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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 28, 2014


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Readout of Secretary Kerry's Telephone Conversation with Ugandan President Museveni
  • UKRAINE / RUSSIA
    • Secretary Kerry's Discussion with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov / Syria, Middle East Peace, Russian Military Activities in Crimea Discussed / Encourage Ukraine to Take Positive Steps Regarding Economic Reforms and Elections / Working with Interim Government / Path Forward / U.S. Officials Engaged with EU and UN Colleagues
  • SYRIA
    • UN Resolution / Steps to Increase Humanitarian Access
    • Path Forward
    • Ambassador Ford is Retiring / Deputy Assistant Secretary Larry Silverman Will Serve in the Interim
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Extensively Delay in the Senate on Ambassadorial-nominees
  • CHINA
    • Secretary Kerry's Statement on Ambassador Locke's Outstanding Service
  • BURMA
    • Concern of Reports that Medecins Sans Frontieres Operations Are Suspended
  • VENEZUELA
    • Third-Party Mediator
  • PANAMA / COLOMBIA
    • OAS / Third-Party Mediator
  • COLOMBIA
    • Welcome Pursuit of Peace and Security / Opportunity for the FARC
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Secretary Kerry's Upcoming Meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu
    • Human Rights Reports and Excessive Force in West Bank
  • CHINA
    • Ambassador Baucus
    • Human Rights Reports are Useful Mechanism
  • IRAN
    • IAEA Report / P5+1 Process / Board of Governors
  • SYRIA
    • Ambassador Ford / Larry Silverman
  • SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN
    • Cessation of Hostilities Agreement
    • Support EGAD Negotiations
  • INDIA
    • Communal Violence / Human Rights Reports
    • Ambassador Powell and U.S. Consuls General Engaged in Comprehensive Outreach
  • TURKEY
    • Human Rights Reports / Restrictions on Freedom of Expression and Assembly
  • CHINA
    • Ambassador Baucus
  • DEPARTMENT
    • AFSA's Attention to Ambassadorial Nominations / 1,100 Foreign Service Officer Waiting / 23 Stuck in Senate


TRANSCRIPT:

1:15 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Welcome back, Arshad.

QUESTION: It’s nice to be here.

MS. PSAKI: All right, I have one item at the top. Secretary Kerry spoke with Ugandan President Museveni yesterday via phone. He expressed the United States deep disappointment in the Ugandan Government’s decision to enact the anti-homosexuality bill. The Secretary noted that the decision complicates the U.S. relationship with Uganda. He also raised U.S. concerns that this discriminatory law poses a threat to the safety and security of Uganda’s LGBT community, and he urged President Museveni to ensure the safety and protection of all Ugandan citizens. The two also discussed the law’s negative impact on public health efforts, including those to address HIV/AIDS as well as on tourism and foreign investment in Uganda.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, on that call – I wasn’t going to start with Uganda, but I want to start with another U country. But since you started with Uganda, I guess we’ll begin there.

MS. PSAKI: The other U country. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. Can you guess what that one is?

MS. PSAKI: I can. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Uruguay. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Yes, obviously Uruguay. That would be an interesting historic start to a briefing. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So did he raise the possibility of – when he says that it complicates U.S. relations between the United States, did he raise the possibility of specific – any kind of specific sanctions that might be imposed?

MS. PSAKI: It was not a call about specifics. And in terms of that, we remain in the same place we’ve been, which is that, as he said on the call, obviously the signing of this bill complicates our relationship, we continue to look carefully at what steps we will take in response.

QUESTION: Okay. So essentially, he basically repeated what your position has been since Museveni signed the law. There wasn’t anything new in terms of U.S. policy that the Secretary communicated --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- to the president.

MS. PSAKI: That’s right.

QUESTION: Okay. Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: All right. So other than Secretary Kerry’s call to Foreign Minister Lavrov, have there been any other Ukraine-related conversations at senior level – not – aside from the Vice President’s call last night to the new prime minister? Has the Secretary spoken to any Ukrainian officials himself, or is he taking – basically going to deal with the Russians on this one?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional calls to read out for you beyond his call with Foreign Minister Lavrov, which he spoke about this morning, and the call that Vice President Biden had with the interim Ukrainian prime minister. But this, of course, is an issue that is being closely watched and looked at and discussed internally in the Administration.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just to – I want to make sure that I’m accurate on this. Is it – the Secretary has spoken to Lavrov now today, yesterday – did he – about – specifically about Ukraine --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and about what Russia may or may not be doing there. Are those the only two calls that he’s had on this, I mean this week, in terms of post-Yanukovych fleeing?

MS. PSAKI: Those are the two calls he’s had this week, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. He hasn’t spoken with Lavrov another time since --

MS. PSAKI: He spoke with him also on Sunday, which I think you were aware of because we did a readout of that, and Saturday. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So he’s spoken to him four times in six days?

MS. PSAKI: That’s right. And let me just add that in addition to speaking about Ukraine, which they – he talked about this morning at the press avail, they also talked about Syria and they talked about Middle East peace, given the recent visit of President Abbas.

QUESTION: Sorry. Today?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: They talked about Syria and Middle East peace?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Why so many calls on this subject? Is this the level of the concern that you’re feeling within this Administration that Moscow could have a – could try to have a heavy hand in what’s going on in Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is an issue we’re clearly very closely engaged with. He – Secretary Kerry called Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning to discuss reports of Russian military activities in Crimea, and he stressed, as he mentioned this morning, that the United States has concerns that all parties avoid any steps that could inflame tensions. And he made very clear during that call that any intervention in Ukraine would be a grave mistake.

So this is an issue that not only are we all talking about in here every day, given, of course, its prevalence in the news, but it’s an issue the United States Government is watching closely. We’re certainly concerned about the reports. Our focus remains on encouraging Ukraine to take positive steps forward regarding economic reforms, regarding elections. But also, we’re closely watching what’s happening on the ground.

