Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing – February 18, 2015

1:17 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. I just have two items for all of you at the top. Secretary Kerry spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning. He pressed Foreign Minister Lavrov to stop Russian and separatist attacks on Ukrainian positions in Debaltseve and other violations of the ceasefire. The Secretary urged Russia to secure access to Debaltseve for OSCE monitors who have been blocked from performing their responsibilities according to Minsk agreements Russia signed in February and last September. They also briefly discussed Libya, Syria, and the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism that we are hosting here in Washington.
Deputy Secretary Blinken will host the 10 ASEAN chiefs of mission today at the Department to discuss an array of important issues from economic integration to regional maritime cooperation. The deputy secretary will underscore our commitment to a close relationship with ASEAN and reiterate the importance of ASEAN unity and centrality as ASEAN continues on a path toward economic integration and as its members face difficult regional and global security challenges. The deputy secretary will also discuss his recent trip to Japan, China, and the Republic of Korea, and reinforce the importance of Asia to U.S. foreign policy and our rebalance strategy.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m sure we’ll get back to Ukraine, but I want to start with something that your colleague at the White House was just asked about, and it came up over the weekend, about Israel and the Iran negotiations.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Is it correct that the Administration is now withholding certain details of the negotiations with Iran from Israel out of concern that members of the Israeli Government have or will leak selective parts of that information in an effort to destroy the deal?
MS. PSAKI: Well first let me say, but reiterate, that conversations continue with Israel on Iran nuclear negotiations. Under Secretary Sherman met with Israeli NSA Cohen and Minister for Intelligence Steinitz in Munich and will see NSA Cohen again this week, and Iran negotiations were obviously the main topic of discussion. Secretary Kerry, as all of you know, continues his conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu about this issue. And as our NSC colleagues have noted, National Security Advisor Rice maintains regular contact with her counterpart.
So we are continuing frequent and routine contact. We continue to consult, as I mentioned, with our Israeli colleagues and we continue to get into specific issues in these consultations, but we have long been mindful not to negotiate in public and we take steps to ensure that classified negotiating details stay behind closed doors in these negotiations. That has long been the case.
QUESTION: Okay. So it is correct, then, that you – that classified negotiating details are not being shared with the Israelis?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t put that fine of a point on it. I think there are some details that obviously we have concern about being in public, to respect and protect the negotiations, and those are details that we take steps to ensure are not – don’t get into the public.
QUESTION: So is one of those steps not telling the Israelis about them?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think we share a great deal. Obviously, there are steps we take, including what we share and how we consult with our counterparts, including the Israelis.
QUESTION: I understand that you share a great deal, but you’re saying that you don’t share everything. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. So you are withholding some details.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. So can you say if this – is this a new thing? Has this been in place, this decision been around since the beginning?
MS. PSAKI: We have long taken steps to ensure that these negotiations remain private.
QUESTION: And that would include – so it’s – we’re talking about not just the secret backchannel talks that were in Muscat and other places, but even after the Israelis were informed of the backchannel talks and then of the beginning of the new P5+ round —
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: — since the very beginning you have been holding back some information from the Israelis about —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to put an exact date on it. Obviously, as time has progressed there are more details and more information, but it is not new.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you assure the Israelis that what is being withheld is not of critical interest to them and what they believe to be the existential threat that Iran poses to them?
MS. PSAKI: We can assure the Israelis that their security interests, that the security of Israel remains a top priority of the United States, and we take every step in order to ensure that, including working on a deal to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Okay. Your colleague at the White House, when asked the same kind of questions that I’m asking right now, said that there was a – the Administration had a problem with people – he didn’t identify them – but cherry picking specific bits of information —
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct.
QUESTION: — and releasing them. Can you say —
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s safe to say that not everything you’re hearing from the Israeli Government is an accurate reflection of the details of the talks.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that the Israeli Government is lying about the talks. Is that correct? Or they’ve been misinformed because maybe you haven’t been telling them everything?
MS. PSAKI: I think there’s a selective sharing of information, Matt.
QUESTION: Okay, but can you be more specific about what bits of information you believe have been cherry picked and selectively released to —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into that level of detail. We obviously make decisions about how to protect the negotiations while also still balancing with how to be as cooperative and inclusive with our partners.
QUESTION: And last one: Is it correct to assume or presume that as the negotiations progressed and there became – and they got more detailed, more details were then being – are – were being withheld than say after the first meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as there are more details there’s more sensitive information.
MS. PSAKI: So I wouldn’t put it exactly like that, but obviously we work to protect sensitive information in the negotiations.
QUESTION: But so as the negotiations have progressed and gotten to the point where Israel – what Israel believes to be an existential threat to it is getting closer – a deal on – with a country that it believes to be an existential threat, they’re getting less information about what’s going on rather than —
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t put it in those terms, Matt. We agree that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon. We’re working hard on these negotiations. We’re not going to accept a bad deal. And we’re sharing information that we can share.
QUESTION: When did – can I follow up on that?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: When last did the Secretary speak to his Israeli counterpart or to Netanyahu?
MS. PSAKI: He speaks with him pretty regularly. I’m fairly certain he spoke with him last week. He did, last Wednesday.
QUESTION: And when – has he ever raised with Netanyahu exactly this issue of concern, of cherry picking?
MS. PSAKI: I think they regularly discuss the Iran negotiations and our efforts, but I’m not going to get into more specifics of their conversations.
