1:16 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Tuesday. I don’t have anything at the top. So Lara, let’s get to what’s on your mind.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: As you’ve seen, Ukraine forces have launched an anti-terror campaign against separatists in the eastern part of the country and I believe taking back an airport and gaining ground. I’ve got a couple of questions on this.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But I wanted to start off by asking, does the Administration still believe that this is showing remarkable restraint by the government in Kyiv? And I’m sure you’ve seen the Russian prime minister also saying that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. Do you agree with that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me start with your first question – (inaudible) your second question here. As you all know, the Government of Ukraine is working to try to calm the situation in the east. They have been taking a measured approach over the course of the last several weeks, and we’re encouraging them to continue that. As you know, they’ve also repeatedly sought to negotiate with the armed groups that have seized public buildings and established unauthorized roadblocks in eastern Ukraine in an effort to resolve the situation peacefully through dialogue. That has been their first preference, and their first priority has been resolving peacefully without escalating in any way. And so we appreciate their efforts to undertake that.
That said, the government also has the responsibility to provide law and order, and they have the right to provide law and order. And these provocations in eastern Ukraine, which as we know are being caused and provoked by armed militants, are creating a situation in which the government has to respond. So yes, we want the situation to remain as calm as possible. We are certainly calling for de-escalation. But the government is overseeing all parts of Ukraine, and they have a responsibility to take steps needed to maintain calm in their country.
QUESTION: Do you think this is the start of civil war?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, this is not a – well, one, let me first say, as we’ve indicated or stated many times over the last several days – and I’d point you to Ambassador Power’s comments and many others – there is little question in our mind about the connection between Russia and these armed militants that are provoking this unrest in eastern Ukraine. And certainly Ukrainian Government taking steps to have their own staff, their own military, to promote calm is hardly a civil war. That is maintaining peace and calm in their own country. If the Russians and their supporters were not taking these provocative steps, there wouldn’t be a need for the Ukrainians to try to promote calm within these buildings and in parts of the country where this is – where the unrest is occurring.
QUESTION: You had mentioned the dialogue bit. I don’t know if you saw some comments by I think it was the permanent representative to the EU from Russia today, basically saying that the next hours will show whether or not the four-way talks in Geneva are worth going to because of the escalation in violence. What do you all hope to get out of this meeting that’s coming up, if it does happen? I assume you think it will still happen. And can you also bring us up to speed on what’s a timeline for upcoming potential new sanctions, and on whether the U.S. is considering today, as opposed to prior days, maybe giving some non-lethal aid to Ukraine forces to include body armor or NODs or something like that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me see if I can remember all the questions – (laughter) – but I’m sure you’ll remind me if I don’t. One thing, just to add, is it’s important – to the earlier question – it’s important for everybody to remember that one of the priorities that Russia has put out there is disarming irregulars around the country. And the Ukrainian forces have taken steps to do that in parts that are not in eastern Ukraine. So this is pretty consistent with what the Rada decided just a couple of weeks ago about disarming those who are not official forces. And so we think that’s another reason. I just wanted to add that.
In terms of the meeting upcoming on Thursday, we feel there should always be an opportunity and an opening for diplomacy. And this is the first time that, of course, Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Ukrainian foreign minister did meet. But this is really the first opportunity to engage with them at the same table, with the EU, with the United States to talk about priorities, including de-escalation, demobilization, support for efforts moving forward, including constitutional reform, protecting minorities. These are priorities that even the Russians have said they support. So this is an opportunity to have a discussion. Yes, certainly we are – have expressed our concern about what’s been happening on the ground over the last couple of days, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t – that we should not take an opportunity to have a diplomatic discussion.
QUESTION: But can you speak to the bit about sanctions and --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure. Sure.
QUESTION: -- about body armor and --
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Absolutely. We’re not actively considering military assistance. Obviously, there have been steps that we have taken. The end of March, DOD provided about 300,000 MREs --
MS. PSAKI: -- certainly, there are requests that have come in from the Ukrainians. But our focus at this point remains on the economic and political support that we’re providing to the Ukrainian Government.
In terms of sanctions, our national security team is in active discussions about the next round of sanctions, as they have been. The Secretary also spent this morning on a range of phone calls with – including with Foreign Minister Fabius, EU High Representative Ashton, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, and UK Foreign Secretary Hague, because obviously coordination with the Europeans and taking complementary steps is a priority. So not only do we anticipate additional sanctions at some point, we’re preparing additional steps.
