12:48 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon from a snowy day in Washington. I don’t have anything at the top, and obviously want to get to as many questions as possible. While we’re doing this briefing over the phone, it is on the record, as per usual. So why don’t we go directly to questions?
OPERATOR: And ladies and gentlemen, if there are any questions from the phone lines at this time, please press * followed by the 1 on your touchtone phone. You’ll hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed in a queue, and all questions will be pulled in the order they are received. And once again, if there are any questions at this time please press * followed by the 1 on your touchtone phone. And one moment please for our first question.
And our first question today comes from the line of Matt Lee from the Associated Press. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Matt?
OPERATOR: Mr. Lee, your line is open. Please go ahead with your question.
QUESTION: Sorry. I had my phone on mute. Sorry.
MS. PSAKI: No problem. Makes it harder to hear your question.
QUESTION: Sorry? Can you hear me?
MS. PSAKI: I said it makes it harder to hear your question.
QUESTION: Yeah, it does. Okay. Well, anyway, sorry about that. Listen, I just wondered – I just have some logistical things. One, is it still – is the – given the weather and everything else, is the AIPAC speech still on? If it is, can you give us any kind of a preview of it? And then on Ukraine-related, is he expecting to still see Lavrov in Paris and/or Rome?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. So, on the logistical question, yes, the AIPAC speech is still on. The Secretary is looking forward to delivering that later this evening. His other meetings today are still on as well, including the meeting with the Moldovan foreign minister that should be underway, meetings he’ll be having with Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well as meetings he’ll be participating at the White House in.
We hope to, just from a logistical standpoint, provide some excerpts to all of you later this afternoon. Broadly speaking, this speech will be about his – about the strong commitments and longstanding commitment of the United States to our relationship with Israel, the important partnership we’ve had over the course of decades. The Secretary will also talk about the two challenges – the two – Israeli’s security, one being Iran and the threat of acquiring a nuclear weapon. He will reiterate the strong commitment of the President and of the Administration not to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and lay out the bottom line as we look to the comprehensive negotiations that are ongoing.
He’ll also talk about the ongoing negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and he will again repeat – reiterate what you – many have heard him say many times, which is what the positive benefits would be to both the Israeli and the Palestinian people should they reach a final status agreement. He’ll talk about the impacts – the positive impact that would have on security in Israel and how our goal is to make Israel stronger at the end, and that is, of course, a fundamental component of these discussions.
He’ll also talk about the benefits to the Palestinian people and their interests and aspirations to have a more viable and prosperous economy. So he’ll talk about those – all of those issues. And again, we hope to have excerpts out to all of you later this afternoon.
I think you had a third question and now I forget what it was.
QUESTION: Well, do you expect him to talk about the BDS again? And then the other question on – which was also on logistics was just about potential meetings with Lavrov and --
MS. PSAKI: Sure. He will, as has been not only the longstanding position of the United States Government, but his position in his 29 year or now 30 years in public service, reiterate our opposition to any boycott of Israel, and that will be a part of the speech as well.
In terms of a Lavrov meeting, I don’t have any schedule updates for you. Obviously, there’s been a discussion of that, but the schedule is still being finalized over the course of the days he’ll be in Paris and Rome.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
OPERATOR: And we do have a question from the line of Anne Gearan with The Washington Post. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Anne.
QUESTION: Hi. So can you just give us the best case for what the Secretary hopes to accomplish in Kyiv? I mean, he won’t be seeing, it seems to me, the people who matter most here, who would be the Crimean officials or Russian officials there, right? He will only be seeing the interim government leaders? Is that right?
MS. PSAKI: That’s right. Well, he will be seeing, of course, members of the transitional government, members of the Rada, members of civil society, including interfaith religious leaders. So we’re still finalizing the schedule. I know it’s tomorrow, but as you all know, this trip just came together over the course of the last 72 hours. But broadly speaking, Anne, he’s going to be discussing, of course, Ukraine’s economic and political needs, seeing what additional support we can provide, and really sending a strong message that we support the people of Ukraine, the voices of the people of Ukraine. And obviously, they’re going through their own transition here, so he’ll discuss all of those issues and really be looking forward.
Just a couple of other updates for all of you. I think some of you have seen it, but Assistant Secretary Nuland is in Vienna today meeting with senior officials of the OSCE and representing the United States at a special meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on Ukraine. While she’s there, she’s also meeting with member states to work towards an OSCE monitoring mission for Crimea and eastern Ukraine. This mission would provide accurate facts and information about what is happening in these regions and would reduce tensions. She’s also made some public comments; I would also point you to where she repeats our support for the OSCE launching a full-scale monitoring mission, which is obviously what they’re discussing.
We’re also – we also support and we’re working towards a high-level meeting of the signatories to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. That, of course, would include Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. And so that is something we’re working towards, so I don’t have anything on the schedule to announce yet over the course of the next coming days.
QUESTION: Do you expect him to have public remarks on the subject of Ukraine before he goes?
