Daily Press Briefing
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
May 28, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
12:59 p.m. EDT
MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. I just have one item at the top for you. The United States congratulates Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama on the first official visit by a Serbian prime minister to Tirana on May 27th. Vucic's historic visit comes six months after Prime Minister Rama visited Belgrade in the first such visit by an Albanian prime minister in nearly 70 years. We congratulate these leaders for reaffirming their mutual commitment to strengthening cooperation between their two countries and contributing to peace, prosperity, and stability in the Balkans region.
With that, over to you, Matt.
QUESTION: I don't have anything that I think is of primary interest, so I will defer. I do have questions, but --
MR RATHKE: Okay.
QUESTION: -- someone else can go first.
MR RATHKE: Arshad.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about Wendy Sherman's decision to leave the department?
MR RATHKE: Well, as some of you have seen, Under Secretary Sherman is staying on through the completion of the nuclear talks with Iran and will be moving on afterwards. As the Secretary has said, Under Secretary Sherman has been an absolutely critical member of his team, in particular in the work spearheading the nuclear negotiations with Iran, but also on nearly every other important issue in the department. She has close relations and collaboration with her P5+1 and EU counterparts; they've been instrumental in enabling us to reach the interim agreement that has halted the progress of Iran's nuclear program and makes our partners and allies and our world safer. So she's going to stay on through the completion of the talks. I don't have a lot more to add to motivation.
QUESTION: Is it a good time to – given that she is and has been the lead negotiator on the Iran nuclear talks for the last two years, is it a good time to be leaving just as the talks are approaching the deadline for their conclusion?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, she's going to stay on through the conclusion of the talks, so that's – it's not – she's not going to be leaving before the conclusion, so I think that's important to point out. And also one of the things that Under Secretary Sherman has made a point of doing is to mentor colleagues and to build a large and strong U.S. negotiating team which encompasses experts from across the U.S. Government and within the State Department as well. So if we are successful in concluding a final deal, we'll move into a new phase of implementation and monitoring, and this team that Under Secretary Sherman has put together and has led over these last couple of years will continue to track Iran's nuclear program if we get to a deal. And they'll be joined by others across the U.S. Government.
QUESTION: And if the deadline gets extended – and I'm well aware that yesterday you said that you were not contemplating an extension, but as we're all well aware, there have been a series of extensions – does that mean that she will continue to work until there is either an agreement or the Administration ends?
MR RATHKE: Well, as we noted, she's going to stay until the completion of the talks. I don't have anything further to say beyond our discussion yesterday about the June 30th deadline. We're focused on June 30th and completing the talks by then. We're not contemplating an extension.
QUESTION: But if you're still talking January – or July the 30th, she'll still be working on this issue and in this position?
MR RATHKE: Well, she's committed to staying on through the completion of the talks.
QUESTION: Through the completion of the talks, or through the completion of a deal?
MR RATHKE: I'm sorry, I'm not sure I get the distinction you're making.
QUESTION: You're not talking about this particular set of talks --
MR RATHKE: Not this week.
QUESTION: -- whenever they start.
MR RATHKE: No, no. We're talking about the completion of a joint comprehensive plan of action. That's what we're --
QUESTION: So she's willing to stay through the negotiations in their entirety --
MR RATHKE: Right, that's – yeah, that's her – that's her intention.
QUESTION: -- whether there's a deal or they decide --
MR RATHKE: Yeah, the completion of the nuclear talks, by which we mean our goal of the joint comprehensive plan of action.
QUESTION: So her actual departure date aside, why – the timing – why does she sit down for an interview to announce her departure the day before – the day that she flies off to Vienna to begin the final round and then to Geneva to meet with the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif? Is there anything at all interesting or unusual or – what's the reason for the timing of this announcement?
MR RATHKE: Well, I wouldn't ascribe any special significance to the timing of the interview yesterday. But clearly, Under Secretary Sherman has been under secretary for years. She's been working hard not only on the Iran nuclear negotiations but on many other issues as well. So there's not a signal intended by the timing.
Anything else on this topic?
QUESTION: But it doesn't --
MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: But it doesn't create any potential difficulties, perhaps making it possible for the Iranians to not take this latest round of talks as seriously because --
MR RATHKE: Well, again, we're not --
QUESTION: -- they now know that she's a short-timer?
MR RATHKE: No, no, no, because, again, as we were just talking about with Elise, we're not talking about – let's be careful what we mean by "round," because she's committed to stay on through the completion of the nuclear talks with Iran. So what we're talking by that is the goal of a joint comprehensive plan of action. We're not talking about the specific meeting she's having this week in Vienna and that she will join the Secretary for with Foreign Minister Zarif. We're talking about the overall nuclear talks with Iran.
MR RATHKE: So I don't see that condition that you describe as arising.
QUESTION: But isn't it possible, though, that the Iranians might see the fact that the lead negotiator day to day is basically going to be gone if a deal is indeed concluded, and so they don't have the incentive to take this work as seriously as they might otherwise? Because she's not going to be there to hold their feet to the fire if there's any suspicion that they're not holding up to their end of the deal.
MR RATHKE: Well, Ros, I'd highlight two things, perhaps. One is we've had a change in our lead negotiator at another stage in these talks when Deputy Secretary Bill Burns left. So this is not an unprecedented development. And second, I would go back to what Arshad and I were talking about, which is that we have an experienced interagency team that has been part of these talks over years. And so we remain focused now on the negotiations, and if we are successful in concluding a deal, then we will have the people with the expertise, the knowledge, the experience to deal with implementation.
QUESTION: Let me try --
MR RATHKE: Go ahead, Elise.
QUESTION: Let me try another. The other day, the French ambassador spoke with his British and German counterparts and said a couple of things --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- which fly a little bit in the face of what you're saying. First of all, you say that you're not even contemplating a deadline extension.
MR RATHKE: Right.
QUESTION: He said that it was highly unlikely that a deal would be reached by June 30th, and perhaps it would bleed over or be extended because the Iranians are not – the way that it's shaping up, it doesn't look as if the Iranians are moving that quickly. And part of that was because they are not negotiating as if this is the end because they're waiting for the ministers to come. So, I mean, I understand what Ros is saying about Wendy Sherman, but in fact, what they're saying is that it's really only the – until the ministers arrive that the Iranians would seriously sit down and start to get to business.
MR RATHKE: Well, as – it's no secret that these talks proceed at multiple levels, sometimes simultaneously. So we've had expert – we've had a couple of weeks of expert-level meetings happening this month. There have also been political directors meetings. Wendy Sherman is now back in Vienna for a second round of discussions at that level in the last couple of weeks. And of course, the Secretary's going to talk with Foreign Minister Zarif in just a few days. So we see all of these tracks as intensifying in their focus on moving ahead. And we discussed also yesterday – we remain – we believe on the one hand that the P5+1 are unified, and we're united in the effort to get done by the 30th.
