12:49 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: This is Jen Psaki. Hi, everyone. This is an on-the-record daily press briefing. We’re just doing it on the phone because of the fact that the Federal Government is closed today. We thought it would be a way to address the range of questions you all have. I’m sure that most if not all of you were able to join the conference call hosted by the White House this morning announcing new --
OPERATOR: Please hold while we reconnect the speaker line.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. My apologies for getting cut off there. What I was just conveying is that hopefully most if not all of you were able to get on the call this morning announcing the new executive order and the new sanctions put in place by the Administration.
In addition, I have one announcement at the top. Earlier today, in its 25th session in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council reviewed the human rights record of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and heard from the UN Commission of Inquiry disturbing details, evidence of past and ongoing human rights abuses in North Korea. During the session, the Chairman, Michael Kirby, announced the commission’s conclusion that, “A wide array of crimes against humanity arising from ‘policies established at the highest level’ have been committed and continue to take place in North Korea.”
As U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues Robert King stated at the UN Human Rights Council session, “The United States commends the Commission of Inquiry’s excellent and comprehensive report to the council, which documents the systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations in North Korea, and strongly supports the Commission’s calls for accountability.
With that, let’s move to questions. Hello, Operator?
OPERATOR: Pardon me. Ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press * and then 1 on your touchtone phone. You’ll hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed in queue, and you can remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing the # key. If you’re using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Again, to ask a question it’s *1 at this time. It’ll be just a moment.
And our first question will come from Michael Gordon with the New York Times.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Michael.
QUESTION: Hi, Jen. During the briefing this morning on the sanctions on Ukraine, it was noted that there were 11 individuals who were sanctioned and that their assets would be frozen. And my question is, as a follow-up to that briefing, do any of these individuals who were sanctioned today actually have any assets in the United States? It seems like a relevant question, but it did not come up in that earlier briefing.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Understandable. Michael, I don’t have that level of detail. I’m happy to check with our team and we can get back to you and others on the call. As you know, part of the focus here or part of the reasoning for the announcement this morning was in direct response to the actions that Russia has taken in recent days. Obviously, as the President said, there would be – there have been costs, there will continue to be costs. This is an example of that.
But I understand your question, so let me follow up with our team and see if we can – if we have available information on that.
QUESTION: Yes, if you could get us something, please, by the end of the day. It’s – I understand it could preclude future transactions and it might impose burdens on them in that respect. But since everyone’s talking about costs that are being imposed, it would be good to know if there actually are costs --
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I mean --
QUESTION: -- for these specific individuals. So I know it’s just a point of inquiry, and if you could just get that back to us by the end of the day, I’d appreciate it. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to. But let me just add a little more in terms of the specific impact. Their property and interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction will be blocked, and individuals in the United States will be prohibited from doing business with them. Also we find that financial institutions around the world tend to refuse to do business with individuals and entities placed on this list, even if they’re not obligated to do so. So there are a range of impacts, but I understand your specific question and I can see if there’s information we can provide on that.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And our next question will come from Matt Lee with AP. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hey, Matt.
QUESTION: Hey there. Listen, I also have a kind of a follow-up from a question that Karen DeYoung asked on the White House call this morning.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: And the answer – at least I didn’t understand it, so I’m going to try asking you. She asked about this – what appears to be a Russian proposal for Ukraine, non-Crimea Ukraine, that would involve a federation. Is that something that you guys – you and the EU – are willing to at least work with or not reject outright as an idea as Ukraine moves towards its political reforms?
And then my second question is you say that there are costs and there will continue to be costs. Does that mean that even if – that if the situation in Crimea doesn’t go back to the way it was before, meaning the Russian troops go back to their bases and the referendum is rendered null and void, that there is nothing else – nothing else happens? In other – I guess I’m trying to figure out – let’s put it the other way around. Sorry. If Crimea – if the situation in Crimea stays the way it is right now, but the Russians do not make any advances towards the east and the south of Ukraine, can they still expect more cost?
MS. PSAKI: Okay, let me do the first one first. I think, as my understanding of the question on the call was related to some paper that the Russians made public, I believe over the weekend, that outlined some specific proposals. And what the answer was on the call – but let me just reiterate this was – is that the new government in Ukraine has already taken a number of steps that have been discussed, whether that is taking steps to address the issue of armed irregulars, whether that is steps to make sure that the process is inclusive. Obviously they’re – they have announced plans for an election. So that is part of what was raised in that paper that – the point is the new government is already taking steps to address it.
