12:53 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon, everyone. I just have one item at the top for all of you. You may have seen if you’re an avid tweeter, that today Secretary Kerry re-launched his Twitter account, @JohnKerry. This re-launch stems from the Secretary’s own desire to talk and engage with a public audience on foreign policy, making foreign policy less foreign. We encourage all of you, of course, to follow @JohnKerry to stay up to date with America’s top diplomat, and he will, likely, be following many of you. So tune in.
With that, let’s turn to what’s on all of your minds.
QUESTION: Can I start?
QUESTION: Jo’s going.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What’s your understanding about why he’s resigned into the, so far?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe that the White House has spoken to this and they’ve outlined, obviously, he’s been serving in this role for a couple of years. He’s been serving the President for the past five years. Let me just take this opportunity to say that, of course, the Secretary is incredibly grateful for his service. We do quite a bit of work with Russia, and he’s been an invaluable public servant and diplomat, and he’s – he wishes him the best in his future endeavors. So I – that is the --
QUESTION: We’re talking about Twitter accounts.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Obviously Ambassador McFaul has got into – has fallen afoul of the Russian authorities a few times with his Twitter accounts. This is no reflection of the fact that he’s been having a bit of a tough time in Moscow recently?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not. He is somebody who has long worked on these issues. He’s proudly served in Russia. He’s done an incredible job, and it was time for him to return home and pursue other endeavors.
MS. PSAKI: Nothing?
MS. PSAKI: It’s exciting. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yes. Just for the record, who is – what team is he going to – considering there are going to be players from many different countries and many different countries’ Olympic teams, just for the record, who is the Secretary going to be supporting in the --
MS. PSAKI: Of course, the United States team, Matt. Perhaps his wardrobe will reflect that. But tune in, I don't want to give away any surprises. But certainly he’s a big hockey fan, as all of you know, so it should be a fun evening for him.
QUESTION: Is this thing actually going to be open to the press? I mean, it looked – from the note that you sent out, it seemed to be that there was not much press access; we had to watch on Flickr and follow it on Twitter and State Department – @statedepartment.com.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’m happy to check on it. It’s obviously not our event. He’s attending. So let me check and see if there’s more information on that.
QUESTION: It would seem a shame to miss an opportunity to have pictures with the Secretary and --
MS. PSAKI: I – who wants to miss it?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary going to be part of that?
MS. PSAKI: So as you mentioned, this is a meeting that is focused on the leadership of the Defense Department. As you probably know, General Dunford is in town, so that is obviously an opportunity for the President to hear directly from him. And I’m certain that my colleagues at the White House will speak more directly to this, but it’s with DOD leadership. The Secretary is at the White House nearly every day and he sees the President every week, so certainly they discuss this issue when they have the opportunity.
QUESTION: And you saw reports today that Karzai’s in talk with the Taliban. You have any comments on it?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well I’d, naturally, refer all of you to the Government of Afghanistan regarding any contacts they may have had. I know they’ve spoken to it in the story and since then. But it’s important to note here that we’ve long supported – you’ve heard me say this, you’ve heard my predecessor say this – long strongly supported an Afghan-led reconciliation, which would, of course, be Afghans talking to Afghans. So the notion that we wouldn’t support that dialogue is inaccurate. And as you all know, back a year ago in – well, a little over a year ago, last January, President Obama and President Karzai reaffirmed that Afghan-led peace and reconciliation as the surest way to end violence and ensure the lasting stability of Afghanistan and the region. And our objective continues to be, and our focus continues to be, promoting and supporting an inclusive, Afghan-led process. So we support --
QUESTION: Is there any discussions between the U.S. and – any update on the U.S. and Taliban talks?
MS. PSAKI: No, we’re not – there hasn’t been any change to that. We’re not engaged in discussions with the Taliban.
QUESTION: Then with this meeting today on Afghanistan, clearly to update himself, but we’ve also – James Dobbins, the special envoy, has gone off to NATO meetings.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There’s obviously some movement here to try to have a decision made quickly. Is there any kind of feeling that you’ve got to make a decision or that a decision on this needs to be made within a certain time?
MS. PSAKI: I --
QUESTION: It’s just – or is it just a lot of circumstance – a lot of events going on at the same time and it’s not – and it doesn’t mean anything?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that is true. There are a lot of events going on at the same time. Certainly, this is an important issue and a priority for the United States. It remains the case that Afghan – that it is in the interest of the Afghan people and the interest of the Afghan Government and U.S. national security interest for a BSA to be signed. So we continue to press for that, support that, and obviously we’re working closely with our allies, which is the role that Ambassador Dobbins is certainly playing.