QUESTION: During the last conversation was this raised?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into more details of their conversations.
Go ahead.
QUESTION: Jen, can I check – I was just looking through, because I was trying to be organized, the —
MS. PSAKI: I would just say one more thing. It’s not a new – this isn’t a new concern. It’s not a new issue, so I would just reiterate that.
Go ahead.
QUESTION: I was looking through the list of confirmed speakers at the AiPAC conference, which is actually next weekend —
QUESTION: — not this weekend coming but the one after.
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Early March, yes.
QUESTION: March, the first – yeah. And I – so far I didn’t see any indication that the Secretary may be addressing the conference. Is there any plan to? I know in the past he has, or a Secretary has.
MS. PSAKI: He has in the past. I expect we certainly will have representation. I don’t think we’re at a point of announcing who that will be yet.
QUESTION: If the Secretary doesn’t actually take part, is this because of the circumstances surrounding Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the United States, which, of course, have been really overtaken by the fact that he’s going to address Congress on March 3rd?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve already been clear that we don’t have to plan – we don’t have plans, I should say, to have a meeting. I think the more likely reason is that the Secretary is probably going to be out of town, which I don’t think surprises any of you, given his overseas travel schedule. We’re still working out the next couple of weeks.
QUESTION: Wait, the Secretary is probably going to be out of town when?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure —
QUESTION: For the entire AiPAC conference?
MS. PSAKI: It’s only a couple of days, Matt. We have a trip we’re working on for early-March, late-February. So —
QUESTION: That’s funny, because the Vice President also had some unspecified travel plans that would prevent him from being at Congress to hear the prime minister’s speech.
MS. PSAKI: Well, given I think —
QUESTION: Is everyone fleeing —
MS. PSAKI: — we have all spent days if not months on a plane, I don’t think it should surprise anyone that the chief diplomat might be overseas.
QUESTION: Well, right, but – yeah. But it just seems to be a little unusual that both the Secretary of State and the Vice President are – have determined right now that they’re going to be out of town or out of the country. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t look at it in those terms. I believe the Vice President’s attending the inauguration for the new Government of Panama, I believe. I can’t remember the specifics, but it’s a set date. And again, we, as you know, always have a fluid schedule and as we have more information we’ll let you know. I expect we’ll be certainly represented there.
QUESTION: So it wouldn’t be seen – it shouldn’t be seeing it as a snub because the prime minister will be addressing the same conference?
MS. PSAKI: I think, again, the Secretary of State never speaks at this every single year. We’ll – I expect we’ll have a representation there. I would leave it at that.
QUESTION: I just remember being with the Secretary at the inauguration of the Panamanian prime minister a few months ago.
MS. PSAKI: Perhaps that’s not the right information. I’m sure you can check the Vice President’s schedule on his website.
QUESTION: Might you invent a country that he could go to if there isn’t any – (laughter) —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think inaugurations for new leaders are invented, Matt.
Do we have more on Israel before we continue? Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we go back to your opening statement on Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Sure.
QUESTION: Very simple question: Do you consider that the ceasefire and the Minsk agreement are dead?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t consider it as dead, no. We remain gravely concerned by reports that Russia-backed separatists continue to take – to attack – continue to attack Debaltseve and are violating the ceasefire in numerous other locations in Donetsk and Luhansk. The Government of Ukraine also reports that some of its forces were fired upon even as they conducted an orderly withdrawal from Debaltseve. Reports indicate that separatists publicly declared that they refuse to observe the ceasefire in Debaltseve and had a, quote, “right to shell Debaltseve” because it was, quote, “their territory.” The OSCE reports that the Russia-backed separatists continue to deny monitors access to Debaltseve and warns of grave consequences of those in the city if the ceasefire is not implemented there. The OSCE also confirms that ceasefire violations in Ukraine’s east continue, as was the case yesterday, but the quantity and intensity of attacks has decreased, with the dramatic exception, of course, being Debaltseve, as I just outlined.
We’ve also seen reports of the withdrawal of certain types of heavy weapons in various parts of Donetsk and Luhansk by both separatists and Ukrainian Government forces. We can’t confirm these without access by OSCE monitors, some of whom have obviously been trying to gain access. But we remain focused on supporting the implementation of this agreement. Obviously, if the separatist violence continues – if Russia and the separatists do not implement the agreement, if fighters and equipment continue to flow into Ukraine from Russia – more costs will be imposed and there will certainly be a serious discussion within the international community.
QUESTION: Is the – does the taking of or the withdrawal of the Ukrainian army from Debaltseve and the taking of it by the separatists, is that cause in itself for new – for more sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t put it in those terms. Obviously, President Poroshenko made a statement that the Ukrainian Government forces are conducting an orderly withdrawal. The Ukrainian Government, as a sovereign government, has the right to make decisions about how to protect their people. The lines that both sides are required to withdraw to still remain part of the agreement, but obviously we look at events on the ground and determine how to proceed from there.
QUESTION: Right. But in and of itself, the fact that the ceasefire – you said the ceasefire was obviously being violated in and around Debaltseve and the Ukrainian military was forced out. You’re not saying that that is necessarily a trigger in itself for additional costs.
MS. PSAKI: I have no sanctions to announce or predict today, no.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Michael.
