12:55 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Happy Monday. So I have a couple of items for all of you at the top, including a visual aid. Everyone get excited. You may have --
MS. PSAKI: I know. Look at the excitement in here. It’s so supportive.
You may have seen the Secretary’s tweet, where he announced the oceans conference. He will host the “Our Ocean” international oceans conference at the Department of State on June 16th and 17th. The Secretary’s conference is the third in a series of high-profile oceans events this spring that together will advance the policy discussion. The time is right to elevate these issues. In his many years as a public servant, Secretary Kerry has a strong record of efforts to promote ocean conservation. He is personally committed to building global stewardship for our oceans in the face of unsustainable fishing practices, record pollution, and the devastating effects of climate change, so let me turn you to the video here behind me.
(Video was played.)
MS. PSAKI: All right. I have one additional item at the top. Presidential – on Syria, I should say – presidential elections – actually a referendum, not a real vote – in Syria planned by the Assad regime undermine the Geneva framework and are a parody of democracy. They have no credibility. Further, the Syrian regime under the Assads has never held a credible, free, and fair election, and has taken legal and administrative steps to ensure that this vote will not be fair. Calling for a de facto referendum rings especially hollow now, as the regime continues to massacre the very electorate it purports to represent. The regime’s violent suppression of the Syrian people’s calls for freedom and dignity is what sparked this brutal conflict. Staging elections under current conditions, including the effective disenfranchisement of millions of Syrians, neither addresses the aspirations of the Syrian people nor moves the country any closer to a negotiated political solution.
And with that, Matt.
QUESTION: Sorry I missed the top of the ocean. Was that the first thing?
MS. PSAKI: That was the first item, and the Secretary also tweeted an announcement of the oceans conference, which will be June 16th and 17th.
QUESTION: Okay. On the Syrian election just for a second. In your view, there’s no way that – there’s no way for an election to actually – for a real election to actually take place because of the current conditions in Syria, or because of the fact that there are millions of people outside who would – outside of Syria, or both?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think one of the major reasons, which you didn’t mention but is worth noting, is that this – the Syrian regime and the Assad family has a history of not holding free and fair elections. Also, clearly what’s happening on the ground and the fact that this brutality has happened at the hands of the very brutal dictator who is planning to announce elections we don’t think would be free and fair is really the greatest concern.
QUESTION: Can you also just explain, how does it undermine the Geneva framework?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as the London Eleven announced in its April 3rd statement, any unilateral decision by the regime to hold presidential elections would be entirely inconsistent with the Geneva communique’s call for the establishment of a transitional governing body to oversee constitutional reforms leading to free and fair elections.
QUESTION: So – on the Geneva, so I can understand you correctly, it is the transitional aspect that is missing? You need something transitional – a transitional government – to oversee some sort of a fair and free election?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are several aspects, Said.
MS. PSAKI: I think the first and foremost is the brutality of this very dictator who is planning to hold these elections, so – and the history of what’s happened over the last few years. But certainly, the Geneva communique calls for the creation of a transitional governing body.
QUESTION: So that’s the one I think that would legally – or stand in the face of a free and fair elections, correct? A transitional body of some sort.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are also steps – laws that have been passed by the regime that preclude anyone who hasn’t lived in the country for 10 years from running for office that make it very difficult for other candidates to run in an election like this.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you still believe that Assad’s days are numbered?
MS. PSAKI: We do.
MS. PSAKI: And we certainly – as you know, Daniel Rubinstein is back in the region.
MS. PSAKI: We continue to work with the opposition, we continue to work with our international partners, and we’ll continue to press for bringing an end to this regime.
QUESTION: Okay. So no amount of transparency could actually be – could be conceivable, correct, in this – in conducting this kind of election?
MS. PSAKI: I think --
QUESTION: Aside from the fact that maybe one-third of the population is dislocated?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Assads have never held a credible, fair, or free election.
QUESTION: And after this announcement, Jen, do you think that Geneva II is still alive? And is there any hope to hold another meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there are many tracks to our process and the Geneva meeting and the beginning of a Geneva process. The purpose was in part to have more than 40 countries and organizations stand together in support of the opposition. We’re still working to determine what the next steps are.
The Secretary met with Joint Special Representative Brahimi last week. Daniel Rubinstein is in the region and will continue to consult and determine what to do next.
