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Daily Press Briefing

Jeff Rathke
Acting Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 8, 2015

Index for Today's Briefing




11:12 a.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good morning, everybody.

QUESTION: Good morning.

MR RATHKE: So I have two things to mention at the start. The first is a short update with regard to Nepal.

The USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team reports that the Government of Nepal and humanitarian partners have now reached all earthquake-affected districts and are refining information on the needs of affected populations, especially in remote areas. I know some of you have been following that.

And the second item at the top is an update on the Secretary's travel. He's in Paris today. This morning, he met with Foreign Minister Fabius. He then laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and attended President Hollande's ceremony for Victory in Europe Day's 70th anniversary. He also participated in a meeting of the GCC foreign ministers – I believe that may still be going on right now – where they discussed regional security issues, including the nuclear negotiations with Iran, as well as discussing Yemen.

The Secretary will return to Washington tomorrow, and he will be holding a press availability shortly. So we're keeping an eye on when that will start, and we'll wrap up here before that starts so that you have the opportunity to watch that as well.

And with that, over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. In the interests of being quick, do you know – what is the – your understanding of what happened with this helicopter crash in Pakistan that killed two ambassadors?

MR RATHKE: We extend our condolences to those killed and injured, and the families of those killed and injured in this accident. Our thoughts are with the diplomatic community in Pakistan. I'd also highlight no American embassy personnel or U.S. citizens were affected.

On the question of what happened, I believe the Pakistani air force has already said something about this. They described it as a technical fault that they believe was responsible. So I'd certainly refer you back to them for their investigation and the details. We don't have reason to doubt what they've said. We refer you to them for their investigation.

QUESTION: So when you say you have no reason to doubt what they said, you presumably have no reason to believe the TTP – I think there's at least a TTP claim of responsibility for this?

MR RATHKE: Again, yeah, we have no reason to doubt what the Pakistani authorities have said. But of course, it's just happened so they're investigating.

All right. Any other topics? Yeah, David, and then we'll go to the back.

QUESTION: Sure. I was just wondering if you had any comments or reaction to – I understand that President Xi and Putin met early today and that they came to a $6 billion loan agreement. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR RATHKE: I don't have any specific reaction to that. Of course, we were aware of the meeting and of the visit, but I don't have any more specifics on that.

Go ahead, sure. Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, on Omar Khadr, would you have some more reaction on that today? Is the State Department concerned about the precedence this might set for the other former Guantanamo detainees?

MR RATHKE: Right. There were questions --

QUESTION: More reaction?

MR RATHKE: There were questions yesterday, and I --

QUESTION: You mean any – any reaction.

MR RATHKE: -- I'd like to follow up to respond to your questions from yesterday. As – of course, as everyone is aware, Omar Khadr, a Canadian national convicted of various crimes by a U.S. military commission, has been released on bail after a Canadian court denied the appeal of the Government of Canada. We would also point out that the arrangement governing Mr. Khadr's transfer to Canada was clear. After transfer to Canada to serve the remainder of his sentence, Mr. Khadr is subject to Canadian law pertaining to detention.

Also, we would point out the Canadian public safety minister's statement yesterday that the Canadian Government intends to appeal the decision to release him, so we will follow that process as it proceeds. And it goes without saying, but I'll reiterate the United States supports the Government of Canada in its efforts to combat terrorism.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean you support their efforts to keep him in prison?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we've been cooperating with the Canadian authorities. I'm not going to detail those diplomatic discussions. The Canadian – it was --

QUESTION: I'm not asking about the diplomatic discussions.

MR RATHKE: It was a subject of – as I said, the subject – or the transfer agreement was such that he is subject now to Canadian law on detention.

QUESTION: Yeah. But you've just opened up a whole can of – another can of worms, right, with that. I mean, I realize – I appreciate the fact that you're trying to get something after being asked about it for three, four days in a row and not having anything. But do you support – when you say that you support the Canadian Government in its efforts to fight terrorism, does that mean that you support the Canadian Government's attempt to prevent Omar Khadr from getting – from being released on bail?

MR RATHKE: Well, the – Canada is a sovereign country. They make their decisions about how they approach this, so I'm not --

QUESTION: That's great, but that's not my question.


QUESTION: Does the U.S. support Canada in its sovereign decision making to decide to oppose or to try to prevent the release on bail of --

MR RATHKE: Well, the Canadian Government has decided to appeal, and we support them.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. So you do support --

MR RATHKE: But I don't want – I don't want to draw the conclusion that the Canadian authorities are doing this at our – at our request. The Canadian Government is --

QUESTION: I was not intending to do that.