I will say that in terms of how we look at the timing and our – a strategic approach, Thursday, in our view, is likely the next step here, because it’s an opportunity for everybody to sit down at the table and have a discussion. At the same time, we can make preparations for any additional sanction steps we want to take.
QUESTION: Are we still talking about --
QUESTION: Just to be clear on that --
QUESTION: Are we still talking about --
QUESTION: Can we be clear on that?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do – just one at a time.
QUESTION: Can we be clear on – just on the sanctions stuff: When you say Thursday is the next step, does that mean no sanctions likely to be imposed prior to Thursday?
MS. PSAKI: That means that Thursday is the next opportunity to have a diplomatic discussion, and I think it’s safe to lean in to the unlikelihood of making announcements before Thursday.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. And then secondly on sanctions: Is what is at issue now sort of tier two-plus – in other words, additional individual designations of entities or people? Or is it the broader sectoral sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re all on the table. We – there are a range of individuals who have ties to the Russian Government, tied to the events happening in Ukraine, that we are looking at, and we’re certainly prepared to sanction. If escalation continues, sectoral sanctions, of course, also remain a viable option, and we have the tools if we decide to move in that direction.
QUESTION: Just last one for me on this. Is The New York Times accurate in its report that – that among the people who are under consideration for being sanctioned is the head of Rosneft, Russia’s largest energy company?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, there are a range of individuals under consideration, but I’m not going to confirm reports of individuals that have been named in the media.
QUESTION: Can you --
QUESTION: Can I just ask on the sanctions that – you mentioned a range of phone calls that the Secretary’s had with his – particularly with his European allies?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is there some sense that the Europeans are perhaps a little more reluctant to go further down the road of sanctions? Is the Secretary having to whip them up and get them on board?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, there’s, of course, 28 countries in the European Union, and I think it’s safe to assume that they’re in a variety of places, and they all have different ties and certainly have stronger ties in some ways than the United States in the financial front to Russia. But we’ve been coordinating and working with the Europeans at every step in this process. There are times when they have announced sanctions on individuals and we have announced individuals a week or so later. So it hasn’t been exact at any point. It’s been complementary, and we’re keeping them abreast of our thinking and they’re keeping us abreast of their thinking as well.
QUESTION: So your answer would suggest there has been some reluctance on the European side when you say --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think I need to state that. Obviously, there have been some in the European Union who have said there are – their financial ties are a factor in their decision-making.
QUESTION: Back to – on the sanctions. Is it fair to assume that unless Russia invades or actually puts troops across the border into eastern Ukraine, that you would not consider these sectoral sanctions? I mean, would that have to be a – more bigger consideration of what Russian actions --
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, if that unfortunate step were taken, that would prompt some serious consideration of sectoral sanctions. But I don’t want to be as black and white as that because obviously there are a range of discussions that happen within the Administration every day about the appropriate steps, and I don’t want to get ahead of where we are in the process.
QUESTION: A couple more things.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: First of all, on these “anti-terror operations,” do you consider these – obviously they’re separatists and obviously they’re militant, but do you consider them terrorists in the classical sense of what you would define as a terrorist? Because these are being called anti-terror operations.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional – I don’t have any characterization of the naming. I mean – and our concerns here are about the fact that you have militants, who – whatever you want to call them – who are armed and are taking over buildings and scaring citizens and taking escalatory steps into many parts of eastern Ukraine. So that’s where our concern is. That’s one of the reasons we feel the Ukrainians have a right to maintain their own common order in their country.
QUESTION: But you wouldn’t – but when they say that these are – is that really the right definition of what these kind of operations should be, or who they’re targeting? I mean, these people aren’t terrorists in the sense like they’re launching terrorist attacks, would you say?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure it matters what they’re called.
QUESTION: Really? Because when Russia cracks down on terrorists in Chechnya, obviously, there are some terrorists that launch kind of large-scale attacks. But you often criticize Russia or other countries that crack down on broad swaths of the population in the name of fighting terrorists.
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I’m calling it what we view it as, which is the Ukrainian Government taking steps to provide law and order in parts of their country. I don’t think we need to name it further.
QUESTION: Okay. And then one more about the phone call between President Putin --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and President Obama: I understand that the White House gave the readout and all, but why is there this emphasis that President Putin was the one, that the Russians were the one that initiated this call? Do you think that the Russians are trying to paint themselves as the kind of injured party here, while at the same time taking these actions that you said, such as – taking to destabilize Ukraine? I mean, do you think they’re playing a double game here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, oftentime that question is asked, as you know, so I think it may not be much more complicated than that. I suppose it shows that there’s a desire from their end to engage, but beyond that, actions are far more important than phone calls, so I wouldn’t put much more importance on it.