QUESTION: So talking about reports – sorry. Do you have any independent confirmation yourselves within the Administration that there is yet any Russian intervention in Moscow? It’s a little confusing about what’s actually --

QUESTION: In Moscow?

QUESTION: Sorry, in Crimea.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Thank you. It’s a little confusing to work out exactly what seems to be happening on the ground.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have more details?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything – any more details to share with you. We’re concerned about the same reports that you have seen, and obviously, we’re closely watching this internally as well.

QUESTION: So nothing – no independent knowledge of any Russian intervention in Crimea?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any independent information to share with you.

QUESTION: Okay. And I just wanted to ask – sorry, on --

QUESTION: On Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: Still on Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- still on Ukraine, whether you’d seen the press conference by Viktor Yanukovych and what your reaction was to his contention that he remains president of Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we certainly saw the reports. We are in the same place we have been in, which is that we don’t – we believe that Yanukovych has lost his legitimacy as he abdicated his responsibilities. As you know, he left Ukraine – or left Kyiv, and he has left a vacuum of leadership. So we continue to believe that he’s lost legitimacy and our focus remains on the path forward.

QUESTION: The Secretary, in his comments, said that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov had assured him that the United – that Russia had not and had no intention of violating Ukraine’s sovereignty.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: His next sentence began, “Nevertheless, I made the following points to him.”

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you doubt Foreign Minister Lavrov’s statement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I think the Secretary said yesterday during his avail that, of course, we take the Russians for what they’re conveying. But in an almost any conflict or international event you also want to verify words with actions, and so we’re watching closely to ensure that their actions back up their words.

QUESTION: Well, do you believe – when he started out, he acknowledged that there is a basing agreement between the governments of Ukraine and Russia that gives the Russians certain rights of access.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you believe that what has been reported thus far, including the alleged transit of 10 Russian military helicopters, the surrounding of a border post by Russian – a Ukrainian border post by Russian soldiers – do you believe that those might fall within Russia’s rights under that agreement? Is that conceivable? It may be. I don’t know. I’m asking you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Look, I’m not in a position to give an analysis of that. But clearly, some of the reporting on all of those issues you mentioned is of concern, and that’s why we’re looking at it closely and discussing what it does mean. We know there’s a base there. But obviously, some – the question is whether these activities have extended beyond, as the Secretary said this morning.

QUESTION: So that would imply, then, that you don’t think to date Russia has violated its nonintervention promise.

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not giving an analysis of that. Obviously, we’re looking at it --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- and if we weren’t – if we didn’t have concerns about that question --

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. PSAKI: -- we wouldn’t be looking at it.

QUESTION: But you’re looking at it to determine if they have, or you – or they might – they have already, or that you’re looking at it in terms of what they do in the future?

MS. PSAKI: Well, both. We’re --

QUESTION: In other – okay.

MS. PSAKI: There have been reports. I don’t have any --

QUESTION: So you have not yet made a determination, then, on whether what happened – was reported to have happened today violates their promise?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to be too cute here. But obviously, there are ongoing discussions. We have seen reports. I don’t have any independent confirmation of all of those reports to share with you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: So we’re looking at it. But it means we’re looking at, of course, the last 24 hours, but also events in the future, which is what the Secretary conveyed to the foreign minister today.

QUESTION: Okay. And then you said in one of your answers, I think to Arshad, that in any international crisis or international event it’s important that actions back up words, right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So in that line, when U.S. officials like the Secretary, like Ambassador Rice, yourself, your colleague at the White House, say that it would be a grave mistake for Russia to – for any – for Russia to intervene, what does that mean, really? I mean, other than calling it a grave mistake and a bad thing, what kind of consequence, if any, does it draw?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to outline was consequences would be. Obviously, I think the international community would look closely at any intervention by the Russians or anyone else. But I’m not going to stand here and outline consequences from the podium.

QUESTION: Okay. What does that mean, “the international community would look closely at”?

MS. PSAKI: Would not look --

QUESTION: If you’re trying to warn the Russians away from doing something --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that you think would be bad, and the best you can say as --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the --

QUESTION: -- that if they do it, as a consequence, that the international community is going to look closely at it.

MS. PSAKI: Matt, the Secretary said two days ago that there would be consequences. But again --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- that’s obviously not our goal or our preferred path, so --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, fair enough.

MS. PSAKI: -- we’re trying to work in a different direction.

QUESTION: Do you believe that there could be – that you could get – when you say the international community, I’m presuming you’re meaning the United Nations, but you do realize that any attempt to punish Russia at the UN Security Council is not going anywhere, right?

MS. PSAKI: I understand what you’re saying, Matt. But again, I’m not going to go too much farther than to say that obviously there are a number of countries who are watching closely what happens in Ukraine, who feel strongly that territorial integrity is an important component we need to preserve moving forward.

QUESTION: And do you include Russia in that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they have stated that, so let’s see if their actions back that up.

Did you have another --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: On Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you will have seen this, because I think it’s just come out --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- but Ukraine has filed an extradition – a request for the extradition of Yanukovych from Russia. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen it, but I think it’s unlikely we would have a specific comment on that.

QUESTION: And are you aware of plans to hold a closed-door Security Council meeting to discuss Ukraine today?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t, obviously, confirm or discuss internal meetings that are happening --

QUESTION: How is that internal if it’s between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were asking about an internal National --

QUESTION: No, Security Council – not a National Security; the UN Security Council.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that. I would point you to the UN. I can check and see if that’s something they’ve announced.

QUESTION: Could you tell us on the --

QUESTION: Do you know, though, if you support that?

MS. PSAKI: If we supported --

QUESTION: Well, the Ukrainians asked for there to be a meeting.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you know if the United States was in favor of having this meeting at the UN?

MS. PSAKI: I’d point you to our mission in New York on that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Could you clarify to us the legal aspects of this thing? Do you recognize the current Government of Ukraine? Did you do that?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t recognize governments, as you know. Obviously, our focus --

QUESTION: Are you – who do you --

MS. PSAKI: Let me answer your question, Said.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: We don’t recognize governments. Our – as I just said earlier, the fact that Yanukovych left Kyiv, he left --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- his people with a leadership void, in our view means he’s lost his legitimacy. So I – beyond that, our focus here is on working with the interim government. They’re going to hold elections. They called for elections in May. And we’re focused on the path forward.

