2:02 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
MS. PSAKI: All right. I’m disappointed there’s no Take Your Child to Work Day participants here. You could have all brought children if you had them. Jo.
QUESTION: Looking for some softball questions?
MS. PSAKI: No, not at all. Not at all. You could tell them what to ask. (Laughter.)
I have two items for all of you at the top. The United States strongly condemns the Assad regime’s deadly barrel bombing today of an Aleppo vegetable market where dozens were killed and injured. Through its continued slaughter and starvation of the Syrian people, the regime has made clear that it protects only its interests and does not represent or respect the aspirations of its people. In the face of these appalling tactics, the regime’s call for presidential elections rings hollow and false. We call on the Syrian Government to immediately cease its unrelenting, indiscriminate attacks across Syria and to allow humanitarian assistance to reach all those in need.
Also in the back of the room, I believe we have a group of Argentine opinion leaders, perhaps – or perhaps they’re not here. Okay.
MS. PSAKI: They came and left?
QUESTION: You were late.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, you are right, I am. Okay. Well, hopefully they’ll come another day. With that --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Chileans?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: I’m kidding.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Right. So let’s start with the Middle East. Since the Palestinians announced their unity – their reunification or whatever they’re – reconciliation government yesterday, and you said that it was a bad – it was a bad thing and the Israelis shouldn’t be expected to negotiate with a government that includes a group that thinks that it shouldn’t exist. Now the Israelis today and Prime Minister Netanyahu have come out and suspended the peace talks. It would appear to many that the President and the Secretary have managed to pull off the full Quixote here, or rather a double-Quixote; that is, not only having tilted at the windmills but having lost. Why or why not is that the case?
MS. PSAKI: That was a long question. I will venture to answer it.
Well, let me first say I know a lot of you have questions about this. s we were talking about this this morning, I think it’s important to remember that from the beginning of this process it’s always been up to the parties to make the choices needed to pursue a path to peace. So we – if we look back at the last several months, over the course of nine months even, there are unhelpful steps that have been taken by both parties. There have been ups and downs in the process throughout.
And still this process needs to work its way through. We, of course, have been in close touch with the parties, and let me just give you a quick – a readout of a call that the Secretary did this morning. Secretary Kerry spoke with President Abbas this morning. They discussed the recent developments in Palestinian reconciliation and the announcement yesterday. The Secretary reiterated our position, which we have made clear, of course, from this podium as well. The Secretary noted that he was disappointed by the reconciliation announcement and repeated the elements that any Palestinian government would need to have, the same principles that President Abbas has long supported.
President Abbas – again, they decided they would remain in touch. Of course, the principles – just to reiterate what I said yesterday but for those of you who weren’t here – the three principles are, of course, commitment to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties.
They also discussed efforts underway that – the efforts that have been underway between Israelis and Palestinians to extend the negotiation. We – in the meantime, I also just wanted to reiterate that we view it as essential that both parties exercise – both sides exercise maximum restraint and avoid escalatory steps. Martin – Ambassador Indyk remains on the ground, as does our team, and we’re in close touch with both parties as well.
QUESTION: So you regard the developments of the last 24 hours to be just another bump in the road?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I expressed, as did the Secretary --
QUESTION: Well, you said there have been ups and downs, so --
MS. PSAKI: I meant broadly speaking throughout the process. There have been from both sides.
QUESTION: So this is not the end? This is not an insurmountable hurdle to the process?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, that is up to the parties to determine.
QUESTION: So you – but the United States – the Obama – the Administration and the Secretary is reserving judgment on whether this goose is cooked?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. So in his – has the Secretary spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu?
MS. PSAKI: Not today. I expect he will sometime later today.
QUESTION: Okay. In his – you’ve said for days and days and weeks, months actually, or the last eight months, that despite the ups and downs that it’s going through, that both parties say that they remain committed to the talks. Is that still your understanding after the Secretary’s conversation with President Abbas?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they did certainly talk about the benefits of peace and why we’ve been engaged in the process to date. But of course, choices need to be made by both parties, and we’ll see what happens in the days ahead.
QUESTION: Well – what do you mean, they talked about the benefits of peace? That seems a rather – I mean --
MS. PSAKI: The benefits of a final status agreement.
QUESTION: Did they talk specifically – no, I understand that. And I understand what you mean by it. But talking about the benefits of peace seems to be a far more abstract idea than saying – did the Secretary ask and get an answer about whether President Abbas or the Palestinians in general wanted to continue, at least Fatah wanted to continue the talks?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly --
QUESTION: He did?
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary talked about the benefits of a – and let me be just more clear here – of a final status agreement. We’ll let President Abbas and the Palestinians speak for themselves.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. So you cannot say today, as you said yesterday and as you said the before, ad infinitum going back to July, you cannot say today that both sides still tell you that they are committed to these – this process?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to report on that front, Matt. Of course --
QUESTION: So does it mean that --
MS. PSAKI: -- we – the fact that the Secretary engaged – part of the discussion was certainly about the negotiations and about extending the negotiations, and I expect he’ll talk with Prime Minister Netanyahu about that as well. So those conversations he’s still having with both parties.
QUESTION: Well, if you weren’t under the impression, or didn’t have the – or both sides weren’t telling you that they remain committed or remain interested in the – in this process to achieve a final status deal, would you still make the effort?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’d still – we’re still making the effort because, again, there have been many ups and downs in the process. We’re seeking more information from the parties, and we’ll see what transpires over the coming days.