QUESTION: No. I mean, I'm not saying that you won't get done --
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- by the 30th or that you're not – or that you obviously want to be done by the 30th. I mean, that's clear, and you're not entertaining the idea of extending. But certainly that has to be a contemplation, because if, in fact, as the French ambassador said, the talks at this point are not progressed to the level that it looks as if a deal could be done, certainly that – while clearly your desire would be to finish by June 30th, it has to be in your mind's eye that that is a distinct possibility.
MR RATHKE: Well, it's not just a question of commitment. We believe that we can achieve the goal by June 30th. So it's not simply --
QUESTION: But isn't it --
MR RATHKE: -- that we are committed to doing it, but we believe it is doable.
QUESTION: Isn't it – maybe it's doable, but isn't it better to just say that we'd like an agreement at the conclusion of these negotiations as opposed to giving an artificial date? Not that it's an artificial date. I mean, obviously, June 30th is the date, but as you saw during the last round, you sat there until you had a deal, and that was a day or two after.
MR RATHKE: Well --
QUESTION: So, I mean, does everyone turn into a pumpkin on June 30th, or would you like to just get a deal at this last round of talks?
MR RATHKE: Well, I think we've been clear all along that what we're aiming for is a good deal, not just any deal. So that hasn't changed. But we think that's achievable by the 30th.
QUESTION: Does Secretary Kerry or – I realize it's actually the President's prerogative, but does Secretary Kerry have any thoughts on whom he might select to replace Under Secretary Sherman?
MR RATHKE: I don't have any personnel sort of contemplations or announcements to make at this point.
QUESTION: And since you yourself got into the hypothetical of when a – when the talks may conclude, is it conceivable --
MR RATHKE: I don't think I did, but go ahead with the question.
QUESTION: Well, you said if – is it conceivable that she could stay through the end of the Administration if the talks continue on through the – until the end of the Administration? I mean, that possibility is encompassed on "She will stay until the conclusion of the talks," correct?
MR RATHKE: Well, yeah, but I've also said yesterday and today that we're not contemplating an extension of the talks. So I think that does venture pretty far into the realm of the hypothetical.
QUESTION: Does the Administration --
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- still stand by the President's comments a few months ago that if there isn't a deal by June 30th, that he's prepared to walk away, that he's convinced at that point that the Iranians aren't serious about a deal?
MR RATHKE: I don't have anything to add to the President's comments, if that's what you're asking. Our focus remains, as Elise and I discussed, on getting a good deal that verifiably cuts off Iran's pathways to a nuclear weapon. There's a deadline of June 30th for doing that. We remain focused on meeting it, and we believe it's achievable.
QUESTION: But the way the President put it was that if there was not a deal achieved by June 30th, his assumption was going to be that the Iranians weren't serious about curbing their nuclear military ambitions, and that he wouldn't see any point at that moment to continue with the talks beyond June 30th.
MR RATHKE: Well, we certainly remain of the view that it is within Iran's power to take the steps necessary to demonstrate to the international community that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes, as they assert. So again, nothing is – nothing has changed on that.
QUESTION: On Iran. Have you seen this new report from the Iranian opposition about Iran-North Korea nuclear cooperation? And whether you have or not, can you – well, if you have, can you speak to it? And if you – well, if you haven't, I'll --
MR RATHKE: Let me answer that one and then you can follow up. So we have seen these claims, and we take any such reports seriously. If I can perhaps anticipate one part of your follow-up, we're examining the report but we don't have any information at this time that would lead us to believe that these allegations impact our ongoing negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.
MR RATHKE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: If they – well, if they --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) true, I mean --
QUESTION: If the allegations are correct, how could that not impact the negotiations?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, we – these allegations – we're taking them seriously, we're examining them. I don't have a stamp to put on them and say whether we're we able to verify them or not. We don't – we have not been able to verify them thus far. We're examining the report and --
QUESTION: This isn't the first – this isn't the first time there have been allegations.
MR RATHKE: That's true. This group has made --
QUESTION: No, but others have also said that Iran – there is a significant amount of cooperation between the two. So are you saying that you have no reason to believe that there is such cooperation, or these particular allegations are unfounded?
MR RATHKE: Well, I'm not saying that they're unfounded. I'm just saying we don't have – we're examining these allegations. They're serious. I'm not able to verify them.
QUESTION: So if you haven't – if you're not able to substantiate whether they're true or not, how do you know if they'll impact the negotiations? I mean, if they're true, feasibly that would impact your negotiations.
MR RATHKE: Well, based on the information that we have at this time, which is the way I would put it.
QUESTION: If you say, as – that the allegations are serious, why wouldn't – is this something that's not going to come up in the negotiations?
MR RATHKE: Well, I'm not going to speak to what's going to come up in the room. But again, serious allegations and we're looking at them seriously.
QUESTION: Well, let's put it this way: cutting off Iran's pathways to a nuclear weapon is a subject that comes up in negotiations, is it not?
MR RATHKE: Certainly.
QUESTION: Okay. So is sanctions relief, is it not?
MR RATHKE: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. So you've just said two things that are involved in the negotiations. You've also said that on the sidelines of the negotiations, the fate or the status of the Americans being held or missing comes up.
MR RATHKE: Yes. Right, that is the case.
QUESTION: Why can't you say whether allegations of Iran's – of Iranian cooperation or work with North Korea would come up as part of the negotiations?
MR RATHKE: Well, let me take a step back. First, with respect to North Korea, we continue to work with the international community to exercise vigilance over their proliferation activities worldwide. This is the subject of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. They prohibit the transfer to or from the DPRK of goods, technology, of any assistance related to nuclear ballistic missile or other weapons of mass destruction. You're familiar with all this, but there is of course a very elaborate international framework, including UN Security Council resolutions, as well as unilateral actions, to address the DPRK's nuclear and missile programs.
And in the same way, any cooperation with Iran on proliferation-sensitive nuclear or ballistic activities would also violate relevant UN Security Council resolutions on Iran, including resolution 1929. So you've got UN Security Council resolutions that apply to Iran and to North Korea, and so we follow these extremely closely, but I don't have more to say on these specific allegations, which we are examining.
