Daily Press Briefing
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
March 20, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
DEPARTMENT/SECRETARY TRAVEL, MEETINGS, CALLS
MIDDLE EAST PEACE
SOUTH CHINA SEA/REGION
1:32 p.m. EDT
MR. RATHKE: Good afternoon.
MR. RATHKE: No worries. No worries. So sorry for the delay, everyone. I have two things to mention at the top.
The United States strongly condemns today's suicide bombings that killed reportedly over 130 individuals and left hundreds wounded in Yemen. We express our condolences to the families of the victims and we deplore the brutality of the terrorists who perpetrated today's unprovoked attack on Yemeni citizens who were peacefully engaging in Friday prayers in their places of worship.
We also strongly condemn the March 19 airstrike targeting the presidential palace in Aden. We call upon all actors in Yemen to halt all unilateral and offensive military actions. We specifically call on the Houthis, former President Saleh, and their allies to stop their violent incitement and undermining President Hadi, who is Yemen's legitimate president. The way forward for Yemen must be through a political solution. We call upon all Yemeni parties to return in good faith to a political dialogue to resolve their differences. Without consensus among the Yemeni people, any unilateral assertion of authority will not succeed. And we urge renewed commitment to the peaceful political transition, consistent with the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, the national dialogue conference outcomes, relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and the Yemeni constitution.
Political instability threatens the well-being of all Yemenis and denies them the opportunity to live in safety, peace, and prosperity. Today's attack on the mosques in Sana'a underscores that terrorism affects all Yemenis and that no one political group alone can confront the challenges facing Yemen.
And the second item: the Secretary's travel. The Secretary and his team have had a series of intensive discussions with Iran this week, and given where they are in the negotiations, it's an important time for high-level consultations. So Secretary Kerry will travel tomorrow to London with – and will meet with German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, British Foreign Secretary Hammond, and French Foreign Minister Fabius to discuss the ongoing discussions with Iran. He will then return to Washington.
In addition to seeing our European partners tomorrow, Secretary Kerry also spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov today by phone. And given that Secretary Kerry has meetings with Afghan President Ghani on March 22nd through 24th in Washington, and given the timing of the Nowruz holiday, the negotiations will resume next week.
So with that, over to you, Matt.
QUESTION: Right. So on Iran.
MR. RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: And before I start with this, my initial line of questioning here, I want to make it clear that as many of us know the loss of a parent is a tragedy and condolences are appreciated, but I'm wondering today in Lausanne the Secretary personally offered his condolences to the foreign minister and to President Rouhani's brother, then you guys put out a statement in his name offering condolences, and then that same statement was tweeted. And I'm just wondering, aren't you guys laying it on a bit thick here? Is there something that you're expecting in terms of Iranian concessions in the negotiations by – with this display?
MR. RATHKE: No, I wouldn't read anything into it of that sort. I think the Secretary's been negotiating this week with the Iranians. One of the members of the Iranian team is the brother of President Rouhani, and so just given where things were in the negotiations he expressed his condolences.
Now as regards retweeting, we retweet lots of statements and so forth from the Department --
QUESTION: Well, I know, but I mean it just seems a little bit over the top, no? I mean, this is the leader of a country, and again, clearly the loss of one's parent is tragic. But this is the leader of a country that you accuse of being the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, you accuse of trying to develop a nuclear weapon with which its leaders have said that it will use against one of your top allies, and your – I mean, it's understandable that one would express condolences, but you're really – it looks like you're going out of the way to make a point here with this. Are you sending flowers as well? What's – what is it that you hope to achieve other than expressing condolences, if anything?
MR. RATHKE: No, I wouldn't read anything more into it than expressing condolences. Again, the Secretary's been engaged in intensive negotiations this week, and it simply is – it marks also, I think, as everyone has noticed with the message from the President and the Secretary's statement for Nowruz, the fact that it's a time of reflection and an important holiday anyway.
QUESTION: Fair enough. Do you know --
MR. RATHKE: I wouldn't read anything more than that into it.
QUESTION: Okay. The President put out a statement today related to Iran --
MR. RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- apart from the Nowruz video or greetings about the Americans still missing –
MR. RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- or detained. Do you know if in the process of expressing his condolences today to Foreign Minister Zarif and to President Rouhani's brother if the Secretary raised these cases? It would seem that if one is in a condolatory – I don't know – frame of mind, that these people who have been, as you say, unjustly held by Iran, that their fates might be considered as well. Do you know if that was raised?