QUESTION: Okay. But what more information could you – when the Israelis say it’s done, we’re suspending, we’re not going back to the table as long as Hamas is – or as long as there’s this unity government going on, did the Secretary say – did – and did the Secretary hear from Abbas that he’s willing to try to – at least try to address the Israeli and your view that there’s no way that Israel could be expected to negotiate with a --
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary certainly expressed, as I stated and reiterated, what those principles are. I’m not going to speak on behalf of President Abbas. I will say that, in our view, a statement of intention to form a technocratic government to prepare for elections is just that, a statement of intent. So we’ll judge what happens over the coming days.
QUESTION: All right. My last one --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- and I promise I’ll stop. Indyk will stay – would Indyk be staying if you did not think that there was still a chance?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s probably unlikely that he would stay if we didn’t want to continue to engage with the parties.
QUESTION: But does that mean you still think there’s a chance that you can get an extension beyond Tuesday? Tuesday?
MS. PSAKI: It’s up to them. Obviously, as I said yesterday, the timing of the announcement is – was unhelpful in terms of reaching an agreement on an extension. There’s no question about that. But Ambassador Indyk remains on the ground.
QUESTION: On --
QUESTION: Jen, could I just ask you what your understanding of a technocratic government is? I understand what the Palestinians have been saying, is it doesn’t – it won’t include any members of Hamas.
MS. PSAKI: That is what they’ve said, and that, in cases in the past, has been what they’ve said. But again, we have to see what transpires, what the details are, whether these principles are agreed to. There’s a lot of information we don’t have yet.
QUESTION: And did President Abbas actually tell the Secretary why he believed it was necessary to do this reconciliation agreement with Hamas?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not a part of the conversation I’m going to read out.
QUESTION: But I mean surely that’s – that actually goes to the heart of the matter, doesn’t it? I mean, it could be that they just felt totally frustrated that they weren’t going anywhere with these talks, so they decided to do this step.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to remember, as you all know, that they have made similar announcements in the past. This is not the first time that they’ve made such an announcement, so we should all keep that in mind. But I don’t have anything to read out in terms of President Abbas’s reaction. I expect they’ll speak to that.
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: Did the Secretary try to persuade President Abbas to reverse this deal in any way?
MS. PSAKI: I think the Secretary simply reiterated what our longstanding principles have been.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary make it plain, or was he able to ask Mr. Abbas what steps the PA is prepared to make in order to show good faith to the Israelis at this point, to show any efforts to bring along members of Hamas to, for example, renounce violence and also to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, as I said, these principles, as I mentioned – commitment to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations – were – the Secretary restated those during the call, reiterated the importance of those for any unity government. President Abbas has supported those in the past, and certainly they talked about that. But I’m not going to --
QUESTION: But a simple restatement of the principles is not the same as actually asking President Abbas, “What are you doing to try to comply with what you say you support?”
MS. PSAKI: Well, he conveyed that any Palestinian government would need to have the same principles that President Abbas has supported, that I just outlined.
QUESTION: Did he get any satisfaction on the president’s answers?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak on his behalf. I would point you all to him --
QUESTION: But I’m asking what the Secretary’s view was.
QUESTION: And the answer was no.
MS. PSAKI: No, that’s not my intention. Obviously, at a sensitive time, I’m not going to speak on behalf of what their view is.
QUESTION: I’d like to know how, if you continue to not deal with half of the population, which is in Gaza, which are being represented only – which aren’t even being represented by Hamas, they’re just not being represented at all, how does that fit into the Secretary’s vision for a Palestinian state, where he’s talking about an economic initiative for the West Bank and Gaza, if the Palestinians will not reconcile and pave the way for an election where someone can represent all of the Palestinians and then Gaza can be developed and everything?
It just seems that your kind of principles on – I understand your three principles, but in order to get to that state – stage where you have a Palestinian government that’s speaking on all – on behalf, I just think it’s inconsistent with the vision that the Secretary has laid out.
MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that. Our position as the United States Government, outside of the peace process, has long been that abiding by – that any unified government would have to abide by these principles. That hasn’t changed. Obviously, the timing of this, five to six days – whatever mathematically the number of days is – before April 29th is one of the pieces that is unhelpful to the peace process.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, there are half a dozen things that the Israelis have done that have been unhelpful.
MS. PSAKI: I just said before you came in here, Elise, that there are steps that both sides have taken throughout this process that have been unhelpful.
QUESTION: And this has not been a long ongoing – these efforts at reconciliation, I mean, that don’t necessarily – I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily say that they’re – it’s intended to do it right before. I mean, you could acknowledge that these negotiations on Palestinian reconciliation have been going on for some time.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would acknowledge, certainly, that they’ve made these announcements before. They’ve tried this before. It’s – that it is not a new effort, to your point, at all. So what I’m referring to is the timing of it around the peace process.
QUESTION: And isn’t this supposed to be kind of a – almost a caretaker government? Because even as they announce that there’s going to be a unity government, it’s really to pave the way for elections then?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a lot of different reports out there about what it would be and what it would look like, and we’re talking to them about that. But of course, abiding by the principles is certainly a part of what would be necessary.