QUESTION: So the implicit or even the explicit in what you say, that by losing his legitimacy, you recognize the current government as the legitimate government --

MS. PSAKI: Again, we --

QUESTION: -- and therefore, you might support --

MS. PSAKI: We don’t recognize governments. We are working with a range of officials and leaders in Ukraine.

QUESTION: And just quickly going back to the question that --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- Matt posed about the grave consequences and so on, also in the undertone in what the Secretary said the other day, is he basically saying that Russia is vulnerable to that kind of a situation as well?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to go farther than I’ve gone or the Secretary has gone.

QUESTION: Okay. And finally --

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Ukraine?

QUESTION: -- on the Crimean airport situation --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you have no information on who’s really controlling the --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details for you.

Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: The former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- apparently couldn’t wait to start commenting on affairs as a private citizen, and he described himself as highly concerned by what’s going on, and he said that the Russians refer to what’s going on in Ukraine as the Ukraine virus, and they fear that it will spread to Russia. Do you share that view?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to comment on the comments of a private citizen, Arshad, but I will say, broadly speaking, every country we view differently. Every country has unique circumstances. Obviously, the people of Ukraine have spoken and have called for a path forward, and that’s what we’re supporting.

Ukraine? Any more on Ukraine? Okay.

QUESTION: You mentioned the context of the Secretary talk with Lavrov, the touch with – to be in touch with Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In the same time, you said you are working with the interim government.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Another partner of this process – I assume it’s EU – what kind of contacts you have with EU?

MS. PSAKI: With the EU about Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Very close contacts. I think that the EU has announced plans for EU High Representative Ashton to head to Ukraine sometime next week. Obviously, we’re closely engaged on the ground. We have officials engaged, I think it’s fair to say, with the EU probably every day on these issues, and we’re closely coordinating with them on everything from economic assistance to calls to encourage a reduction in violence and tensions.

QUESTION: Are there any plans for Assistant Secretary Nuland to go back to Kyiv in the coming days?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any plans to announce for you. Obviously, I think everybody’s looking at what the next appropriate steps might be.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. You mentioned that the Secretary, in his conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov, spoke about Syria. So you don’t see that the Ukraine situation is really complicating your efforts or your collaborative efforts with Russia on Syria, do you?

MS. PSAKI: No, we don’t.

QUESTION: Okay. Okay. So where do you see the UN resolution that was – that took place last week? Where do you see or how do you see it being implemented? And what role, positive or otherwise, are the Russians playing in implementing that resolution?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you, Said, to the UN. They’re the body that is implementing the resolution. You know how positively we felt about the passing of the resolution because it was specific and it laid out steps forward, but I would point you to them.

QUESTION: Okay. Now on your part, how do you follow up on this resolution to make – to ensure that it is – that the UN is actually implementing what decisions it takes?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly trust the implementation efforts, but obviously, we watch closely and we engage with our UN colleagues.

QUESTION: So how are you following the humanitarian situation on the ground? I can – just to cite an example, the Yarmouk refugee camp has been reduced from 180,000 people to 18,000 people (inaudible), Syrians and so on. The situation is really deplorable.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And would you support the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, maybe to the West Bank?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I’m not going to speak to that. As you know, there’s an ongoing discussion and process between the Israelis and the Palestinians that is ongoing.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I will say that the UN resolution – obviously, we’ve spoken quite forcefully about what a positive step that was, but it’s not – there’s not a silver bullet here. We need to continue to take steps to increase humanitarian access, to get supplies – medical supplies, food and assistance to the people who need it most, including in Yarmouk, so we are continuing in that effort.

QUESTION: All right. And finally, do you still see Lakhdar Brahimi as a viable diplomat in this case as a go-between?

MS. PSAKI: We do.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Syria?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Syria, go ahead.

QUESTION: Last week at the end of Geneva II, you mentioned that now the sides decides to take off and whatever they’re doing, from that point till now, is there any effort was done, or – I don’t assume it’s – in politics, there is something called – or policies means pause, in – like a VCR, it’s like – what does it mean, pause?

MS. PSAKI: A VCR, that’s very 1989 of you. Look, there’s many paths that we are taking in – with Syria. It’s not just the Geneva process. The Geneva process created a framework for the international community engaging. More than 40 countries and organizations, as you know, came to the first meeting. They are on a pause. I don’t have anything to announce for you in terms of the next step.

But at the same time, we’ve been working through the UN. We remain engaged with our international partners on this – on these issues. This was a topic of discussion the Secretary had when he was in the UAE just a week ago, when he connects with his – with various allies and partners around the world. So we are pursuing this on various paths. The same approach remains, that we don’t believe there’s a military solution. That’s why our focus is on options for a political solution moving forward.

QUESTION: So who is going to say, “Let’s go back and have a meeting” in this process?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Because it seems that somebody should --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Joint Special Representative Brahimi would be the individual determining that in terms of a next step, and obviously, we’re in close touch with the UN on this as well.

QUESTION: Regarding the – just to follow up this humanitarian assistance which is still – it seems that it’s not flowing smoothly or properly --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- do you have anything about that? I mean, any effort was done in the last few days to facilitate or guarantee the flow?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I would point you to, of course, the implementation of the UN resolution. But again, as I answered already for Said, this is not the single path in terms of our efforts, and we’re continuing to take every step we can to encourage access and encourage the ability of NGOs and organizations to provide food and assistance to people on the ground.

QUESTION: So just a related question to the previous topic --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- do you think now talking about the Ukraine doesn’t give a chance to the Secretary to talk with Lavrov about Syria?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. They spoke about both topics today, and Middle East peace.

QUESTION: And I actually have a Syria-related question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You don’t have any personnel announcements to make?

MS. PSAKI: I do.

QUESTION: Ah.