QUESTION: Jen, you said that this is part of the Ukrainian Government reasserting its authority and maintaining peace and order and so on. Would you consider these other elements that are in the building at least outlaws if they are not terrorists?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I need to --
MS. PSAKI: -- put much more of a name on it. I’ve called them armed militants, Said.
QUESTION: Okay, okay. Let me ask you, prior to the 22nd of February --
QUESTION: Maybe an unarmed militant?
MS. PSAKI: Probably not. Militant and after hours, I suppose.
QUESTION: Prior to the 22nd of February when the president of Ukraine fled, prior to that, did you call people at the – did you give the same kind of leverage or authority or latitude to the Ukrainian Government to do the same against the people in Maidan?
MS. PSAKI: It’s an entirely different situation. Obviously, when there were --
QUESTION: How so?
MS. PSAKI: -- armed militants or extremists or whatever you want to call them --
MS. PSAKI: -- when they’ve been at work around Ukraine, we have encouraged the Ukrainian Government; they’ve been active in disarming the irregulars.
MS. PSAKI: Russia has also supported that effort in many parts of Ukraine. Let me finish my answer here. But the efforts in the Maidan, the majority of the protests in Maidan were – in the Maidan were peaceful. That’s an entirely different circumstance.
QUESTION: Okay. So that’s what I’m saying. The activists or whatever you want to call them in the Maidan were basically unarmed, peaceful, and – but these guys are outlaws and carry guns and they’re fighting back. Is that what you’re saying?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, and it was also, as you know, a different government taking steps that, at the time, we made clear were inappropriate as well.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you feel that this emboldened position by the Ukrainian Government in retaking the airport and so on has anything to do with the visit of the director of the CIA?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t venture to make that assumption. I think they have been prepared to keep calm and stability where possible, and that’s why they’re taking the steps they are.
QUESTION: And lastly, do you – and I know we all read the readout on the President’s --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- conversation with President Putin – did the Russians give some sort of a commitment not to intervene, at least at this stage, in response to any kind of similar military action to the one that we saw today?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more readout than the ones the White House provided.
Do we have more on Ukraine? Ukraine? Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Has Secretary Kerry had any – spoken with any Ukrainian official since this operation began?
MS. PSAKI: He spoke with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk yesterday, and he’s been in regular contact with him over the course of the last several weeks.
QUESTION: Have the Ukrainians indicated that this operation would – this is something that they would pursue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think they’ve been clear, and they’ve said publicly that they too want to take steps to maintain calm and stability throughout the country, and I’d point you to their public comments they’ve made.
QUESTION: And just one more: Are you seeing any change in the number of Russian troops on the borders? Any increase or decrease?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update for you on that. We’ve been saying tens of thousands. Nothing has changed in our analysis on that front.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Jen, can I ask what – is there something concrete that you’re expecting to happen out of Thursday’s talks? I understand that you want the situation to be de-escalated.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You want to talk about things like observers and preserving stability and so on. Is there a concrete action that you’re asking the Russians to take?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, I think there’s a couple components of Thursday as – and I don’t think we’ve put out the full public schedule yet, but he’ll have a bilateral meeting with the Ukrainian foreign minister. He’ll also meet with EU High Representative Ashton. And of course, then there’ll be the larger quad meeting.
And part of our efforts here – there’s a couple of parallel tracks. One is certainly continuing to support the Ukrainians, and that includes economic support, it includes political support, having a discussion about that. It includes coordination and working closely and in lockstep with the Europeans. So they’ll have a conversation about that.
And then I don’t want to predict the outcome of the meeting. Obviously, there’s a range of issues that will be discussed. And we’ll see what comes out of it after they have the opportunity to talk for a couple of hours, but this is the first time they’re all sitting down.
QUESTION: Right. I mean, I guess my question is – because you mentioned Thursday’s timing in relationship to the fact that you’re thinking of additional steps or sanctions: Is there something that could happen on Thursday or maybe early Friday that would stave off additional sanctions (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s always been an off-ramp. And so if Russia were to take de-escalatory steps, certainly we would calibrate our own response.
QUESTION: Such as a --
MS. PSAKI: They can move their troops out. They can --
QUESTION: Out of Crimea, or away from the border?
MS. PSAKI: Away from the border. There are many steps that they can take, and I’m sure that will be a part of the discussion.