QUESTION: But how do you see that the Palestinians could have elections for all of the Palestinian people without some kind of reconciliation of the Palestinian people?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Elise, it isn’t – I’m not stating what – that the view of the United States Government is opposition to reconciliation. I’m stating --
QUESTION: Well, it kind of is, though, isn’t it?
MS. PSAKI: I’m – well I’m – well, you’re familiar with it in terms of what we would expect form a unity government. That is what we would expect, and obviously, if a Palestinian government is formed, we’ll assess, based on its adherence to those stipulations and its policies and actions, what the implications for our relationship would be.
But there are several different layers of this, which I know is why we’re talking about it, but I mean, one is the peace process, one is reconciliation. They’re certainly linked because of what we’ve been working on here, but I wouldn’t gather them all into one bucket.
QUESTION: Jen, did Ambassador Indyk or did the Secretary --
MS. PSAKI: Wait. Let’s just do one at a time. We’ll – go ahead, Margaret.
QUESTION: Did Ambassador Indyk or did the Secretary ask for what this idea of a technocratic government would look like this time? Because you’ve said it’s been discussed in the past --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- you outlined the principles which would be acceptable.
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. We’ve been discussing that question with them since yesterday.
QUESTION: So this would be a proposal that the U.S. would entertain or thinks is worth exploring in some way?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s not our choice to make, obviously. Depending on what they choices they make, that could impact our relationship. But clearly, and to Elise’s earlier question, we want the Palestinian people to be successful, we want them to be prosperous. I know she referenced a dinner we’re having. That hasn’t changed. But these requirements and our expectations haven’t changed either about what would be needed.
QUESTION: I didn’t reference a dinner. I referenced a $4 billion economic initiative that’s supposed to include Gaza, and I don’t understand --
MS. PSAKI: There’s a dinner for it this evening.
QUESTION: I understand that. But what I’m saying is I don’t understand how you’re ever going to get that initiative to include Gaza if you don’t have some kind of representation that represents Gaza.
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of steps, obviously – again, our position is not – our position I think I’ve stated pretty clearly is about the need to abide by these principles. It’s not – it’s about the timing of this, how it impacts the process, and what would be required. Obviously, discussions are ongoing about all of those issues.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary been given any indication that Hamas is going to renounce violence or recognize the state of Israel? Any indication whatsoever?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we don’t engage directly with Hamas, so unless they’ve --
QUESTION: Okay. Through – in his call with Abbas, for example.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to read out President Abbas’s comments. Obviously, he’s the leader of the Palestinian Authority, but we’ll continue to have these discussions. I think our view is well known.
QUESTION: And in the – there was a bilateral between Indyk and Abbas today. What was the message --
MS. PSAKI: A meeting?
QUESTION: Was there not, or was it a --
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check on that. I know he’s been – our team on the ground has been in touch with both parties.
QUESTION: Okay. If you have a readout for that --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’ll have a readout. Obviously, we’re discussing the same items that I’ve outlined here just now.
QUESTION: Okay. But the principal --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Hamas, like, a little too much power here in terms of they’re the ones now that are scuttle – that are enabled to scuttle these negotiations? I mean, they didn’t say anything about President Abbas not continuing the negotiations with Israel. And I mean, it does seem as if all along, while their rhetoric says one thing, that there has been an implicit understanding that they would let him negotiate and let the Palestinian people decide whether they wanted a Palestinian state.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think this is an important point that I’ve been trying to get at, but maybe I can do a little more clearly, is that President Abbas remains the head of the Palestinian Authority. This isn’t a statement of an intention to start a process. Obviously, the parties need to decide between themselves about whether they’re going to engage in a discussion about extending the negotiations.
To your point earlier, which I raised first as well, there have been unhelpful steps from both sides throughout this process, whether it’s settlements or the UN or whatever it may be. So they are both – they have both been guilty of that.
But yes, there are many mechanisms for moving the process forward, but it’s ultimately up to the parties.
QUESTION: Well, and don’t you also think it’s a bit inconsistent on one hand to say that President Abbas only represents half of the Palestinian people, and then when he tries to represent all of the Palestinian people through this agreement, then say that you can’t have peace with Hamas and peace with Israel?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, in part, the Israelis and Palestinians will make a choice between themselves about – on what grounds they’ll negotiate. That’s always been the case from the beginning. Our relationship with President Abbas – I mean, Secretary Kerry has a strong friendship with him, a strong affinity for him, and works closely with him and wants to continue to do that.
MS. PSAKI: There are certain requirements – certainly. There are certain requirements based on law about what it would – what steps would mean for assistance, what it would mean for our relationship.
QUESTION: And don’t you think, though, that was like the big mistake in 2006, when, in fact, by not recognizing the Hamas government that was in power, that enabled them to take over Gaza and have the situation that you have today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I mean, I’m not going to do a rehash of history. Obviously, you look at things that have happened in the past, but this is a new case here. We’re trying to deal with the events as they’re happening on the ground. And things are incredibly fluid, as you all know, because there are new statements and comments that are made every couple of hours.
QUESTION: These should be very, very brief.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Three. There’s three of them, but they’re really brief.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: One, you mentioned the law and what that would mean for your assistance. Can you say what – has a determination been made if this – if a unity government goes ahead, what the effect will be under the law on the assistance or no?