MS. PSAKI: So as you may have heard or written about, Ambassador Robert Ford is retiring from the Foreign Service today after nearly 30 years of distinguished service. He has served as the U.S. Ambassador to Syria since January 2011, and helped launch the Geneva process in January 2014 to work towards a negotiated political solution to the conflict. His extraordinary leadership has guided our response to one of the most formidable foreign policy challenges in the region. From the outbreak of the crisis, Ambassador Ford has worked tirelessly in support of the Syrian people in their pursuit of freedom and dignity. As we continue preparing for a new Syria, his legacy will guide our efforts to support Syrians and lay the foundation for a more hopeful future. The President and the Secretary, of course, are both incredibly grateful for his service.

QUESTION: And recognizing that you haven’t – well, I understand that you haven’t – that there has been no decision yet as to a replacement for him, either as the point person for the opposition or as ambassador to Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But who – is there anyone that you can point to who will be in the short-term until someone is chosen permanently who will be filling – taking his job at least as point person with the opposition in the interim?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, you’re right, we’ll soon announce, of course, his permanent replacement. Nothing to share on that specifically. In the interim, Deputy Assistant Secretary Larry Silverman will be filling in.

QUESTION: Okay. So that means that he – if there happens to be another Geneva II conference prior to a permanent replacement being named, Larry Silverman would be the one to go?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that level of detail, Matt, and I’m happy to do that.

QUESTION: And do you know, though, in terms of replacing him, does the White House – is it your understanding the White House intends to – that whoever replaces him as the opposition point man would also have the ambassador hat? Do you – or is it going to be --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have information to lead me to believe otherwise.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: So I believe it will be a replacing of this. And obviously, there are – given the seriousness of this issue, there are, of course, a range of departments that work on Syria every day, as you know. So we’ll continue – that will continue to be the case.

QUESTION: Would he hold the rank of ambassador to Syria?

QUESTION: Just to clarify --

MS. PSAKI: Just give me a moment. Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: But I just asked it.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just to clarify what – on what Matt’s question was.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So Larry Silverman will have the dossier, if you like, of dealing directly with the opposition in the same way that Robert Ford did?

MS. PSAKI: He’ll take over the envoy duties on an acting basis until Ambassador Ford’s successor is named.

QUESTION: I just wanted just to clarify – I know you answered Matt on that, but will he be named as ambassador to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: His replacement?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: That is my understanding. I don’t have information to refute that, but obviously that will be determined as we determine who the replacement will be.

QUESTION: That would mean that that person would require Senate confirmation?

MS. PSAKI: If that is the position that is named. But again, we’re still working through who the replacement would be, and I have nothing to announce on that, so --

QUESTION: The reason I asked the question is that given (a) the importance that you say you attach to Syria as a crisis, and (b) the fact that Ambassador Ford’s departure was not a particularly well-held secret – it’s been known about for quite some time – I just wonder why you might wish to name an ambassador, given the experience of your other ambassadorial nominations lately. It might take a very long time to get him or her confirmed.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. You’re right, there has been quite an extensive delay in the Senate on dozens of nominees. I don’t want to speak to – obviously this is being discussed through the personnel process. Larry Silverman is – has been in the Foreign Service for decades and has quite an extensive deal of experience, so he’ll be filling those shoes and we’ll determine what’s next, and when we have an announcement to make, we’ll make it.

QUESTION: Can I ask you another personnel-related question?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Have you seen this editorial that ran in this Chinese Government news agency, The China Times, I think it is, about Ambassador – or ex-ambassador – is he still there or has he left yet? I don’t remember, but about Ambassador Locke.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to dignify the name-calling in that editorial with a formal response. But I will say – I will take the opportunity, I should say, to thank Ambassador Locke for his outstanding service and note and point you to what Secretary Kerry said in his statement yesterday, late – calling him a champion of human dignity and a relentless advocate for American values. So we certainly appreciate his service.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, are you not disappointed that a Chinese Government outlet would print such insulting or slurs about your – about the President’s envoy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I don’t think that kind of language or rhetoric dignifies a response.

QUESTION: Any update of Venezuela?

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on China? China.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: To follow up, just yesterday Secretary Kerry released a statement about Gary Locke. And can you confirm the exact departure date for Gary Locke to leave China?

MS. PSAKI: That’s a good question. I don’t have his exact departure date but I’m sure we can check on that for you.

QUESTION: Is it today or tomorrow? I mean, Beijing time?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, I’d have to check on it for you.

QUESTION: Okay. And how do you see the development of U.S.-China relations during Ambassador Locke’s tenure in Beijing? I mean, yesterday Kerry said something on the bilateral relations, not – that’s not very much, except for the waiting time for visa is shortened and the Chinese investment in the U.S. increased, but not – no comments on the comprehensive bilateral relationship.

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary was just in China about two weeks ago and he had extensive comments on the importance of our bilateral relationship, whether it’s on the economic partnership or strategic interests, and I would point you to that.

QUESTION: And also, can you confirm the exact date for Max Baucus to arrive in Beijing?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. We will check on the departure and arrival dates and get those around.

QUESTION: It must be in next two weeks, right? In the two weeks --

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check on it for you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I’m led to believe that you guys take a dim view of the expulsion of Médecins Sans Frontières from Burma. Is that correct? And --

MS. PSAKI: We do. How did you know?

QUESTION: Little birds.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. We are very concerned by reports that they’ve been ordered to suspend operations in Burma. We understand the Burmese Government and the MSF are in discussions to resume operations. We, of course, refer all inquiries to them. But we urge the government to continue to work with the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to communities in need and to ensure unfettered access for humanitarian agencies. Obviously, this is essential – this kind of access is essential to the benefits of – to benefit the Burmese people.

QUESTION: Do you know if you have made that point directly to the Burmese?

MS. PSAKI: Let me check on that, Matt. I would venture to guess that we have, but I will check on that for you.

QUESTION: And when you said you will leave it to them – leave it – you’re not going to insert yourself – or you’re not going to get involved in the discussions between MSF and the government, right?