In terms of the specific proposal on the federation, I’d have to check and see what the specific details of that. As you know, the referendum, which we find illegal and illegitimate, took place. We’ll see what the Russians do. Obviously, we’re watching that closely. But I don’t have the details of that, so I would have to see if there’s something that would change the situation on the ground that we have such significant concerns about.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, and your second question, sorry. What was – can you repeat your second question one more time?
QUESTION: Well, just if the Russians stop their moves, threatening moves, on south and east Ukraine, can they – but the situation in Crimea stays the same and it gets annexed, can the Russian – I’m assuming the Russians can expect more in the way of sanctions. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, these –we have flexible tools, including the new executive order the President signed today. And we can – depending on escalation by the Russians, we have the ability to expand sanctions on our end as well. I’m not, for obvious reasons, going to get far ahead of where we are, but that includes institutions, it includes a range of entities that are possible for us. In terms --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) relate to Crimea, or do they relate to the rest of Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, part of this is also responsive to steps that have already been taken. So obviously, as the President said and as we have said, any steps we would take in the future would be responsive to and would take into account, I should say, any steps that the Russians take. So if they take de-escalatory (inaudible), then certainly we would – we can calibrate our response based on whether Russia chooses to escalate or de-escalate. But beyond that, I’m not going to go into too many more specifics in terms of what may or may not happen given that we don’t know the answers to those questions yet.
OPERATOR: And our next question will come from Anne Gearan with the Washington Post.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Anne.
QUESTION: Hi, Jen. How are you?
MS. PSAKI: Good.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and the readout that you all provided yesterday from the Secretary’s run-up meeting with him? It included some references to a frank discussion and that the Secretary had impressed on President Abbas that although these issues have decades behind them, now is the time to make a decision or something. It sounded like a nice way of saying that the meeting didn’t go very well and that President Abbas may not be ready to make those concessions. Can you talk a little bit about that and what your hope is for the Secretary’s work with Abbas going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. So, it was not intended to do that. I think what I would point you to is the fact that while the President has been incredibly closely engaged and involved behind the scenes. As you know, he had a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu just a few weeks ago, and his meeting today with President Abbas which the Secretary will attend, and also has a separate meeting with President Abbas. The purpose of that is really to take stock of where the Palestinians are at this point, just as the President along with the Secretary did with Prime Minister Netanyahu just last week.
So there’s no question we’re at a pivotal point in these negotiations. Everybody is familiar with the ongoing effort to agree on a framework for negotiations moving forward, and we all know that there are tough choices involved in that, and that the closer you get the timeline of needing to make those decisions, the more it’s essential for those tough decisions to be made. So it was a reflection of that and not anything related to how the meeting went. These conversations are tough and challenging, and there are ups and downs in the process because there are decades of history with these issues, and the Secretary of all people knows how challenging it is for the parties to make the decisions that will be required for a framework for negotiations to be agreed upon.
So that’s where – the status of the meeting yesterday. As you know, they’re meeting today. Those meetings are ongoing. I expect the White House will have a readout, and we’ll also have a readout from our meeting – from the Secretary’s meeting with President Abbas as well.
QUESTION: That will follow – the Secretary’s meeting will follow the White House meeting? Is that it?
MS. PSAKI: It is scheduled to, so let me just triple-check that that is still planned, but that was the plan coming into today.
QUESTION: Okay. And just one quick follow-up?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: What was the discussion like of the question of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state? Abbas has been quite vocal on that specific point before now. What happened yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Sure. I’m just not going to outline the discussion of it for obvious reasons. These are tough decisions that need to be made. We know that’s an issue that the Israelis have spoken publicly about as being of great importance to them. You’re familiar with what the United States position is. There are obviously issues that are important to the Palestinians as well that they’ve spoken about, but we’ll let those negotiations and discussions happen behind the scenes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
OPERATOR: And our next question will come from Justin Fishel of Fox News.
MS. PSAKI: Hey, Justin.
QUESTION: It’s actually Jennifer Griffin with Justin here.
MS. PSAKI: Oh.
QUESTION: We had a question: When you – when the Libyan oil tanker is handed back to the Libyans, will it take place at sea or in a port? And how many of the Libyan ports are actually in the central government’s hands these days?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, in terms of the specific details, I just don’t have anything I can outline for you in the future, given this just happened overnight. Obviously, this is something we’ll continue to talk about every day, and as we have more details, we’re happy to share them.
In terms of specific Libyan ports, I would point you to the Libyan Government on that. I’m happy to check with our team and see if there’s anything we can share from here, but that’s obviously a question for them to answer.