QUESTION: And one more on – I don’t know if you have seen the reports on the use of chemical weapons in Syria in the last few days.
MS. PSAKI: I have seen those reports.
QUESTION: And can you confirm these reports?
MS. PSAKI: We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical – probably chlorine – in Syria this month in the opposition-dominated village of Kfar Zeita. We are examining allegations that the government was responsible. We take all allegations of the use of chemicals in combat use very seriously. We’re working to determine what has happened, and we will continue consulting and sharing information with key partners, including at the OPCW.
QUESTION: And did you – do you think that the Assad regime has crossed the redline again by using this --
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to speculate here. Obviously, there needs to be an investigation of what’s happened here. We’re working with our partners to determine what the facts are on the ground.
QUESTION: Chlorine is a chemical weapon?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to get into too many details because it’s probably chlorine, but we’re still looking into the specifics.
QUESTION: Chlorine gas? Chlorine like you put in your pool? Chlorine, like – no, I mean, I’m not trying to --
MS. PSAKI: No, no, I understand what you’re asking.
QUESTION: There are different forms of chlorine.
MS. PSAKI: I understand what you’re asking, Matt. We’re still looking into the specifics. I just don’t want to get ahead of the process.
QUESTION: Is this the same – this incident is the same that the French were talking about – is that your understanding – earlier today?
MS. PSAKI: I believe there have been reports that, as we’ve said, we’ve been looking into these reports. We continue to look into them. Obviously, we have a little bit more information.
QUESTION: And is chlorine something that the Syrians would have had to have – what would they --
MS. PSAKI: Turn in?
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, turn in, but just identify as part of their stockpile under the CW agreement?
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: So it is not actually a – chlorine is not technically, under the OPCW, a chemical weapon. Is that --
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are, as you know, a range of different mechanisms for monitoring what is a – and a range of things that could be violated. Obviously, we’re in the preliminary stages here. We’re still looking into what this chemical, in fact, is. But it wasn’t one of the priority one or two chemicals, no.
QUESTION: Jen, you said that you take all allegations seriously?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Okay. The government is alleging that it is the opposition that used this chlorine. Do you take that allegation seriously?
MS. PSAKI: I understand what is being alleged here.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. All right.
MS. PSAKI: We’re examining allegations. We’re obviously looking at the facts on the ground. We shouldn’t forget the context of what the regime has been capable of in the past, Said.
QUESTION: Are you aware that paramilitary forces have used chlorine in the past, like in Iraq, for instance, where they would do – ride along these IEDs, they would have a canister that stinks up the air and makes it yellow, and so on?
MS. PSAKI: Historically --
QUESTION: But actually, it doesn’t kill anyone. The shrapnels kill people, but not the chlorine itself. Are you aware of that?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do a history lesson here, but certainly we’re, again, looking at these allegations. And if there’s new reports or new information to provide, we will be happy to provide that.
QUESTION: Sorry. Just one more on it with regard to looking at the allegations beyond just reading them and – who are the partners we’re working with and what is the – is there actually a process in place where we can run this to the ground? And how is that happening right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, there has consistently been – we’ll work with the OPCW, we’ll work with international partners, we’ll work with the UN. We’re still determining what the best mechanism is to get to the bottom of the facts.
QUESTION: I just want to go back a little bit on an issue that I – a question that I asked Ambassador Ford last week regarding possible contacts with the regime.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Because there are some voices that are being raised that we need to talk to them, especially on the passage of humanitarian aid. Are you prepared to conduct any kind of either direct or indirect talks with the regime itself to ensure that humanitarian aid gets through these multitude of roadblocks?
MS. PSAKI: Said, as you know in the past, and Ambassador Ford and others have confirmed, we’ve had a means of being in contact. I don’t have anything to update you on on that front.
QUESTION: Yeah. But you’re dependent on, let’s say like NGOs or maybe humanitarian bodies and so on?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to update you further on that.
Syria? Or – go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, on this one. Do you consider the use of this gas as a breach for the UN resolution?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we’re going to let the process see itself through to determine the facts on the ground about what this toxic industrial chemical was to confirm those details, and then we’ll work with our international partners to determine if any issue was violated here.
QUESTION: What is that process?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think first we need to determine what the facts are, what was the chemical, to make sure we have those all lined up. Then we’ll work with the OPCW, who is obviously overseeing the implementation, and determine if any violation occurred.