MS. PSAKI: Right. They’re engaged in discussions, so we would point you to them.

QUESTION: Can I go to Venezuela, please?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: This morning, after his talks with his Colombian counterpart, Secretary Kerry talked about Venezuela as well in a press availability that he had.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And he mentioned that in his talks with Maria Holguin, they had discussed some kind of mediation efforts to try and resolve the political crisis in Venezuela. Do you have more details on that, exactly which countries, who might be involved, what they’re looking at?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. What he’s referring to is a third-party mediator. But again, that’s a discussion that’s – that they are having. It is clear that there is likely a need for that, as the Secretary said. But I don’t have any other details to share with you.

QUESTION: But would your preference be another Latin American or South American country?

MS. PSAKI: I just am not going to outline preferences given this is a discussion they’re having.

QUESTION: Presumably it’s not going to be the United States, though?

MS. PSAKI: That’s right, yes.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the region.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) OAS?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Today is a meeting and the OAS – it is stalled in this moment. The Panama requested a meeting – a special meeting with the OAS and the meeting doesn’t go through until the moment. There is any update on that, the position of the U.S. with that meeting?

MS. PSAKI: On which piece? I’m sorry, what aspect of the OAS meeting?

QUESTION: There is a meeting requested by Panama regarding the situation in Venezuela.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: This meeting was going to be done, I think, on Tuesday and was suspended and there’s no date.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think a dialogue between the opposition and the government may require third-party mediation. The question is: Who is the appropriate mediator? And clearly, the third party would need to be someone both the government and the opposition trust and welcome. So that – we’ll let them proceed with who the appropriate contact or national organization is, but beyond that I don’t have another comment on the OAS.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Can we – Venezuela?

QUESTION: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah, please.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to know if you have answer to my question yesterday if the U.S. supports a meeting by the foreign ministers of the – of Latin America, as requested by Panama.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new. I think this is the same question he just asked.

QUESTION: It’s not quite the same. He’s asking about the meeting that stalled, and that meeting is to decide if there is --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- a meeting of the foreign ministers. So I just wanted to know if that is your position.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an additional comment other than to convey that, obviously, as I mentioned, a clear – a third-party moderator may be necessary, so the determination needs to be made on who both parties would trust to be the third-party moderator.

QUESTION: And would the OAS be a good platform to decide who the mediator may be or to design a diplomatic mission?

MS. PSAKI: We’re just not going to weigh in on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Region – go ahead.

QUESTION: Colombia. The FARC today has said that they are asking for the U.S. Government to join in their peace talks with the Colombian Government, saying that it would speed up the process because the United States is calling all the shots there anyway. Have you heard from the FARC directly or indirectly? Do you have any interest in negotiating or dealing with them? And is it true – do you share the assessment that it’s the United States that calls all the shots in Colombia anyway?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly would not share that assessment. We, of course, welcome the efforts of President Santos and the Colombian people to pursue lasting peace and security, and a peace process is an opportunity for the FARC to end its decades of terrorism and narcotics trafficking. We’re not a party to these negotiations. I’m not aware of efforts for us to be a party of these negotiations. So I would refer you, of course, to the parties for further information. And certainly, when peace is achieved, we would stand ready to support the Colombian Government’s efforts to bring long-term peace and stability to Colombia.

QUESTION: Isn’t the FARC still regarded as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States Government?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a change, but I’d have to check on the designation question.

QUESTION: Because I don’t think you could actually talk to them directly anyway if you wanted to, could you?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that would be a serious challenge. But I don’t have any other updates beyond that.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yes. On Wednesday, of course, the Secretary spoke about the possibility of extending beyond the nine-month deadline. Then the following day, yesterday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat refuted that. He said not one day. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I spoke to this yesterday, Said, so I’d point you to that.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, has there been – okay. Well, I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Nothing new since yesterday. But I answered this question yesterday.

QUESTION: I have a couple more questions on this issue.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: We know that the Secretary is speaking before AIPAC. Does he have any plans for an official meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MS. PSAKI: I believe he will have a meeting here on Monday with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but I’ll point you to the Week Ahead Schedule on the specific timing and details for that.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: On – I just wondered if you --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- anyone had a chance to look at that Amnesty report I asked about yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. We’ve seen the report. The issues it outlines are also discussed in our Human Rights Report that we just announced yesterday, where we raise excessive – the use – we raise the use of excessive force as one of the primary problems in the West Bank. So I’d refer you to that, and there’s similar overlap.

QUESTION: Okay. So you would say that you share the concerns expressed by Amnesty in its report? Your Human Rights Report echoes, or at least it contains similar concerns, to what the Amnesty report has in it?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I mean, they may be discussed in slightly ways – obvious – different ways, obviously. Our Human Rights Report speaks to our specific concerns.

QUESTION: Okay. And then do you have any comment on reports that Israel is limiting the ability of Palestinians to worship at the Dome of the Rock?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you can imagine, we’re very concerned by recent tensions surrounding the Temple Mount. We’ve continued to urge all sides to respect the status quo of this holy site, to exercise restraint, and make every effort to restore calm now. We recognize how important the holy site is, so we urge all sides to respect the status quo. And we’ve engaged at the highest levels on this issue. But obviously, decisions are going to be made on the ground about the best way to keep it secure, and we’re not going to weigh into that.

QUESTION: Okay. But do you believe that the sides are listening or heeding your calls for restraint – both – you’re calling on both sides, clearly, and I’m just wondering if you think that both sides are, in fact, exercising restraint.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we wouldn’t be calling for both sides to exercise restraint if they had been for – consistently through this process. I don’t have an evaluation of what’s happening today.

QUESTION: Okay. But you do believe that restraint is still needed?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: From both sides?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: On the Human Rights Report, so you’re saying they’re very similar, yours and Amnesty’s? So you agree with the language they are using? “A rise --

MS. PSAKI: I think I just --

QUESTION: Let me --

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish, Said. I just said when I answered Matt’s question that I would point you to our specific language as defining what our concerns are. But we have similar concerns, but obviously, we put out a report that referenced the same thing yesterday.