I would never venture to predict when any decision would be made. That would be made by the President, whether that’s troop numbers or whatever it may be. But obviously we continue to press for this decision to be made as quickly as possible – not the decision, I’m sorry, for the BSA to be signed as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Has the Karzai government kept you in the loop on talks with the Taliban? Have they been – informed you?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to our diplomatic engagement or discussions with the Afghan Government. I just simply want it to be clear that Afghan-led talks, Afghans talking to Afghans, is something we’ve long supported.
QUESTION: But was the U.S. Government aware of these talks before this New York Times article came out?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to detail what discussions we may or may not have had on this specific piece.
QUESTION: Jen, before --
MS. PSAKI: On Afghanistan? Or --
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: In the region.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I’m sure you’ve seen today the talks about the Pakistani talks and the Pakistani Taliban as well, which were due to open today but the government negotiators didn’t turn up for the meeting. And I wondered if you had any thoughts about those talks.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we of course are closely following the recent developments and reports. The issue of whether to negotiate with TTP is an internal matter for Pakistan, and we refer you, of course, to the Government of Pakistan for further details or information. More broadly, the United States and Pakistan continue to have a vital, shared strategic interest in ending extremist violence so as to build a more prosperous, stable, and peaceful region, but we’d point you to them for any details of what’s happening.
QUESTION: But just like you support Afghanistan-led talks with the Taliban, do you support these Pakistan-Taliban talks?
MS. PSAKI: It is. The issue of whether to negotiate is a decision that the Government of Pakistan needs to make.
QUESTION: Do you think this will bring in peace in that part – tribal regions of Pakistan?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to make a prediction of an outcome. I would point you to them on the status.
QUESTION: But Jen --
QUESTION: Do you draw a distinction between the two?
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, Jen, the problem is, is that you – the question is not asking about the details of the talks, it’s asking whether you would encourage them in the same way. If you’re taking a position that it is a good thing for Afghans to talk to Afghans, is it not also a good thing for Pakistanis to talk to Pakistanis?
MS. PSAKI: Well, every circumstance is different. I’m not piling every country and every circumstance into one, so I think I gave you an answer on our position.
QUESTION: Right, right. But just as is it is up for the Afghans to decide whether – who they want to talk to, is it not also up to the Pakistanis to decide?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly. That’s why I said it’s up to the Government of Pakistan to determine.
QUESTION: Okay. So why you – so why would you come out and support one but not the other?
MS. PSAKI: Every circumstance is different, Matt. So --
QUESTION: So this – so should we infer that you do not think it’s a good idea --
MS. PSAKI: I think --
QUESTION: -- for the Pakistanis to talk to the Taliban there?
MS. PSAKI: -- we’ll let them make their own evaluation.
Do we have any more on this issue? No? Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Well, just so you know, we have an @StateDept account. Several of us have our own – have Twitter accounts at @StateDeptSpox. I encourage you to follow. And this is – we just determined that it was the right time, a year in, for the Secretary to be able to share his own personal voice and engage with people around the world about foreign policy. So it just felt like the right time to do it.
QUESTION: On Syria, yesterday I asked you about the barrel bombs that the Syrian regime is using on Aleppo and different areas. And you said that it would be a statement – you will issue a statement. We didn’t see the statement.
MS. PSAKI: You’re right. I will convey that that may have been just a process issue more than an intention issue. So certainly, as I said yesterday when you asked, we of course condemn the violence. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, and it just reiterates the need to move towards a peaceful and political end to this process – to this crisis.
QUESTION: One more on Syria. Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported today that the U.S. proposed forming an additional regional format which should complement the Geneva II process and including five participants – Russia, U.S., Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran – in this parallel track. Can you confirm this report?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that. Our focus remains on the next round of Geneva negotiations which are to resume next week. And as well as working, as I mentioned yesterday, with our international allies and counterparts around the world, and of course, through the process of the UN.
QUESTION: And the newspaper has said that the U.S. delegation – or the U.S. delegation in Munich who was with the Secretary – proposed this proposal.
MS. PSAKI: Proposed this proposal? I don’t have anything more for you on that specific question.
QUESTION: Also on Syria. Russia said today that Syria was going to – would soon ship chemical weapons.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have you been informed? Has the U.S. been informed of this? There seemed to be some diplomatic assurance given overnight.
MS. PSAKI: We’ve certainly seen the comments of the Russians. If they deliver on that, that would be encouraging. But of course, actions speak louder than words, and we’ll see what they’re able to deliver on over the next couple of weeks.