MR. RATHKE: Well, I can't speak to whether it was raised today, but I think it's – what I can say is, as we've said all along, our talks with Iran are about the nuclear issue. The one exception to that is that we do not let any opportunity go by without raising the fate of the American citizens, and that's, of course, reflected in the President's statement today. So certainly during this round of negotiation, we've also raised it.
MR. RATHKE: Yes, go ahead Jo.
QUESTION: Can I ask on the Iran – you mentioned that the next round of talks is going to be held next week. Is there any indication yet where they will be held?
MR. RATHKE: No, I don't have any announcements to make in that regard.
QUESTION: Is it likely to be Switzerland again?
MR. RATHKE: I don't have any news to share about venue for the next round.
QUESTION: And do you anticipate whether there might be a similar gathering of the P5+1 ministers also joining next week?
MR. RATHKE: Again, no announcements to make. Of course, we coordinate closely with our P5+1 partners, and that will presumably be one of the things the Secretary will discuss with his partners when he meets with them tomorrow. But I don't have any announcements to make.
QUESTION: When does the Secretary actually get back to Washington? You said he was going to London on Sunday. Does he return to Washington on Sunday?
MR. RATHKE: Right. I don't have that level of specificity about whether it will be immediately following the meetings tomorrow. I don't know exactly how long those will run, so I don't have that detail on whether it's Saturday or Sunday that he returns.
QUESTION: And do you have any – does he have any commitments in Washington Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday other than those associated with the visit by President Ghani and CEO Abdullah?
MR. RATHKE: Well, I can check and see if we have more to mention publicly about his schedule. Of course, he always has a busy schedule, but those are the major public events we have happening.
On the same topic?
QUESTION: On the – yeah.
MR. RATHKE: On the same topic, yeah.
QUESTION: Do you expect this next round of talks to extend either until a deal is reached or through to the deadline?
MR. RATHKE: Well, as we've said all along, we're focused on the deadline at the end of March, and that's why there's – we have the intention to go back and resume talks, so we're focused on that and focused on getting a good deal.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks so much.
MR. RATHKE: Same topic?
MR. RATHKE: Okay. Can we follow up, and then we'll come back.
QUESTION: Just a quick on. Just the calls to the Russians and the Chinese, were those exclusively focused on the Iran talks, or did they cover any other topics?
MR. RATHKE: They were focused on the Iran talks. I can see if there's anything more to share about other issues.
Yes, go ahead, Ilhan.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. On Turkey, about a month ago, five or six weeks ago, 88 congressmen and women sent a letter to Secretary Kerry. Just this week a couple days ago, 74 senators sent another letter to Mr. Kerry about mainly dealing with the press issues, press freedom issues. First of all, have you – has the – Mr. Secretary responded the first letter to Congress?
MR. RATHKE: Yes, yes. But let me skip to the letter from the Senate as well, if I could.
QUESTION: Okay. Sure.
MR. RATHKE: So we have received a letter signed by a number of U.S. senators – we received it just a couple of days ago – in which they expressed their concern about freedom of the press and recent arrests of journalists in Turkey. Of course, we'll respond to the letter. And as we've made clear in the past, we remain concerned about Turkish Government interference with freedoms of expression and assembly and the administration of justice, including due process.
QUESTION: Did you say you will respond to the letter?
MR. RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: And the previous letter, have you responded –
MR. RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- to the other letter? You already did?
MR. RATHKE: Yes. That's my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. In another letter sent by Mr. Kerry to the Congress, this how it worked?
MR. RATHKE: Well, yes. That's the way these things typically work. I don't have any –
QUESTION: Because we have not seen such a letter.
MR. RATHKE: Well, we don't make public our correspondence with members of Congress.
QUESTION: In that letter, in these letters came from 74 senators, it says – it addresses "Erdogan administration," apparently seeing President Erdogan as the top executive or the head of the administration. Is this the view of the State Department as well?
MR. RATHKE: I'm not going to get into Turkey's internal and constitutional arrangements. I'm not going to weigh in on that.