QUESTION: Just on Ukraine —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — to clarify: Last Friday, you – in a statement, you noted that Russian military forces, regular forces, were involved in the attack on Debaltseve. In your statement, you said you were pressing Russia and the separatists to stop the fighting. Are Russian military forces, and not merely the separatists, have they been involved in the fighting in recent – last 24 hours?
MS. PSAKI: Over the last few days? Michael, I don’t think our —
QUESTION: Since the ceasefire was supposed to have gone into effect.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, I understand your question. I don’t believe our concern has changed. I’m happy to check that level of specificity. As you know, we’ve been concerned about their involvement throughout. Obviously, our statement on Friday was particularly fine-pointed on that, but I can check and see if that’s —
QUESTION: I think it’s important to know if Russian military per se —
MS. PSAKI: I understand.
QUESTION: — since the ceasefire has been involved in the attacks —
QUESTION: — and not just the separatists. Also, you just said you – that you continue to have concerns about Russian military equipment flowing into Ukraine, and the other day you mentioned reports of a Russian – a convoy of Russian equipment heading toward Debaltseve. Is Russian military equipment – has that continued to flow since the ceasefire? And can you confirm now that there was such a convoy?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t have new details to confirm today. It’s challenging, as you know, because the OSCE monitors are not able to see what’s happening on the ground. So we’ve seen reports but don’t have new details to confirm.
QUESTION: And lastly, in their readout of the call with Secretary Kerry, the Russian foreign ministry, which put out a version of this —
QUESTION: — earlier today, said that Lavrov had made the point that the Ukrainian Government should be in direct negotiation or dialogue with the separatist leaders. They seem to have in mind a process that would supplant the diplomatic arrangements that have taken place in Minsk that would involve direct negotiations between sort of two equal parties – the Ukrainian Government and the separatist leadership. Is – what is your response to that suggestion on behalf – by Minister Lavrov? Is that an approach the United States would welcome or does it think it’s not really the road you want to go down diplomatically at this juncture?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as you know, the separatists have been a part of, as have the Russians, these negotiations and they’ve also signed off on these agreements. So obviously, we continue to support dialogue. The Ukrainians remain open to and have consistently invited the separatists to be a part of dialogue. But right now, we believe the focus should be on implementing what they just signed a week ago that builds on the agreement they all signed in September.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) any in any area where the violence has subsided since the signing of the ceasefire?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the areas outside of Debaltseve, and obviously, we’ve seen some violence in Donetsk and Luhansk. But we have seen, though, according to the OSCE, other areas where there has been a reduction in violence.
Any more on Ukraine before we continue?
QUESTION: Yes, still on Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Speaking today from Hungary, President Putin, when asked if – about possible consequences if the U.S. provides lethal weapons to Ukraine, responded that, according to his information, that these weapons were already there. Does President Putin —
MS. PSAKI: That’s incorrect.
QUESTION: That’s incorrect?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So his accusation that the U.S. is supplying weapons to – lethal weapons to Ukraine is not correct?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. It is incorrect, yes.
More on Ukraine before we continue? Pam, go ahead.
QUESTION: In yesterday’s briefing when we were talking about ceasefire violations in Ukraine, you mentioned that the international community needed to give the diplomatic process a chance to play out. In light of today’s developments, where are we with that? Is the United States closer to saying perhaps that it’s time to set a deadline for this or a time to look at some other alternatives, considering that the Russian-backed offensive is continuing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we remain focused on supporting the implementation of this agreement. Obviously, we’re very concerned about the violence that we’ve seen in Debaltseve and some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. We have seen intensity of attacks decrease in some areas, as confirmed by the OSCE. We’ve also seen reports of heavy weapons in various parts of Donetsk and Luhansk be pulled back. So right now we believe we still need to continue to give time for the agreement to work itself through. It doesn’t change the fact that we have a range of options, as does the international community, and those options remain just as they were two weeks ago.
QUESTION: I’m not sure I understand. You want time to set – to allow the agreement to work its way through? But I mean, it seems that the agreement is already done with.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, again, I think there are some areas where we have seen some action, like a reduction in violence, pullback of weapons – we’ve seen some reports of that. We believe that we need to give it some time to continue to have the agreement implemented. Obviously, there are some violations. And is it perfect? No, but we don’t think the alternative or the right option is to take steps that would hurt the implementation of the agreement.
QUESTION: And those steps meaning the supply of lethal weapons, more sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we haven’t made a decision on lethal – on defensive weapons. We have a range of options on sanctions. That remains the case. I don’t have anything to predict on those. We watch day by day, and I certainly expect we’ll continue to discuss this day by day based on what the events on the ground are.
QUESTION: But, so you think that both sides should continue to implement the details of the agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Even though there never was a ceasefire, even in Debaltseve?
MS. PSAKI: There have certainly been violations, Matt. But we continue to be – remain focused on the implementation of the agreement.
QUESTION: All right. I have a Russia-related question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: This came up at the Foreign Press Center earlier.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m just trying to get a specific answer on it. Is the head of the FSB here for the CVE conference, or is he coming?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s see. I do have some details on this. We have been working closely, obviously, with a range of countries on their delegations they’d like to attend. I believe – and just first some details. The Russians asked for assistance with visas and flight clearance last night because they decided to change some of the attendees in their delegation, and I believe that he is one of the attendees.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So – and so he will be here, he is coming, he has gotten a visa. Does this strike you at all – you’re accusing the Russians on one hand of being behind this whole situation in the east of Ukraine. One would presume that if they were, the FSB would be playing a role in that, and then you’re having this guy, the head of the FSB, come to the CVE conference. Does that strike you as being at all unusual?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, violent extremism and terrorism are serious problems that affect communities around the world, including Russia. As you know, there are a range of issues that we work together on. We certainly have strong disagreements as it relates to Ukraine. As I noted, the Russian Government told us yesterday that they intended to increase the number of participants in their delegation, and we have worked with them on a range of issues, including countering terrorism, in the past.