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: Still a hypothetical? Is that what you’re saying?
MS. PSAKI: No. That’s a hypothetical. Absolutely.
QUESTION: Okay. Two, elections. You talk about how this is a technocratic government or the statement of intent to form a technocratic government to prepare for elections. Do you – does the Administration believe that an election, Palestinian elections, at this point in time, or when they would be organized for, is a good idea? Is it time for the Palestinians to have another election?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re all familiar with history here, Matt. But, I mean, we’re just not at that point. This is simply a statement.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: We’re not at that point.
QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t have any problems with Abbas now, the 10th year of a 5-year term, this kind of thing? You don’t have any problem with that? You don’t think that there needs to be an election now, or yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any further analysis of that.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the last one is just about this dinner tonight here.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: This is still going on? Is that what you said?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can I just – how can – should a technocratic government that includes Hamas, a terrorist organization, come into power, how can you in good conscience urge or tell or ask American companies to go into the Palestinian territories and do business there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously, again, those events haven’t happened yet. This is just a statement. Nothing has happened yet. So we’ll see. But this was a dinner that’s long been planned.
MS. PSAKI: We still support the future economic prosperity of the Palestinian people. And obviously the events that will transpire over the coming weeks will certainly impact a range of issues.
QUESTION: Okay. But at this dinner, the Secretary plans – and others on the U.S. Government side still plan to tell American businesses and other foreign businesses that it’s a good idea to invest in the Palestinian economy, to go in and do business there. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, Matt, events on the ground could impact; they may not impact. This is, again, just a statement that has been tried many times in the past. We, of course, remain in close touch with these businesses, as we will long after this --
QUESTION: So you’re counting on this unity – this reconciliation to fail?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not what I said. I’m just highlighting what’s happened in the past.
QUESTION: The principles that you’ve outlined yesterday and today are not just U.S. principles, they’re Quartet principles.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: They’re principles of the UN, the EU, and the like.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is your understanding that the Quartet has the position that you’ve outlined today and yesterday or --
MS. PSAKI: Those are their principles. I’m not sure if they’ve spoken to it. I would point you to them.
QUESTION: Okay. And just two weeks ago the Secretary, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, outlined a chronology of events.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What do you see to be the chronology of events that’s happened since his last outline? Do you see there to have been a sort of poof moment at all that has brought us to the point we are today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Michael, that from the beginning we always knew that this would be a challenging process. And the Secretary engaged in it with both parties because he believed in the benefits of peace at the end of a – of the tunnel. So that has not been a surprise. And we’ve continued to pursue it, even through those ups and downs. So I know you write every day about these issues. I don’t think I need to do a chronology.
More on this issue? Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Just to clarify. So if this technocratic government says we abide by the principles, that would be enough? You don’t need a statement from Hamas separately?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into that level of detail. Obviously, we don’t even have the details about what the technocratic government would look like. Any unity government would need to abide by these principles. But clearly this is just a statement, and we’ll continue to talk about this as events transpire over the coming days.
QUESTION: Can we move on to Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Oh. Can we do one more – on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The suspension of any support to a government if it’s formed with Hamas, is this something that dictated by law? Can you walk us --
MS. PSAKI: By law, yes. But we don’t have any additional details at this point to make that determination. So if a new Palestinian government is formed, a unity government, we’ll have to assess based on its adherence to the stipulations I’ve outlined. We’re obviously not at that point yet.
QUESTION: So the Department of State makes that determination?
MS. PSAKI: No. Congress – there’s some mandates by Congress. But we’re not at that point yet either.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Jen, just trying to --
MS. PSAKI: I think – are we ready to move on to a new topic?
QUESTION: No, no. The same issue.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Okay. Go ahead. And then we’ll go to you.
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m just trying to figure out when you say the law and you say cooperation or even dealing with Hamas, as much as I remember, I’m not going to go to 2006. I will go to 2012.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: October 2012, Secretary Clinton – Hillary work with Hamas to make a deal. What’s the difference from that deal and now?
MS. PSAKI: There are many differences between the circumstances and what we’re talking about. And obviously, we’re dealing with what’s happening on the ground and what we think is in the interests of --
QUESTION: So my question is because you said principally that – in principle, they have to accept three factors, whatever you mentioned. But it was not mentioned that – I mean, sorry, what’s the difference?
MS. PSAKI: In order to form a unity government, and the unity government must abide by these principles.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: So another – maybe just a final point.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: I mean, I’m trying to figure out – it seems that both sides are not interested to continue, or at least, as you said, they are doing unhelpful – taking unhelpful steps. So who is going to announce that it’s – the process is dead? You or the others?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we have any such announcement to make.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: A quick one?
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask whether you felt that by coming out yesterday with a very strong, saying that how can Israel be expected to negotiate with a government that includes a component that doesn’t support Israel’s right to exist, that you’ve actually given the Israelis a get-out clause? I mean, Prime Minister Netanyahu came out today. He told NBC that he believes that the pact with Hamas means peace is dead.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Perhaps if you’d said, more cautiously, that you want to see what’s in this agreement first, that maybe he might not have pulled out of the talks or suspended them.