MS. PSAKI: He just did a spray with the Moldovans, so I obviously wasn’t there because I’m here with all of you. But I believe he may have touched on Ukraine there.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I think we’re ready for the next question.
OPERATOR: And our next question comes from the line Arshad Mohammed with Reuters. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Arshad.
QUESTION: Hi, Jen. Interfax quoted a Ukrainian defense ministry official as saying that the Russian fleet gave Ukrainian forces in Crimea until 0300 GMT to surrender or face attack. One, do you have any reason to believe that the Russian Defense Ministry coupled with the Russian fleet has indeed given the Ukrainian forces in Crimea a deadline by which to surrender or be attacked?
And secondly, regardless of whether you know for sure whether there’s been such an ultimatum, how – what do you think of such an ultimatum being given or threatened?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I don’t have any independent information on that. I’ve seen the same reports as you, and thank you, of course, to you and others who sent those over. But of course these reports today of threats of force against Ukrainian military installations would, if true, in our view constitute a dangerous escalation of the situation for which we would hold Russia directly responsible. You’ve seen over the course of the last 72 hours that the international community has been very unified in steps we’ve taken, and whether that’s the statement – the strong statement made by the G7, statements coming out of NATO, obviously there’s the meeting of the OSCE today – and that coordination and cooperation will continue. And as Russia takes steps, the international community will look closely at taking steps as well. So I don’t have anything independently for you on those reports. If that changes, we will, of course, provide an update. But that is certainly where we stand at this point.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: And we do have a question from the line of Jo Biddle with AFP. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Jo.
QUESTION: Hi there. Can you hear me, because I had to --
MS. PSAKI: I can hear you.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I just go back to clarify on the question of whether the Secretary will be meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov? He did actually announce he would be – last week that he would meet on Wednesday with the Russian foreign minister. From your reply to Anne, are you now saying that may not happen as the Secretary had already previewed?
And my second question is on the issue of settlements and whether there is going to be a push for the U.S. Administration – perhaps via the talks at the White House today – for Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu to agree to a freeze on settlement building as any step forward for the framework to happen. I don’t know if you saw the reports that came out of Israel this morning that there’s been more settlement building than ever. I don’t just have it in front me. So I wondered if you could answer those two questions. Thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. On the first question, I just don’t want to get ahead of where we are in terms of finalizing items in the schedule. So it’s not a stepping back from anything; it’s more we’re obviously balancing a number of priorities and we’re working through scheduling logistics, so I expect we’ll have more of an update in the next 24 hours on that. But I did not mean to be an alarmist in any way, shape, or form.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. It’s just that we already have in copy that they’re meeting, so, I mean, I suppose the issue is, for most people, do we still say that they’re going to meet or do we say that it hasn’t been finalized?
MS. PSAKI: I would – it’s accurate to say it hasn’t been finalized at this point.
MS. PSAKI: On the settlements, obviously, I would point you to my friends and former colleagues at the White House in terms of a specific readout of the meeting with the prime minister. But our focus remains on narrowing the gaps on a framework for negotiations moving forward. That will of course address all the core issues, as you know, but I don’t want to predict or preview any plans for an ask on a settlement freeze.
Obviously, we’re discussing a range of options. We’re not going to outline those. And as you know from the discussion we’ve had over the course of the last six to eight months on this, the agreement was that the Palestinians would not go to the UN and the Israelis would release prisoners. Obviously, that doesn’t change our view of settlements. We continue to believe that settlements are illegitimate. That is the reason, one of the many reasons, addressing that issue – as to why we’re so committed to addressing the issue of, I should say, borders, and having two states of – why we’re so committed to these discussions. But I don’t have any prediction for you or any information on a discussion of a settlement freeze in the short term.
QUESTION: And do you have any reaction to the news by – from Israeli Government data that – I found it now – that new settlement building in the West Bank increased by 123.7 percent last year? What would be the U.S. reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look at the statistics and talk to our team about it. I know there are a range of ways of measuring it. It doesn’t change the fact that, again, we feel settlement activity is illegitimate. We don’t think it is a step that is helpful or productive in creating the environment to have a positive outcome of negotiations. That’s a message we’ve sent many times publicly and privately, and I can assure you we will continue to.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Jen. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, Jo.
OPERATOR: And our next question comes from the line of Nicole Gaouette with Bloomberg News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi there, Jen. Can you hear me?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering if the Secretary did meet with Tzipi Livni this morning or any other Israeli officials, and whether you can give us a readout.
MS. PSAKI: He did have the meetings as scheduled this morning, and the meetings as scheduled are planned to proceed this afternoon. These are – we’re having continued discussions. The Secretary is closely engaged, Ambassador Indyk is closely engaged, and obviously, the President’s closely engaged in having Prime Minister Netanyahu in the White House today for a meeting.