QUESTION: And your – in the Administration’s opinion, this is a good thing?
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: That they’re increasing – that they’re sending the head of their —
MS. PSAKI: That’s just a factual detail. But certainly, we welcome their participation in the Countering Violent Extremism summit.
QUESTION: Okay. On the summit itself, do you – can you provide any more details on other – who else is coming of the – 65 is the number that’s being talked about.
MS. PSAKI: We will have a fact sheet out later today on the attendees for the foreign fighters meeting the Secretary will be having later this afternoon. I expect tomorrow morning we will have a full list of attendees for the summit. We just wanted to give everybody an opportunity to have final confirmations.
QUESTION: Is the conference the Secretary going to speak at closed session, or can we cover it?
MS. PSAKI: There is a – he’s speaking – he’s holding a meeting on foreign fighters this afternoon. I think there’s going to be a camera spray that there’ll be a pool for. This is logistical details. And there’s a reception later today which I think we’re working to open, and there are some remarks that a range of officials will be doing tomorrow. So we’ll have that out in the advisory we put out later this evening.
QUESTION: Are you still going to be – are the Russians going to attend the foreign fighters section, given that many of the —
MS. PSAKI: Let me see, Jo, if I have the list – I may have it here – of the attendees. And again, as I noted, if you don’t have it in this moment, you will have it later this afternoon. But let’s see. Albania, Algeria, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, EU, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Jordan, Kosovo, Macedonia, Malaysia, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, UK, and the UN.
QUESTION: And you can tell us how many Russian delegates there are? When you said they expanded the size —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of specificity.
QUESTION: Is that – that was just for the foreign fighters —
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: — or that’s for tomorrow as well?
MS. PSAKI: That is for the foreign fighters.
QUESTION: And more —
MS. PSAKI: I would certainly anticipate that these will also be represented tomorrow, and we’ll have the more expansive list tomorrow morning.
QUESTION: But there are more than just what you read that are coming tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, correct. This is just for the foreign fighters meeting today.
QUESTION: All right. On this topic just more generally, and I wasn’t aware – quite aware of how much furor there had been over your colleague’s comments on television on Monday night when you did the telephone briefing yesterday. She’s getting a lot of flak from people for saying what she said, and I’m just wondering if you can say whether the Administration believes that getting jobs for violent extremists is going to fix the problem, or if that’s just —
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, that’s not at all what she said.
QUESTION: Okay. So —
MS. PSAKI: So let me reiterate what was said, and I would also encourage everybody to not only read what the President’s op-ed said today, what the Secretary’s op-eds have said, which are all consistent. No one should doubt the resolve of the United States to go after ISIL and go after terrorists around the world. We’ve done thousands of airstrikes. ISIL – members of ISIL on the battlefield – we’re going after them and they’ll be killed.
I think what she was addressing, which we’ve all addressed and was in the op-ed today as well, is the fact that we also, in addition to the military component of this, which is very important, need to go after the root causes. And that includes – why are – is ISIL having success recruiting young men in some of these countries? What are the vulnerabilities? Why are young men choosing to join a group like ISIL?
Also, separate from that, there are issues like foreign fighters. Why are individuals from Western countries going over and finding an appeal here? This is obviously a broader conversation, but the CVE summit is not just about ISIL. It’s not just about the military component. It’s about how to address these threats of extremists around the world, and that was what the conversation was about.
QUESTION: So – but that’s a generational kind of thing. You don’t expect that you could rehabilitate a guy who is out there beheading Egyptian Copts or American journalists or Japanese? That’s not for them.
MS. PSAKI: No one is suggesting that. We’re not going – we are not – we’re going after those individuals to take them off the battlefield. What we are suggesting is how do we address this threat over the long term in addition to what we’re doing militarily now.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. When you say “take them off the battlefield,” you mean kill them?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: So you would say that what Marie said was taken out of context, was only – I’m not sure that I see —
MS. PSAKI: I would say that.
MS. PSAKI: And I would also say that I think there’s no question if you talk to a range of the officials who are here and the different focuses of the different breakout groups and – that are happening even at this summit, that there are many focuses about how to take on extremism. Militarily, that’s an important component. Obviously, that’s focused on individuals who are on the battlefield now. But we also have a group tomorrow that’s going to be talking about messaging and the ideology. We’re talking about foreign fighters this afternoon. So there are several components about how we address this over the long term.
QUESTION: Jen, can I just clarify something you said?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Sure.
QUESTION: I thought I heard you say the head of the FSB is en route to the United Sates. He’s not here yet?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I meant to say that. Maybe that was a little outdated. He may or may not be here. I think they were planning to be here for the start of the summit.
QUESTION: And that you learned of this recently when they changed – they filed different plans —
MS. PSAKI: They updated their —
QUESTION: — and updated their visas, but prior to that you were not aware that he was coming?
MS. PSAKI: There was a different group that was planning on attending. It was expanded or changed a little bit.