QUESTION: Just to be clear, you’re not even asking them to – at this point, when you say “move their troops,” we’re talking about eastern Ukraine now; we’re not really dealing with Crimea right now?
MS. PSAKI: No, we’re certainly still talking about Crimea. I’m just not going to outline more detailed – I think everybody knows what de-escalatory means.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov separately?
MS. PSAKI: No, I don’t believe so at this point.
QUESTION: Why is it better to impose no additional sanctions prior to Thursday?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I’m not going to go too much into our own strategy, but we’ve already imposed a range of sanctions. We’re going to talk to our EU counterparts. The Secretary will continue to do that over the next 48 hours. And we’re going to give an opportunity to have a discussion on Thursday, and we’ll see what we need to do from there.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that additional sanctions prior to the meeting might result in the meeting’s cancelation?
MS. PSAKI: No, that’s not our concern. We think it’s in the interests of all parties to participate in a meeting and to give diplomacy a chance to work.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that not imposing additional sanctions beyond those that were imposed on Friday, despite what you yourselves have said is the manifest involvement of Russian agents in sowing unrest in a growing number of Ukrainian cities, signals weakness on the part of the United States and the European Union?
MS. PSAKI: No, absolutely not. We have indicated very clearly that we’re prepared to sanction a range of individuals. And I said “unlikely.” I didn’t say “not.” Obviously, there are decisions that can be made by the national security team at any point in time. We’re also talking about a meeting that’s taking place in 36 hours, so tomorrow – the day after tomorrow is Thursday.
QUESTION: But in the intervening – I mean, Thursday, in the intervening four days – Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday – surely you would acknowledge you have seen more of the same from Russian-sponsored forces in a growing number of places in Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So why not pull the trigger?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I’m not going to bring you into the curtain of what our decision making is. But I can just convey to you that we are prepared to impose additional sanctions on a range of individuals – those discussions are ongoing – as well as sectoral sanctions, and we’re prepared to pull that lever if we decide to do that.
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: One more. Is part of it that notwithstanding the decision of the EU foreign ministers yesterday to sanction additional individuals – although they have yet to name those – is part of the unlikelihood of additional sanctions before Thursday that it is something of a strain to get on the same page with the Europeans in terms of what to do next?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re working closely with them and we’ve been working in lockstep with them throughout this process. And we’re making a – throughout we haven’t made announcements that are identical; we’ve made complementary steps. And I’m sure we’ll discuss those on Thursday. But again, we’ll make decisions about what the appropriate steps are, and we’ll work with – to keep the Europeans abreast of those choices.
QUESTION: Can we go to a different topic?
MS. PSAKI: Ukraine? Go ahead, Catherine.
QUESTION: Has Secretary Kerry spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov? Are they talking about prepping for the meeting, any laying the groundwork?
MS. PSAKI: He hasn’t spoken with him since yesterday. He speaks with him on a regular basis, and they’ve had conversations leading up to the meeting over the course of the last week or so.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Why there won’t be a bilateral meeting between Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov?
MS. PSAKI: The schedule is still coming together. That could certainly change, but I don’t have any bilateral meeting to announce for all of you at this point.
QUESTION: And do you expect any Russian intervention or reaction to the Ukrainian Government moves in the east?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly would encourage them – would discourage them from having a reaction. The Ukrainian Government is maintaining – taking steps to maintain peace and order in their own country. So it’s hard to see what the explanation would be for Russian action there.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s – do we have any more on Ukraine?
QUESTION: Oh, sure.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, a couple more. Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: So Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov actually is visiting China, and he personally thanked China for Chinese unbiased position on Ukraine situation. Do you think China’s position on Ukraine is helpful?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would let the Chinese speak for their own position. Obviously, they didn’t – they declined – they abstained in the UN vote several weeks ago. They have a history of not – of non-intervention, so we’ll let them speak for themselves. But I don’t have any other particular analysis on it.
QUESTION: But I – as I was saying, China and Russia’s relation, the ties is getting closer as the Ukraine crisis is going on. What would you expect China to do?
MS. PSAKI: I’m going to let China make their own choices. Obviously, we are encouraging all countries around the world to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and that’s the same message that we’re conveying to China as well.
QUESTION: New topic?
QUESTION: And one more. It was reported that when Russian President Putin visit China next month, the China and Russia may reach a deal on the gas supply. Do you welcome this deal or decision?
MS. PSAKI: China and Russia?