QUESTION: A follow-up, one more question terms of freedom of speech and freedom of expression in Turkey. So far, about 200 – not quite 200, but it's getting closer to 200 individuals have been taken to the court by the President Erdogan alleging that these individuals – some of them students, some of them mourning mothers, some of them journalists, many journalists taken to court. Do you have any view or comment on this increasing number of court cases waged against these Turkish people?
MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I would go back to what I said in response to your question about the letter, which is we remain concerned about this situation, about freedom of expression and assembly, and also due process. And so I'll leave it at that, but this is certainly an issue about which we're concerned.
QUESTION: And the final question then: In that letter, senators urge Mr. Kerry to do find peaceful solution. Do you have any policy changes to find peaceful solutions with increasing freedom of press issues in Turkey?
MR. RATHKE: I don't have any policy changes to announce at this point.
QUESTION: Can I follow up Yemen?
MR. RATHKE: Yeah. I'm sorry, let's go back to Yemen. Roz, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. It's not clear who's responsible for the bombings at the two mosques in Sana'a. ISIL is claiming it, but intelligence experts are suggesting that's just bluster, that it may be someone related to AQAP or some other organization. Given that you have partisans fighting for the former President Saleh, partisans fighting for the current President Hadi, Houthis, AQAP, possibly ISIL, how worried is the U.S. Government that Yemen may be on the verge of collapsing, that it may be turning into a failed state?
MR. RATHKE: Well, in response to where you started, we've seen reports of claims of responsibility from ISIL-affiliated terrorists, but we're not in a position to confirm the veracity of those claims. So we are, of course, concerned about the presence of ISIL-affiliated terrorists outside of Iraq and Syria. ISIL has expressed an intention to spread violence to other parts of the globe, so that's something that we and our partners in the intelligence community watch closely to see whether there really are operational linkages. And we've discussed this, I think, in this room in the past. This certainly highlights the virulent ideology of ISIL, but we haven't reached – we haven't formed a conclusion yet about responsibility for this particular brutal and heinous attack.
QUESTION: But in terms of the fact that it seems as if the country is basically locked in some kind of civil war, how --
MR. RATHKE: Well --
QUESTION: Yeah. How worried is the U.S. that Yemen, as a country, may be collapsing?
MR. RATHKE: Well, a civil war would be a terrible development for Yemen. But that's why we believe it's essential for all the parties and groups to avoid unilateral actions, to avoid violence, as I mentioned at the top. And that's why we, along with international partners – the Gulf Cooperation Council, the United Nations are supporting a Yemeni political transition process. Political instability is a threat to the well-being of all Yemenis.
QUESTION: How do you get all sides back to the table? How do you get them to actually stop the fighting?
MR. RATHKE: Well, there's a UN process and we're supportive of that. We're trying to help that move along, but I don't have any news to add today.
QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to pick up on the ISIL claim.
MR. RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: ISIL also claimed that they were behind the attack in Tunisia as well, and yesterday you were – said you couldn't confirm that. Are you in a position yet to confirm whether that was indeed --
MR. RATHKE: No, I don't have any new – any new information on – to communicate about the attack in Tunisia.
Yes. Same topic?
MR. RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: In light of all the events and what you've mentioned at the top, does the Administration still maintain, as President Obama has said, that the country represents a model for counterterrorism success?
MR. RATHKE: Well, I think we've spoken to that in this briefing room, and I think the White House has spoken to that in the past about what the President was referring to in those comments. I don't have anything to add to that.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: The U.S. is beginning military exercises in Estonia, and I'm wondering why is it that when Russia is carrying out exercises, it's suspicious, it undermines peace; when the U.S. does that, it's exclusively for peace and never undermines anything.
MR. RATHKE: I'm not sure I – sure what you're referring to. You suggested or you had an allegation about Russian exercises. What is it you're suggesting?
QUESTION: Well, we hear that all the time. And from the most recent one, Jen Psaki saying Russian exercises in Crimea would undermine a diplomatic, peaceful resolution of the crisis. Well, we hear – we heard a similar reaction --
MR. RATHKE: Well, you seem to forget, though, that Crimea is part of Ukraine.
QUESTION: We heard a similar reaction over --
MR. RATHKE: Estonia is an independent country.
QUESTION: We heard a similar reaction over Russian exercises in other parts of Russia close to Western borders. There's always suspicion --
MR. RATHKE: No, no, no. I'm sorry, I think you're distorting --
QUESTION: -- and accusations of undermining stability.