MS. PSAKI: I think that’s probably unlikely. I will say, Jo, that I was referring to, as you guys were all asking, for good reason, about one specific event. But I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s important to take a step back and look at what’s happened over the course of several months of this process. And there have been unhelpful steps taken by both sides. There have been challenging days with both parties. That has been – and there have been ups and downs caused by both parties throughout the process. So certainly, as we look at what’s happened, we should reflect on that.
QUESTION: Have any of them been as challenging as the last 24 hours?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re not going to rank them, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, would you say that this is the biggest threat? Considering the fact that you’re not willing to concede that this party is over, would you say that it is – this is the greatest threat so far in this eight and a half months, or eight and three quarters months?
MS. PSAKI: I would not say that, because I think it’s up to the parties to make that call.
QUESTION: But isn’t it up to – but it is obviously up to the parties to make that call.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But as the body that’s binding them together in this process --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- isn’t it incumbent on you, to a certain extent, to maintain some kind of neutrality and to lead them back to – a bit like toddlers, I suppose – lead them back to a more reasonable position?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, as I mentioned, we’ve been engaged with both parties – both on the ground, the Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, he spoke with President --
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu.
MS. PSAKI: That’s what I just said.
QUESTION: You said foreign minister.
MS. PSAKI: No, I said prime minister.
QUESTION: All right. Sorry.
MS. PSAKI: -- and President Abbas today, and we’re engaged with both parties. And there have been times throughout the last several months where we have pointed out unhelpful steps taken by both sides.
QUESTION: So are you also trying to lead Prime Minister Netanyahu towards a position where he could find it within his remit to actually negotiate with a government which may or may not include some – which may include some Hamas people?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we have our position, Israel has their position. Again, there haven’t been steps taken beyond this statement, so we’ll see what happens, and those discussions are ongoing with both parties.
QUESTION: Just one more on this.
MS. PSAKI: We’ll move on soon.
QUESTION: So is it your understanding that in order – because the talks are now suspended in theory for an indefinite period until one of two things happens: either Hamas renounces violence and accepts Israel as a state, or the reconciliation deal is scrapped? Is that correct? One of those two things has to happen?
MS. PSAKI: I think there are a range of options. I’m not going to lay out the playbook here.
QUESTION: Okay. Are there – because I can’t think of any others. You don’t have any suggestions or --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to do analysis from the podium.
MS. PSAKI: Should we move to Ukraine?
QUESTION: One more question?
QUESTION: Yeah. It looks as if there were some Russian military movements close to the border, and I’m wondering if you see a pickup in the pace of Russian movement. Some units appear to be moving around, but have you reached any kind of assessment of what you think that is?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any assessment to offer from here. Obviously, we’ve seen the same reports. We’re watching it closely, as all of you know, and we’re certainly concerned about any Russian troop movements along the border, as we’ve been concerned about the tens of thousands of troops that have been lined up on the border in a threatening stance. So --
QUESTION: Well, when you say that you’ve seen the reports, are you saying that you have reports, meaning your own reporting, or are you looking at media reports that say that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we look at media reports that have said that. We also have our own reporting. I’m not going to outline that here.
QUESTION: But do you – I mean, without getting into troop movement numbers or anything like that, but when you say that you’ve seen reports and you say that you have your own reporting, do you have reporting about movement at the border?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any other detail. It’s been publicly reported about troop movements.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a follow-up on that?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) yesterday.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that. We’ve been – our reporters in Ukraine have been told specifically that three Russian helicopters crossed the borders today, by sources inside the Ukrainian Government. You say you’re not going to talk about troop movements on the other side of the border, but that would be quite a significant incursion if it happened and one that you would expect would be verifiable. I mean, can you comment at all on whether the U.S. has seen any evidence of that?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t confirm any of those details. I can say that any movement into Ukraine would be a grave mistake.
QUESTION: A couple things. One, do you have any reaction to the release of the reporter?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly. We’ve seen the reports that a U.S. citizen journalist has been released near Slovyansk, Ukraine. We welcome the news, of course, and would be greatly relieved by such a development. We do note that others, including journalists, remain hostage, and call on Russia to use its influence to ensure that all are freed immediately.
QUESTION: Do you think that it is – his current condition allows for him to sign a Privacy Act waiver as opposed to --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to analyze that, Matt. I appreciate the opportunity.
QUESTION: Secondly, yesterday the UN – you – in talking about Foreign Minister Lavrov’s interview, you said that many – you found many of his comments to be ludicrous. He’s come out again today and said that Russia has done more than any other country to support the sovereignty of its neighbors. How would you rank that on the ludicrous – “ludiocrity” scale?
MS. PSAKI: High on the “ludiocrity” scale.
QUESTION: Very high? Okay. And then in numerous tweets today – that I think this is a new development – the Russian foreign ministry seems to have stolen your #UnitedforUkraine meme. Do you have any reaction to this? They’re putting out their stuff with UnitedforUkraine on it. They seem to have – or could be trying to hijack it. Would you suggest that they get their own, or are you okay with this?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think they’re living by their hashtag.
QUESTION: I have --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. approve of Kyiv sending troops against protesters in the east, and how does it fall under the Geneva agreement that was designed to help de-escalate the situation? Doesn’t it further escalate it?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me just outline – and Matt asked a little bit of this, too. Just to take a step back about what was agreed to in Geneva and what’s happened since then, because there have been a range of different reports. So as all of you know, one week ago in Geneva, the EU and the governments of Ukraine, Russia, and the United States jointly set out initial concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and restore security for all citizens. These steps they agreed to included refraining from violence or provocation, disarming illegal groups, returning illegally seized buildings and public spaces, and providing amnesty to those who disarm and leave the seized buildings. The OSCE was also – it was also agreed the OSCE would play a leading role in assisting this de-escalation.