QUESTION: Yeah. They are going to reach a gas deal.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any particular comment on that. If that happens, we’ll be happy to speak to it at the time. Do we have more on Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- sent a letter to the UN asking the UN Secretary General to get involved over the row, as they say, over your refusal to provide a visa to Mr. Aboutalebi.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, obviously, as we stated yesterday, there are steps that can be taken, and the Iranians have indicated they did take in terms of filing with the Host Country Committee. I know somebody asked yesterday if the United States is a member of the Host Country Committee. We are a member.
But what we have told the United Nations and the Iranian Government is that we will not grant this visa. That has not changed. We’ve been clear both publicly and privately that this nomination is unacceptable. And while we’re not going to get into any specifics of what we do or don’t think he was involved in during the hostage crisis, he himself has said he was involved. And given his role in the events of 1979, which clearly matter profoundly to the American people, it would be unacceptable for the United States to grant this visa. And that is the message that we have conveyed very clearly to the UN as well as to the Iranian Government.
QUESTION: One – just one detailed thing here. He said, I believe, or he has been quoted as saying that he was not in Tehran when the hostages were initially taken. As you know, the hostage taking began in ’79 but then ran through ’80 and into early ’81. Do you – when you said the events of 1979, did you mean that he was involved in 1979 itself, or did you mean that he was involved at some point between – when the hostages were taken in ’79 and when they were released in early ’81?
MS. PSAKI: Well, often, Arshad, as you know, people refer to the overall event as “the events of 1979,” so I was referring to the overall hostage crisis over 444 days.
QUESTION: So the broader period?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Right, okay. Great.
QUESTION: But (inaudible) --
QUESTION: Jen, this is the first time that you, from the podium, that you’ve linked the nominee to the crisis in – to the hostage crisis.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So you’re now saying this is the reason why you believe that that visa will not be granted or should not go ahead?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. And that is the message we’ve conveyed to the Iranians and conveyed to the UN.
QUESTION: Have you yet outright denied the visa?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that, and I’m not going to outline that further. But it’s – we’ve been very clear that we will not grant --
QUESTION: You said you don’t want --
QUESTION: Has it – sorry. Has anything changed since Friday?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: You said you don’t want to get into exactly what he did, but can you say whether or not you believe that he had a significant role as one of the Iranians involved?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to go into it further. He himself has said he was involved.
QUESTION: Well, he played down his involvement, frankly, saying that he was a translator, a negotiator, and he tried to do it in a humanitarian spirit.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, I’m not going to get into from here what we do or don’t think he was involved in during the hostage crisis. Regardless of that, as we all know, this was a searing experience for 52 American citizens who were held hostage, and for that reason this is a visa we cannot grant.
QUESTION: But have you been able to establish from, let’s say, the former hostages, that he, in fact, that’s what he did?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to go into any more details on what we do or don’t know, Said.
QUESTION: Also, do you maintain a list of the number of people that you’ve denied visas to, diplomatic, similar situation? Do you have a list of that?
MS. PSAKI: Do we maintain a list of --
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have --
MS. PSAKI: -- individuals we’ve denied visas to?
QUESTION: I mean, yeah, I mean, have you – do you have a list of, let’s say, a number? Do you have a figure on how many people – I know Yasser Arafat was denied --
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure there are records, but I’m not going to go into those from the podium.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Do we have any more on Iran? Okay, go ahead. Iraq and Kurdistan.
QUESTION: We had Brett McGurk like a few weeks – a couple weeks ago in Iraq to help mediate peaceful efforts between Kurdistan and Baghdad.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But apparently, he achieved no meaningful result because we just saw yesterday President Barzani saying in the media that a Kurdish independent state is on the way. First of all, like, do you agree with me that Brett McGurk like basically failed in achieving – in bringing Baghdad and Kurdistan together?
And secondly, what’s your reaction to Barzani’s statement about a Kurdish independent state coming soon?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, our position has been pretty consistent. We continue to support an Iraq that is federal, democratic, pluralistic, and unified. And we urge all parties in Iraq to continue working together toward that objective. It would be hard to find a more tireless diplomat who has worked as hard as Brett McGurk has on helping the Iraqi people, helping promote the unity of the Iraqi Government. And my suspicion is he will continue working on that. And the sign of a good diplomat is somebody who doesn’t give up when it’s hard and doesn’t throw in the towel, and so I would just caution you to call him out because he’ll keep working on it.
QUESTION: What about the independent state, Kurdistan? Are you against that?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered what our position is on Iraq – federal, democratic, pluralistic, and unified.