MR RATHKE: No, no, I didn't suggest you were.

QUESTION: The implication was not --

MR RATHKE: But I want to make sure that's clear.

QUESTION: All right. And then the other – just the other thing is "convicted of various crimes by a U.S. military commission." I mean, he was convicted – one of those crimes is killing a U.S. soldier, no?

MR RATHKE: He was convicted of several crimes. He pled guilty, including to throwing a grenade that killed Army Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Right, but it's not like it was a parking ticket or something.

MR RATHKE: As well as provide – no not at all.


MR RATHKE: I'm not diminishing in any way the seriousness of those crimes.

QUESTION: All right.

MR RATHKE: Michel.

QUESTION: One final question. On Yemen, yesterday Secretary Kerry was talking with Saudis about a ceasefire, a five-day ceasefire in Yemen. And in the evening the Saudis decided to escalate the military operation in Yemen and asked the Saada population to leave the area because they will bomb it starting this evening. What happened, and do you support this Saudi move?

MR RATHKE: Well, I wouldn't accept that characterization of their moves, but let me – let's go back to where we left things yesterday. First of all, yesterday there was an announcement by Saudi Arabia of their intent to establish a five-day ceasefire and humanitarian pause. I think that they were clear, as was Secretary Kerry at that time, that that humanitarian pause and ceasefire would not commence immediately, that it depended on the Houthis agreeing to honor the same commitments. And as they both said, that this would be one of the topics to be discussed in Paris today in the Secretary's meeting with the GCC foreign ministers. So we'll wait to hear from the Secretary the outcomes of that meeting shortly.

Now as far as to the reports of any specific Saudi actions that have taken place since yesterday, I'd refer you back to them. But I think that Foreign Minister Jubeir, as well as the Secretary, were quite clear that the intent to establish this ceasefire and humanitarian pause depends on the Houthis agreeing to honor the same commitments.

QUESTION: Are you on the same page with the Saudis regarding what's going on in Yemen and their military operations?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, they had extensive conversations yesterday in Riyadh and those conversations are continuing today. So we're in very close contact. I'll let the Secretary speak to the particular outcomes of today's – of today's discussions.

QUESTION: But that doesn't mean that you are on the same page if you have discussions with them.

MR RATHKE: Well, I'm not sure what specific differences you're trying to suggest.

QUESTION: Are you – no, no. Are you in full agreement with them on their military operations and on their strategy and plans in Yemen?

MR RATHKE: Look, this is a Saudi-led coalition, as we've said many times. We welcome the intention of Saudi Arabia to – and their announcement of the ceasefire and the humanitarian pause. We're in agreement on that. And the Secretary spoke to that yesterday.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Okay? Good. Please, go ahead, Cindy.

QUESTION: A different topic. Do you have any comment on China's use of the so-called "Great Cannon" and on the broader topic of what appears to be elevated levels of media censorship?

MR RATHKE: So the United States is committed to protecting the internet as an open platform on which all people can innovate, learn, organize, communicate, free from censorship or interference. And we believe a global, interoperable, secure, and reliable internet is essential to realizing this objective. And we view attacks by malicious cyber actors who target critical infrastructure or U.S. companies and U.S. consumers as threats to national security and to the economy of the United States.

Now in the case of the cyber attack to which you're referring, we are concerned by reports that China has used a new cyber capability to interfere with the ability of worldwide internet users to access content hosted outside of China. The cyber attack manipulated international web traffic intended for one of China's biggest web services companies and turned it into malicious traffic directed at U.S. sites. We have asked Chinese authorities to investigate this activity and provide us with the results of their investigation. At the same time, we're working with all willing partners to enhance cyber security, promote norms of acceptable state behavior in cyber space, and to protect the principle of freedom of expression online.

All right.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: No other – oh, yes.

QUESTION: I have a question.

MR RATHKE: Okay, come on.

QUESTION: Sorry, I was late. I don't know if anyone has asked this question regarding The Washington Post article about the U.S. and Iran sort of renewing their interest sections in each other's capital – Iran's interest section moving to a new location outside of the Pakistani embassy and the U.S. interest section with the Swiss in Tehran being relocated as well.

MR RATHKE: I believe we provided a comment to that story. I don't have it in front of me. I'm happy to get that to you right after the briefing.

QUESTION: So nothing more than what's in the article?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I don't have the article in front of me. I know we – I'm aware of that report, and we'll give you – we'll come back to you shortly after the briefing with our view on that.

All right. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:23 p.m.)

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