QUESTION: And when did that happen?
MS. PSAKI: Last night.
QUESTION: So last night, the Russian Federation informed the American Government that it was expanding its group and that – to include the head of the FSB?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: And prior to that, he was not expected to attend?
MS. PSAKI: That’s my understanding, Michael.
QUESTION: And what led – that’s an interesting change. What does that signify? Was he previously invited? What was – what’s the significance of that?
MS. PSAKI: Russia was invited to participate. I believe that we left it to each country to determine their delegations.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: About North Korea?
QUESTION: Could I just – sorry, I have one more on the summit.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Sure.
QUESTION: Sorry. There was a conference call on Monday and then again, I think, just now at the Foreign Press Center, your deputy, Marie, also mentioned again this idea that out of this meeting you want to see an action agenda. Is this something – is this going to come in the form of a written document? Is it something that you’re going to be making publicly available? Or is it going to be more of an informal kind of series of notes that you’re going to keep among yourselves?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly think we will talk at the end of this in coordination with our colleagues at the White House about where we go from here.
QUESTION: So you expect to come up with like a roadmap or an action plan?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a format for you in terms of what format it will take, but I certainly – this is – we hope to be a catalyst for future action and a point of discussion to talk about where we go from here. I mentioned there’ll be a fact sheet out later this afternoon, and I certainly expect there’ll be more paper in the coming days.
QUESTION: Can I just – I just want to make sure —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — I completely understand. It is the Administration’s position that the fighters who are – the violent extremists or however you want to describe them, those who are on the battlefield now —
QUESTION: — committing these atrocities —
QUESTION: — are going to be killed. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: That is our objective, yes.
QUESTION: It is not – the objective is not to go find them a job or get them a better education or do something like that?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Correct, Matt. But we also need to look at the root causes —
MS. PSAKI: — that leads the 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds today to be possible candidates in five years.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: You’re not intending to capture them, then, and bring them to justice in front of any kind of courts?
MS. PSAKI: I think you’ve seen what our action has entailed, and I expect that would continue.
QUESTION: Jen, about North Korean human rights issues.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: UN resolution on the North Korean human rights will discussing next month – early next month, yes. What is the United States final destination of North Korean human rights issues? Do you —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we – North Korea has one of the most abysmal records on human rights in the world. There is a commission of inquiry that, as you know, looks into this. The report reflects the international community’s consensus view that the human rights situation in North Korea is among the world’s worst. We urge North Korea to take concrete steps, as recommended by the commission of inquiry, to improve the human rights situation. We will continue to work with the international community to sustain international attention on – on the deplorable human rights situation in North Korea. And that is something that we remain committed to.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Honduras?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry, go ahead?
QUESTION: Honduras.
MS. PSAKI: Honduras.
QUESTION: The Honduran Government has suspended and is investigating 21 police officers from a special unit that was assigned to the U.S. embassy. Your reaction to that? And do these officers have access to the embassy itself?
MS. PSAKI: Let me take the question. I haven’t talked to our team about that particular issue, but we’ll get you an answer back later today.
MS. PSAKI: Iraq? Sure.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Yesterday, President Barzani went to Kirkuk and he had a message for the militias around Kirkuk, especially the Shia-Iranian-backed militias. He said no forces will be allowed to enter Kirkuk except Peshmerga. Would you support this, that only Peshmerga can control Kirkuk, not any militias, especially the Shia militias? Because there is a tension between the two are escalating. So what is your position —
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen his remarks, so I don’t have anything particular to say about them. I’m happy to talk to our team about it.
QUESTION: What about the human rights violation and other increase of the Shia militias?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve spoken pretty extensively to this over the last couple of weeks, and I’d certainly refer you to that. But I would reiterate the fact that we have raised both in Washington and in Baghdad our concerns about these reports, about these violations by the militia; that Prime Minister Abadi has also spoken about them and has taken steps to be more inclusive and also go after the unregulated militias. We recognize that this is a challenge that needs to continue to be addressed.
QUESTION: How about the situation in Kirkuk that – is that you prefer Peshmerga control the city of Kirkuk for now and —
MS. PSAKI: I will talk to our team about that.
QUESTION: I have one more question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Regarding the Erbil and Baghdad deal, State Department in the past made a big deal out of it, that the deal was a step forward.
MS. PSAKI: Oil? Oil revenues?
QUESTION: Both. Like oil revenue and also the security that they will give the money to KRG the share that they have, 70 percent. But the deal is not working and that couple days ago, prime minister of Kurdistan was in Baghdad, and he said there’s no money in Baghdad to send it to Kurdistan. And the minister of planning also – of Kurdistan region, of course – he said before Abadi start assuming the position of the prime minister, there were like $60 billion in the Iraq bank account in New York, and then after he came, the money is gone. Do you have any information – like your government has any information what happened to that?
MS. PSAKI: I have no confirmation of the accuracy of what you’re saying, but I can certainly check with our team on it.
MS. PSAKI: Iraq?
QUESTION: Iraq, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry if you were asked about this previously.
MS. PSAKI: No problem. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The head of Hizballah, Hassan Nasrallah, on Monday revealed that there is a limited Hizballah presence in Iraq fighting against IS. I wondered if – what your reaction would be to that and whether, if Hizballah is fighting the Islamic State, does that make you almost allies?