QUESTION: But is it your understanding that the OPCW people who are on the ground, it’s part of their mandate to go look at this?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not – again, this is very preliminary.
MS. PSAKI: So we will be working with the OPCW. I’m not suggesting there is a violation. We’re still determining what the facts are on the ground.
QUESTION: Have you got any samples from the ground?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional details beyond what I’ve shared so far.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: There seems to be – well, not seems to be. There has been a lot of attention given in the last day or so to these photographs that the Ukrainians have apparently presented or apparently did present to the OSCE showing or purporting to show Russian – people who are the same as in the Georgia incursion in 2008, similar to – or at least one guy in particular – similar to people who have appeared in eastern Ukraine over the course of the last couple weeks. I’m wondering – the stories, the reports about this, about these photographs, this evidence that I’ve seen, say that the Administration endorses or accepts that these are factual. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, a range of the photos that the Ukrainians have provided – and to be fair, a number of U.S. officials have Tweeted and provided publicly – are from publicly available photos, either in international media or already on Twitter that show either individuals or signs of a connection with – between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine. So that, as you know, has long been what we have believed and we’ve made the case publicly about, whether that’s the Secretary or the President or others. So these are just further evidence of the connection between Russia and the armed militants.
QUESTION: Well, how confident are you in their veracity or in the strength of the case that these photographs would appear or that you and the Ukrainians seem to say – let me start again. I’m having a difficult day here today.
How strong is the case, do you think, that these photographs make?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve stated the case pretty strongly publicly before these photos were out there, before we were talking about them, in terms of our belief that there’s a strong connection between Russia and the armed militants that we’ve seen in eastern Ukraine and Crimea and other places. So this is more just further photographic evidence of that.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, how certain are you that these photographs show people, individuals who are – who have links to Russia, who were involved in Georgia in 2008 and now are involved in Ukraine in 2014?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what we’re – what we see in the photos that have been, again, in international media, on Twitter, and publicly available, is that there are individuals who visibly appear to be tied to Russia. We’ve said that publicly a countless number of times. I will let you all draw the conclusions yourself as to whether these are individuals who look similar or not to other events.
QUESTION: Right. But you keep calling it evidence.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you think that this is evidence that would stand up in a court of law?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it’s a legal – we’re not making a court of law case here. We’re just showing that this is photographic evidence that indicates the connection we’ve been talking about for weeks now.
QUESTION: But it doesn’t prove – but you think that it is proof of the connection, or it’s just a – or you’re just alleging that it’s another sign of this?
MS. PSAKI: It’s another sign, Matt, of --
MS. PSAKI: -- just if you look at these photos.
QUESTION: I’m just – as you know, and you’ve talked about – and the Russians have talked about as well, this propaganda war that’s going on between the two sides. And what we saw last week was Secretary Kerry in Geneva getting up and talking about this leaflet that was put out, which – regarding Jewish registration in Donetsk. And it appears that this is just a hoax. This is not a real thing. And yet, it was identified as something of major significance by the Secretary and by others. And I’m just wondering, given that and the apparent – the fact that that – or the – what appears to have been a hoax got turned into something very much more major than it potentially – than it had the potential to be, if these photographs could fall – if the Russians could point to these photographs as falling into the same category.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, there’s a range of details out there we’ve talked about that leads us to believe there’s a strong connection. We’ll let people draw their own conclusions.
QUESTION: Jen? But you’re saying – you’re making a case, in this case. And --
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I would point you to --
QUESTION: Let me just ask you --
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. I would point you to what the Secretary, what the President, what Susan --
QUESTION: I’m aware.
MS. PSAKI: -- and Susan Rice have said, what we’ve all been saying for weeks about the strong connection. This is not a new argument.
QUESTION: But you’re not – are you saying that the United States Government, with its great tradition of intelligence gathering and sources and so on, is now dependent on publicly traded photographs on the internet and Twitter and so on?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s fair to – for me to convey that we’re looking at a fair share of classified and unclassified information. We’re discussing both. But these are a range of photos – and you’ve hit the point on the – nail on the head there – that have been publicly available, that are on Twitter, that are in international media, and we’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
QUESTION: No, you said something that they appear to be, they look like. Are you saying that you’re actually looking at the – what they look physically, and they look like people who are connected to Russia? Is that what you’re suggesting?