QUESTION: Okay, but is there any concern that the Libyan Government wouldn’t be able to control the oil tanker, given that so many militias seem to be controlling the port areas?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, well, the truth is I would really point you to DOD on specific questions. They’re working closely on this effort. Obviously, we’re all coordinated behind the scenes, but in terms of the steps over the coming days, it will really be their lead.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Jen.
OPERATOR: And our next question will come from Rosalind Jordan with Al Jazeera English.
QUESTION: Hey, Jen. How are you?
MS. PSAKI: Good.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on Jennifer’s question: Were there discussions inside the State Department about how to proceed once this tanker had been commandeered by Libyan rebels? Was there any thought or any discussion with Tripoli on how to proceed? Or did the U.S. Government have to wait legally to get a request from Libya to retake control of the vessel?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the – as you’ve seen, but let me just repeat – this was a request that came from – for assistance from the Government of Libya, and we, of course, responded to that. In terms of the legal question, I’d have to check on that specifically, but we responded to their specific request. And more broadly speaking, we, of course, don’t want to live in a world where armed individuals or groups are able to seize vessels and threaten people’s lives and sell stolen cargo for their own financial gain. As you know, this was a stateless vessel on the high seas that was not flying under a flag recognized by any nation.
So in terms of international law – I don’t know if this answers your question, but the justification under international law for this type of interdiction relied on the fact that the vessel was stateless. But the – because of the request from the Libyan Government for assistance, that was a big factor, of course, in the decision by the President to take action.
QUESTION: And then a quick one on Ukraine: Has the Secretary had a chance to talk with any of his counterparts within the EU or inside Ukraine, or has he had any more conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov in the past 24 hours?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I’m sure you saw the readout that we put out yesterday of the call he had with Foreign Minister Lavrov. This morning, he did also speak with the members of the Ukraine contact group yesterday as part of our ongoing coordination effort. And he spoke with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk yesterday as well to brief them on his discussions with – to brief him on his discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov and also with the contract group to also coordinate a response to the illegal referendum in Crimea, and of course to discuss steps that the Ukrainian Government had taken to de-escalate the situation from its side.
So there’s ongoing coordination, as you all know, whether that’s meetings in person or on the phone, and he stays very close – in close contact with both his European counterparts as well as the Ukrainian Government. There are – and you may have already seen this, but Vice President Biden is also departing for Europe this evening, where he’s going to meet with leaders of our NATO allies, and as you know, President Obama’s traveling to Europe next week. And the Secretary has been on the phone virtually nonstop about this issue over the past couple of weeks, so I expect that will continue.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Thanks.
OPERATOR: And our next question comes from Taurean Barnwell with NHK.
QUESTION: Hi, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, how are you?
QUESTION: Pretty good.
MS. PSAKI: Good.
QUESTION: Shifting it to Asia, yesterday, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said that a reunion took place between a Japanese woman, Ms. Megumi Yokota. She was abducted by North Koreans in the 1970s. She was reunited with her parents according to the foreign ministry yesterday. So how does the State Department – or what do they – what does the Department think of these recent developments?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, give me just one moment here. I did see those reports, and of course – one moment because I know I have them.
QUESTION: No problem. (Pause.) Still there?
MS. PSAKI: I am. My apologies.
MS. PSAKI: We’re a little understaffed today, as I’m sure you can imagine with the snow, but I have something on this, so just give me a moment.
MS. PSAKI: Why don’t we do this: Let’s go to the next question and then we’ll come right back to you, and we’ll – I’ll have something for you at that moment just so we don’t delay further and make you hang there.
QUESTION: Okay. Let’s do that.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, great. Thank you. We’ll go to the next question and then if we could pull that person back, that would be great.
OPERATOR: Okay. We’ll have to have Mr. Barnwell re-queue, then. Right now, we’re going to go to Raghubir Goyal with Asia Today.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Goyal.
QUESTION: Yes, Madam. I hope you are well. I cannot say you are enjoying the snow, you are still working. Thank you for this briefing on the record. My – I have two quick questions, Madam. One is on Ukraine, just to follow my colleague. That is: Like it happened during Iran, U.S. had asked a number of countries to follow as far as sanctions are concerned. Is this the time coming against Russia that U.S. may ask a number of countries who may be doing business with Russia, just like they did business with Iran, to cut back?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, Goyal, to answer your first question, we’re working in lockstep with our European allies, and they have made many strong statements over the past couple of weeks, just as we have. We expect they will announce their own list, and I will – we will leave it to them to make any specific announcements. I don’t think all of the details are out on that at this point. But our efforts are complementary. They’re all purposed to put the necessary pressure on Russia and those who are threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and I would point you to them. But we are working very closely.