QUESTION: Jen, do you have faith that Moscow will deliver its client state with regard to removal of the weapons?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly they have a unique relationship with the Syrian regime. That’s why they’ve played a role in bringing them to the table at the Geneva talks. But again, we will – it will be very clear if the chemical weapons have been moved to the port at Latakia in the timeline that was outlined, so we’ll see what happens.
QUESTION: Have they been helpful thus far?
MS. PSAKI: Have --
QUESTION: The Russians.
MS. PSAKI: Well, they helped bring together the Geneva conference. They helped bring the regime there. Certainly, there are areas where we disagree, and as you know, the Secretary pressed Foreign Minister Lavrov for more assistance as it related to humanitarian access, as it related to more progress and a focus on the implementation of the Geneva communique when he met with him last week. And when we have concerns or we think more needs to be done, we will express that.
QUESTION: Are you confident that Russia will help deliver the chemical weapons?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s up to the Syrian regime to deliver – to move the chemical weapons to the port. We’ve seen the comments that have been made, and we’ll see what happens over the course of the next couple of weeks.
QUESTION: Jen, one more. Does the U.S. have a Plan B in case the Geneva process doesn’t move forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our expectation is that the talks will resume next week, as Joint Special Representative Brahimi outlined. We’ve always known and said this would be a long, difficult road, but our focus remains on seeing those talks through, seeing if progress can be made on some of these difficult issues that are being negotiated.
QUESTION: But in case this process failed?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.
QUESTION: There was testimony by Intelligence Chief Clapper who said that, when he was asked what happens if Assad does not go --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I don't know if you saw these remarks. He said, “Well, the prospects are right now that he is actually in a strengthened position than when we discussed this last year by virtue of his agreement to remove the chemical weapons, as slow as that process has been.” Do you agree with that assumption?
MS. PSAKI: I think we have been pretty clear and consistent with that, that because of the influx of foreign fighters, because of the assistance of Iran and others, that there are times over the course of the last several months where the regime has been aided on the ground.
Right now, we still – we do feel and – that the international pressure was escalated on the Assad regime as a result of this Geneva conference and the round of meetings where more than 40 leaders and organizations spoke about the – what they wanted to see moving forward, which included a transitional governing body and the implementation of the Geneva communique. And we feel that the opposition exceeded the expectations of many in the international community about how they came to the conference and – prepared and professional.
So I would argue that the fact that we have a process underway that is going to proceed next week is something that is a positive sign. That wasn’t the case a couple of weeks ago.
QUESTION: Is your feeling that because he’s in – he’s got – it looks like he’s got the upper hand now and he’s holding on or stalling, as you’ve accused him of, not shipping out these chemical weapons, that he’s using this and he can use it as a further bargaining chip?
MS. PSAKI: Using which as a --
QUESTION: The chemical weapons.
MS. PSAKI: I think that there’s a clear UN Security Council resolution the world is – that he is committed – they have committed to abide by. The world is watching to ensure that they do abide by that. There is more that can be done, clearly. We’ll see if they deliver on the promises that have been made, and we’ll be watching closely.
QUESTION: Any update on Ambassador Ford’s retirement?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any personnel announcements to make for all of you today. He is – remains focused on his Syria portfolio. He will be traveling next week to Geneva for the ongoing discussions between the opposition and the regime.
QUESTION: Jen, you say that the world is watching. But the world has been doing little but watching for the past three years, and that doesn’t seem to have changed --
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: -- President Assad’s behavior, the calculation on the – the calculations on the ground that the Secretary spoke of changing when he first came in a year ago. Does the world watching – is that really an adequate response?
MS. PSAKI: The world is watching on whether the Syrian regime delivers on their commitment and what is outlined in the UN Security Council resolution that was agreed to last September. There have been – there has been a lot that the world has done beyond watch. I think we’ve helped – the international community has rallied around the opposition. They have expanded their leadership. They came to a Geneva conference. More than 40 leaders and organizations spoke at that conference. And that political process is now underway.
As you also know, we’re – the UN and the international community is considering how to approach the humanitarian situation, so that’s ongoing as well. That’s far more than watching.
QUESTION: So you don’t think that 40 leaders gathering at a luxury hotel in Montreux or – and then moving to a UN self-named palace in Geneva, you think that that constitutes more than watching? I mean, it seems to me – I mean, if you look at what was accomplished and how what was accomplished there has changed or not changed the situation on the ground, it certainly looks like watching.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we always knew it would be a long process. It’s still significant that the parties sat down at the table and that talks will be resuming next week.