MS. PSAKI: Again, Said, I think I’ve answered this question. Do we have --
QUESTION: Sorry, you’re saying that these photographs back up classified intelligence that you’ve gotten from --
MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying they back up the public argument we’ve been making for weeks.
QUESTION: Right. But your argument is not just based on the publicly available photographs like these ones, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, I’m not going to talk about classified information.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just asking, do you --
MS. PSAKI: But it is fair that we are having a range of conversations with our international partners, and these photos are – which are, again, publicly available --
MS. PSAKI: -- are just further evidence or further examples, I should say.
QUESTION: I guess I’m just not sure why you keep pointing out that they’re publicly available. I mean, no one’s saying they’re not. But just because they’re publicly available doesn’t – I don’t see how that buttresses your argument one way or the other. What I’m asking is whether these publicly available photographs mesh with, back up anything, any indications that you’re getting from non-public or intel --
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I’d point you to the public argument we’ve been making for weeks about the connection.
QUESTION: Would you make that public argument if you didn’t have other reasons to believe that it was true?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to answer it further.
QUESTION: Well, then I’m not sure. Then you’re just --
MS. PSAKI: I think we have consistently --
QUESTION: You have no reason to believe --
MS. PSAKI: Matt, we have consistently made the same argument about the connection between – we see between Russia and between these armed militants. That’s been consistent for weeks. These photos just show further examples of that connection.
QUESTION: But you wouldn’t be making that argument – am I correct? You wouldn’t be making that argument if you didn’t have other reasons to suspect that this – that (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: We feel confident in our argument. I’m not going to back – I’m not going to outline it further.
QUESTION: (Off-mike) these photographs and publicly available evidence. This publicly available evidence does actually support what we have gathered in other – by other means?
MS. PSAKI: What we have stated for weeks.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on this topic?
QUESTION: Yeah, I have one more question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Now, the Russians are claiming that the Ukrainians are already – they – whatever you call – they already violating the terms of the agreement in Geneva. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen those comments. Let me give you just actually a readout on a phone call with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning. The Secretary urged Russia to take concrete steps to help implement the Geneva agreement, including publicly calling on separatists to vacate illegal buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty and address their grievances politically. He also called on Russia to assign a senior diplomat to work with the OSCE mission in eastern Ukraine to make absolutely clear to the separatists that Russia supports the agreement and wants de-escalation. He also called on Russia to speak out against the seizing of journalists and other innocents as hostages and to join the U.S. in calling for the immediate release of Irma Krat. He noted that the Ukrainian government has pledged a full investigation of the violent events in Slovyansk. Given some suspicious aspects of the events, Russia should withhold judgment on who was responsible until that investigation is complete.
The Secretary also made clear that Russia’s recent public statement casting doubt on Ukraine’s commitment to the Geneva agreement flies in the face of the facts. The Government of Ukraine put forward a broad amnesty bill for separatists to give up buildings and weapons, and has sent senior representatives to the east with the OSCE to help implement the agreement, and had called an Easter pause in its counterterrorism operations. He asked that Russia now demonstrate an equal level of commitment to the Geneva agreement in both its rhetoric and its actions. As noted in Geneva, without implementation, the joint statement is only a piece of paper, and what is needed is true de-escalation.
QUESTION: But given the fact that Foreign Minister Lavrov – I don’t know if it was before or after this call, but – I don’t know if – he spoke today --
MS. PSAKI: He just spoke with him in the last hour.
QUESTION: All right. Well, then, in the hour or so – hours before the phone call, Foreign Minister Lavrov was basically trashing Ukraine and the West for these violations. Did the Secretary get any indication from him that they are willing to do or to take any of these steps that he discussed in the phone call? And also, is the United States assigning a senior diplomat to the OSCE monitoring mission, or is that Ambassador Pyatt?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that was part of the discussion. Obviously, Ambassador Pyatt is closely involved. I will – I’m happy to check and see who our person who will be closely on – working closely on the ground with the OSCE. But part of what was in the statement was that all parties would --
MS. PSAKI: -- have individuals from their countries play a role. I’m not going to, obviously, speak for what Foreign Minister Lavrov or the Russians are or aren’t willing to do. But the point here is that the Ukrainians have taken steps; the Russians need to take additional steps. Obviously, we would have to make a decision in the matter of – in a matter of days if there are going to be consequences for inaction.