But the focus right now is on the ongoing discussions about a framework for negotiations. Obviously, we feel that’s a pivotal piece to moving this process forward. So that was his focus of the discussions this morning, as well as this afternoon. And of course, we expect in any of these discussions, specifically with Prime Minister Netanyahu, that a discussion of the negotiations with Iran and the P5+1 about the comprehensive negotiations will be a part of it as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, Nicole.
OPERATOR: And our next question comes from the line of Justin Fishel with Fox News. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Justin Fishel.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Hi, Jen. And that’s Fishel, for the record, not Fishel, but --
MS. PSAKI: No one can pronounce my name either.
QUESTION: It’s a common error, and I’m not going to hold that against anyone. So Jen, how many Russian troops do you estimate are in Crimea right now? And how many of those are from outside of the Black Sea Fleet? So how many do you think they’ve brought in?
MS. PSAKI: Justin – and I could have said this at the top – I’m just not going to give and not in a position to give an update on what is happening on the ground in terms of the military movements. Obviously, we’re incredibly concerned about that. We are unified with the international community in our view that these steps have been illegal. We’ve taken steps in response, of course, to that. But I’m not going to be able to provide you with a ground game, military update.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, because – the reason I ask is because everybody here just says, “We’re closely watching, we’re closely watching.” So if you’re closely watching, you probably know those numbers, my guess is. But if you don’t want to provide them, that’s fine.
MS. PSAKI: Maybe I can help you better with a different question.
QUESTION: Okay. Great. So there was a story today in The New York Times that provided some readout from a phone call between Obama and Chancellor Merkel. And for whatever reason, the White House pointed us to the State Department to comment on some of that. I’m not sure if you can, but one of the things she said apparently is that he, Putin, is not in touch with reality and that he is, quote, “in another world.” Is that something you’re prepared to comment on? Did – was that expressed by Merkel to --
MS. PSAKI: Even if we were – had participated in that call, we wouldn’t speak to the comments of another foreign leader. So I would point you to the Germans on the validity of comments and what comments were made.
I mean, I will say that obviously, we’re working closely with all of the members of the G7, including Germany, on what the appropriate next steps may be. And that’s something that obviously the President’s been closely in touch with his counterparts on, Secretary Kerry’s been closely in touch with his counterparts on. There are several layers of that that we’re discussing, including political steps, including economic steps. So that’s the primary focus of our engagement, but I would point you to the Germans on any readout or confirmation of Chancellor Merkel’s comments.
QUESTION: Okay. And last question: The Paralympics are upcoming in Sochi in March. I’ve seen reports that British officials and perhaps U.S. officials are (inaudible) these games. What’s the official stance here? Are any athletes not going to go or any government officials? What can you say about the Paralympics?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen that announcement coming out of the White House. It’s a good question, so let me check on the more detailed specifics in terms of what it means if we’re not participating or not – or taking steps. So I’ll do that, Justin, and I can get that around to you and others who are interested.
I will say, broadly speaking, the Russians invested upwards of 50 – is it 50, I think, million dollars in the Olympics. Their – the view of the world of Russia matters to them. They’ve taken steps to rebuild their reputation, to engage with the West, and that’s one of the reasons we believe that political steps and sending a political message in coordination with the international community will be effective in cooperation and in partnership with economic steps. But let me check on the specifics for you.
QUESTION: Thanks, Jen. Justin out.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, Justin.
We’re ready for the next question.
OPERATOR: And we do have a question from the line of Elise Labott from CNN. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. I have a question on the Mideast, and then I have a question on the possible sanctions against Ukraine, which you probably got into on the top, but I was upstairs with the Secretary.
MS. PSAKI: No, no, no. It’s okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Ukraine – I mean, we understand that there are, like, a lot of preparations being done, like, a kind of teed-up for the President in terms of executive orders and possibly targeting of specific individuals. But I mean, what’s the trigger for these sanctions to take place? I mean, does he have to do – if he doesn’t --
MS. PSAKI: Are you talking about sanctions against the Russians?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, sorry. What is the trigger here? Does he – if he doesn’t withdraw within the specific amount of time, if he goes any further into eastern Ukraine? I mean, what is going to be the ultimate determinant of whether you’re going to make a decision on sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. It’s a good question. Well, first let me say that obviously, as the Secretary said over the weekend, there is an alternative path and Russia does not need to proceed on this path. They can engage directly with Ukraine, withdraw troops back to bases, refrain from interference elsewhere. And that’s a path they can take. But if they continue on the path they’re taking, including the steps they’ve taken in Crimea, the steps the military has taken, all of the issues that we’ve expressed concerns about, we will continue to take steps on our own.
So at this point, we’re not just considering sanctions given the actions Russia is taking. It is likely that we will put those in place, and we are preparing that right now. So we have a broad range of options available, as you know. We’re looking at the best way to hold people accountable. Obviously, we’ll make those decisions and those decisions will be made at a high level, but we are preparing options and we – and it is – we are likely moving down that path if things proceed.