Scott, did you have one in the back?
QUESTION: One more on Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary did voice his concerns and the concerns of the United States about the pace of moving chemical weapons in Syria, about the humanitarian situation on the ground, and about the need to move towards a transitional governing body. Foreign Minister Zarif made clear that he did not have the authority to discuss or negotiate on Syria, so it was not a – the focus of the meeting was on the nuclear talks.
QUESTION: What does it mean that he doesn’t have the authority to discuss Syria?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis on that for you. I would point you to the Iranians to give you more details on that.
QUESTION: But do you find that disappointing? Do you find that disappointing, because you now have a relationship building between Secretary Kerry and the Iranian foreign minister after decades of not having any access or very limited access to Iranian officials? Is it disappointing that you find that the foreign minister, so Secretary Kerry’s counterpart, is unable to talk to you about the crisis in Syria in which you believe that they have had a significant hand?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t characterize it that way, Jo. I think we also have a significant process underway that will resume with comprehensive talks coming up in a couple of weeks. That was the main purpose of their meeting and that was the thrust of what the meeting was about. Certainly, this was the first time that the Secretary’s had the opportunity to raise in this level of detail our concerns about Syria, but I wouldn’t characterize it that way. We continue to focus on the implementation and the negotiations around the comprehensive agreement and that was the purpose of why we requested the meeting.
QUESTION: But doesn’t it feed into this narrative that’s been around some of the corridors in Washington that the Iranians are only interested in talking to you about nuclear issues and they’re not going to deal with you about anything else, any of the problems from Syria to Hezbollah to any of the other issues that you would want to talk to them about?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our focus is also right now on the nuclear negotiations and that is what we have focused our conversations with them about as well. That doesn’t change the fact that we have concerns about the humanitarian situation on the ground, about assistance to terrorists. These are remaining concerns. But this is a very important and significant initiative that has a great deal more work to be done on, and that’s the negotiations over a comprehensive agreement. So that’s where our focus remains as well.
QUESTION: Sure, but Syria is also a very important issue. And I think there’s a recognition that you need to be able to involve the Iranians at some level in trying to resolve the conflict and ending the bloodshed on the ground. If Foreign Minister Zarif is not empowered to talk to you about that, did he say who was?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on that. I would point you to them on how they would handle that specific issue.
QUESTION: So who do you find yourself able to talk to about this situation?
MS. PSAKI: Well again, our focus is on the comprehensive negotiations on the nuclear agreement. So that’s what our – we – the purpose of the meeting was, that’s what the focus of the meeting was. Obviously, Iran has a stake in the outcome in Syria, but our position hasn’t changed that we want to work with parties and countries that want to see a productive and peaceful outcome, so there hasn’t been any public statements or commentary to lead us to believe they’re at that point.
QUESTION: But you are interested in talking to Iran about Syria, obviously?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we – it was an opportunity for the Secretary to express what our viewpoint was, but it wasn’t the purpose of the meeting or the focus of the meeting.
QUESTION: But isn’t it strange, do you think, that a foreign minister doesn’t have the authorization to talk about Syria?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Iranians for how they structure their portfolios.
QUESTION: So this means he’s not qualified to be invited to a Geneva conference?
MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn’t changed on that. Obviously, we’ve long said support for the Geneva communique, the implementation of that, including the creation of a transitional governing body. I don’t have anything new to tell you on that particular issue.
QUESTION: Maybe he meant General Soleimani is authorized to discuss Syria?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you them. Perhaps they have more information for you.
QUESTION: On Iraq.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: Well, broadly speaking the United States has a strong interest in well-supplied global energy markets, which growing oil and gas exports from Iraq can help ensure. And we support any production gains made by Iraq and encourage its increasing investments in developing its energy infrastructure. As you know, this is a long way off or a longer-term process. As we’ve made very clear, not just to Iraq but to any country in the global community, as a matter of policy, engaging with Iran’s energy sector runs risks, including violating and running afoul of U.S. and international sanctions. It is not that we think that has happened at this point, but it is just something that we have cautioned and been clear about with countries around the world, including Iraq.
QUESTION: Have Saudis – Saudi officials expressed their concern over this arrangement to their American colleagues?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that, Scott. Obviously, we’re closely engaged with the Saudis. We would share a concern about any violation, of course, of our U.S. international sanctions. But again, this is a long-term process in terms of oil production, but I’ll check and see if there’ve been conversations we can read out to all of you.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: Go to Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. So she will be in Ukraine on Thursday. Her schedule isn’t yet finalized, so that’s an ongoing process. But we will anticipate she will meet with government officials, including President Yanukovych and Foreign Minister Kozhara. She will also see opposition leaders, civil society and business leaders, as well as some of her European counterparts. She – while she is there, she will encourage agreement on the formation of a new government and a plan of action that can put Ukraine back on track toward fulfilling aspirations of the Ukrainian people for democracy and respect for human rights, European integration, and economic growth.