QUESTION: Okay. But if it's a violation, and we'll take – it's quite apart from the North – the sanctions on North Korea, you are not negotiating with North Korea at the moment; you have, but you're not now. You are negotiating with Iran. Iran is in violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions dating back years and years and years – still – even though they're complying with the JPOA --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- even though you say they're complying with the JPOA. So why – is bringing Iran into compliance with all relevant Security Council – all the Security Council resolutions, is that not a goal of the negotiations here?
MR RATHKE: Well, the nuclear talks are focused on the nuclear-related issues.
QUESTION: So they can satisfy --
MR RATHKE: So there are other Security Council resolutions that also apply to Iran, and those continue and they will not be affected by it.
QUESTION: So as part of these negotiations, you could reach an agreement with the Iranians – could – without them addressing the nuclear cooperation with North Korea. Is that correct?
MR RATHKE: Well, again --
QUESTION: Allegations of nuclear cooperation.
MR RATHKE: Again, we are focused on shutting down the pathways to a nuclear weapon. I'm not going to get into the details or to preview how exactly we address these in the negotiating room.
QUESTION: Why didn't you raise the allegations in the negotiating room since one means to ascertain whether or not the Iranians have any or have had any nuclear cooperation with the North Koreans would be to ask them?
MR RATHKE: Well, I'm not ruling it in or out. I'm just saying I'm not going to prejudge what --
QUESTION: But why would you – why wouldn't you? How could you not raise it? I mean, if you're trying to figure out if they're doing it, how do you not ask them?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, we have a variety of ways of trying to verify allegations, especially serious ones. So I don't have more to say on this than that.
QUESTION: Can I just – it's my understanding – and I just want to make sure that this is still correct or that it is correct --
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- that the United States – this Administration, previous administrations, have expressed concern and have talked about intelligence suggesting that there is cooperation between Iran and North Korea on ballistic missiles. And the – although you are aware of reports like this one that came out overnight about nuclear cooperation, there isn't any evidence so far. You haven't seen any sign that these allegations, while serious, are actually true. Is it still correct that the Administration believes that there is ballistic missile cooperation, but not necessarily nuclear cooperation, between the two?
MR RATHKE: I don't really have more to say than we have said. We've – there's an international framework of Security Council resolutions dealing with both countries. We take any allegations of cooperation seriously.
QUESTION: And then just tangentially, there is a report – this doesn't have to do with Iran – but about significantly increased activity at a North Korean missile – rocket launching site. Have you seen this? Do you know anything about it?
MR RATHKE: I haven't seen that. I'm not familiar with that one.
QUESTION: Stay on North Korea?
MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we talk about Ambassador Kim's comments today? Meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, he talked about increasing pressure on North Korea for their human rights record, but that was interpreted by some reporters – particularly The New York Times – as tying the human rights record to the nuclear negotiations. So could you just clear that up?
MR RATHKE: Sure. Happy to. So our Special Representative for North Korea Policy, Sung Kim, was in – had meetings yesterday, trilateral meetings with the Republic of Korea and Japan, and they also – and this was related to a wide range of issues related to North Korea. They also had bilateral meetings with South Korea and with Japan.
Now, I think what you have touched upon there – in his press availability after the talks, I think it's important to highlight two things that Ambassador Kim said: first, that the three countries agreed on the importance of enhancing pressure and sanctions on North Korea. This is in the nuclear context. And he said that we do that even as we keep all diplomatic options on the table. And --
QUESTION: When he says that meaning – "diplomatic options" meaning getting back to nuclear talks?
MR RATHKE: Right. That was – those comments were in reference to the unity of the Five Parties – Japan, Korea, China, Russia, United States – with respect to that.
QUESTION: So while they're willing to keep the pressure up on sanctions, but also open to the possibility of talks. Is that --
MR RATHKE: And then he – right. Yeah, our position on that hasn't changed. But again, that depends on the DPRK showing readiness for meaningful steps that would make talks productive.
Now separate from that and in the next sentence, Ambassador Kim said that the three countries also agreed on the importance of working with the international community to address the grave human rights situation in North Korea. So we're not linking these two things in some new way. We remain concerned about North Korea's nuclear and proliferation activity and we're coordinating with our partners to address that, and at the same time we remain extremely concerned about the grave human rights situation in North Korea.
QUESTION: So is there any indication that the North Koreans are willing to come back to the table? There have been various reports both ways over the last few months. But I mean, I know – while you say you're open to the possibility of talks – not for talks' sake, but meaningful talks – is there any indication that that's a possibility in the near future?
MR RATHKE: Well, that's – it's up to the North Koreans to demonstrate it, as you said. I think we're still waiting for some credible and meaningful steps in that regard. I think this is also something Ambassador Kim – on his trip he's going to be speaking with his Chinese counterpart tomorrow, if I have that correct. So we continue our coordination with the five parties to try to make sure that that clear message – that the North Koreans respond to that clear message.
QUESTION: Another subject.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Recently the Modi government completed a year in power. So what are your takes with respect the relations with us, and have there been only talks, talks? Any walks between U.S. and India relations?
MR RATHKE: What sort of walks do you mean, Tejinder?
QUESTION: No, there was a walk with President Obama and Modi in – near the statue. But I'm talking about concrete results from this.
MR RATHKE: Right. Well, as you've seen, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi have outlined and ambitious vision for the future of U.S.-India relations. We continue to make concrete progress on a range of bilateral as well as regional issues. Those include trade, climate change, clean energy, regional security, civil nuclear cooperation, space exploration, sustainable development. So you can see we've got an ambitious agenda. Just to name a few things, Prime Minister Modi, of course, had a very successful visit to the United States; President Obama has made two visits to India; we're got a strategic and commercial dialogue; we've got a trilateral dialogue – the U.S., India, Japan; we have a civil nuclear cooperation agreement, a defense technology and trade initiative. So – and we're also making progress toward a high-standard bilateral investment treaty. So this is an extremely broad and ambitious agenda that we continue to work toward.
QUESTION: This is a unique situation because this man was for nearly 10 years not welcome here. This building did not give it. Then he becomes the prime minister, and there is a flurry of activities. But all this that you are listing, like civil nuclear which was in the previous administrations, where is it? Has it – it's on paper. Are we really working anything between – on civil nuclear program?
MR RATHKE: I mean, I'm happy to – I don't – I don't have all the details at my fingertips. I'm happy to look into that and see if there's more. But – but I think the overall point is we've got an ambitious agenda and we're making progress on it.
QUESTION: Same topic?
MR RATHKE: The same one? Yes, go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much. For the last whole week, celebrations have been going on throughout India as far as the one-year of Prime Minister Modi. My question is that what have changed in one year between U.S.-India relations containing the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress government and the BJP government of Prime Minister Modi as far as overall looking back and looking the future of two countries?