QUESTION: Okay. You said the Russians need to take additional steps.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: To your – in your view, have the Russians taken any steps at all to help implement the Geneva agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we did see a couple of steps. I don’t want to overstate them. As I mentioned over the weekend, we saw the OSCE ramping up their efforts. That, of course, is on the Ukrainian side. In accordance with – on Sunday, we also saw a government building in the city of Yenyakiyevo released and is now back in the hands of Ukrainian authorities. But obviously, there are a range of steps that need to be abided by in the joint statement, and that’s what we’re looking for.
QUESTION: In light of the situation thus far, since Thursday, since the Geneva statement was signed, I’m wondering if you – do you still think it was worth the time and effort to negotiate this statement?
MS. PSAKI: We do. We think that there should always be an opportunity for diplomacy. We – as we said last week, we are looking at this over the coming days with our eyes open. And if they don’t take steps that they have committed to, then there will be consequences.
QUESTION: Is not the presumption of negotiating agreements like this the – do you not have a presumption that the other side is actually going to commit – to actually undertake what is agreed to in them?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, you do. And we’ll see --
QUESTION: And you still have --
MS. PSAKI: -- over the next pivotal days what happens.
QUESTION: And given that was has happened since the crisis in Ukraine began and with Geneva on – the Geneva process on Syria, you still go into these negotiations with the Russians with the presumption that they are actually going to do what they say they’ll do?
MS. PSAKI: We do, Matt, because Russia has been a partner on other issues. I would point you to even the removal of chemical weapons and the progress that’s been made in recent weeks there. So --
QUESTION: So you would reject those critics – and there are many, perhaps the usual suspects, critics, but – who say that the Administration is just being hopelessly naïve in entering into agreements with the Russians and thinking that the Russians are actually going to follow through on them? You would --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point those critics to the fact that nearly 80 percent, if not 80 percent of chemical weapons, have been removed from Syria, that Russia remains a partner in the P5+1 talks.
QUESTION: But --
MS. PSAKI: But clearly, there are areas where we disagree. And we --
QUESTION: Right. But 80 percent of the chemical weapons are gone, but yet another chemical which is not covered by that appears to just have been used. So if they’re just going to switch things up – there seems to be a fundamental disagreement over what you even agreed upon, and you – did the Secretary in his call with the foreign minister make clear to the foreign – Foreign Minister Lavrov that illegally occupied buildings does not mean government buildings in Kyiv?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any further readout than what I just provided to all of you, Matt, but I think that should be pretty evident to the Russians.
QUESTION: Forgive me, Jen. You said the Russians are partners. They’re not adversaries in this case? Russia is not your adversary in the Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Said, there are areas where agree – where we agree; there are areas where we disagree. We have not held back in laying out economic consequences when necessary, but again, we feel there should be an opportunity for diplomacy. If they don’t take steps in the coming days, there’ll be consequences.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, but you – there are areas you agree and disagree in Syria, but the lines are --
MS. PSAKI: Broadly speaking, Said, there are.
QUESTION: Just bear with me for a second.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The lines are really clearly drawn in the Ukraine. They are your adversaries, aren’t they, in the Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Again, Said, I think I’ve --
QUESTION: I mean, listening to all this talk and bellicosity.
MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve laid out what our view is on this. Do we have more?
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: Let me come from another --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah, on the Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: On Ukraine, sure.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. At what point did United States decide and move to additional sanction? Last week the Russian has to take another action within couple days or by the weekend. But – so I’m talking about the timeline.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we hope to see a de-escalation in the coming – in this – over the situation over the next few days. And if there’s not progress, we remain prepared, along with our European and G7 partners, to impose additional costs. So there’ll need to be decisions made in a matter of days.
QUESTION: Jen, Senator Murphy yesterday called on the Administration to take those additional steps to put more sanctions on Russia. Do you have a reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: Not specifically. Obviously, there are a range of members who have their views, and we consult with them regularly. Obviously, we haven’t held back from putting sanctions in place. We are prepared to put more sanctions in place, including on individuals and on sectors, and if the situation warrants it, we won’t hesitate to do that.