For its part, the Ukrainian Government has taken significant steps to fulfill the commitments it made in Geneva. They introduced an amnesty bill to parliament, are working closely with the OSCE special monitoring mission, are seeking compromise with separatists in eastern Ukraine, have committed to an inclusive process of constitutional reform; and on April 23rd, the prime minister stated once again that the Ukrainian Government is ready to listen to all legitimate political demands of Ukrainians in the east and west, and urged implementation of the Geneva statement between the parties.
Since Geneva, in contrast, Russia has failed not only to provide public support for the de-escalation of tensions, but has actively stoked tensions in eastern Ukraine by engaging in inflammatory rhetoric. The Secretary, as you all know, but to put a number on it, has spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov six times since Geneva, and he has never once taken responsibility for the implementation of Russia’s Geneva commitments. Indeed, he’s gone so far as to say the Geneva agreement demands no action from Russia, and that instead this is an internal Ukrainian issue. As the Secretary made clear first in Geneva and in those subsequent conversations, and as the President made clear just yesterday, there will be additional sanctions if Russia does not make good on its priorities.
As it relates to the specific events in eastern Ukraine, as we’ve been saying consistently, Ukraine is governing – the legitimate government of Ukraine is governing over all of Ukraine. They have the right to maintain calm, maintain stability, maintain order in their country.
QUESTION: So you – okay. Other than putting all responsibility on Russia, which by the way is saying that it doesn’t have control over everything that’s happening in east Ukraine, what does the U.S. do to de-escalate – to help de-escalate the situation other than putting all responsibility on Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think it’s putting all responsibility on Russia at all. We – there were steps agreed to by both the Ukrainians, which they have abided by, and steps agreed to by the Russians, which they have not. It’s as simple as that.
In terms of what we’re doing, we’re continuing to support the Government of Ukraine to – as they work through this difficult time on the economic front, on energy reform front. We’ve consistently called for de-escalation from all parties, for greater unity, for an effort at constitutional reform that is inclusive across the country. And they’ve taken steps to abide by that.
QUESTION: Was it a coincidence that both times Kyiv ordered troops to east Ukraine came right on the heels of top U.S. officials’ visit to Kyiv? First time it was John Brennan and this time it was Vice President Joe Biden.
MS. PSAKI: I think --
QUESTION: Did Vice President Joe Biden advise Kyiv to take such action, or was it just a coincidence?
MS. PSAKI: I think you’re simply restating Foreign Minister Lavrov’s ludicrous claims from yesterday.
QUESTION: But what is the response? What is the response?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re ready to move on to a new Ukraine question. Go ahead, Elise.
QUESTION: Can I change the topic?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, something else? Anyone else on Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Ukraine. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have any comments to the reports that Ukrainian military attacked (inaudible) in Slovyansk and there were five – two or five people killed?
MS. PSAKI: I do. I know there have been a range of reports. The Russians are actively distorting the facts to suit their own narrative. What actually happened was that last night approximately 70 separatists attacked an arms depot in Donestk. Ukrainian forces repelled the attack, but one Ukrainian soldier was wounded. In the aftermath of that attack, Ukrainian troops tried to clear a separatist checkpoint between the arms depot and the town of Slovyansk. Ukrainian reports indicate the separatists resisted with force and some were killed in ensuing – in the ensuing exchange of fire. Ukraine resumed its efforts to restore law and order after the capture and horrific torture of a member of the local council, kidnappings of journalists, and other provocations.
So this is the government – this is the country of Ukraine. There are aggressive actions that are being taken against military installments, against their people, and they are working to restore order.
QUESTION: And that comes from – that’s from independent – or from U.S. witnesses, that account that you just read?
MS. PSAKI: It is not U.S. witnesses. It is our view of what happened on the ground.
QUESTION: Based on?
MS. PSAKI: A range of reports and talking to our teams on the ground.
QUESTION: But does that mean – well, did it not come directly from the Ukrainian Government?
MS. PSAKI: In part, sure. Absolutely.
QUESTION: So --
MS. PSAKI: They’re part of the individuals we talk to.
QUESTION: Well, okay. But there’s two versions to all stories, so what makes you – if you – did you – are there U.S. officials there that will vouch for that – that sequence of events?
MS. PSAKI: That were in the military installments? Unlikely. But --
QUESTION: Well, that could confirm what the Government of Ukraine, which has a vested interest in presenting a narrative like that, has said.
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Or are you just buying what they – taking what they say and repeating it?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, I will say that we, of course, talk to a range of people on the ground.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a U.S. official I’m going to present to all of you, but these – this was aggressive action taken in – within the country of Ukraine against --
QUESTION: Right. Well --
MS. PSAKI: -- military installments in Ukraine.
QUESTION: -- I’m not saying that it’s wrong. I’m just wondering how you’re so sure it’s right and the Russian version is such a complete distortion.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Russians have a history of restating the facts.
QUESTION: Fair enough. But I’m talking about this one. I mean, that was a pretty explicit, specific timeline of events that you provided. I’m just curious as to how confident you are that that specific version is correct and that the Russian version is totally distorted.