MR. RATHKE: You're distorting what's been said from this podium by my colleagues and by the U.S. Government. We have consistently said that we recognize the need for routine military training activity, and we say that it should be consistent with international law and it should be conducted with due regard for the rights of other nations and the safety of aircraft and vessels. That's been our position consistently, and so I'd urge you to go back and review the record before twisting what it is we've said.
QUESTION: But also from this podium we hear criticism and suspicion. That is not – we always hear a suspicion and criticism of Russian exercises somehow undermining stability in the region, and when the U.S. is carrying out exercises thousands of miles away from home, near Russian borders, and that's fine. But Russia does that at home, and that's not fine. Do you see an inconsistency in that position?
MR. RATHKE: Again, I think I've addressed your question. You are twisting how we've described Russian exercise activity, and I think our activity with – on the territory of NATO member states is – has a degree of transparency that is hard to criticize.
Yes, go ahead. You had a question --
QUESTION: Do you see – are you saying that the U.S. --
MR. RATHKE: No, no, I'm sorry. We're going to move on.
QUESTION: Well, Jeff --
QUESTION: Are you saying that the U.S. --
QUESTION: -- the problem – I understand what you're saying, but the problem is that you were critical of Russian exercises that were in the general vicinity of the Ukrainian border inside Russia. You said it contributed to – it contributed to unease and instability during the crisis in Ukraine. This was Russian exercises inside Russia, somewhat close to – although I think the Russians would argue it wasn't that close – to the Ukrainian – to the eastern Ukrainian border.
MR. RATHKE: Well, that's been in reference to a specific conflict zone. I think the question was much broader and suggesting that we were criticizing or denying the ability of Russia to conduct any military exercises anywhere, which is not what we've said.
QUESTION: When you criticize Russia --
QUESTION: Well, did you or did you not ask the Vietnamese to stop refueling planes – Russian planes – at Cam Ranh Bay because you thought --
MR. RATHKE: Well, I think, again, what we've --
QUESTION: -- because you said that those kinds of flights raised tensions in the South China Sea?
MR. RATHKE: Well, I think if we go back to the discussion of that a couple of weeks ago, the point --
QUESTION: Days ago.
MR. RATHKE: Okay. But the point was not the fact of refueling, but we simply expressed our view about activity that could raise tensions. And so --
QUESTION: Okay. So then – right. So you don't --
QUESTION: Hold on. So you don't think that NATO or U.S. exercises in Estonia on – along the Russian border raise tensions at all? Is that right?
MR. RATHKE: Well, I would say, again, our fundamental point is that any military exercises should be done with respect for international law, should be done with the appropriate degree of transparency. And so that's --
QUESTION: Okay. But you would disagree with the idea that I think the question – the question you're being posed is that you would disagree with the idea that U.S. or NATO exercises in a country that is along – and a NATO member that's along the Russian border raises tensions given the current situation with Ukraine and the current rift between the West and Russia on this. You would disagree, right?
MR. RATHKE: Again, I think if you look at the scope and the nature of the exercises, no, we would --
QUESTION: Well, I'm just asking yes or no. You disagree?
MR. RATHKE: We would disagree with that, yeah.
QUESTION: You would disagree.
MR. RATHKE: Okay. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: About the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, I know State Department said this a little bit before, but on Friday --
MR. RATHKE: Yeah, it was discussed extensively, I think.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. On Friday, Australia said there were a lot of merit in this AIIB, and Japanese finance minister said Tokyo would considering joining this bank if it could guarantee a credible mechanism for providing loans. And I'm just curious, does the State Department or Obama Administration communicated with these allies regarding this specific issue?
MR. RATHKE: Well, our position on AIIB remains as it has been for the last couple of days, and we've had extensive discussions in here. We believe that there is a pressing need to enhance infrastructure investment, we believe that any new multilateral institution has to incorporate high standards, and that the international community has built these kinds of standards into institutions like the World Bank and regional development banks.
Now I'm not going to get into the details of our diplomatic dialogue with any partners and other countries about this. But our point of view on the AIIB and the need for high standards, I think, is pretty clear by now.
QUESTION: Because media reports that Obama Administration was trying to – lobbying his allies not to join this bank. May I confirm that?
MR. RATHKE: Again, we – I think our position is well known. We've communicated our position publicly in here and elsewhere, and we've also made that view known privately. I'm not going to get into any more details than that, though.