QUESTION: But that does not mean that you won’t be against a Kurdish state if it --
MS. PSAKI: That means we believe Iraq should be unified, including all portions of Iraq.
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: That means you don’t believe.
MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Jen, today the head of ISCI, Ammar Hakim, and Sadr, Muqtada al-Sadr, the head of the Jaish al-Mahdi, they formed an alliance against Maliki. Are you concerned that after the election, and if Maliki wins as he is predicted to, that the country will actually fragment?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not --
QUESTION: And descend into chaos?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously – obviously, the government of – or I should say the country of Iraq is working towards elections. We do have concerns about the nature of attacks that have happened, the recent increased levels of violence. And ultimately, the preparations for national elections at the end of – soon, in coming weeks, is a constant reminder of the formidable challenges they continue to face on the security front.
I’m not going to make any predictions. Obviously, our efforts and our work and the work of Brett McGurk and other diplomats is to support the people and the Government of Iraq, and maintain a democratic, pluralistic, and unified Iraq.
QUESTION: Are you – will you be taking, like, special security measures during the elections?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that. We obviously have been expediting our security assistance, as you know and we’ve talked about a little bit in here, and we’re working closely with the Iraqi Government on that. But I will see if there’s more to report around the elections specifically.
QUESTION: Just one more question.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Barzani also said in his interview that it’s very strange that the United States and Iran disagree on most everything, but they agree on Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. What do you make of that statement?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have any further comment than he’s been elected to lead Iraq. So go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we stay here in Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: And just one more question regarding this independence question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: One of the factors of the situation is the oil transfer made by the – I mean, the KRG to Turkey. And I know that your position was against this.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And do you have any update? Because the oil – oil delivery is still going on and there was a dispute on the – in interests in revenue sharing on this oil trade between the two --
MS. PSAKI: Our position is exactly the same as it has been. Nothing has changed on that front.
Go ahead, Said.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I wonder to begin with if you glanced at the editorial today in The New York Times calling that time – the time has come for the United States to state: This is our position, that’s how we see the state, this is how we see the parties reacting; or otherwise, it’s time for us to move on. Did you see this and do you agree with this notion?
MS. PSAKI: I did read the editorial. I do not agree with the notion. Neither does the negotiators, neither do the parties, neither does the Secretary. As you know, Said, the parties met this weekend. They’re going to be meeting again tomorrow. The parties are working right now on an agreement to extend the negotiations. And that means extending the negotiations past April 29th. There are naturally a range of issues being discussed. There are steps that both parties would need to take in order to improve the conditions for peace. But the parties remain highly engaged. Both parties tell us they want negotiations to continue and they’re searching for a path to do just that.
QUESTION: Okay. So you do expect the negotiating to continue past the 29th?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the parties are working on determining if there’s a path to extend the negotiations for a period of months past April 29th.
QUESTION: Do you feel comfortable that both parties will be likely to continue on for lack of a better alternative, really?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to make any predictions. The parties are working on this as we speak.
QUESTION: Okay. So – but if – their positions, actually, they are – they’re sort of – are intransigent, really – their position. And in fact, the government of Mr. Netanyahu has members – very powerful members – who are not for the negotiations, they’re not even for a peace settlement.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And on the other hand, you have also factions within the Palestinian movement that are beginning to reject whatever outcome these negotiations might have. So you still see value in these negotiations going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely, because the Israeli and the Palestinian people deserve a two-state solution where parties are living side-by-side and they have the economic opportunity and the security that they deserve.
QUESTION: But --
MS. PSAKI: And that’s why the parties remain committed and why they’re working so hard on extending negotiations.
QUESTION: But look at the last three days. I mean, the Israelis announced taking another 900 dunams, which is like 250, 300 acres and so on. Somebody attacked and killed – most likely a Palestinian – a settler and shot his wife yesterday on their way to a Passover dinner and so on. So the situation is really getting fluid and in flux and so on. What should be done to sort of reassure both sides --
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say – since you gave me opportunity, and then we’ll move to Jo, who I think has a question on the same topic – that we, of course, condemn the shooting that killed an Israeli man on the eve of Passover. We offer our condolences to the man’s family and support Israel’s efforts to bring those responsible for justice – to justice. We urge all parties to exercise restraint and avoid any actions that would raise tensions.