QUESTION: But I just want to talk about – I understand that you’re preparing options and you’ll proceed if they continue to go down this path. So if they don’t pull back, are you going to put sanctions on? If they move farther? I just want to kind of nail down what does – do they have to do or not do in order for these sanctions to kick in?
MS. PSAKI: Well, just to be clear, if I didn’t make it clear enough, we are far more forward on this than we were even yesterday. So we’re continuing to make decisions day by day on questions like what sanctions we may or may not put in place for the Russians. There’s not a scientific answer that I can give you, and obviously, I’m not going to spell out discussions that are happening internally. It’s not as if there is a secret checklist. The question is: What are the most appropriate steps, what is the best way to hold people accountable and send the economic messages we need to send, send the political messages we need to send?
So the factors we are taking into account is certainly whether Russia proceeds in their military intervention here or whether they draw back troops, whether they engage with Ukraine or they don’t. Obviously, there are a range of factors we’re looking at, but I think we can all see the steps they’re taking on the ground which have raised concerns, and that’s why we’re proceeding down this path.
QUESTION: So you would say it’s highly likely that in the absence of any change in the situation, that you would impose these sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. And then you said you had a Middle East question?
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, when you talk about these settlement blocs, I mean, is it – what do you think of the kind of intentions and the good faith of the Israelis when you’re talking about these settlement blocs on the – when the President is meeting with the prime minister?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I don’t want to do too much political analysis here given, of course, these meetings are ongoing and our focus here is on narrowing the gaps on a framework so that we can proceed with the final status negotiations. That is our priority. Obviously, we’ve expressed concern in the past about settlements. We don’t think they’re helpful, we don’t think that they’re productive, and we don’t think they send the right message when we’re trying to move forward in challenging negotiations between the parties.
But beyond that, I’m not going to do an analysis on timing. Obviously, there are a range of officials who are engaged on announcements on the ground, so I hesitate to analyze what it means as it relates to the meetings today.
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re ready for the next question.
QUESTION: And our next question comes from the line of Said Arikat with Al Quds. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Said.
QUESTION: Hello, Jen. How are you?
MS. PSAKI: Good.
QUESTION: Jen, let me just try another crack at the settlement issue. I mean, how should the Palestinians feel (inaudible) you can’t express your concern? I mean, if you look at the numbers there, they are really staggering. And since the restart of the talks in July, I mean, we’re talking about more housing in the last six months than the whole of 2012. So what do you make of that, I mean, just to follow up on Elise’s question?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I know you and I and all of us have talked about this in the past, but we don’t hesitate to express concerns when settlement announcements are made and even when they’re not. We don’t think they are legitimate. We don’t recognize their legitimacy. But again, this is just a reminder of why it’s so important for the parties to remain at the table, for all of us to engage on moving towards a path forward that leads us to final status negotiations, because we do want to see two parties that – two peoples living side by side. And that’s the only way we think that this can be finally resolved.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you about what Abbas said this morning to Zehava Gal-On, the head of the Meretz Party, the Israeli Meretz Party, at a meeting with her. And he told her he does not intend to go beyond the nine months, and if it all fails, he’s going to go to the UN, in fact, he’s going to go to other international bodies and so on. Are you going to sort of pressure him or (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: (Inaudible) and that’s because we see the positive impact for the Israeli people, for the Palestinian people, for the region writ large. But in terms of what would happen next, we’re going to cross that bridge when we come to it. Our next step here is for – to narrow the gaps, to come to an agreement on a framework for the remainder of the period of final status negotiations. If we do that, there will be an investment and a clear path – investment by the parties and a clear path forward. So we will discuss this question when we hopefully reach that point.
QUESTION: Okay. And finally, Jen, I really appreciate you doing this. Saeb Erekat arrives today or arriving today. Will he have any meetings with anyone? I know you guys will be traveling. Will he meet with someone like Deputy Secretary Burns or anybody else at the State Department in the next couple days?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, that’s a good question, Said. He has meetings every time he’s here, typically, with officials here, so let me check on that. Obviously, there’s the meeting upcoming next Monday with President Abbas, but I will check and see if there’s any meetings with Saeb Erekat to report out to all of you.
Okay, I think we’re ready for the next question.
OPERATOR: We do have a question for the line of Lalit Jha with PTI. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Lalit. Can you hear us?
OPERATOR: And it looks like they did just drop out of queue. One moment, please.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
OPERATOR: We do have a question from the line of Taurean Barnwell with NHK. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Hi, I wonder if we can switch to North Korea for a little bit.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I have a question on – about a recent missile launch talking about North Korea. This is their second in the last week. I want to know if the State Department has a response to their latest provocative action.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well just to repeat for those of you who are not focused on this at this moment, let me just give you a little more information. According to U.S. Government information, North Korea launched two Scud class short-range ballistic missiles from its southeast coast Monday morning. Both missiles flew in a northeasterly direction and landed in the sea. We are continuing to closely monitor North Korean activities and intentions, and we’re closely monitoring the situation on the Korean peninsula.