But what’s your second question?
QUESTION: Just to – quickly, just to follow in this before my second question, please, is: That includes India, China, or any other Asian country doing business with Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to any of those countries. As you’ve seen from the President’s calls, from Secretary Kerry’s calls, they’re both in touch with a range of officials around the world in Europe, outside of Europe, but obviously, individual countries will make their own decisions.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam. Thank you very much. And of course, you are aware of that case was dismissed in New York against the former Indian diplomat at the Consulate General of India in New York, Madam – Ms. Devyani Khobragade. But there was a celebration for a moment, but finally again the case was re-filed against her in New York, U.S. District Court in New York by Mr. Bharara, and others at the Justice Department – of course, I mean that U.S. attorney’s office. So where do we stand? When this issue – I talk, everybody talk in the U.S. and India, in the Indian American communities, that issue is over and now we can go forward for the future of India-U.S. relations which are already on the higher level for the last 20 years or more. So where – what is the future now, madam, of the India-U.S. relation if this case continues (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Goyal, I would say that we spoke to this last week. Obviously, this is in the hands of the Department of Justice. They obviously made an announcement on Friday, and I would point you to comments they made.
In terms of the future of our relationship, as you know, Assistant Secretary Biswal was just in India. She had a productive trip while she was there. She had a range of meetings while she was there. Our relationship and all of the issues we work together on are far too important. So we’re looking forward, and we’re very hopeful about what the future holds.
QUESTION: Thank you, madam. Just a quick follow. You know election – India is going to elect in the next two, three months, and this is very important for the U.S.-India relations. And I think we have to back – go back behind this – these kind of issues. What are you doing about this, convincing the electoral or parties in India that we are doing – we will be doing business with India?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re conveying pretty clearly that we have an important relationship and we work together on economic, strategic, and security issues. The Assistant Secretary’s trip was evidence of that as well. I think we have to move on to the next question.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much, madam.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
QUESTION: Have a good --
OPERATOR: And our next question will come – oh, actually, we’ll go back to Mr. Barnwell --
MS. PSAKI: Great. Thank you for your patience. So we of course, in this case, refer you to the Government of Japan for details. We support efforts by Japan to resolve the abductions issues in a transparent manner. And we continue to closely coordinate with Japan on a full range of North Korean issues. We also – including humanitarian issues. So we are in close contact with them. I would refer you to the Government of Japan for details. We value our close coordination on issues including humanitarian cases, including issues that – as it relates to the threat from North Korea. But I’d point you to them otherwise.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks for coming back to me. I have one follow-up on that question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So some are reporting that this is an overture from North Korea to encourage a direct dialogue between Japan and North Korea. What would the State Department think of such a dialogue? Would it welcome that sort of thing or is that something that would not be particularly welcome?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the United States remains prepared, as we long have, to engage constructively with North Korea. But the ball is in North Korea’s court. They must live up to their commitments, adhere to their international obligations, deal peacefully with their neighbors, and refrain from provocations. Obviously, we haven’t seen evidence of their willingness to do that.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
OPERATOR: And our next question will come from Said Arikat with Al Quds.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Said.
QUESTION: Hello, Jen. This is Said. Listen, very quickly I just want to follow up on Anne’s question. Now, you’re saying that the Secretary is meeting with President Abbas today at the State Department? Where are they meeting?
MS. PSAKI: That is my understanding. Let me just double-check and make sure. A lot of things have changed with the weather and the schedule, but that is the plan.
QUESTION: Can we have a timeframe? Do you have a timeframe? Is it going be like right after lunch?
MS. PSAKI: That’s right.
QUESTION: Okay. So it’s safe to assume it would be right around, like, 2 o’clock?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, these things can sometimes run long. So it’s planned for this afternoon, and when it concludes we’ll provide a readout to all of you.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you, on the issue of the framework agreement, are we getting ready to sort of – some sort of announcement? Is there any kind of announcement in the offing on the framework agreement? Because the clock is running out, and there seems to be all kinds of conflicting signals coming from both sides – in fact, all three sides, including the United States. Could you advise us on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, obviously, that’s why this is such a pivotal time in the negotiations, and that’s why in the coming weeks the parties are going to need to make tough choices. As you know, the Secretary and the negotiating team have been very closely engaged in this process, but ultimately only the two parties can agree to determine whether there is a path forward. So I don’t have anything to predict or announce for you in terms of the future. But obviously, our hope is that we can narrow the gaps. We’ll continue to work on that every day. Today is an opportunity for President Obama to take stock of where things stand, but I don’t have anything to predict or announce for you at this point.