MS. PSAKI: We are fairly confident in our version of events.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. All right. Let’s go – go ahead, Elise.
QUESTION: Was wondering if you could say anything about the attack of three –
QUESTION: -- in Afghanistan, including three Americans, and whether – this is the latest in a string of attacks against foreigners. I mean, this must be very concerning as the U.S. prepares to pull out, and it kind of makes you wonder whether the security situation is much better.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say, of course – and of course, the White House also put out a statement, which I would point you to. But let me reiterate that we condemn the attack that took place today in Kabul that killed three Americans working to provide healthcare to Afghans. Any such attack on civilians at a hospital is despicable and cowardly. We send our deepest condolences to the families of those killed and injured. We also continue to strongly support those in Afghanistan who abhor this violence and are working to build a peaceful, prosperous future for themselves. These were – these individuals were working on providing medical care, including to children, and so it is an especially horrific event that occurred.
In terms of specifically what it means, Afghanistan has been and continues to be a war zone, and there are certainly efforts that are underway every day to work with Afghan security, to work with officials on the ground, to continue to prepare for the future. It’s unfortunate that these events have taken place. Of course, it’s tragic, but we will continue to work with the government and work through our military with their counterparts on the ground.
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the news yesterday that they had to delay the first round of results because there were some shenanigans going on? And then they’re now expected to come out, I believe, at the weekend.
MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen those reports, and obviously, we fully expected from the beginning – or we have planned for the beginning to allow for the process to see itself through. So we’re going to do that. There’s no concern on our end.
QUESTION: No concern. Okay.
QUESTION: Jen, a few questions on Afghanistan.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: One, in light of this recent attack, I mean, more broadly with the NATO and the U.S. drawdown and this trend of attacks on civilians, is the State Department reconsidering perhaps bringing in private security contractors to help protect U.S. diplomats, as it has used in other theaters and other war zones?
MS. PSAKI: In relation to this specific attack this morning?
QUESTION: This was on three doctors, but obviously, you’ve got civilians in the field, personnel here at the State Department, who have also come under threat. And given the reduced military presence that we’re expecting, aren’t you concerned about their well-being?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, the safety and security --
QUESTION: -- and taking these steps?
MS. PSAKI: -- of individuals who are serving in Afghanistan or any place around the world is our top priority. And we work, as you know, in close partnership with the Department of Defense, with ISAF, with teams on the ground about how to take every step possible to ensure security. And obviously, that’s something that’s evaluated every single day, not just as it relates to what may happen next year.
QUESTION: But in other theaters like Iraq, there have been private security contractors that have been brought in to help buttress that. Is that something that’s being explored specific to Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: I have nothing for you on that. I’m happy to talk to our team and see if that’s something that is part of our discussion that we can speak to.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a few questions about the report in the Chicago paper --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- if people don’t have other Afghanistan stuff?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: One more just to follow quickly. Can you confirm that this is the work of the Talibans are working against foreign workers in Afghanistan because they don’t want any foreigners to work or help, including aid workers?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t confirm the reasons or the source of the attacks. No, I can’t.
QUESTION: And finally, under the new government in Afghanistan, you think what will the future of these foreign workers working there, I mean, for the peace and security and also development in Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, one of the important roles we’ve played as diplomats in Afghanistan is – or also NGOs, I should say – is providing, whether it’s health services, education services. And that’s been an invaluable part of our effort in the past, and certainly, that’s one of the factors we think about moving forward.
QUESTION: But these kind of attacks are really discouraging more and more people going and working there in the future for the government.
MS. PSAKI: I think we have to move on because we just – I just have a – we have a bilat and I know I want to get to Scott, too. Go ahead, Margaret.
QUESTION: So quickly on that Chicago paper report citing the army military unit investigation of the death of Anne Smedinghoff and other injuries there linked to State Department. The report makes a lot of accusations that point back to the State Department. “State says that there was coordination with DOD in advance of the mission.”
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Pentagon says Ambassador Addleton was a last-minute addition to the group, that this was a scramble, that while there had been planning in advance, there was a change to the established plan, a late add, and new requirements that required them to bring in additional military resources.
So when State says there was coordination in advance, was there additional coordination after the addition of this higher-level diplomat, Ambassador Addleton?
MS. PSAKI: Well, at every stage in the process, as you know, the decisions about whether movement takes place rests with the military commander at the base. I don’t have the level of detail about the specifics here, but we were closely coordinated at every point in the process. The State Department did our own review of the events that happened, and we have instituted since then a checklist in order to be as coordinated as possible at every step in the process. But from our own looking at the events and our team that was on the ground, we – every step taken, no rules or regulations were broken. Every step that was needed to be taken in that regard was taken.
And let me say first of all too, of course, that regardless of that piece, the attack on – that took the life of Anne Smedinghoff, an Afghan American translator, and three members of the U.S. military and severely injured several others was a terrible tragedy, and one that, as you all know, people across this building and across the world who work at the State Department remember every day. The only people responsible for this tragedy were the extremists opposed to the many brave Afghans and Americans who have sacrificed so much to help build a stronger, more stable Afghanistan. And what they were doing that day was participating in an outreach event that was part of a nationwide public diplomacy initiative highlighting cooperation between the United States and Afghans in a number of areas. And that’s a program that we’ve been proud of and was underway for weeks there.