MS. PSAKI: No is the answer to the second. We have seen, certainly, the comments you’re referencing. We don’t have confirmation about what role they may or may not be playing. We have been clear about our concern regarding Hizballah’s destructive role in Syria and of the same concerns about reports of its involvement in Iraq. And this is involvement – their involvement if – their reported involvement also endangers Lebanon. We continue to believe that Iraq’s sovereignty must be respected and the Government of Iraq must focus now on strengthening its internal political and security institutions in an inclusive way. So our concerns about Hizballah and their destructive role have certainly not changed.
QUESTION: Are you in touch with the Iraqi authorities about these reports? Have you tried to seek confirmation via them?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we are in touch with the Iraqi authorities. I can check and see if there’s more we can convey about these specific reports and our conversations on them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Iraq or —
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Iraq? Okay. Go ahead, Yemen.
QUESTION: Thank you. Pardon me for reading off the questions off the phone here.
MS. PSAKI: No problem.
QUESTION: So I have some more questions about the evacuation from Yemen after our chief intelligence correspondent, Catherine Herridge of Fox News, reviewed some State Department emails. One of her first questions was, “Why was the OpenNet communications link left up and not shut down in the embassy when the staff evacuated, and how is that consistent with safeguarding of sensitive information?”
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we take every precaution necessary to – when we move staff out of an embassy, including addressing classified materials, ensuring that all of our information is secure. I don’t have any confirmation of that particular report. I don’t know what emails you’re referring to. I’m happy to check into it.
QUESTION: And then she also had that, “When the staff evacuated, why didn’t the charter go to a U.S.-controlled airfield that would’ve allowed the Marines to keep their weapons? The Marines destroyed their weapons, but can you explain what happened to all of the ammunition? There were over 100 Marines there.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, the Marines – and I would point you and her to this – have put out an extensive statement about what they did and the protocol they followed. Every protocol was followed in this case. We made a decision from a range of options about what the best way was to move our staff out of Yemen, and I’m going to leave it at that.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up? (Inaudible) a similar question last week.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Are you sure that all the classified information that you needed to destroy was destroyed or dealt with in your evacuation of the embassy in Sana’a?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I have not heard any concern to contradict that.
QUESTION: And you – but you have no confirmation about whether this link, this secure link, was apparently left up?
MS. PSAKI: An OpenNet link he’s referring to.
QUESTION: An OpenNet link, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of that report or the email. I am happy to talk to our team about it.
QUESTION: Is an OpenNet link unclassified or classified?
MS. PSAKI: Typically unclassified, but I can check and see what the specific report is.
QUESTION: So that would be what – how they connect to Google or whatever?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know what the details of this particular report are.
QUESTION: Remind me again: The evacuation was successful or unsuccessful? How many people were wounded, injured, killed?
MS. PSAKI: Successful. Not a single person was. Our team was successfully moved out of the country and is back in Washington. And obviously, we’re determining where they’ll be based.
QUESTION: Okay. So people-wise it may have been successful, but you still did – they did take the vehicles, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Which have been returned.
QUESTION: They have been returned?
QUESTION: To whom?
MS. PSAKI: To our – I believe our embassy or our local staff. I can check on the specifics of that. Let’s see if I have that specific level of detail. They have been – let’s see – have been secured under the safekeeping of UN personnel at the diplomatic transit facility.
QUESTION: UN personnel?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Okay. And is that – that’s the same facility that you were – we were talking about, I think, last week right after?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Yes.
QUESTION: And so has that been turned over now to the UN?
MS. PSAKI: We were in the process of that. I believe it’s likely been completed. I can check on that level of specificity.
QUESTION: All right. And presumably, this is a big enough facility so that all the cars that were in the convoy – all the vehicles are there and they’re safe.
QUESTION: And the UN has confirmed that.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the last thing on Yemen. Have you decided or found a protecting power yet?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update on that. I will talk to our team and see if there is one.
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Yemen?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: So did the State Department ask for military air clearance into Yemen, and was it denied? Did the State Department ask for seaport clearance, and was it denied?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into specifics of our planning or the movement of our personnel, for obviously reasons. This is something we’ve had to do in places around the world, unfortunately. We often have a range of options and we go with what we think the best option is. Obviously, we had the help of several governments in this case. And as has already been noted, we successfully moved our personnel out, and I think that’s what everybody should be focused on.
QUESTION: And the last one was —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — you said the plan was in place for weeks, but the emails show only days before the evacuation the plan was to use commercial air.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think to be clear, I don’t think it should come as any surprise that only a handful of people on likely a classified network and in classified conversations would be discussing something as sensitive as the movement of personnel. We also had been reducing our personnel there for several weeks. So I will leave it at that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to Abby in the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: This is – sorry. The University of Massachusetts said that they are reversing their original decision to not allow Iranian nationals studying engineering and science into their program, citing discussions with the State Department. Can you talk a little bit about what was discussed or what was conveyed to them regarding the policy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we had a conversation with UMass-Amherst about their decision and also conveyed that U.S. law does not prohibit qualified Iranian nationals coming to the United States for education in science and engineering. We also would offer to provide the necessary guidance for any school that has questions about this or wants to have discussions about the implementation of relevant laws.
QUESTION: As a follow-up, one of the things that they cite is that the Department of Homeland Security was denying re-entry back in to the United States, and that was one of the reason for some of these Iranian nationals – that was one of the reasons why they were implementing this policy. Is that anything that was discussed on your end or —
MS. PSAKI: I would certainly refer you to the Department of Homeland Security. I can just speak to what is required by law or by the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action.