Let me just say finally, before we move to Jo, that naturally we know that these are issues that have a great deal of history, a great deal of emotion. But the parties remain engaged. They’ve indicated they want to see if there’s a path forward for extending the negotiations, and they’re going to continue to work on that effort. But they have a greater stake in it than the United States, so we’ll see if they’re willing to take the choices.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: If Jo allows me just real quick, the settlement that was expanded is really an old settlement, Gush Etzion. I mean, they took – I mean, it’s right in the heart of the West Bank. Did you at least condemn this particular takeover of private land? It’s a land --
MS. PSAKI: Are you – the moving in Hebron that – what – that happened --
QUESTION: No. The land that was taken, these last parts of privately owned Palestinian land --
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look at the details of that. You’re familiar with our view on settlements.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: I wanted to check whether the talks that you mentioned tomorrow are going to take place with Ambassador Indyk as well.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates on his travel yet. Nothing has changed since what we talked about last week, but I don’t have any update on when he’ll be traveling. But an important reminder here is there – they had meetings over the weekend without the U.S. negotiators participating. There may be some where the U.S. negotiators do participate, as there has been through the process. So as I have an update over the next day or so, we’ll – happy to keep you abreast.
QUESTION: So it’s possible these talks could happen without Ambassador Indyk tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly. Absolutely.
QUESTION: Okay. And I wanted to ask – and again, I’ve asked this yesterday, the day before – if you’ve had any more updates from the Israeli side on the tax issue about whether they’re going to – whether this reported freeze is actually happening or not.
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t had any update. Obviously they’ve been sort of on their Passover holiday over the last 24 hours. I will see if there’s more we can report to all of you after the briefing.
QUESTION: Are you able to say what some of the issues are on the table about what the outlines of an agreement might look like to extend the talks beyond April the 29th, such as is there likely to be some kind of prisoner release or some kind of perhaps – not settlement, partial settlement freeze or something like that? Are you able to give us any details?
MS. PSAKI: All of those issues are being discussed. Clearly, it’s going to be the parties that need to make the choices about which steps they’re willing to take and whether the other corresponding party agrees to that as part of the nature of the possible extension. But many of those same issues are still being discussed and on the table.
QUESTION: And given where we are and how bleak everything seemed in the last week or so --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- how hopeful are you that they will get an extension of the talks?
MS. PSAKI: It’s hard to put a grade or a number on that, because it’s ultimately up to them. And while we certainly are strong supporters of this effort and we have been very active participants and boosters, they have to make some tough choices. And again, because there are decades of emotions and history, it’s not an easy thing. Certainly, it’s important to note that the negotiations are ongoing, that the parties have indicated they want them to be ongoing, and that they are open to discussing and actively discussing an extension. So that is positive. But we’re not going to put the cart before the horse here.
QUESTION: And just a final one. Have you any kind of notion – are we talking about a few months, are we talking about another nine-month extension, or a year? Do you have – is there a timeframe emerging?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll leave that to the parties to discuss and decide what is appropriate and what amount of time they need, if they agree to an extension.
QUESTION: Jen, technically it would be – if the negotiations go past the 29th of April, will this be announced, let’s say, in Washington, take place in Washington, symbolically or otherwise like last year?
MS. PSAKI: You have a communications planning future in your life, I think. I can’t make any prediction of that, Said, because the parties are still working through what the conditions would be and whether there will be an extension.
MS. PSAKI: So there’s nothing I can report to you on that front.
QUESTION: Okay. On a separate issue from the start of the talks, have you talked to the Israelis since yesterday, since I asked yesterday, about the withholding of the tax revenues?
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary has not. Obviously, we have a range of officials on the ground who are in very close touch with the – both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
QUESTION: New topic? Is that okay?
QUESTION: Yeah. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: There are reports that a section of the Free Syrian Army has received anti-missile tanks from a Western source, U.S.-made anti-missile tank. So wanted to know is that Western source the United States, or can you give us any information about where those tanks might be coming from?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the United States is committed to – and has been consistently – to building the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through work with our international partners. And that has consistently been the case for the last months and over – and years even. And that also includes through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderate armed opposition. As we have consistently said, and I know frustrates all of you to no end, we’re not going to detail every single type of assistance, nor are we going to detail or outline every type of diplomatic engagement with our international partners. So unfortunately, I just have very little to convey to you on this front.
QUESTION: But you’re linking the engagement with your international partners to the provision of this --
MS. PSAKI: Tanks.
QUESTION: -- anti-tanks in question. It sounds like you sold them or they – or you gave them or they were --
MS. PSAKI: I was just making a --
QUESTION: -- bought by one of your international partners and then provided to the Syrians.