We urge North Korea to refrain from provocative actions that aggravate tensions, and instead focus on fulfilling its international obligations and commitments, including by abiding with the United States – United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, 1874, and 2094. Scud missile launches are a violation of these UN Security Council resolutions. These resolutions require North Korea to abandon its ballistic missile program in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner. So we urge North Korea to exercise restraint and take steps to improve its relations with its neighbors. The onus is on North Korea to refrain from provocations.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you very much.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Ready for the next question.
OPERATOR: And our next question comes from the line of Lalit Jha with PTI. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Lalit.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. Will the developments in Ukraine have any impact on your operations in Afghanistan? I mean, your posts, your decision to pull out all the troops after 2014? Would you still insist on that?
MS. PSAKI: No. So just to reiterate, one, we’re not talking – no one’s preference is a military action in Ukraine. That’s why we’re pulling every lever we can on the economic end and on the political end. And obviously, the Secretary’s trip there is also to – tomorrow is to convey our support for the efforts of the interim government moving forward. But Afghanistan, our position remains the same. We need to have a BSA in order to have a remaining presence. You know the President’s announcement last week about our openness to one of Karzai’s successor’s signing the BSA. But again, it remains in the interest of the people of Afghanistan. Given the broad and deep support we’ve seen for the BSA from the Afghan people, we believe the Afghan people have also already expressed their support for these steps and also support for the progress that’s been made in keeping that going. But I would not draw a connection between the two international events.
QUESTION: And to the neighboring country, in Pakistan, one of the leaders, Imran Khan, who is heading the Tehreek-e-Insaf party, he’s saying that he doesn’t want peace in Pakistan. You know Pakistan Government has launched a massive operation against the terrorist groups in the tribal regions of the country.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our actions and our efforts, including the recent Strategic Dialogue we had with Pakistan and our ongoing engagement – the Secretary was there last summer. He said he hopes to go again. And we have an ongoing vital shared strategic interest with the Government of Pakistan in ending terrorism and pursuing a stable, peaceful, and prosperous region. So the proof is in the pudding and we remain very closely tied with the Government of Pakistan in fighting terrorism and coordinated with them in that effort as well.
QUESTION: And finally, the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai is traveling to India this week, leaving tomorrow. Is she carrying any message from the Secretary? This will be the – a major visit by her before the Energy Secretary’s travel there next week also.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, that’s right. She is. She has a heavy schedule over the next couple of days. She’s going to meet with government and business leaders in Bangalore to discuss our joint efforts to foster innovation, increase our high-tech and engineering engagement, and strengthen U.S.-India economic ties. She’s also traveling to New Delhi where she will meet with senior Indian officials to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues, including our shared defense, security, and economic engagement.
She is – this is an important trip for us. We have a broad and strategic partnership with India, and we’re a proud partner with India on virtually every field of human endeavor, from innovative solutions, to poverty and disease, to space exploration and counterterrorism. And the Secretary is sending with her a message that this relationship is important, we want to move past disagreements we’ve had because we have so many issues that are important for us to work closely on. So that is the purpose of her trip, and obviously she has an expansive itinerary while she’s there.
QUESTION: And in the itinerary, does she have any plans to meet the opposition leaders before the election?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any plans for that in my list. We will check, Lalit, and see if anything has changed. But obviously, we’re meeting with a range of officials and – as you know, but it’s worth repeating: We don’t take a position on the future of leadership in India. Obviously, that’s up to the people of India.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: We have a question from the line of Margaret Warner with PBS NewsHour. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Margaret.
QUESTION: Hi, Jen. Thanks for doing this.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Two questions: You might have covered this at the top because I missed the first, like, three minutes, but Moscow is talking about a return to the February 21 agreement which would have included Yatsenyuk in – I mean, Yanukovych still in this government until the new elections. Now, I’m aware that the Russians didn’t even sign that deal, but there was that deal. And then the Rada took the steps it did. So one, do you think there is any sort of off-ramp, as you all were talking about yesterday, in that?
And two, do you think in general the new Ukrainian government or the interim Ukrainian government could be doing more to reach out to the political leadership in the Russian-speaking eastern portions?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well a couple of things, and if I don’t answer every one, I’m sure you’ll tell me.
One, on Yanukovych, we’ve been pretty clear that we believe he lost his – the legitimacy as the leader of Ukraine when he abdicated his responsibilities by fleeing during a political crisis, and also before, signing the legislation necessary to implement the February 21st agreement. And events since then, which you’re familiar with and have been reporting on, have obviously surpassed the circumstances at the time. As you noted, there was a near-unanimous vote of the Rada, including virtually all members of Yanukovych’s own party to elect a new speaker and to move forward on the path.
So look, our focus here is on encouraging both the new government and the interim government to take steps forward, which they are doing. That includes being inclusive, which they are doing; it includes moving forward to elections in May; it includes taking the economic reforms – putting in place the economic reforms necessary, and the IMF will soon be on the ground to engage with that and assess the situation.