QUESTION: I fully understand --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- and I heard the question yesterday. I just wanted to ask you --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- whether you agree with the language that says, “A rise in unlawful killing and the use of excessive force by Israeli forces”? Do you agree with that unlawful killing --

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the language in our Human Rights Report, Said.

QUESTION: I want to go back to China.

MS. PSAKI: To China, sure.

QUESTION: How do you see Max Baucus’ new role in Beijing, and also the development of the U.S.-China relations? I mean, a new model of major power relations after Baucus arrive in Beijing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I just answered your question on the relationship. Obviously, Ambassador Baucus just arrived in China. He has an extensive background – or I don’t know if he arrived or not. He was just confirmed. So I don’t know if we can evaluate yet his time of service, but the Secretary looks forward to working with him. He has an extensive career in public service, an extensive career working on economic issues that are of vital importance to our relationship, so we look forward to that in the months ahead.

QUESTION: And Gary Locke said in Beijing that the biggest challenge for the U.S.-China relation is to maintain communication, and those disagreements to be resolved through a peaceful and cooperative way. Do you agree with this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that’s one of the reasons why the Secretary was there just two weeks ago.

Do we have any more on China? Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have another one on China.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: We talked about a couple days ago this topic. The committee of the National People’s Congress has passed a bill which established a national holidays on September 3rd and December 13th. Yeah. Could you tell me what’s the position of the United States? And are you concerned the escalation of the tension of these two countries?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to add from my comments the other day. Just to reiterate them, as we’ve indicated many times, we encourage the countries in Northeast Asia to continue to work with their neighbors to resolve concerns over history in an amicable way through dialogue. We believe that relations among these countries are in their interests and those of the United States. But I don’t have any additional comment.

Do we have any more on China?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Thanks, Jen. So China just issued, I think today, a human rights report on the United States.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It criticized the U.S. by saying that it made arbitrary attacks and irresponsible remarks. And it also criticized the State Department for not including the U.S. in its report. So what is your response? Would you consider including the U.S. in future reports? And do you welcome China’s reports?

MS. PSAKI: Well, human rights reports can be a useful mechanism for assessing international human rights conditions to the extent that they are produced by an objective methodology. We believe ours is. We raise human rights concerns with China in nearly every dialogue, if not every dialogue, of course, that we have with China. Those issues are remaining, as is evidenced by the rollout of our report. We welcome the attention that other countries pay to human rights and are open to discussion of their concerns as part of a broader dialogue on these issues. We don’t regard it as an interference in our internal affairs when foreign governments, individuals, or organizations comment on, monitor, or criticize U.S. human rights practices.

But again, I think as the President has said, we also hold ourselves to a high standard, and we continue to strive to do everything possible here in the United States. So this is a report we issue annually. The United States is not included in it, but we speak often about steps we think need to be taken here. And obviously, that doesn’t happen from this building, but happens from other buildings in the government.

QUESTION: Well, actually, there is precedent, actually, for this because you used – the Trafficking in Persons Report for many years was just about other countries. And then Secretary Clinton decided to open it up to include a section on the United States as well because she thought that it was important for the U.S. to grade itself. Recognizing that the Chinese criticism is not going to sway you on this, are you aware of any consideration being given to including the United States in future reports since it has been done in other instances?

MS. PSAKI: I am not.

QUESTION: You said “objective.” How do you define that? That your report is very objective, and it is done by the U.S. Government.

MS. PSAKI: It’s based on scientific – a process of evaluating what’s happening in different countries, Said.

QUESTION: But it is conducted and carried out and researched by the United States Government. I mean, it could be skewed to serve U.S. interests, couldn’t it?

MS. PSAKI: It is not. Do we have any more on China, or --

QUESTION: Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: We have a story saying that the IAEA has chosen for now not to put out a major new report on Iran’s nuclear program. And in particular, such a report was expected to amplify on the possible military dimensions of the Iranian program which the agency referred to in its last big report in 2011. Do you have any comment on this? Do you think it’s – it would be a good thing for them to go ahead and publish such a report?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we naturally defer to the IAEA to comment on any report that exists that they’ve worked on or have been working on. I don’t have any validation of whether they have been working on such a report. I’ve seen your story. The notion that the IAEA is not fully investigating concerns about the potential military dimensions of Iran’s program or making information available when appropriate is hard to believe, and our view is that’s false. But again, the IAEA is, of course, its own entity and agency. I would point you to them. We certainly fully support the agency’s investigation efforts, have since its inception. It’s, of course, their prerogative to decide how much information they share.

QUESTION: Just two things. I don’t think there’s any suggestion that they’re not fully investigating it. The issue is really about disclosure, what they may or may not have found.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So that’s kind of a straw man thing. But the second point, you said that the notion that --

MS. PSAKI: This may be as well. Your report may be as well.

QUESTION: You think so, is it?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know. I would point you to the IAEA, Arshad.

QUESTION: Okay. And you also said that releasing it when appropriate – I’m probably not going to get any further on this --

MS. PSAKI: Probably not. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- but the suggestion in the story was that they’re holding off on it for fear that its release could undermine the negotiating process that’s now underway. Are you concerned about things like that, about IAEA reports that could make it harder for you to negotiate with the Iranians?

MS. PSAKI: Look, it is the agency’s prerogative to decide how much information to share with member states, including Iran, at any given point to make progress in its investigation. As you know, the IAEA process has been separate from the P5+1 process. Obviously, there’s – you engage in dialogue, but they’ve consistently reported Iran’s lack of cooperation under – in general. And we, as I said, of course support their efforts. But I don’t have any other further analysis for you.

QUESTION: But you say though that it’s up to the organization to decide how much information it makes public, but in fact that decision is made by the – not by the IAEA but by the members of its – it operates like much like (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Information they share with member states.

QUESTION: The Board of Governors.