MR RATHKE: Well, I'm not really planning to look back to the previous government. I think as I said in response to Tejinder's question, we have a very ambitious agenda. And that's what the President and the prime minister have agreed to implement, and that's what we're working very hard on here with our colleagues across the U.S. Government.
QUESTION: And just quickly --
MR RATHKE: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: What is the future of India-U.S. relations under the new government?
MR RATHKE: Well, I think it's that – it's that agenda that I've outlined. And so we have to – we have to work --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Modi said (inaudible).
MR RATHKE: Yes? Okay.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Modi is visiting Bangladesh on June 6th. Do you have anything to update on that?
MR RATHKE: I don't have an update on that.
QUESTION: The (inaudible) delegation they're going to be --
MR RATHKE: That would be – I'd refer you to the Indian and Bangladeshi governments on that. I don't have an update on that.
Nicolas, go ahead.
QUESTION: Another topic?
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Football? Soccer?
MR RATHKE: Okay. You can call it football if you like.
QUESTION: As you call it. I don't know if you have seen it then, but what's your take on the accusations from President Putin against the U.S. accusing your Washington of basically being behind the FIFA probe to block the re-election of Mr. Blatter because he was in favor of Russia hosting the World Cup in 2018?
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, I'd point you first of all to comments of the FIFA spokesman, who I believe said that the arrests and the investigation, quote, "for FIFA is good."
It's not good in terms of image or reputation, he said, but in terms of cleaning up it's good. So I think I'd point you back to the response from FIFA.
Now I would also say that the suggestion that we're trying to have an influence over the internal processes in FIFA, that's not – that's not the point. I think if you look at the Department of Justice release from yesterday, which is quite detailed and explains the background and the specific allegations, I think it's quite clear the purpose of – of the investigation and of the arrests.
QUESTION: So you're saying that the Administration as a foreign policy position or as a foreign policy matter does not have a position on the venue for the 2018 World Cup?
MR RATHKE: I'm not --
QUESTION: President Putin seems to think this is part of an attempt to --
MR RATHKE: Again, I think if you look at the – if you look at the – the Department of Justice, at the indictment and the very specific allegations in it, they don't have anything to do with that topic.
QUESTION: Two senior senators, Senator McCain and Senator Menendez, actually put out a statement, a call either yesterday or the day before, saying that FIFA should reject the re-election of Sepp Blatter as the head of it because strictly – and should elect someone who will take the World Cup in 2018 away from Russia.
MR RATHKE: Well, that's --
QUESTION: Does the Administration have a view --
MR RATHKE: We --
QUESTION: -- on that?
MR RATHKE: We don't have a view on that – on that topic.
QUESTION: Well, do you think that Russia should be – given all your concerns about Russia's activities in the world, do you think that they should be hosting such a prestigious international tournament?
MR RATHKE: Well, Russia has – Russia has also hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Russia has – they're --
QUESTION: I understand. But --
MR RATHKE: So I don't know --
QUESTION: I mean, and there were --
MR RATHKE: We don't have a --
QUESTION: -- questions about whether they should have done that.
MR RATHKE: I don't have a – I don't have a position on that to outline.
QUESTION: So (inaudible) soccer, it's – it is time for business as usual?
MR RATHKE: (Laughter.) Well, again, I don't – I don't have any further comment on the FIFA presidential elections.
QUESTION: Well, just in – just in general though --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: I mean, do you think that there should be more kind of standards on human rights, democracy, international behavior, when these organizations are considering who to award these tournaments?
MR RATHKE: Again, I don't have a position on that, but --
QUESTION: You don't think there's --
MR RATHKE: But I think what is important – and again, I think Attorney General Lynch made this quite clear yesterday – is that we – when it comes to corruption, that we certainly take that seriously, especially when this has a nexus to the United States. So there's a clear message from the United States that corrupt conduct, that that is not acceptable. And that's the focus of the indictment and our cooperation in the arrests yesterday.
QUESTION: But that is – but you started by saying that the idea is wrong that you are trying to have a say over the internal processes of FIFA. In fact, you are trying to have a say over the internal processes of FIFA --
MR RATHKE: Well, the question – the question was about the election of a --
QUESTION: -- because you say that they can't be corrupt. What if they – if they want to be corrupt, then they can't and it's against the law.
MR RATHKE: Well, but the question was about the election of a president of FIFA --
QUESTION: Do you --
MR RATHKE: -- not about – not about the question of --
QUESTION: Oh, okay. So --
QUESTION: So it's only about corruption related to the president?
MR RATHKE: No, I didn't say that either. It's – again, read the indictment. It's pretty clear what --
QUESTION: So you have no issue --
MR RATHKE: -- what corruption it's focused on.
QUESTION: -- or you're not aware of the Administration having any issue with the selections of either Russia or Qatar to host upcoming --
MR RATHKE: No, I don't have anything – I don't have anything to comment about that.
QUESTION: Do you think this actually will affect relations between the U.S. and Russia?
MR RATHKE: I don't think so. Again, the individuals who were – who were charged – you can look at the Department of Justice document. They outline quite clearly their nationalities, their affiliations, and so forth, the – and also what the investigation and the indictment are concentrated on.
QUESTION: Yes, but President Putin thinks that this is an overreach of U.S. power. So in response to his comments, do you think this has an impact on the relations between the two nations?
MR RATHKE: Well, I'll let the Russian side comment, but from our side we don't see – we don't see it as – as having – having an effect on those relations. Because again, the focus of the indictment and the case is quite clear and deals in large degree with an organization, CONCACAF, which is headquartered in the United States. So a suggestion that somehow there's – that it's not – that there's – that it's not appropriate for U.S. authorities to have an interest in corruption of that sort is a bit hard to understand.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Getting back for a second to what Matt said, there was a bunch – it was not only Senator McCain and Menendez. It was a bunch of U.S. lawmakers who tried repeatedly to sway FIFA leadership to make them change the location of 2018 championship, to make them switch to some other country and not Russia. My question is: Since there was several attempts made by U.S. lawmakers to achieve that, have – has the U.S. Administration, on their advice or whatever you might want to call that, tried to engaged FIFA leadership to sway them, to make them take this decision?
MR RATHKE: No. I mean, the senators and other lawmakers speak for themselves. They certainly have the right to their – to their opinion and to express their opinion. But that's --
QUESTION: Yeah, but I'm asking about the executive --
MR RATHKE: That's – right, no. But no, that's not – we haven't taken a position on that.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a question?