MS. PSAKI: I was just making a broad point about how we engage and how we support the moderate opposition, Elise.
QUESTION: But you’re not opposed to having the opposition actually have or own or be in possession of these kind of weapons, do you? Are you in opposition?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to detail that further from here.
Go ahead, Samir.
QUESTION: Because these kinds of weapons, I mean, were the kind of weapons that were talked about way back then to change the equation on the ground. So are you changing your political stance that maybe it’s time to change the equation on the ground?
MS. PSAKI: We haven’t changed anything. We haven’t outlined our details of our decisions and our assistance at any point in this process.
Go ahead, Samir.
QUESTION: Were you able to confirm reports about the use by the regime of chemical weapons last weekend in the province of Hama?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new updates. Obviously, as we’ve said for the last couple of days, we continue to look into these reports. We don’t have any information to corroborate them at this point.
QUESTION: But you are looking into them?
MS. PSAKI: We continue to, yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction or comment on the – after Maaloula yesterday, we’re seeing now the Syrian army’s entering into parts of Homs as well, which would seem to be another kind of gain. I know you said you didn’t want to do just day-by-day gains on the ground, but is that something that you’ve been able to confirm as well?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any independent confirmation of that. I will check with our team and see if there are – is more we can say about different movements. But it’s unlikely we’ll be giving independent confirmation from here.
QUESTION: Jen, on this, do you think that President Assad is changing the calculations on the ground now?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve answered that question a countless number of times.
Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: On this point --
QUESTION: No, no, after the gains that he made in Maaloula and different places.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I talked about it yesterday. I’d point you to that.
QUESTION: Can you repeat that, please?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: So as he consolidates his position on the ground and there were statements by, let’s say, former ambassador to Syria Ryan Crocker and former ambassador to Iraq, who said maybe it’s time to talk to Assad. Do you have any plans to talk to the regime anytime in the future?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, Said, and we’ve said before, we’ve had a range of different contacts, but I have no update or plans on that front.
QUESTION: So what happens if he consolidates his authority over much larger portions of Syria? Would you then be sort of compelled to deal with them or no?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into a hypothetical. Do we have a new topic?
MS. PSAKI: Algeria, sure.
QUESTION: Any – do you have anything on the upcoming elections there? And are you still supporting President Bouteflika as they translated the Secretary’s speech when he was in Algeria?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it was pretty clearly put out from our Embassy there that there was a mistranslation of his comments. Naturally, we don’t engage in supporting candidates in countries, so that remains the case here. Obviously, we’re watching the elections closely. We were just in Algeria – the Secretary was, as you know – and we talked about a range of issues, including our cooperation on counterterrorism issues and strengthening our strategic partnerships, and that will certainly continue.
QUESTION: That means you’re not supporting President Bouteflika in this election?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re referring to comments that were mistranslated, and there was a statement put out by them.
Do we have any more? Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Turkey, Jen. Ambassador Ricciardone visited the ruling party officials yesterday in Turkey and he congratulated for the election results. And at the entrance or at – in – while leaving the building, he mentioned about the allegations against Fethullah Gulen also. Marie was – I had talked about this issue when you were not here. But he said that the concerns of the Turkish Government on this issue is reasonable or something like – maybe the translation – I just read it.
MS. PSAKI: And I’m sorry, which concerns were you talking about?
QUESTION: The – in Turkish Government, these concerns about the activities of Gulen movement and the guy he was leaving in Pennsylvania, Fethullah Gulen. And Ambassador Ricciardone mentioned on this issue and he said that – I didn’t see the exact words because he spoke in English, according to the reports. I don't know what exactly he said, but according to the press reports, he said something like that this is reasonable, these concerns are reasonable.
Do you have anything to add to these, any comment on this to clarify the --
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me look at the actual comments and we’ll see if there’s anything we want to add on that front.
QUESTION: May I --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, in the back. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, it was mentioned today in Egypt that the foreign minister of Egypt, Nabil Fahmy, next week or the following week will be here to meet the – Secretary Kerry. Do you have anything to say about that?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those. I’m happy to check and see. And they’ve met a range of times and talked a numerous number of times on the phone, so I’ll see if there’s anything on that front to announce.
All right. Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: One more.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the resignation of Prince Bandar from his position as intelligence director in Saudi Arabia?
MS. PSAKI: I think that happened a while ago, but --
QUESTION: No, it’s today.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, it was just announced today?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any comment on it.
QUESTION: Just announced? It happened, like, two months ago.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Maybe you have an idea about this?
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)