But there is an off-ramp for Russia. We – and we very much encourage them to take that off-ramp. They can engage directly with Ukraine, they can withdraw troops back to bases, they can refrain from interference elsewhere in Ukraine and support international mediation. There are many ways to protect the interests of Russian – of the Russian people, and that’s a discussion that of course is being had at the OSCE. We support international mediation, and that’s a discussion they’re having there as well.
QUESTION: But, I mean, are you saying that he fled before the Rada did anything, and that therefore it was his fleeing that precipitated what the Rada did? And more to the point, I’m just asking, whether in the interest of keeping Ukraine a whole country, whether there could be more being done by that interim government other than sending these oligarchs back to the east to make those regions feel included and that their points of view are being taken into account.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I think, one, again, it’s now been February 21st, so we’re over – we’re about 10 days ago. And obviously, there have been a range of events that have happened since then. When Yanukovych fled, he did leave a void of leadership. The Rada and others did take steps to move forward and determine how to best govern Ukraine in the interim as they try to keep a unified and stable Ukraine together. But that doesn’t mean there’s not an off-ramp. Of course, there’s an off-ramp, which is what I mentioned. And there have been steps taken since then, as you know, by the Russians that have been not just of great concern but have unified the international community in opposition to them. So those are all events that have happened since February 21st.
In terms of more that can be done, obviously engagement and inclusiveness over the long term is certainly something that we’re not only encouraging, we are working, of course, with the new government on taking steps to implement. But remember there is a lot happening on the ground. Right now, their priority, of course, is keeping the country unified and taking economic reform steps that are necessary, and we’re working with all of them on that as well.
QUESTION: But you don’t fault them for not doing more on that front?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a long path forward, Margaret. And I think they have taken remarkable steps and been – in light of the circumstances. And again, it’s important about where we go from here as well, and we’ll be working with them, as will many members of the international community.
MS. PSAKI: And just a last point here. Obviously, I mentioned the OSCE because protection of minority rights and inclusiveness and that entire question is a reasonable topic for discussion in fora such as the OSCE, and there’s many ways that those protections can be complied with and abided by. So we’re just asking to take the best path forward, not just – I’m not even referring to the new government. I’m referring to the steps taken by the Russians.
MODERATOR: And our next question comes from the line of Matthew Lee from the Associated Press. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry Jen, I didn’t intend to ask a --
MS. PSAKI: No, it’s okay.
QUESTION: Being talked into a second round here. But your answer to Margaret Warner on – so is it the Administration’s position that the February 21 deal is no longer valid? It’s no longer --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, Matt, I think – look, since then Yanukovych left the country, he didn’t put in place new legislation that was necessary for it. Obviously, since then, the acts of aggression from the Russians have proceeded rapidly. So there are a lot of events that have happened since then. I’m just referring to the reality of what’s happening on the ground.
QUESTION: I understand that. But do those steps – is the Administration saying that those steps nullify the February 21 deal? I mean, I just – if you could just say in plain, straightforward plain English the United States does not or does believe that the February 21st deal constitutes a basis for a potential resolution, that would be helpful – I mean, not just to us, but I think to the Russians as well – to know where you’re coming down on this.
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I mean, Matt, I think the point here is that the events have transpired since then that have – and I think the Secretary even said this last week – that have meant we’ve had to deal with the circumstances as they exist on the ground. So any agreement can be a basis, but obviously, we’re dealing with aggression from the Russians, we’re dealing with steps that have been taken that were not in place on February 21st.
QUESTION: Well, I understand that. So are you saying that the steps that have happened – what has happened post-February 21st means that that February 21st agreement is no longer an option?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not saying it’s not an option. Obviously, any agreement can be a basis for moving forward. But the point is that the circumstances have changed dramatically since then, so we can’t just pick up that agreement --
QUESTION: Right, okay. So – but with modifications, then, it could be – you’re saying as a basis it could be – it is doable or it’s workable?
MS. PSAKI: Well, sure. Pieces – but well, look, I have – I’ve got to talk to our team about this again. I just don’t want to speak out of turn. I mean, that was an agreement that was agreed to when Yanukovych was still in the country. He is no longer in the country, right? He has abdicated his power. There is a new government in place. So I think circumstances have actually surpassed what was in that agreement, but I will have to talk to them more specifically about whether there is a basis that can be used moving forward.
MS. PSAKI: We’re ready for the next question.
OPERATOR: And we do have a question from the line of (inaudible) from the Voice of America.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Sure, hi. Thank you very much, Jen, for doing this. My question is regarding North Korea and Japan, which they started – the Red Cross officials have started the meeting today in China from Monday to Wednesday talking about the return of the remains of the Japanese that died in North Korea after the Second World War. I wonder if you have any comment on that, and if the United States see that as a positive development and if the United States have any indication or get a heads up on the Japanese Government about this talk. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, generally speaking, we would refer you to the Government of Japan. We, of course, remain closely coordinated with Japan on North Korea policy. We remain in very regular contact. We’re not opposed to remains recovering operations as a humanitarian effort, but in terms of specific details I would point you to them.