QUESTION: Jen, a follow-up on this issue. Are you saying that the school’s original interpretation of this law was incorrect and this is what led to the reversal?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to UMass-Amherst for them to speak to their decision to reverse it.
QUESTION: Can I move to Libya, please?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Well, the UN, actually, and Libya. There’s a lot of activity in the United Nations today and the Security Council around a resolution being put forward by Egypt. I believe they’ve now submitted a resolution, which doesn’t make any mention of any kind of international military intervention but does ask for a lifting of the arms – of the UN embargo and on arms sales to Libya. Could you give us the Administration’s position on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have not yet reviewed the proposal. I expect once we do we’ll have more to say about it. As you know, there’s going to be a UN Security Council briefing on Libya this afternoon – I think around 3 o’clock. We continue to strongly support the efforts of the United Nations and Special Representative Bernardino to facilitate the formation of a national unity government. Obviously, we will look forward to participating and hearing from attendees at this hearing.
QUESTION: Would you have opposed – if they had gone ahead with the idea of asking for military intervention, would the United States have opposed that?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that. Obviously, we would have looked at and we will look at whatever the proposals are and hear from the attendees speaking this afternoon.
QUESTION: Is it still the Administration’s position that outside interference in the form of airstrikes or any kind of military action in Libya is unnecessary – is a bad thing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you may have seen the P3+3 statement that was put out yesterday as well. Certainly, that remains our belief. We also, though, believe – and that has been our belief and our consistent position, and I spoke about this pretty extensively yesterday as it relates to the internal fighting that’s happening in Libya. We do believe a political solution, one that’s led by the UN, is the best path forward. We also believe that this horrific attack that happened against the Egyptian Copts over the course of the last several days is something that we understand the outcry from the Egyptians. And while we’re not going to confirm their military action, going after ISIL is a different entity than internal divisions or internal battles within Libya.
QUESTION: Okay. So going after ISIL is one thing, but an internal division, a revolt, is different?
MS. PSAKI: I think I spoke to this yesterday, Matt. I don’t have anything else to add.
QUESTION: I know. It’s just that, when you think back – so NATO is the only organization – is the only outside force that’s allowed to conduct military operations in Libya, and everyone else is – shouldn’t?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been a range of countries, as you know, who have signed off on – repeatedly, many times – on what they think the best path forward is given the internal divisions in Libya. That remains our belief. Obviously, the events of this weekend is something we’re also dealing with.
QUESTION: Right. I just – it just seems to be an area of inconsistency that you – that taking a military action in response to or because of an internal spat or internal divisions and fighting in Libya is wrong, and yet you yourselves did exactly that several years ago in Libya.
MS. PSAKI: This is our view on the best path forward, and not just the view of the United States but many other countries in the international community.
Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the video itself?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Has the Administration reached any conclusions as far as analysis of the video? There are some linguists out there who are saying that the man speaking in the video speaks with a dialect that indicates he’s either from North America or has spent significant time here.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new analysis of the video to discuss.
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Libya before we continue? Libya?
QUESTION: There was a letter or an article, I guess, obtained showing a ISIL propagandist citing that Libya would become the new ground in which they would attack Europe. So have you seen that? Is there any response to that?
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen the letter. Obviously, we’re not – we’re familiar with threats from ISIL and terrorist organizations. I would say that we certainly take threats seriously. We have not done any – I talked about this a little bit yesterday in terms of the difference between the rhetoric and whether there’s an operational connection. I don’t have any new analysis on that today.
Go ahead. Syria?
QUESTION: Yeah. There are reports that United States finally approved the government and Congress to arm the Syrian moderate rebels starting in March.
MS. PSAKI: That whom? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: The Syrian rebels. The moderate —
MS. PSAKI: It’s long been approved.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. So the training is going to start and the vetting and all of that stuff in March?
MS. PSAKI: And DOD has long said it would start in March, yes.
QUESTION: I mean, the question is, though, when they will start in March in – like in Jordan, will that include PYD fighters too?
MS. PSAKI: I would talk to DOD about the specifics of their train and equip program.
QUESTION: You don’t have any information available?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a DOD program, so they’re the appropriate entity.
MS. PSAKI: Syria? Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Turkey, sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Turkey’s ruling party is pushing through a legislation that will severely restrict freedom to protest and assembly, a so-called security bill. Do you have any comment about that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific comment on internal legislation. I think we’ve spoken in the past about our view and support for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and freedom of the media, and that continues to be a value we have around the world, including in Turkey.
QUESTION: And one more question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: In Mexico on Friday, President Erdogan called 80 congressmen, U.S. congressmen, rental people.
MS. PSAKI: He called them, I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Eighty U.S. congressmen rental people.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Who sent a letter to Secretary Kerry early this month – earlier this month urging him to support press freedom in Turkey. Erdogan said, I quote, “Mr. Obama, why are you silent? Biden, why are you silent? Kerry, why are you silent? But you are waging an anti-Turkey campaign as they find 80 rental people and sending you a letter about Turkey.”
MS. PSAKI: I am not familiar with this letter. It sounds like it was sent to the White House, so I would refer you to them. I also don’t – look for more clarification on what exactly you just outlined.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Tunisia?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the verdict against the perpetrator of the attack against your Embassy in December 2012? And do you have a clear picture of what happened that day?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I, unfortunately, have anything more on this, but it is something that I think we would definitely like to comment on. So let me work to get you something – and others as well – later this afternoon.