QUESTION: Because --
MR. RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: I mean --
QUESTION: Sort of tangential to Yemen, another Yemeni detainee at Gitmo has been cleared for transfer. He was once described as a bin Ladin bodyguard. Do you know if any countries have agreed to take him?
MR. RATHKE: I don't have any detail on that. I'm happy to look into it and see if there's something we can get back to you on, but I don't have anything on that.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the email issue?
MR. RATHKE: Sure.
QUESTION: Late yesterday on your behalf, the Justice Department submitted an argument to a court – a federal court saying that the government – and specifically, this – in this case, the State Department, could not be expected to turn over former Secretary Clinton's emails in response to FOIA requests because it did not have possession of them. Are you familiar with this?
MR. RATHKE: I'm not familiar with that case and/or that filing, so --
QUESTION: Okay. Well --
MR. RATHKE: You said this was yesterday?
QUESTION: Late yesterday, yeah. It's the Justice Department acting as your attorney, basically, in this case, which is asking for Secretary Clinton and at least one of her aides to be held in contempt of court. But presumably, if the Justice Department is making this argument on your behalf, you guys agree with it. And the – I have a bit of a problem understanding it because the – what – Secretary Clinton says that she copied in to her emails – that she used people on state.gov addresses. And so – and thus she --
MR. RATHKE: I think she said in the vast majority of cases --
QUESTION: Right, in a lot of them --
MR. RATHKE: -- is the way she described it.
QUESTION: Right, but that would mean that those emails, at least according to her assumption, which may or may not have been correct – but at least according to her – what she says is her assumption, they would have been in your – in the State Department's possession. And so I don't understand this Justice Department reasoning that these emails, simply because they were on a private server, are not in your possession if they had, in fact, been forwarded or copied to state.gov addresses. And obviously, you don't – you're not aware of this, but could you look into that and find out?
MR. RATHKE: Yeah, we can look into it. I mean, I would, though – just if I can make one point, and that is we have been given by former Secretary Clinton the collection of 55,000 pages of --
MR. RATHKE: -- emails. As we've said, we're going through those and we'll make them publicly available. And so --
QUESTION: Right. This doesn't have to – this doesn't have to do with what you're doing right now.
MR. RATHKE: So – yeah, so – but we'll look and see if there's some comment on the particular case.
QUESTION: This has to do with requests that were filed some time ago. And the fact of the matter is that if Secretary Clinton's assumption is correct that she – that – if she is correct that she copied in on many of these email's state.gov addresses, and if her assumption that that meant that these were then available – if that is correct, then I don't understand how the Justice Department can make this argument on your behalf that they were not in your possession. Anyway, if you can --
MR. RATHKE: So we'll look into that and come back to you.
QUESTION: All right. And then --
MR. RATHKE: I don't have anything --
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, actually?
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: Because it's directly relevant to this. I thought Jen had made clear last week that the State Department, astoundingly, does not actually keep all of its emails, and that therefore the assumption that anything sent to a state.gov email would in fact be retained and accessible by anybody is false and that you don't actually capture most of your emails. Is that not correct?
MR. RATHKE: Well, we've talked a lot about the recordkeeping requirements on individual employees and the various ways in which they can meet those requirements. I don't have anything to add to that. I mean, I think Jen did say that we have an automatic archive system in place for dozens of senior staff, which she spoke to, and we are then working to apply a system that meets the narrow requirements for the management of emails by the end of 2016. There are a number of technical and – challenges involved in that, but that's all I have to add on that.
QUESTION: Well, going back to what she said on Friday, prior to Friday she had said that at some point after – though I think she suggested it was soon after Secretary Kerry became Secretary of State – that a system was put in place to systematically archive – automatically archive all of his emails. What she said last Friday was that that had now been extended to dozens of officials. What I believe she also said was that it doesn't, however, cover anybody other than those dozens of officials, which leaves open the question – and I thought it was clear – that you don't systematically archive the emails sent or received by the vast thousands of people who work for the State Department. Is that not correct, that there is no system for doing that automatically except for Secretary Kerry and the dozens of officials that she mentioned on Friday?
MR. RATHKE: Right. The recordkeeping responsibilities for officials below those levels are as we've discussed in this room in the past. That's the responsibility --
QUESTION: It remains the case that you're --
MR. RATHKE: -- for the employees to meet the recordkeeping requirements.