QUESTION: Do you think this is a positive development?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to weigh in much further than I already have. We support Japanese efforts to resolve outstanding issues, whether that’s the abductions issue or any other in a transparent manner. But I would point you to Japan on the specifics here.
QUESTION: One final --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we acknowledge that China has characterized the incident as a terror act. We extend our condolences for the loss of life. We of course oppose terrorism in all of its forms, and based on the information reported by the Chinese media, this appears to be an act of terrorism targeting random members of the public. We don’t have any other independent information, but again, we of course deplore violence intentionally directed at innocent civilians in any case, regardless of whether – regardless of the cause. So that is where we are.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Next question?
OPERATOR: And we do have a question from the line of Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Bingru.
QUESTION: Hi, Jen. I just want to follow up on the Kunming attack. First of all, how do you define a terrorist attack? If this is not, which kind of attack you – the State Department would consider and describe it as terrorist attack?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned, based on the information reported by the Chinese media, this appears to be an act of terrorism, targeting random members of the public. So we are calling this an act of terrorism. I don’t have anything to outline for you in terms of how we determine that, but it’s based on information available. And we acknowledge, of course, that China has also characterized the incident as a terror attack.
QUESTION: And also, the Chinese authority today is – they’re announcing the attack is – in Kunming was perpetrated by the separatists from Xinjiang province. Do you agree with the Chinese conclusion on this case?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have – we don’t have any information, independent information about the identity or the motivation of the attackers. So I don’t want to speak to that from here at this point.
QUESTION: And also I recalled last year when the Tiananmen incident happened, you said you were still investigating, and you didn’t have a conclusion back then to define it as a terrorist attack or not. Are you still investigating on that case, or do you have a conclusion right now?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to tell you about that specific case. Obviously, we’ll look at each situation case by case.
QUESTION: Okay. One more follow-up.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Last question: So when the Boston bombing took place in U.S. last year, you described it as coward act of terrorism. And then there was this attack in Russia last year, you also condemned it as terrorist attack. So this time, when it comes to China, 29 innocent people died. Why, at the first time, the first day, you didn’t – the statement of U.S. Embassy in China, they didn’t describe this as a terror attack?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to outline for you there other than to convey to you that, of course, we look at every situation separately, and depending on information available. And again, I think I’ve been pretty clear that based on the information available, this appears to be an act of terrorism targeting random members of the public.
QUESTION: Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
OPERATOR: We do have a question from the line of Rosie Gray with BuzzFeed. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Rosie.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing the call. I just was wondering if you could speak a little bit to, like, the role of the EU here. They called an emergency meeting for Thursday – which doesn’t sound very emergency to me – but they called an emergency meeting for Thursday for the heads of state and government of the EU member states. And they’ve been so far, I would say, pretty cautious in their public statements about, like, how they would provide consequences for Russia for this. I’m just wondering if you can speak a little bit to what you guys are hoping the EU will do here and whether there’s any updates you can provide as to what they are planning.
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously the EU will announce what the EU may or may not do, but, I mean, I would point you to the coordinated, strong statements coming from everyone from the G7 to NATO, to comments made over the weekend by individual leaders, whether that’s the French or Foreign Secretary Hague condemning the actions that have taken place in Ukraine and calling for international efforts and coordinated efforts, whether that’s economic assistance to Ukraine that’s needed or steps to hold the Russians accountable.
So I think that speaks to how committed European countries are. We work in lockstep with them. EU High Representative Ashton has been on the ground numerous times in Ukraine over the past couple of months, and we work closely with them as we look to take steps, whether that’s sanctions, whether that’s economic assistance, whether that’s efforts to support the IMF, or whether that’s efforts to hold others accountable. So they’ve been an important and vital partner, and we expect that to continue.
And remember, regardless of when meetings are called, there are meetings virtually every day, if not multiple meetings, about the situation on the ground in Ukraine. If you look at just this past weekend, you saw (inaudible) all the calls that President Obama made on Saturday. Secretary Kerry held a meeting – or held a conference call, I should say, with a number of his counterparts from Europe. And there are meetings that will be ongoing. So I would point you to the day-by-day, and not look for just one that’s been announced or identified for a couple of days from now, because in all likelihood, all of those officials will be speaking in advance of Thursday anyway.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, Rosie.
OPERATOR: And we do have a question from the line of Mark Mardell with the BBC. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you very much for doing this. First of all, is there any time scale on the sanctions that you’re preparing? What sort of time scale are you looking at? Is – sanctions tend to take and economic pressure tends to take time. Military action happens very quickly. Is there any sign the Russians are taking notice?