MR RATHKE: Yeah, anything else on the FIFA question that --
MR RATHKE: Yes, Nicolas. Nicolas --
QUESTION: I'm sorry to insist, Jeff, but I don't get it. So President Putin is accusing the U.S. specifically directly, so without quoting in Russian, but in English; to spread its jurisdiction to other countries, to block – to try to block the re-election of Mr. Blatter because he was – because he was resisting the pressure for Russia to hold the World Cup in 2018. And against these accusations you have – the U.S. Government has nothing to say?
MR RATHKE: Well, no. I – it's not accurate. That's not – that's not what we've done, and it's not what we're doing. So that's – I think that's – that's clear. But I've also in response to the previous question pointed to some of the facts that are clearly outlined by the Department of Justice, the connection to the United States, and the reasons for the indictment.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Russia?
QUESTION: Well, hold --
MR RATHKE: We will come back to Russia. I know Guy had a question on Russia as well. Your question is on the same topic, is it not?
QUESTION: FIFA, yeah.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: It's about the human rights in Qatar in the construction of the stadiums and all. Is because they're our friends, are we going to address that issue? Because it is a major issue which is affecting migrants from Southeast Asia.
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we're certainly aware of reports of that nature. I don't have a specific reaction to – unless there's a particular instance you want me to comment on. In general, of course, we take labor rights and human rights very serious everywhere, and that's the case in this instance as well.
QUESTION: No, specifically in this case, there was corruption, there was – and then what is going on out there in the media. If you want, I can send you the links to all the stories that have come out.
MR RATHKE: I'm aware of reports that have been out there, and my – the point I'm making is simply that we take labor rights and human rights very seriously. Of course, we do annual reports on these things, so there's no question that these are important to us, but I'm separating that from the question of FIFA's decision-making.
QUESTION: So can I follow up on that? It seems as if, like, on very limited issues such as corruption you're willing to take a stand and say this is unacceptable, but not on larger kind of issues of international norms, law, and behavior on these tournaments, where – whether it's the labor issue, whether it's countries that are documented human rights violators, or in the middle of kind of military aggression towards another country should be awarded. I mean, this is a very narrow purview that you've taken on. I mean why, if you're willing to take a stand on corruption, why aren't you willing to take a stand on whether there should be labor regulations or such for these tournaments?
MR RATHKE: Well, first of all, you refer to it as taking a stand. It's – in the case of the indictment that was issued yesterday, it's a matter of U.S. law and the Department of Justice can speak more directly to the particulars of that. But we're talking about executing --
QUESTION: Well, here we're talking about allegations of violations of human rights --
MR RATHKE: Right. And I'm saying we take those seriously. I'm not – so I'm not downplaying that. But I'm also – I'm simply – the question was whether that had – and your question is whether that causes us to take a position on – as a government – on when organizations like FIFA should award the particular competitions, and I'm simply saying that we don't --
QUESTION: Well, maybe not --
MR RATHKE: -- we're not taking --
QUESTION: I can understand --
MR RATHKE: -- a national position on that.
QUESTION: -- and not about -- when they should award, but if they are awarded whether they should be held to certain standards of behavior.
MR RATHKE: Well, certainly, we think – I mean, that shouldn't apply only in the case of international events. We think that labor rights and human rights are important every day. It's not only when some – when an international event comes along that people should care about them. And certainly it's something we pay attention to all the time.
QUESTION: So your concern --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- about corruption in international sports, are we – should we expect investigations into the cricket federation, badminton federations, other international sporting confederations that may or may not have interests particular to the United States? Or is this simply FIFA because it does some – or at least one of its branches – does business in the United States?
MR RATHKE: Well, look, the Department of Justice – it is a Department of Justice investigation. So if you've got questions of --
QUESTION: Well, the Department of Justice is part of this Administration.
MR RATHKE: -- how they came across the information – that's true, that's true. But I'll let them speak about their process for how they began the investigation and so forth.
QUESTION: But I mean, there's all sorts – there's all sorts of international sporting federations – rugby and cricket, as I mentioned – even chess, things like that – some of which have interests in the United States. So is it the Administration's position that it's going to go after corruption wherever it believes that it might be? Or is it just soccer?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, I'd refer you back to the Department of Justice for the reasons for this investigation.
You want – Guy, you wanted to ask about Russia, so go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. The Russian Government has announced that it has moved to make Russian military casualties classified. Is that a development that bodes well for this department's consistent calls for transparency from Moscow over Russian military support for separatists in Ukraine?
MR RATHKE: Well, the – we are certainly aware of the law. We're aware of it and we see this as a misplaced effort to cover up what everyone knows, and that is that Russian active duty military personnel are fighting and dying in eastern Ukraine and that the Russian Government is denying it. It's been widely reported that before crossing the border Russian troops often remove the insignia from their uniforms, they leave behind passports and other forms of identification, they paint their vehicles to remove Russian flags and other identifying emblems. All of this is to hide the direct involvement in eastern Ukraine of Russia.
And as we talked about last week, the OSCE interviewed two Russians captured by Ukrainian forces who admitted that they were members of the Russian military, in yet the most recent example. So we also see this law as a blow to free press, and we think a free and independent press is an essential component of civil society and we would urge Russia to embrace the spirit of the Helsinki principles that were – that Russia, the United States, and all of our European counterparts signed on to 40 years ago.
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Sorry, I'm a little confused. The merits --
MR RATHKE: Just a moment. Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: -- the merits of what you're saying aside, whether or not there are Russian troops, is it – why is it any of the America's – the United States business what the Russian Government chooses to classify and not classify? I mean, this Administration has classified and previous administrations have classified innumerable things that have come under – that have been harshly criticized by people who are advocates for freedom of the press and freedom of transparency, things that you just talked about.
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Well, why is it any of the U.S. – the United States' business what the Russian Government decides should be classified information or not?
MR RATHKE: Well, I'd say two things. First of all, as I said, we consider a free press important and people's access to information important. Again, freedom of speech, freedom of the press are human rights, and we consider those important. So --
QUESTION: Okay. So that now – so the Administration believes now that the classification of documents is an infringement on freedom of the press? Because if it does --
MR RATHKE: Well --
QUESTION: -- I think it should take a look in the mirror because there's a lot of classification that goes on here.
MR RATHKE: But let's not – let's get – but let's get to – no --
MR RATHKE: No, but let me finish. So the other part of your question, though, is – I think we can't separate this from the context. If we – this is a context in which Russian forces are on the territory of a sovereign neighbor, Ukraine, where they are working with, allied with, aiding and fighting alongside separatists whom Russia also backs on sovereign Ukrainian territory. So we've spoken at length about that. And in our view, this law appears to be an attempt simply to make it more difficult for that – for those facts which, again, relate to the sovereignty of a UN member-state, Ukraine, to be covered over.