QUESTION: Now these additional sanctions would target petrochemical companies and banks, which would, of course, have a dire impact on the European economy. How do you expect Europe to go along with additional sanctions if it’s going to hurt their economy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, I would say, as you know, but just to remind any critics out there, that this executive order the President signed weeks ago gives us the flexibility and the ability to sanction sectors, including those that you mentioned. Beyond that, obviously, we’ve been working closely with our European partners on continuing to work in lockstep. I’m not going to get ahead of where we are, but they are fully briefed on what our options are and what we’re thinking about, and we’re obviously fully briefed on what they’re thinking about as well.
QUESTION: Would a decision on Keystone help our European allies come to a conclusion?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a connection, but you may lay one out for me.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just saying if this is going to hurt their economy, and we tell them to go along with more sanctions, which is going to hurt them, how do we justify that when we won’t pass Keystone?
MS. PSAKI: Entirely different situations. Not apples and not only oranges; apples and, I don’t know, papaya or something very different.
More on Ukraine? Go ahead Ali.
MS. PSAKI: I have seen those reports from over the weekend. Obviously, we’ve been taking steps in cooperation with NATO to continue to boost our allies in the region. Let me see if I have anything new on this. I don’t. But I will, of course, let DoD make any announcements about that. I know they’ve made comments over the weekend.
Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Yeah. Jen, I know you already went through the readout of the Kerry-Lavrov call, but was – can you just – was there anything in there about the Vice President visiting Kyiv today? And the fairly large delegation that he has of people from both sides of the aisle here in the legislature --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- running around having meetings. And I wonder if there was any connection in the messaging on the call, because it looks like the Vice President’s office says that part of the mission is to reverse the flow of gas in the region. So I’m wondering, I mean, was there – how did this come together and did it get talked about at all?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, again, I don’t have any further readout just because this call just happened. I’m happy to check if more, but --
MS. PSAKI: -- the Vice President, as you noted, is on the ground for the next couple of days. He’ll be meeting with a range of Ukrainian officials. At every point in this process, there have been several paths that we have been pursuing, including seeing if there is a path to work with Russia and encourage them to take additional steps to work with the OSCE to de-escalate, but also boosting the Ukrainians and the legitimate government. And that’s what the Vice President is on the ground to do over the next couple of days. He’ll be assessing the situation on the ground. He’ll be – we’ll all be in close contact over the next couple of days.
But a big part of what we’re going is lifting up the Ukrainian government, providing them economic assistance, political assistance. We put out a kind of a range of details I think a week or so ago of what we’re doing to boost them, and that’s part of the Vice President’s trip.
QUESTION: And have the Russians expressed any misgivings about this?
MS. PSAKI: About which piece?
QUESTION: That we are trying to prop up, as you say, this government. I don’t know if you used that word exactly, but that we’ve got our Vice President in Kyiv right now trying to legitimize a government that basically came to power after overthrowing the president there.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s hardly an actual, accurate account of what happened.
QUESTION: Right, he fled.
MS. PSAKI: The former president --
QUESTION: He fled, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: -- left Ukraine. As you know, the Rada put the new government in place. They’re working towards constitutional reform and elections at the end of May. I don’t think that the Russians would be surprised, given we have been working with the Government of Ukraine for weeks now, that we have the Vice President there, that we are continuing to coordinate and work closely with them. So I don’t know that there’s any conflict there.
QUESTION: Do you have any clarification on that comment he referred to about the gas supplies from Russia to Europe through Ukraine? Because it seems that in Brussels the Europeans are not very happy about this particular comment.
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly I’d refer you to the Vice President’s office. Broadly speaking, we are working closely with Ukraine on their energy needs. We’re working with our European partners on that, whether that’s putting energy reforms in place or ensuring that they have the resources they need.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any Ukraine? Ukraine?
QUESTION: On a different topic.
MS. PSAKI: Ukraine – no more Ukraine? Okay. One – can we – okay if we give we give a few other?