QUESTION: A board of governors --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- of which there has to be consensus. So one country or a minimum of one country can stop them from releasing whatever they want. So it’s not entirely true that the director-general of the IAEA can decide at will what he wants to put out. Is that not correct?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. The Board of Governors can determine --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- what is shared with member states.

QUESTION: And the United States is a member of the Board of Governors, correct?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure that’s the case, Matt. More on Iran?

QUESTION: No. I wondered, if I can, I wanted to ask about South – about Sudan – about South Sudan --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- but I wanted to just go back to Ambassador Ford.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Today’s his last day then.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Given the fact that he’s developed over the last three years this intense network of relationships with the Syrian opposition and has helped meld them into a more cohesive group, and has been the driving force between --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- behind getting them to Geneva talks in January, do you believe that his retirement is going to, perhaps, hamper in any way your efforts going forward on this – given that whoever his successor is – you mentioned Larry Silverman in the interim – is going to not have those same level of contacts?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s no question that his departure is a loss, not just because of his contacts but because of his expertise, because of his knowledge. But I would remind you that in addition to Ambassador Ford there have been a range of officials who have been in close contact with the opposition, including other officials from NEA, including other officials from other bureaus, Assistant Secretary Patterson, Under Secretary Sherman, so there will be a continuity given that there are a range of officials who will still be in place, and obviously part of what I’m sure will be looked at is the role that the next person will play in terms of their engagement with the opposition.

QUESTION: And is there – are there any plans in the immediate coming days for Larry to go down to visit Istanbul and to have direct talks with the opposition that is there?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on his plans, but I’m happy to check and see if there’s any plans in the works.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I’d like to go to Sudan, unless somebody else --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let’s go to Sudan.

QUESTION: Okay. I don’t know if you saw yesterday, talking about human rights reports, that there was a report issued by Human Rights Watch that accused both sides in the South Sudan conflict of having committed war crimes. And they talk about the wanton destruction and violence raging in the country and calling it shocking. I wondered if you have a response to that. And also if you could update us on where we are with the talks that have been going on in Addis.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, well, despite continued violation by both sides, the cessation of hostilities agreement remains in place. We believe that this agreement offers the best hope to stop the fighting and allow space for the political dialogue that is needed to address the root causes of this conflict. We urge both parties to honor the agreement that they signed in January and immediately cease military actions aimed at the other.

We have – we continue to support the EGAD negotiations to immediately establish a mechanism to monitor the implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement. The next step from here is for both sides to agree to the immediate standing up of the joint technical committee which will oversee the monitoring and verification mission. So the EGAD talks will continue throughout this week with both parties taking a planned recess this evening to return and consult with their leaders, and will of course continue to support these talks and work to urge all parties in this inclusive political dialogue.

QUESTION: So you mentioned violations of the ceasefire agreement. I mean, what Human Rights Watch seems to be saying is – I mean, they’re talking about war crimes. What is your reaction to the fact that – I mean, the violations of the ceasefire agreement is kind of bureaucratic speak. I mean, it’s --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Look, I’m not using that label. But again, continued – the continued fighting is a blatant violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement, and we, of course, are disappointed by the failure of both parties to abide by the terms of the agreement.

QUESTION: Is there anything now that the United States can do above and beyond what it’s already --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re continuing to support these talks. Obviously we’re closely engaged. Beyond that, I don’t have an additional update.

Go ahead, in the back. Modi.

QUESTION: It’s about the – yeah. (Laughter.) I got an email from the State Department saying I should read the previous – the previous --

QUESTION: What? You’re talking about – just get it over with. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Sorry, go ahead. We’re getting a little silly on a Friday afternoon.

QUESTION: The State Department said that – in an email to me last night that I should read the reports of the previous years and see that there is no change in policy. I did refresh my – and I’ll tell you, page 56 of 2012 report mentions his name. I have the printout here.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Page 58 of 2011 report mentions his name and quotes another report saying that Gujarat – blaming Gujarat chief minister and 60 others for complicity in the 2002 communal violence. And in 2005, you revoked his visa. And now this time, as Matt had yesterday pointed out, is this an editing error or deliberate? If it is – there is a change of policy, please will you like to explain where do we stand today?

MS. PSAKI: There is no change in policy. There’s no editing error. I went back and did my homework too on your behalf and the behalf of others. The 2013 Human Rights Report focuses on events that took place between January and December of 2013. We generally provide updates on significant developments that occurred during the reporting period related to events included in past reports. So obviously, our position with respect to the 2002 communal violence is clear and has been thoroughly documented in our Human Rights Reports over time, including the most recent report.

But we also note that we cite our concerns about several instances of communal violence, as I mentioned yesterday, but our goal is to use illustrative cases to shed light on the nature, scope and severity of human rights abuses we report, not to comprehensively catalog every human rights violation or abuse that occurred. And again, when there are significant developments – whether that’s a legal case or issues along those lines – those are what are included. So it is not an indication of a change in policy or anything along those lines.

QUESTION: And there was another question on the meeting – Ambassador’s meeting with the West Bengal chief minister. Do you have anything?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, Ambassador Powell and the U.S. consuls general are engaging in comprehensive outreach across India to senior leaders in political parties, business organization and NGOs. Starting last November, Ambassador Powell has shared and listened to the views of many on the U.S.-India relationship. I’m not going to outline every meeting or confirm every meeting, but I can assure you that her engagement is broad.

And I also wanted to point out to you that we just sent out a media note – hopefully it went out – about Assistant Secretary Nisha Biswal’s travel to India that will be upcoming March 4th through 6th.

QUESTION: Yeah. Just the last one on that media note.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I went through it. It says she’s going to meet the government officials, and it’s – mostly the focus is on the economic cooperation and all.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So she won’t be meeting any other political leaders of other political parties before elections?

MS. PSAKI: Well, oftentimes schedules come together, but I don’t have any meeting – any specific meetings, additional details on them here.