QUESTION: Right. But you're making a comment about what the Russian Government chooses to classify and not classify. This government has classified lots of things to prevent – just let's talk about the NSA and the Snowden leaks and that kind of thing. This government has been engaged in activities – intelligence-gathering activities overseas that it has chosen to classify and wants to prosecute. So I'm not sure I understand how it is that you're able to make such a – how it is that you're able to say what it is that you're saying with moral authority here when there – when this Administration, this government, the U.S. Government, seems to do the same thing.
MR RATHKE: Well, again, there are, of course --
QUESTION: Obviously in different contexts than Ukraine, but I mean --
MR RATHKE: Yeah. Well, I don't think anybody's denying that classifying – that governments classifying information is something that all governments do and it's an --
QUESTION: Right. So it's their prerogative.
MR RATHKE: -- essential function. So – but again, the – in our view, it seems – it seems pretty clear that the purpose of this -- of this legislation is directly related to Russia's involvement in Ukraine. And – and that's why we've – I've said what I've – what I've said about it.
Yes, in the back, and then we'll come forward.
QUESTION: Well, on this same discussion, yesterday we talked at length about Russia being the overwhelming aggressor in terms of violating the Minsk agreement. With that said, what can the U.S. Administration do to compel Russia to abide by it?
MR RATHKE: Well, the – we think it's essential that the Minsk agreements be implemented. This is what the Administration has endeavored to do. That's what the Secretary of State talked about with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov, among other things, when he was in Sochi. And so we consider it a top priority because it relates, again, to Ukraine's sovereignty, its territorial integrity. And we remain focused on it and we'll continue to raise it.
QUESTION: But what about --
MR RATHKE: I think that's also why you see the United States, along with our European partners, having imposed costs for Russia's activity in eastern Ukraine. And as we've said, if the Minsk obligations are implemented, then – then those – those sanctions and measures can be rolled back when – when Minsk is implemented. But if not, then the costs will continue to rise.
QUESTION: What about the U.S. arming Ukraine so that they can help sort of compel Russia as well?
MR RATHKE: I don't have anything new to add to our discussions on that.
Yes, Dmitry, and then Samir.
QUESTION: May I ask you two points with regards to Ukraine –
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- if I may quickly? There was a large piece in the Newsweek several days ago on U.S. instructors training Ukrainian – the so-called national guard of Ukraine in Yavoriv. And I couldn't help but notice how a number of U.S. instructors referred to what's happening in eastern Ukraine as – using acronym, ATO – anti-terrorism operation – that was going by the Ukrainian Government, and I think is used solely by it. Is it some kind of – is it a reflection of some shift in the U.S. Administration position? Is this how you essentially see things in Ukraine? It's an antiterrorist operation, in your view?
MR RATHKE: Well, I think you're probably aware, but I'll highlight – there is a Ukrainian law from June of 2014 in which the Ukrainian Government established the antiterrorist operations. So this is Ukrainian terminology that underscores how they view their defensive operations against the combined Russian and separatist forces, but I don't have any – any further --
QUESTION: But those weren't U.S. military personnel. Those were --
MR RATHKE: Well, I think it's only natural, that as they are there working with Ukrainian colleagues, that they've probably heard the Ukrainian terminology for it.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) just repeat it?
MR RATHKE: I think our point of view on what's happening in eastern Ukraine and on the – our support for the Ukrainian Government as they fight against this – the – what's been happening in eastern Ukraine remains unchanged.
QUESTION: Okay, Jeff. And then the other point quickly.
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: On human rights in Ukraine. Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, officially declared on Monday, I think it took place, that the Ukrainian authorities would not be able to fully observe human rights in eastern Ukraine as a number of international convention demands. Any response to that?
MR RATHKE: We've seen reports that the Ukrainian legislature passed a resolution that purports to temporarily pass responsibility to Russia for the protection of human rights in those areas of Ukrainian territory that Ukraine does not control, which includes Crimea and certain areas of the Donetsk and the Luhansk regions. We're still reviewing the language of the resolution. I don't have further comment on it.
QUESTION: But you are comfortable with that language?
MR RATHKE: No, I didn't say that. I said we are reviewing the language of the resolution.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR RATHKE: I don't have further comment on it at this point.
QUESTION: I have two questions --
MR RATHKE: Please.
QUESTION: -- one on Libya --
QUESTION: On Russia?
MR RATHKE: Oh.
QUESTION: I got one more on Russia.
MR RATHKE: Oh, you have one more on Russia? Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the case of this opposition activist, Vladimir Kara-Murza, who has allegedly been poisoned, an associate of Nemtsov?
MR RATHKE: We've seen reports that Russian civil society leader Vladimir Kara-Murza is in critical condition at a hospital in Moscow. He's in our thoughts and we expect he'll receive the best medical care possible. We're following developments closely --
QUESTION: To my --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: No, go ahead.
MR RATHKE: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: Finish, please. When you're done.
MR RATHKE: Well, and we've seen a variety of comments about what may have led to his hospitalization, and we're following developments.
QUESTION: Have you talked to the embassy?
QUESTION: So you don't know if there's been any – you're not prepared to say if there was any foul – you believe any foul play was involved?
MR RATHKE: We're aware of a variety of comments. I don't have further --
QUESTION: It's my understanding that he and his wife are permanent residents of the United States – they have green cards – and that his children are American citizens. Is that correct?
MR RATHKE: I don't have information on that. Of course, you know the question of --
QUESTION: The family is apparently trying to get him out of the country for medical treatment because they don't think that there's adequate care for him there. Is it – is the U.S. – is the Administration through the embassy involved in any way in trying to get him out?
MR RATHKE: Not that I have to report. As I said, he's in our thoughts and we certainly expect him to get the best treatment possible.
QUESTION: But beyond --
QUESTION: Well, I'm sure that that's of great comfort, but I – do you – can you find out if you're trying to do – if you're trying to help – if you're trying to help him or his family get him to – out of the country to get medical --
MR RATHKE: I'm happy to see if we have anything more to say on that.
QUESTION: Beyond trying to get him out of the country, is the embassy in touch with him or his family?
MR RATHKE: Well, I don't have that level of detail with me.
QUESTION: But could you take – could you take that question whether – I understand he's in your thoughts, but has anybody from the embassy reached out to his family in any way, whether it's to get him out of the country or not?
MR RATHKE: I'm happy to look and see if we have anything more to say.
Also on Russia?
QUESTION: Just one quick one --
MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: -- on Russia. So I don't know that this necessarily reflects a new development, but we have a report that the Russian army is massing troops and weaponry, including mobile rocket launchers, tanks, and artillery at a makeshift base about 30 miles from the border with Ukraine. The base is on the so-called Kuzminsky firing range. Do you have any comment on that and whether you think that they're preparing for a new offensive?