QUESTION: Sure. Absolutely.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, I have one on Asia.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: So just ahead of the President’s trip to Asia, there’s been a few provocative actions occurring in East Asia. I want to know if you any comment on a particularly odd one. A court in Shanghai has ordered the seizure of a Japanese ship that’s owned by the Matsui Corporation over an 80-year-old unpaid debt. So for the Japanese, they believe that this issue, among others, was resolved in the 1972 agreement, so many Japanese businesses are concerned about the security of their assets in China. I wanted to know if you have a comment on that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have seen that report. We believe that strong and constructive relations between countries in the region promotes peace and stability and is in the interests of both these countries as well as the interests of the United States. We continue to encourage dialogue and diplomacy to resolve any areas of disagreement. And obviously, the President, as you all know, will be arriving in Asia, I think, on Wednesday. So I’m sure there’ll be a range of issues that will be discussed that I know the White House has previewed already.
QUESTION: And I have another question on a related topic. The Japanese also announced a few days ago their intention to have about 1,000 troops on the island of Yonaguni. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: I believe I do have something on this. Decisions regarding Japan’s defense and security are for the Japanese Government and people to make. Japan has demonstrated over the last 60-plus years an abiding commitment to peace, democracy, and the rule of law. Its very significant contributions to global security speak for themselves. We welcome Japan’s efforts to be transparent as it implements its evolving defense policies, and good relations between Japan and all of its neighbors benefit everyone in the region.
All right, I can do a few more and then I’m doing a little Twitter town hall.
QUESTION: Real quick --
MS. PSAKI: Tune in.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Said.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- peace talks.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Today there is a meeting that is ongoing that’s supposed to either resolve the – I mean, put life back into the process or basically announce it brain-dead.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Could you comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, we’re focused on helping the parties find a way to extend the negotiations, because we believe they both want to find a way to do that. Unfortunately, developments over the last month make it – made it necessary to find a new formula or mechanism to move it forward, but we would hope that the parties can reach agreement as soon as possible. As long as they want to find a way to continue the negotiations, we’re willing to help them do that.
QUESTION: So the focus now on extending the talks --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- not necessarily a framework agreement that may come out between now and the 29th, correct?
MS. PSAKI: The parties – the focus between the parties is on extending the talks, yes.
QUESTION: So in other words, we are not likely to see a framework, or at least an announcement of a framework by, let’s say, the 29th of this month.
MS. PSAKI: Their focus at this point is on extending negotiations.
QUESTION: Are you making headway?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give a further readout of it. Obviously, we’re – continue to work with the parties, and it is going to be up to them to determine whether there’s path forward.
QUESTION: And my last question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Are you telling Abbas not to keep issuing statements and proclamations that they are going to sort of just close shop with the PA and turn over the occupation responsibility to the Israelis?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me speak to that, because it’s an important question. That – we’re aware, of course, of these reports and comments. That type of extreme step would obviously have grave implications. A great deal of effort has gone into building Palestinian institutions by Palestinians as well as the international community, and it would certainly not be in the interests of the Palestinian people for all of that to be lost. We – the United States has put millions of dollars into this effort. It would obviously have very serious implications for our relationship, including our assistance going forward. And as I just noted, of course, the parties are continuing to work to find the basis for extending the negotiations. Ambassador Indyk is there to help facilitate that, and that’s where our focus is.
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: Sorry. Does the Secretary still remain willing and able to fly over to help get an extension?
MS. PSAKI: He does, but there’s no plans I have to announce today.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, would you say that if there was going to be an extension that he would be involved in it – directly involved in it? In other words, on the ground before the 29th, which is only 8 days.
MS. PSAKI: I understand why you’re asking the question. But again, it’s between the parties, so I think it would only be if there’s a determination that would be helpful.
QUESTION: Right. But if they would ask for him to come, he has not gotten so fed up with this process and shuttling back and forth all the time, he would go?
MS. PSAKI: No. He would, I think, be open to discussing what the most useful steps are. But again, it’s between the parties, so we’d have to consider what the right steps are.
QUESTION: But right now – so you don’t expect him to make a trip over there at the last minute just before this – the target deadline expires?
MS. PSAKI: There’s – I have no trip to announce at this point, but we’ll keep monitoring day by day what would be most productive.
QUESTION: If there were to be an extension, it is natural to expect that the Secretary of State would announce. I mean, that’s been his project all along.
MS. PSAKI: You’re the communications planner in chief here, Said.
QUESTION: Well, I’m not. I’m just a modest reporter. I’m not --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to make a prediction of that. Obviously, it would be because the parties agreed to extend. So I don’t want to make a prediction of what would happen.