QUESTION: It remains the case, though, that you're trying by the end of this year to do all of them. Is that right?
MR. RATHKE: End of 2016.
QUESTION: Oh, right. We're 2015.
MR. RATHKE: End of 2016 – not to leapfrog before the year --
QUESTION: Yeah, no, I lost the --
QUESTION: One more. I'm lost about this, just to correct the record. On Friday, Jen said that the group of senior officials whose emails are now automatically archived, as of last month, included assistant secretaries. Is that the case or not?
MR. RATHKE: So the officials for whom there's the automatic archiving includes the two deputy secretaries, the undersecretaries, several senior advisors, as well as the Secretary's staff, ranging from his chief of staff to assistants who handle paper and so forth for the Secretary. It doesn't include assistant secretaries.
QUESTION: Just one quick --
QUESTION: No --
QUESTION: Maybe you have --
MR. RATHKE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Are there not some assistant secretaries who are in that group?
MR. RATHKE: You're clearly angling for something. I'm not --
QUESTION: No, I'm just wondering.
MR. RATHKE: Not that I'm aware of, no.
QUESTION: You're not aware of a single assistant secretary of state who falls into the group that you just described?
MR. RATHKE: The automatic archiving?
QUESTION: Yeah. You're not aware of one?
MR. RATHKE: I'm not aware of one.
QUESTION: Mr. Rathke, I want to go back to my question. Maybe you have not, but your colleagues from this podium have criticized Russia for carrying out exercises near its western borders because they raise tensions. Why is it that U.S. exercises do not raise tensions?
MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I would ask you to go back and check the transcripts of what we've said. We have not issued such blanket statements. And so I think I've addressed your question.
Go ahead, Elliot.
QUESTION: Never criticized Russian exercises near --
QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Israel?
MR. RATHKE: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Israel?
QUESTION: Can I – just one --
MR. RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- this is very brief on the email.
MR. RATHKE: Sure.
QUESTION: Just – the select committee has now asked or said that the – Secretary Clinton's server should be turned over to a third party to review it and suggested that one disinterested third party might be the IG. Does State have any thoughts on this at all? Do you have a position on whether or not --
MR. RATHKE: Not that I'm --
QUESTION: -- one, it – they – it should be turned over, and two, who should it be turned to to do the whatever kind of --
MR. RATHKE: I'm not aware that – I'm not aware of a position on that. But I wasn't familiar with that suggestion, so we'll take a look for the – for you.
MR. RATHKE: Yes, Elliot.
QUESTION: Yeah. Speaker Boehner has announced plans to visit Israel in the coming, I think, month or so. I was wondering – I mean, I know it's not unprecedented at all for House delegations or speakers to do this --
MR. RATHKE: No, not at all.
QUESTION: -- to visit a foreign country, but I mean it – coming on the heels of the reelection and the visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu to Congress to give a speech, which you guys were critical of and took umbrage at, I was wondering if you have any concerns that this is Congress sort of undercutting the Administration on foreign policy.
MR. RATHKE: No, I don't have any comment on Speaker Boehner's possible travel to Israel. And congressional delegations regularly travel to the region and indeed around the world. I don't have anything to --
QUESTION: So you have no problem with this at all?
MR. RATHKE: Members of Congress travel where they see it as important to do their work. I don't have any comment on that.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on the AIIB?
MR. RATHKE: Yes
QUESTION: New York Times today's editorial is saying that this Administration is mishandling the issue, saying that it should have talked with allies to set a common principle to negotiate with China. Do you agree with this?
MR. RATHKE: Well, no. I think we've been clear about our position on AIIB. We just talked about it again. We've talked with our partners. We've also talked to China about it. We've made our views clear. So countries will make their decisions about how they want to be part of or not be part of and to try to advance those high standards.
QUESTION: Although --
MR. RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Sorry. But although United States haven't made a decision to join, but have you ever considered maybe – not now – maybe in future to join it?
MR. RATHKE: Well, I'm not going to speak about the future. Again, our position is focused on the standards and the importance of those standards.
QUESTION: This is off-topic, going to Africa. Yesterday the embassies in Mali and Niger each put out notices to Americans regarding security issues. I want to focus – it's understandable that they did. I just want to focus on the one from Niger, which says that it is now required that the schools where the children of U.S. Embassy personnel, where they attend must now have armed guards present. I'm wondering, is this a requirement in any other country that you're aware of?