MR RATHKE: Well, I don't have a specific comment or confirmation of that particular report. But as we have said, Russia has continued to fuel the conflict in southeastern Ukraine, initiating attacks together with the separatists. And we do know that the combined Russian and separatist forces continue to flout the terms of the February 12th Minsk implementation plan. So we've – and we've spoken about some of the details that we do know about artillery pieces and multiple rocket launcher systems within areas prohibited under the Minsk accords. Russia maintains forces, of course, along its border with Ukraine, and the – there also is a large concentration of command and control equipment in eastern Ukraine – air defense systems and so forth; all these things that we've talked about in recent weeks and months.
QUESTION: Just one more on this. Yesterday --
MR RATHKE: Okay, and then Samir has been waiting so patiently.
QUESTION: Right – I mean, it's on Ukraine, and I'm just wondering --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- if you were able to look into the questions that you were being asked yesterday about the shelling in the east.
MR RATHKE: Well, we – so according to the May 27th weekly report of the --
QUESTION: Which was yesterday.
MR RATHKE: Yes, that's right – of the OSCE special monitoring mission, several highlights: first, that Ukraine's largest coke and chemical plant in government-controlled Avdiivka – also which is one of the largest employers in the Donetsk basin – came under sustained artillery fire over a number of days. The report also noted ceasefire violations in Shyrokyne – again, in government-controlled territory – as well as sporadic violence in two towns in government-controlled areas of Luhansk Oblast and so on and so forth. I mean, the reports detail a wide range of incidents. So I don't have anything further to add to what we discussed yesterday – that is, the overwhelming majority of the violations of the ceasefire are coming from the Russian and separatists' side.
QUESTION: So all of those that you just mentioned are violations by the separatists?
MR RATHKE: Those are all – yes, those are all violations --
QUESTION: So yesterday --
MR RATHKE: -- by the Russians and separatist forces.
QUESTION: So yesterday, to your view, which is the view of the OSCE, there were no violations of the Minsk --
MR RATHKE: Look, you're welcome to read the OSCE report also and the --
QUESTION: Well, but I'm – but you're – are you picking and choosing what to read from the OSCE report, or is that the whole thing?
MR RATHKE: Well, I think it's important to keep the big picture in mind, and that is that the overwhelming majority of the ceasefire --
QUESTION: Okay, fair enough, but is that the whole report that you're reading from?
MR RATHKE: I don't have the entire report in front of me. Again, if you're --
QUESTION: So someone's gone in there and pulled out these – highlighted the violations by the separatists, but you can't say for sure whether there're any by the – any reports of violations by the government?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, I think the special monitoring mission is quite --
QUESTION: All right, I'll check afterwards.
MR RATHKE: Yes, very good.
QUESTION: I have two questions.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: One on Libya, one on Iraq.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: On Libya, do you have a reaction to the assassination attempt against the prime minister?
MR RATHKE: We strongly condemn the attack on May 26th against Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani in Tobruk, which was a further effort to destabilize Libya and undermine the ongoing UN-facilitated Libyan political dialogue. We believe the United Nations-led process remains the best hope for Libyans to establish a national unity government and to confront the violence and instability that impedes Libya's transition and development. We think a political solution is the only way to bring the country together. It's the only solution to the crisis in Libya, so we welcome the efforts by Libyan stakeholders to promote dialogue.
QUESTION: On Iraq --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- do you have any information about the visit of the Iraq parliament speaker next week to Washington?
MR RATHKE: Salim al-Jabouri --
MR RATHKE: -- the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, will visit the White House and will meet with Vice President Biden on Friday, June 12th. The speaker will also have a meeting with Secretary Kerry at the State Department during his stay. Vice President Biden and the Secretary also will welcome Speaker al-Jabouri to discuss a range of issues, including the U.S. strong and continued support to Iraq under our Strategic Framework Agreement, the collective campaign to degrade and destroy ISIL, and the status of ongoing political initiatives to address the needs of the Iraqi people. So --
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR RATHKE: Pam, and then we'll come forward.
QUESTION: South China Sea --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- several questions. There are new reports – Australia media reports – that say that China is putting weapons on the artificial reefs in the South China Sea. First, what's your response?
MR RATHKE: Well, we've consistently underscored our interest in preserving the freedom of navigation, the freedom of overflight, including in the South China Sea. This includes all of the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and of the airspace, and these are guaranteed under international law and are reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention. So the international law is also clear about land reclamation, so we'll continue to exercise our rights under the Law of the Sea.
As far as weapons, I think you've probably seen comments by the Secretary of Defense in Hawaii. I think they sum up to a few key points. First, we want a peaceful resolution of all disputes and an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by any claimant. We also oppose any further militarization of disputed features. And second, I think it's clear that the United States will operate, will fly, will sail where international law allows. That's what we do around the world, and we will continue to do so. And I think lastly, as the Secretary pointed out, with its actions in the South China Sea, China is out of step with the regional consensus in favor of a non-coercive approach to this and to other longstanding disputes.
QUESTION: Specifically, would the presence of weapons be viewed by the U.S. as a violation of the 2002 Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea?
MR RATHKE: Well, I think if you look at the text of the code of conduct – or, sorry, the declaration of conduct, it talks about self-restraint. And I think that's the point that the Secretary of Defense was making, which is why we want a peaceful resolution of all the disputes and we want an immediate and a lasting halt to land reclamation. We oppose militarization of disputed land features.
QUESTION: And one more question. Yesterday, in a speech in New York, Assistant Secretary Russel said that he – the U.S. sees the emergence of global Korea in ASEAN, APEC, and the G20. Given that South Korea's President Park is going to be visiting next month, could you update on diplomatic efforts to bring South Korea in to work more with the U.S. to ensure regional stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea?
MR RATHKE: Well, I don't have anything further to add to Assistant Secretary Russel's speech. Of course, the Secretary was just in Seoul, and he talked at some length about our partnership with South Korea, our alliance with South Korea, and how we increasingly work together to address not only bilateral and regional issues in Northeast Asia, but also global issues. So we are glad to see South Korea playing an increasing role, but I don't have further to add to that.
Elise, go ahead, and then we'll --
QUESTION: No --
MR RATHKE: No? Okay.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Okinawa governor is arriving this weekend. Do you have any update who is meeting from this building with him?
MR RATHKE: We look forward to the visit of Okinawa Governor Onaga to Washington. The director of the Office of Japanese Affairs in the Department, Joe Young, is planning to welcome the governor to the State Department and meet with him while he's here.