QUESTION: I’ve got two very, very brief ones on different --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: I’ve got one more on this issue.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t. But let me check with our team and see if there’s anything we have to say on that.
QUESTION: All right. One, did you get any answers to my questions about this letter that was sent to Representative Lowey and other members of Congress? Or we can do it when you have more time, if you want.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. We don’t have the final answers yet, but we’re continuing to work on those.
QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, you will have seen that the Supreme Court this morning said that it would look into or we – go over this case about the – involving passports and whether people born in Jerusalem can have their passport to say “Jerusalem, Israel”? I’m presuming that the Administration position on this, which is that it should not – that’s a final status issue and it has not changed since previous times this has come to court. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of it changing. No.
QUESTION: All right. And then the last one which is not on this is: Did you get an answer to my question about the resumption of Japanese whaling?
MS. PSAKI: I did.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: And then we’ll go to you, Lucas, next. And then we may have to wrap this up. But you can tweet me questions. #AskJen. Okay. The United States has not received any official reports, including Japan’s – indicating Japan’s intent to resume whaling. We refer you, of course, to the Government of Japan on this issue. We continue to support the moratorium on commercial whaling, adopted by the International Whaling Commission, as a necessary measure for the conservation of large whales.
QUESTION: Jen, who made the decision in the State Department to extend the public comment period on Keystone? And did it require the Secretary’s signature?
MS. PSAKI: Again, this was a decision made by a range of officials, and you’re familiar with the reasoning, but let me just repeat that for all of you. As you know, there has been a court case in Nebraska in the Nebraska Supreme Court. There have also been an unprecedented number of public comments. So on Friday, we notified the eight federal agencies specified in the Executive Order that we will provide more time for the submission of their views on the proposed Keystone Pipeline project. Agencies need additional time based on the uncertainty created by the ongoing litigation I referenced in the Nebraska Supreme Court, which could ultimately affect the pipeline route in the state.
In addition, during this time we’ll review and appropriately consider, of course, the 2.5 million comments. The Secretary was certainly aware of the decision, but there – I don’t think – it was more of a decision about what was needed, what the agencies needed, what was needed for the process.
QUESTION: And was that – did that decision require the sign-off of the Secretary?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, he was supportive of the decision.
QUESTION: The court case that you mentioned in Nebraska – this is – that litigation’s been pending for some time. Did it just occur to the Secretary to extend the deadline last week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again obviously, yes, it’s been out there for a little bit of time, but there was a determination made that it could impact, of course, the route of the pipeline. Obviously, we have no impact on that. That’s a judicial process in Nebraska. But because of that, we felt it was the appropriate step to extend the timeline.
QUESTION: And why was early-May ever chosen?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Why was early-May, as a decision, ever chosen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there it was – there was a mandated timeline through the executive order that gave up to 90 days for public comment – I’m sorry – for agencies to comment – the same agencies that we notified on Friday. There was also a public comment period, as you know, so that was the May timeline.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: There have been reports of drone strikes the last couple days in Yemen, as part of this wide-scale operation.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if you can share with us – obviously U.S. involvement, we’re curious about that, but separate from that just anything on what sort of coordination is going on between the U.S. Government and the Yemeni Government on --
MS. PSAKI: Well, sure. I mean, broadly speaking we have a strong, collaborative relationship with the Yemeni Government. We work together on various initiatives to counter the shared threats – threat we face from AQAP. You saw, I’m sure, this weekend that the Yemeni Government confirmed that air strikes were carried out this weekend against al-Qaida militants in remote training camps and in a convoy. According to the Yemenis, these individuals were planning to target civilian and military facilities – in military facilities. As a matter of policy, of course, we don’t comment on the details of counterterrorism cooperation with our foreign partners, so I don’t have more to share with you. But of course, as I noted, we have a strong working relationship and I would point you to the details the Yemeni Government confirmed over the weekend.
QUESTION: Jen, did any of those killed appear in the al-Qaida video?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details for you.
QUESTION: Was it a coincidence that the video was released and the strike happened --
MS. PSAKI: Lucas, I would put a call in to the Yemeni Government and see if they have more details to share with you.
We have to wrap this up, unfortunately.
QUESTION: You are aware that the Yemeni Government was not able to provide a single name or a single statistics on these people that were killed and allegedly were (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: They confirmed the details.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:41 p.m.)
DPB # 70