MR. RATHKE: Oh, goodness. I don't have that information at my fingertips. It's quite possible that it is in some places, but I wouldn't want to jump the gun and answer that, but --
MR. RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: And does that mean – does this new directive mean that if a child of an embassy official is attending a school that doesn't have an armed guard, that they have to withdraw their child from that school or that school has to get armed guards?
MR. RATHKE: I'm not able to speak to what – how in each particular case this might apply. But I think the important, overarching message for us or the important goal for the State Department is consistent with the no-double-standard policy --
MR. RATHKE: -- that when, in light of a particular security situation, we implement such measures that then we make it clear that – to other American citizens. But I'd have to look and see whether (inaudible) consequences of this.
QUESTION: The statement from the Embassy in Bamako said that – didn't say that same thing about the armed guards, but it did say that it is in touch with the – I believe it's the American school or the international school in Bamako about its security procedures.
MR. RATHKE: Which is something that our embassies typically do --
QUESTION: Correct. Yeah, yeah. No --
MR. RATHKE: -- in lots of places. Yeah.
QUESTION: I'm not challenging it.
MR. RATHKE: No, no, go ahead.
QUESTION: Probably a good thing, right? Or it is a good thing. What I want to know is that – are – I don't know if there are armed guards at that school or not, but these countries do neighbor each other. Both have been hit by --
MR. RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- Islamic extremist terrorism. And I'm wondering, is there some kind of a specific threat that you're aware of to schools other than – clearly in Nigeria, Boko Haram has targeted schools, but I'm just wondering, is there that you're aware of, is this – are these notices being sent because you're aware of some specific threat to --
MR. RATHKE: Well, in general the security messages that we issue – the purpose of them is to provide information that is timely and important about safety and security. So these generally focus on personal security threats of a general nature or sometimes of a systemic nature, but I'm not going to get into the specific details that lie behind each of them. They are different in the two countries, but beyond that I wouldn't want to get into characterizing them or comparing and contrasting them.
MR. RATHKE: All right. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Question on another letter from the Senate, this one from the chairman and ranking members of armed services and foreign relations about the South China Sea.
MR. RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: So first of all, have you – can you confirm that you received this letter from them yesterday regarding China's land reclamation activities?
MR. RATHKE: Right. So just bear with me one moment. So yes, we've received a letter, and of course, we will respond to it. The response isn't done yet, of course, because we've just gotten it, but let me make a couple of points about some of the issues that the letter raises.
The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, respect for international law, and the maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea. Now we have consistently and frequently raised with China our concerns over its large-scale land reclamation, which undermines peace and stability in the South China Sea, and more broadly in the Asia Pacific region.
Now the United States continues to take additional concrete steps to support peace and stability in the South China Sea, and we are frank in expressing our concerns about problematic behavior. And we are undertaking supportive actions, including diplomacy, increased maritime security cooperation and assistance with Southeast Asian claimants, our support for crisis management tools and strengthening our roles as an Asian Pacific power in our relationships with allies and partners in the region.
QUESTION: Do you agree with the letter's claim that China has been using non-military methods of coercion to enforce its claims in the South China Sea?
MR. RATHKE: Well, that might not be the word we would use, but we've said that these actions are destabilizing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. RATHKE: Yeah, Arshad. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So there was a story out yesterday which said that contrary to the commitment that former Secretary Clinton made that the Clinton Foundation or portions of it, and particularly the health part of it that was eventually spun off into a separate entity, did not fully disclose all of their donations on an annual basis while she was in office. Do you have any comment on that, and do you have any – well, first do you have any comment on that? And then I have a follow-up on that.
MR. RATHKE: Okay. So maybe if I can make a general point --
MR. RATHKE: -- and then get to the question. In January of 2009, former Secretary Clinton set forth a variety of undertakings which addressed, among other things, her financial interests, the speaking and writing and consulting of former President Clinton and other matters involving the Clinton Foundation and its initiatives. And in several respects, those commitments went beyond the requirements of applicable laws and regulations. Now with respect to particular requests, the Department of State reviewed every request that was submitted to us by the foundation. I would refer you to the Clinton Foundation for any questions about the specific requests that they submitted.