MS. PSAKI: Iran? Sure.
QUESTION: Since you have a deal with Iran on negotiations going on, on the Iranian side there are more political activists, including the Kurdish activist, being executed and being imprisoned. The most recent one, Saman, and the Amnesty International was publishing something about his case, that he – the young guy, he was being prosecuted. Do you have anything on that, and specifically about Saman, that he’s been held in a prison in Iran for political activist activities?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything specific. I would say that, certainly, we have continued to raise issues related to human rights. They’re a state sponsor of terrorism. We have remaining concerns about Iran despite the fact that we are continuing our conversations with them through the P5+1 about how to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon because we think that’s in the best interests of the international community.
QUESTION: But with the most recent, like, concerns, like, you had about the Iranian – about the human rights violations in Iran, especially about the Kurdish activist who’s been held in the prison for political reasons. The most recent statement by State Department – anything?
MS. PSAKI: We have consistently voiced our concern about their human rights record, our ongoing and consistent concerns about violations of international human rights protocols, and I don’t think we have strayed from that.
Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Do you have – regarding Charles – Assistant Secretary Charles Rivkin’s trip to Miami this week, do you have any further information beyond what went out in the advisory earlier? Specifically, do you know if he’ll be talking about Cuba policy while he’s there?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t, but I’m sure we can connect you with our team and see if we can get you some more details on his trip.
Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: The next round of negotiations are going to be here in the States. Are they going to be in the State Department itself?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, mm-hmm, on February 27th. And I expect we’ll have more specifics, like a media note, in the coming days if not sometime next week.
QUESTION: Is that – those are anticipated just to last just one day?
MS. PSAKI: That’s my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: I have a couple —
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: — very brief ones. One of the primary foreign policy objectives for the United States for several years now has been energy independence or diversification of energy supplies for Eastern and Central Europe, particularly weaning countries off of an – what you believe to be an overdependence on Russia. That was a prime goal of Secretary Kerry’s visit to Bulgaria, and not a secret either.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that was one issue discussed.
QUESTION: Well, it was a main goal. And I’m just wondering, given that and the fact that this is a region-wide push rather than just specific countries, if you have any comment about President Putin’s visit to Hungary which resulted in the completion of a pretty significant natural gas deal and a nuclear deal as well.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we, one, appreciate the strong and continuing cooperation of our European partners in implementing sanctions against Russia for its unacceptable violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Hungary, of course, has been an important member – part of the EU consensus on sanctions, including the EU formal announcement this week of new individuals and entities sanctioned for their role in violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We do expect – continue to encourage countries to diversify sources of supply as part of – as you referenced, as part of a robust energy security strategy, and we continue to work with a range of countries, including in Europe, about energy diversification. That remains a priority. But again, this is not a violation of any sanctions; this is something that they have worked out through a bilateral channel.
QUESTION: Right. No, I don’t think anyone suggested that it was a violation of sanctions, but it would seem to be that you could put Hungary in the “lost” column here since they have increased their dependence on Russian energy rather than reduced it.
MS. PSAKI: Well, while they have also supported ongoing sanctions, including ones that were announced this week.
QUESTION: But wait, I’m trying to divorce this – I’m trying to – it’s a separate issue completely from Ukraine and the situation in Ukraine and the sanctions. Are you —
MS. PSAKI: We continue to work with countries to —
QUESTION: But are you —
MS. PSAKI: — diversify their energy resources.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed that despite your attempts to push energy diversification in Central and Eastern Europe, the Hungarians have actually gone the other route and not only not reduced their dependency on Russian energy, but increased it with these deals?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t put it in those terms. It’s an effort and commitment that we are going to continue working on.
QUESTION: All right. And my last one is just – in Bahrain, there was an American teenager who was sentenced to several years in prison yesterday. I’m wondering if you have any comment about that.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Tagi al-Maidan, right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe last September —
QUESTION: Oh, no, this is someone different.
MS. PSAKI: Different?
QUESTION: This is Jafar, I believe his name —
MS. PSAKI: We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in Bahrain. One of the most important functions of our embassies abroad is to protect and assist U.S. citizens traveling or residing abroad. Due to privacy considerations, there aren’t more details we can share at this point in time.
QUESTION: But his family says that there was no one from the embassy present in the court for this hearing or trial or sentencing or whatever it was. Can you at least – do you know if that’s true?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t speak to the case because we don’t have a Privacy Act waiver.
QUESTION: So you can’t say? Were there anyone – was there anyone from the embassy in Manama who happened to be strolling around a courthouse in the city or another city —
MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your efforts, but I —
QUESTION: — yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: — can’t go into more details.
QUESTION: Well, his family says that they’re disappointed that no one from the embassy went. Are they – do they have —
MS. PSAKI: I understand, and if we have a Privacy Act waiver —
QUESTION: Do they have reason —
MS. PSAKI: — we can speak to it.
QUESTION: Do they have reason to be disappointed?
MS. PSAKI: I think —
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: — I have nothing more to offer here.
QUESTION: On the other case, did you have something to say about the other case?
QUESTION: I believe this is – he’s awaiting —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe there’s any new information. I just wanted to – it was another case.
Okay. Thank you, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)
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