And also, and I’m sure you might have seen this, but there’s a report from Britain that the UK Government has ruled out trade sanctions. Are you worried that some EU nations aren’t worried about their economic relationship with Russia and may not go as far as you would like?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, obviously, the situation, as you know, Mark, is incredibly fluid, and we remain in very close contact with our counterparts around the world on various steps we’re considering, what they’re considering, and to make sure that we’re coordinated throughout this process.
I would say that the steps that we are taking are having an impact, even just the impact of the political steps we’re taking, including the announcement by the G7 about not participating in preparations for the G8 in Sochi, including messages that have been sent about how opposed the international community is to the actions of the Russians. If you look at just factually the sharp decline of the value of the Russian ruble, if you look at the Russian stock market today, those are just two examples.
Obviously, in terms of specific steps on sanctions – sorry, that’s a tongue twister – steps on sanctions, I don’t have any timeframe for you, but I would just say that we’re looking at a broad range of options. Whether that’s individuals, whether that’s institutions, whether that’s officials, those are all under consideration. But there’s a dual impact of the economic sanctions as well as the political steps we’re taking, and we’re already seeing that have an impact on the ground.
QUESTION: Any sense of disappointment or worry that the EU may not come on board?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think, again, we’re in – working in lockstep with our European counterparts. We’ve been working with them in lockstep for months on this, long before the events of the last week. We will keep them informed of what we’re considering; they keep us informed of what they’re considering. We’re obviously working closely on efforts such as economic assistance to complement the IMF. And in this case, I’m not indicating an announcement coming today. I’m indicating that this is a step that we’re very prepared to move forward on. But of course, we’ll be briefing our counterparts and allies on that as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. I think we have time for a few more here.
OPERATOR: We do have a question from the line of Tejinder Singh with Times Now TV. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Tejinder.
QUESTION: Hi. I have just two questions, one on Ukraine. What – my colleagues staying in Brussels are saying the Russians are moving ahead with actions. They have put – as an earlier question from Reuters, they have given deadlines. They are on the ground, the boots on the ground, while the West and the U.S. is just words and words and words. And so do you think that we are ready to do something more than just words?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would refute the notion of that question. I mean, as I said earlier, certainly reports, which I think you’re referring to, of threats of force against Ukrainian military installations would, if true, constitute a dangerous escalation of the situation for which we would hold Russia directly responsible. No one wants to see a military intervention be the step here. That’s why we’re using all of our economic, diplomatic, and political levers to put the necessary pressure on. And we’re already seeing an impact on the ground, whether that is the crashing of the ruble, the impact on the stock market, or even just reputationally after Russia invested so much in building their reputation through the course of the Olympics. You see the international community unified in coming out against them. So we’re seeing all those efforts take place.
We’re evaluating this day by day. I just talked a little bit about additional steps that we are considering, but I would refute the notion that we are talk, talk, talk. We are very much walk, walk, walk, and we will continue to evaluate this day by day.
QUESTION: Thank you. And the second question is about the visit of Secretary Biswal to India.
MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: What I have learned, and there are talks going on about her meeting with opposition leaders, including Narendra Modi. Can you confirm or deny it?
MS. PSAKI: (Inaudible) it’s a great question. I don’t have the details of her schedule. I know those have certainly made progress since last Friday when we talked about this, so let me talk with our team after this and see if there’s an update on what meetings she may or may not have on the ground, and we’ll get that around to you and others who are interested in that.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much, and enjoy the snow.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks. You, too. Next --
OPERATOR: We do have a question (inaudible) line of Ashish Sen from The Washington Times. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Hi, there.
QUESTION: And on – this is on Ukraine. Are you seeing any evidence of Russian mobilization or intentions to go beyond the Crimean peninsula into the eastern parts?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, obviously, we’re watching and monitoring this closely, as I mentioned earlier. I’m not going to give a play by play of what we’re seeing on the ground. Clearly, any escalation of the situation – rhetoric, but certainly, more importantly, movements – would be of great concern. We’d hold Russia directly responsible, and we are watching that very closely on the ground. But I’m not going to give a play by play on military steps and what we’re seeing, obviously (inaudible) for our own sources as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
OPERATOR: And our last question today comes from the line of Margaret Warner from the PBS NewsHour.
MS. PSAKI: Hey, Margaret.
QUESTION: All right, and hi, Jen. I know I already had one, but I just --
MS. PSAKI: No, no, that’s fine.
QUESTION: Just quickly, what are – are there any U.S. or NATO obligations to Ukraine or treaty obligations under the Partnership for Peace?
MS. PSAKI: Well, under – I’d have to check on that specifically for you, Margaret. I mean, there are obviously a range of treaties and memorandums. I mean, even with the Budapest Memorandum, the signatories, as you know, reaffirmed their commitment to respect independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine. That also means an obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity. But I’d have to check with our team on the specifics of the range of treaty obligations we have, and we can get that around to you, of course.
QUESTION: That would be great. Thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Great. Well, thanks, everyone. I’ll be here all day, so let me know, and we’ll get around some follow-ups to those of you who have those as well.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:45 p.m.)