QUESTION: So at the end of this visit, what kind of a likely statement are we likely to have?
MS. PSAKI: What kind of likely – I’m sorry.
QUESTION: What kind of a statement are we likely to have? Are we going to say that the talks are ongoing, that the gap is sort of narrowing, that people are seeing eye to eye on some of the issues that lead someone to sort of hope for continued negotiating past the 30th of April and so on? I mean, those are the kind of issues that people are talking about.
MS. PSAKI: Well, you’ll have to stay tuned and see what lands in your in-box, Said.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a very quick question on the Ukraine, if I may?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Indulge me very quickly. Do you – are you aware that, speaking of referendums and so on, that they’d actually – a referendum is going on in Veneto, Italy, with its major city, Venice, to secede?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure of the details of that. Obviously, as we’ve said about other cases raised, each situation is different. This is a case where Russia intervened here militarily. They’ve continued to take escalatory measures, and that’s the basis of a great deal of our concern.
QUESTION: Thank you, Jen. We’ll see you tomorrow.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Next question.
OPERATOR: And that will come from Lucia Leal with – I believe its EFE or FE News Services.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Hi. Yes, it’s EFE News Services. I wanted to go to Venezuela. On Saturday, President Maduro proposed that the U.S. name an emissary or a special envoy to start a dialogue with his government and the UNASUR on the protests. I wanted to know if the U.S. would be willing to do that or at least consider it. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Well, let me first say that the Venezuelan Government should stop the violence against its citizens who are exercising their freedom of speech. The Venezuelan Government should release those it has unjustly jailed, allow citizens to express their freedom of speech, lift restrictions on freedom of the press, and engage in an inclusive dialogue with Venezuelans across the political spectrum. That would be the most productive steps – those would be the most productive steps they could take.
A dialogue – we believe a dialogue should be facilitated by a third party acceptable to all parties in Venezuela, including those in the opposition who believe their democratic rights are being suppressed. Beyond that, I don’t have any details on U.S. plans. We believe that a third party is essential to moving this process forward.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. But would you be willing to be that third party?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of plans for that. This is something where we feel that the Venezuelan Government and the opposition need to be in agreement. There are a range of options. I’m not going to detail those, but our focus is on continuing to call on the Venezuelan Government to take steps to promote freedom of speech and take steps to release those who are unjustly jailed, et cetera.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Again, to ask a question, it’s *1. Our next question comes from Elliot Waldman with Tokyo Broadcasting.
MS. PSAKI: Hey, Elliot.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: So in the weeks leading up to this referendum, the interim government and on the U.S. side both made proposals to the Russians to try and reach a compromise before the Crimea is basically annexed, and that included measures that would call for greater autonomy for Crimea. I was wondering if you see that as still a compromise solution that’s potentially on the table or whether you’ve completely moved beyond that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the point we’re at, as you know, is that the – an illegal referendum took place. We expressed our strong concerns about that. We obviously took steps, given what happened on the ground. Regardless of what the options are – and we have said, the President has said, the Secretary has said that there have been options put on the table that have been discussed – the Government of Ukraine needs to be a part of that discussion. Part of the issue with the referendum in Crimea is that it’s illegal under the Ukrainian constitution. There are steps that could be taken in consultation and in coordination with the Ukrainian Government that would meet the requirements. But the facts – the fact is that the new government and the Russian Government need to sit down, have a conversation about the facts on the ground, about how to move things forward, and until that happens, it’s hard to see how proposals can be seriously considered.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. But I mean that is still a possibility for that to happen, in your view; you’re not treating annexation as a foregone conclusion, essentially?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Russian Government hasn’t made their announcement or any public decision at this point. Obviously, we continue to convey to them publicly and privately that there is an off-ramp, that they can take steps to engage in the process. They can take steps to withdraw their military. They can take steps to de-escalate the situation. And our steps on our end would take that all that into account.
QUESTION: Okay. Got it. So it’s a possibility, but you’re not holding your breath. Is that a fair characterization --
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t put it that way. I think we continue to engage very closely with both the Government of Ukraine, with the Russians, with our European counterparts, but there are steps the Russians need to take. They have the opportunity to do that.
QUESTION: Okay. Got it. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
OPERATOR: And currently we have no further questions in queue.
MS. PSAKI: Great. Thanks, everyone, for joining. We will follow up with the questions you asked and get you information as quickly as we can.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)