it, to check the Secretary's records going back to at least the time when this form --

MS. PSAKI: If there is more, we can keep going back to the – if you'd like.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Thanks, Jen. Any update on Keystone XL national interest determination? Could you just remind me of the projected timeline for the review?

MS. PSAKI: There isn't a projected timeline I can outline for you, as I think – but as a reminder of the process, the last step was that we received input from eight agencies. That will obviously be taken into account. But I don't have any prediction for you on the timeline of the final national interest determination.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list