QUESTION: What is the message from the U.S. Government to him, who is opposing the U.S. forces realignment plan?
MR RATHKE: Well, you're probably familiar with the U.S. position on this. Most recently when our defense and foreign ministers met at the 2+2 meeting in New York, the ministers from Japan and the United States reconfirmed the plan to construct a replacement facility for Futenma at Camp Schwab as the – it's the only solution that addresses all of the operational, political, financial, and strategic concerns, and that avoids the continued use of the air station at Futenma. So the ministers reaffirmed our government's – both governments' unwavering commitment to the plan and their determination to achieve its completion. And that would also be – include the return of Futenma to Japan. So we welcome the steady and continuing progress toward that end.
In the back, and then we'll come forward. No – you. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Any updates on the Taliban Five and whether the U.S. is having discussions with Qatar about extending the travel ban restrictions?
MR RATHKE: No, I don't have any updates on that.
QUESTION: But they will walk in a few days?
MR RATHKE: I simply don't have any updates on that.
Yes, go. Over on the right, yes.
QUESTION: Okinawa governor Onaga meeting. He requested the assistant secretary. So why are the Japanese – Japan desk is the meeting with him?
MR RATHKE: I don't have any further details to offer, but we look forward to welcoming him, as I said.
MR RATHKE: Goyal, yeah.
QUESTION: Quickly, just going back to China. As far as this recent behavior for the Chinese authorities, how much you think the regional nations should be worried about? And many of them are not powerful as far as China, and including, of course, India. What is the --
MR RATHKE: Well, I think the ASEAN foreign ministers have issued statements recently and expressed their concern, so I'd refer you back to their statements. We certainly understand their concern.
QUESTION: Just one. You saw, I'm sure, the reports about anthrax having been distributed or sent to various facilities by the Pentagon accidentally. I believe there are reports that one of those deliveries was to South Korea. Do you have any comment on that? Did you get any response from the South Korean Government about this?
MR RATHKE: Well, the – we've had contact with the South Korean Government. Most of the contacts have been, as you would imagine, in the Department of Defense to – channel to their colleagues. So they are in the lead, and I'd refer you back to the Department of Defense for any particular details.
QUESTION: I got one email question.
MR RATHKE: Okay.
QUESTION: Last week, after the email release, or after you guys released the Benghazi tranche of the former Secretary Clinton's emails, your colleague Marie said that there was – the Department saw no impropriety in anything that was going on, and particularly in relationship to the emails that were sent (inaudible) foreign intelligence information from Sidney Blumenthal to the secretary. She has said that those were unsolicited emails, and I'm just curious as – if – that the revelation, or the report that he – that Mr. Blumenthal was, in fact, being paid a significant amount of money by the Clinton Foundation during the time that he was sending her these emails, if that changes the Department – if that raises any red flag for the Department, or if it doesn't.
MR RATHKE: I don't – yeah, I don't have any further --
QUESTION: Just --
MR RATHKE: -- response. I would say – I would refer you back to the foundation and --
QUESTION: Well, no, no --
MR RATHKE: -- to her for the particular arrangements (inaudible).
QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, does the building see this as an issue? Does the fact that he was being paid by – I mean, lots of people get – including me, including you, I'm sure, get lots of unsolicited emails all the time from peoples purporting to share alleged information about things.
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: But I would hazard to guess that very few of us get unsolicited emails from – with this kind of information in it from people who are being paid 10 grand a month by our family's foundation. So I'm just wondering if that makes any difference in the way the State Department looks at --
MR RATHKE: No, I don't think it changes our fundamental view of the situation. That is, first of all, as you've said, but Mr. Blumenthal was not a U.S. Government employee. It's also, as you said, Matt, it's not unusual for officials to hear from a variety of outside voices. And I think, as you can see from the exchanges in those emails, in some cases, the Secretary forwarded them to other officials --
MR RATHKE: -- in some cases not. So no, I don't have any --
QUESTION: But I think the thing is that it raises the – it raises at least to some the question – and it's just a question, I don't think there's any – there's --
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: No one has offered any significant proof that he may have been being paid. You say he wasn't a government employee, and yet he was getting paid this money by the foundation and perhaps was sending this information to her as a result of the payment? I just don't know. I just want to know if the State Department --
MR RATHKE: Yeah. Nor do I. It's --
QUESTION: -- thinks this is something that should be looked into, or if it doesn't.
MR RATHKE: I'd say that this – it's an issue to raise with the foundation for her to (inaudible).
QUESTION: Okay. But it's not an issue for the building?
MR RATHKE: No.
MR RATHKE: I don't have anything more to say on it.
QUESTION: Okay. I was just wondering if you have any comment on the fact Judicial Watch announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against Secretary Kerry to compel his compliance with the Federal Records Act and challenge, quote, "the failure of defending Kerry to take any action to recover emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton."
MR RATHKE: Well, I'm not familiar with that report, but if indeed --
QUESTION: You're not aware of the lawsuit?
MR RATHKE: No, you've --
QUESTION: You know it's – Judicial Watch just announced it. It's not a report.
MR RATHKE: Well, right. Okay, fine. But --
QUESTION: It happened while we were sitting.
MR RATHKE: Yeah. So I'm not --
QUESTION: No, no, no. It happened a few – it happened a couple of hours ago, actually --
MR RATHKE: Okay.
QUESTION: -- that they announced it. I mean, I would assume that the --
QUESTION: Your ignorance of this remains the same, correct? (Laughter.)
MR RATHKE: I do not know the particulars of that lawsuit.
QUESTION: Okay. Well --
MR RATHKE: If – but if it is, as – it won't surprise you, but if there is a matter that's under litigation, we're not going to comment on a matter that's under litigation.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, without commenting on --
MR RATHKE: I think I can say, though --
QUESTION: -- the investigation itself, if you want to learn about the suit, which I'm sure the building knows about already, if you could comment on the merit of this suit, which --
MR RATHKE: Well, I'm not going to comment on the merit of ongoing litigation. I think --
QUESTION: So you think maybe he should be --
MR RATHKE: No.
QUESTION: -- found guilty of --
MR RATHKE: No, not at all. The --
QUESTION: I would assume that you've --
MR RATHKE: As a matter of practice, which shouldn't surprise you, we don't comment on matters that are under litigation. Now if you're – if what you're asking about is the measures that have been taken under Secretary Kerry to address records issues and so forth, I'm happy to go through those again. I think you're probably familiar with them.
QUESTION: Oh, that's okay.
MR RATHKE: Okay. All right. Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:07 p.m.)
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