QUESTION: Did – is it correct that most of the requests that were submitted to you – or that were submitted to the Department of State had to do with former President Clinton's speaking, consulting, and other work?
MR. RATHKE: Yeah, that's – those are primarily the types of requests that we received.
QUESTION: Did the State Department create any mechanism to ensure or to check that the foundation would carry out the undertakings that former Secretary Clinton – and she wasn't actually, I think, the secretary then because I think these were – these commitments were made when she was not yet sworn in.
MR. RATHKE: Correct.
QUESTION: But did the State Department create any kind of a mechanism to ensure that those commitments would be lived up to, or did you leave it to the foundation to self-disclose?
MR. RATHKE: Well, it was up to the foundation to make requests to the State Department, which we reviewed. I don't have anything more on the internal mechanism.
QUESTION: Well, one more on this. When – I mean, did it raise any flags within the State Department that most of the requests that it was receiving from the foundation seeking review or primarily related to former President Clinton's consulting and speaking activities but not to requests to review donations from foreign governments to the foundation or in particular to its health appendage.
MR. RATHKE: I'd have to look into that for you. I don't have that level of detail.
QUESTION: Would you?
MR. RATHKE: Yeah, I can see if there's more to be said on that.
Go ahead, Laura.
QUESTION: Can we go to Germany?
MR. RATHKE: Sure.
QUESTION: There was a piece by Glenn Greenwald yesterday in The Intercept in which he quotes a conversation he had with German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who suggested to him that – well, really said to him that the U.S. Government had threatened to stop sharing intelligence with Germany if Berlin offered asylum to Edward Snowden. Specifically, he also alleges that this would include intelligence involving potential threats to Germany. Is this a conversation that, to your knowledge, anyone in this building had with any official in the German Government?
MR. RATHKE: Well, I don't have any comment on intelligence matters, so I don't think I have anything to add on that report. We don't comment on those sorts of matters.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yesterday United Nations Human Rights Office released a report regarding the Islamic – so-called Islamic State may committed genocide and war crimes against the Yezidis and other populations in Iraq. And it's referring that that case might be referred to the International Court. What is the position of the United States Government especially of this case being referred to the Security Council to be recognized as a genocide against the Yezidis in Iraq?
MR. RATHKE: So I'm sorry, which report are you referring to?
QUESTION: It's United Nations Human Rights Office yesterday released a report and they are talking about that Islamic State may committed genocide and war crimes against the Yezidis and others in their fight in Iraq.
MR. RATHKE: Well, I'm not familiar with the report, so I don't want to comment on --
QUESTION: Yesterday it was released.
MR. RATHKE: Well, I understand. But anyway, I'm not familiar with it, so I don't want to comment on the content of it. I think we've been quite clear as a government and in this department in highlighting the horrible crimes that ISIL has carried out, but I'm not going to speak to that report without being familiar with it.
QUESTION: Okay. Were you supportive the idea of they – because there are also efforts by the Yezidis themselves. They asked your support for the crime to be recognized as a genocide against them.
MR. RATHKE: Well, again, that's a quite specific question. I'm not familiar with that report. We'll take a look and see if we have more to say on that.
QUESTION: One more, one more in Iraq. I think the day before yesterday there was a meeting in Berlin which is called the Stabilization Working Group established between United States and the national coalitions to help the areas released or liberated from ISIS in Iraq --
MR. RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- to return order to that area. And there was a meeting also in – before that in Turkey and one in Baghdad. During the meeting in Baghdad, the operations around Tikrit, which United States is not supporting it by airstrike, has been suspended. Was that the result of that meetings and the pressure from --
MR. RATHKE: That's an Iraq-led operation and I would refer you to the Government of Iraq for comment on that.
QUESTION: Yeah. This new ISIS video that seems to show the beheading of three Peshmerga fighters, is that something that U.S. intelligence is looking at? Have you been able to draw any assessments from that?
MR. RATHKE: Well, we're aware of the deeply disturbing video, but we're not in a position to confirm its authenticity. We also have no reason to doubt it because it's consistent with other kinds of atrocities and crimes that have been documented by ISIL themselves. And we think this – the video's release in particular on Nowruz holiday for the Kurdish people is particularly offensive. We condemn ISIL's inhumane actions and atrocities and we extend our condolences. I don't have confirmation on the particular authenticity of the video however.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:16 p.m.)
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