QUESTION: So among the European counterparts, will that include Cathy Ashton?
MS. PSAKI: Let me check on that. They’ve been in close consultation, and they obviously saw each other in Munich, but let me check and see if that meeting has been scheduled yet.
QUESTION: And I wonder if you had any reaction – today we’re reporting out of Kyiv that a senior aide to the president is suggesting that one of the possible scenarios he’s considering going forward is the holding of early elections. Would that be something that you would welcome?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check with our team on that specifically. Obviously, our focus remains on the process to create a new government, and that’s what we’re continuing to encourage. But let me check and see with them if there’s anything we have to convey on that point.
QUESTION: Do you have any --
QUESTION: Alex from – go ahead.
QUESTION: Is it for – on Ukraine?
QUESTION: No, it’s not.
MS. PSAKI: Oh. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have anything more on these talks that you’re having with the EU, preliminary talks on a financial agreement for – on Ukraine? The thing is that you spoke yesterday that the IMF, who would have a role in this, but the fact is that the IMF does not lend --
MS. PSAKI: Well, the – what I --
QUESTION: -- to a transitional government.
MS. PSAKI: What I said --
QUESTION: It will only deal with --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- a government (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: And obviously, as I also said yesterday, this would be – any decisions will be guided by events in Ukraine and our consultations with the new government after it is formed, so even on our discussions with the EU about what we may or may not consider. And outside of that, in terms of the IMF role, we would continue to encourage Ukraine to pursue that path to economic health through the IMF regardless. The point is we haven’t made a decision yet. We wouldn’t make a decision until we see what happens on the ground and through consultations once a new government is formed.
QUESTION: And would --
QUESTION: And this could be – sorry – it can be an interim government. You’re talking about a package which would go to an interim government.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Let me check on the specificity of that and see if – where we’re looking at it. I mean, I think the point is it’s not something that is imminent, because obviously there are many steps that need to be taken before we would even consider it.
QUESTION: Alex Wortman with NHK.
MS. PSAKI: Hi.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: So as you – I’m sure you know this – lobbying has intensified in Virginia regarding these textbooks where they wanted to change the name to East Sea versus the Sea of Japan. And I’m wondering, especially with the increase, like thousands of dollars being spent and even Ambassador Sasae got involved, meeting with the governor in Virginia – are you concerned about this being a proxy fight and an escalation of deteriorating relations between the two nations? What’s your point of view?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any specific reaction to the particular textbook question, and I would refer you to the Government of Japan on that. I think you also asked in there about the Virginia legislature – did you ask about the Virginia --
QUESTION: No, no, I was just asking that – considering that they’re spending so much money and even the ambassador’s getting involved, do you not think that this is a proxy fight going on in your own backyard?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe on the Virginia legislature question, the reports that the ambassador was somehow involved are inaccurate. So to be clear on that --
QUESTION: They’re saying that he met with the Virginia governor.
MS. PSAKI: She?
QUESTION: He, Ambassador Sasae, met with the --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, the Japanese ambassador.
QUESTION: Yes. The --
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Government of Japan. I don’t have anything in particular for you on that.
QUESTION: But how can you – sorry – follow-up.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: How do you feel that the state is – the state government is going to legislate on a foreign policy issue that the federal government is loath to get into?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any reaction for you.
MS. PSAKI: I’d point you to the government of Virginia.
QUESTION: Textbook answer.
QUESTION: Well, there’s a constitutional issue here. By entering the union, Virginia, as with all the other 49 states, gave up its right to run its own foreign policy. So --
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I understand, too, this is just pending legislation. It hasn’t exactly been signed into law, Matt. So --
QUESTION: Well, right, but presumably, if – pending – you would have an – you would weigh in and tell the Virginia legislature, “Hey, this isn’t Republic of Texas in 18-whatever.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, if we get to that point, I’ll be looking forward to having a discussion about it.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, can you look into it to see if anyone from this building or anywhere else in – or, well, in this building has gotten in touch with them? Because --
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I will check --
QUESTION: -- Virginia does not have the right to conduct its own separate foreign policy.
MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if there’s more to report on it. Absolutely.
Great. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:21 p.m.)