QUESTION: But before the elections, just before the – how good it can be for the economic cooperation? The government is not in a position to make any decisions.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of officials and leaders who are engaged in economic cooperation, including business leaders, including NGOs, and this is an important part of our relationship with India so it’s no surprise that she’d be taking a look at a long-term – our long-term interests.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do a few more here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Another question regarding this Human Rights Report.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Actually, I asked this question yesterday too.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, shall we – should we assume that the language that you are using in these reports are more outspoken from the remarks that you – your remarks from that podium sometimes?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe so. It depends on the question that you ask. But the Human Rights Report is representative of the views of the U.S. Government, so you can certainly quote anything in there as our views.

QUESTION: No, I know that, for example, when you are commenting on a situation in an ally – especially like in an ally like Turkey – your concern is interfering with the domestic policy of this ally.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But you’re not seeing, for example, the content of this report as interfering with domestic policy. And you’re describing the events in Turkey, for example, the – and the graft probe and the subsequent events as scandal. Are you repeating – can you repeat this from the podium too? You see – do you see these events in Turkey as scandal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have the exact quoted language in front of me in my book here. Obviously, what the Human Rights Report pointed out as it relates to Turkey is that significant human rights problems reported though 2013 included restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly and deficiencies in access to justice. During the Park protests in the summer of 2013, authorities used excessive force to disperse protesters, causing mass casualties, including seven deaths, while also detaining thousands of people, including journalists, academics, lawyers and students. There are many other details that are included in the report, which we certainly would stand by.

QUESTION: Yes. But the main difference with this – I mean, the significant part of this report, you have included the corruption as a significant human rights violation for the first time.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I encourage you to write about the report.

QUESTION: Yeah. I wrote it. It was a headline story today, but --

MS. PSAKI: Well, write more stories about it. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- I am trying to understand that – where the Administration’s standing in terms of the findings of this report?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it is an Administration report, so it’s representative of our views and our standings.

QUESTION: So are you repeating the characterization of the events in Turkey as a scandal?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’d point you to the report and the details. I don’t have it in front of me, so I don’t want to take your word for it. No offense. But I would point you to the details in the report. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Let’s go back to Max Baucus. Some people say that --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- he’s not an expert on the regional security issues --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- and that will be his disadvantage. And considering the tense relations in Northeast Asia, maybe he won’t be able to handle these difficult security issues. So what is your comment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as we’ve said and the Secretary has said before, Ambassador Baucus has an extensive career in – of public service. He’s worked on vital, important issues including trade issues, including economic issues.

QUESTION: But not regional security issues.

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish my answer. And I think he – we think that he’s going to bring his extensive time in public service to China and be a great ambassador on the ground.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Wait.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: Tangentially related to that, remember I asked last – I think last week – I don’t remember when it was now – about the AFSA guidelines --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- for ambassadors? Did you – was there a response that – whether the Department would welcome their input in terms of rating qualifications for ambassadorial nominees?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we certainly appreciate AFSA’s attention to ambassadorial nominees – nominations. The Department’s Chief of Staff David Wade meets regularly – speaks regularly with AFSA, as does Deputy Secretary Higginbottom, and Secretary Kerry has as well, and we have a good dialogue with them. It’s no coincidence that for hundreds of years, American statecraft has been defined by a mosaic of career and political appointees. We’ve had great career ambassadors and great political ambassadors. It’s not a strength and a stigma that an ambassador spent decades running a corporation or serving as a governor or senator. You are familiar with our ratio. This means that about 30 percent come from the outside – the private sector – and about 70 percent from those serving around the world in the Foreign Service.

There’s also something else AFSA cares about immensely, and Secretary Kerry and the White House have been standing shoulder to shoulder with them pushing it, and that’s the fact that more than 1,000 Foreign Service officers are waiting for the Senate to approve their promotions. They have served, some in very dangerous places, and they continue to wait just to have their promotions approved. Right now, we have 23 career Foreign Service nominees stuck in the Senate. They’re also languishing.

So in nominating ambassadors, we of course look for qualified candidates who represent Americans from all walks of life, as I mentioned. And of course, we welcome the contribution of anyone, but as you know, these decisions are made by the White House and the Executive Branch about who to nominate, and we think and we support the diverse backgrounds that are being put forward.

QUESTION: Okay, but – all of that is great and wonderful, but the question – my question is: Do you think that they should have a role in choosing – in the selection of nominees to be – to these posts?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, anyone is free to share their views or share what they feel criteria should be, but these decisions have been made and will continue to be made out of the White House, as is historic and I think the legal process. What I was reiterating here is that there are a number of priorities AFSA has. We work with them on them. We have a good dialogue with them and we’re happy to hear their views.

QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t – you wouldn’t rank them – AFSA’s views on a particular nominee, you wouldn’t think have more weight or should have more weight than that of, I don’t know, a cattle rancher in Idaho?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our Chief of Staff, the Secretary of State, and the Deputy Secretary of State are not soliciting the views of a cattle rancher on --

QUESTION: Well, are they soliciting the views of AFSA and is the – does the White House?

MS. PSAKI: We are engaged with AFSA about a range of issues, and we’re happy to hear their views when they would like to express them.

QUESTION: Right. But you just said that you’d be happy to hear anybody’s views. So, I mean, presumably, if --

MS. PSAKI: Well, but also, what I told you is that also, our Chief of Staff meets regularly with them and --

QUESTION: I understand, right.

MS. PSAKI: -- so obviously we’re closely engaged with them and happy to hear from them.

QUESTION: Right. But when I raised the question initially before, I referred to the ABA and their rankings or their reviews of judicial nominees. And those, although they are unofficial and certainly not binding play a huge role in Senate confirmation hearings. And I’m just wondering if the Department has an opinion about whether AFSA, which, as an organization, would seem to be the equivalent, in this case, to what the ABA would be for a judicial nominee if they – if you think they should have any particular or special or weighted – more weighty role than that of the average citizen.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a comparison. What I was trying to say is that we engage closely with AFSA, of course, given who they represent, which is a vital part of this building. And they have regular meetings with our Chief of Staff, Secretary Kerry has engaged with them, so that is showing you clearly that we appreciate their input.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:15 p.m.)



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