QUESTION: The Pentagon says that the senior military commander – they agree with you that they were in charge, but say that they did call in additional resources. So when you’re saying that it’s really up to the military to make the call – go or don’t go – what you’re saying is while the commander was choosing to bring in more resources, he shouldn’t have chosen to go ahead with this at all? That’s where the fault lies?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Margaret, I think where we are – we’re not about placing fault here. We’re about looking at this, as we have, and determining, with any event that happens around the world, what we should do moving forward. We work closely with the Department of Defense, with military commanders on the ground, whether it’s ISAF or otherwise, to make sure we take every step to keep our people safe. That doesn’t mean that tragic events don’t happen. Afghanistan is a war zone and we, of course, can honor the memory of Anne and the others who died that day by not only learning from it and what we do moving forward, but by continuing to do many of the programs that they were undertaking that day.
QUESTION: Can I ask you, now that the military unit on the ground has finished its review, will the State Department reconsider its initial review? Because per the State Department, the investigation of the incident happened immediately afterwards, before the military unit submitted its review and its account of what they saw happen on the ground. So --
MS. PSAKI: Well, just to be clear, Margaret --
QUESTION: And that’s why it didn’t go to an ARB.
MS. PSAKI: -- this was an army field after action report that happened on the ground. And typically, what happens with these is that these reports are done by an investigating officer in the field. We understand that under DOD procedures, this field report would be transmitted through the military chain-of-command to be ratified and modified and further distributed. I’m not aware of that happening at this point. No State Department officials, civilian personnel were interviewed for the military report. We have done – the Department as well, through Embassy Kabul – has done our own review to determine what occurred and whether security procedures required adjustment. That review is classified. But there have been multiple investigations in this case, and we undertook our own review here.
QUESTION: But given that the Army’s review now is done and that they have pointed to fault in this building --
MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, again, this is important --
QUESTION: -- is it worth reconsidering?
MS. PSAKI: This is important because this is – again, this was a report done by an Army unit, an Army unit field report. It has to work its way through the chain of command. I’m not aware of that happening yet. I would, of course, point to the Department of Defense, and they can all take a look at that when that happens. But we’ve done our own review.
QUESTION: Yeah. They’ve said they’re not probing it further at this point, at the Pentagon level because (inaudible) --
MS. PSAKI: Well, but there’s still a process that it goes through regardless.
QUESTION: And – but at this point, is it fair to say the State Department is not moving ahead since, in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are exempted from going to the ARB level of investigation? And there was a decision not to go to that level because they didn’t have --
MS. PSAKI: Well, but we did our own review regardless --
QUESTION: -- when they had the meeting, they decided not to there --
MS. PSAKI: Regardless of that, we did our own review. Yes, Afghanistan is a war zone, so it falls under different requirements, but we still did our own review regardless of that.
QUESTION: But at this point, it is a closed matter? Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: It’s never a closed matter in the sense that you’re still remembering the memory of the people who lost their lives.
QUESTION: Of course.
MS. PSAKI: And you’re still learning from the experience, and I mentioned a checklist we’ve put in place. And we’ll continue to evaluate on that basis. But again, our efforts now are focused on continuing to coordinate with the military at the operational and tactical level in these situations, and if for some reason the military unit is unable to meet the provisions of our checklist, our personnel will not participate. So you do take what you’ve learned, you adapt it moving forward, and you do everything you can to honor the memory of the lives that have been lost.
QUESTION: A quick question on Pakistan.
MS. PSAKI: I think we need to go to Scott first. Go ahead, Scott.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The journalist Rauf Mirgadirov was arrested following his deportation from Turkey. Does the United States have a view on the propriety of that?
MS. PSAKI: I believe, Scott, I may have spoken to this yesterday, but let me make sure.
QUESTION: Well, if it’s the same thing you were asked about yesterday, (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I couldn’t speak to it if he was detained. Let me take that, Scott, and see if we can get you an answer.
QUESTION: Okay. There’s also a hunger strike in Azerbaijan by the parents of seven young – I don’t know how young – activists who are charged with incitement of violence, I think possession of weapons. Do you have anything on that?
MS. PSAKI: I do not. Let me – can you repeat the name again of the journalist – you repeat it?
QUESTION: Rauf R-a-u-f Mirgadirov M-i-r-g-a-d-i-r-o-v.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. We are – thank you for repeating that – we are following the reports of Rauf Mirgadirov, his deportation from Turkey and arrest in Azerbaijan, closely. We’re troubled by the – his sudden arrest upon arrival in Baku. We are also disturbed by allegations that his arrest may have been connected with his critical reporting about the Azerbaijani Government or his participation in people-to-people programs aimed at easing tensions and building confidence in the region. In terms of these seven individuals, let me venture to check on that for all of you. I think I have to go to this bilat, but --
QUESTION: Yeah. Jen, well I got – very brief two.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: One, do you have any comment on this lawsuit filed by the Marshall Islands against nuclear powers or nuclear testing?
MS. PSAKI: I do not.
QUESTION: Okay, and secondly, I – this is a White House thing, I know, in terms of the President’s visit to Malaysia, but this is a – there’s a State Department component to it as well. Did the embassy in KL (Kuala Lumpur) or this building – anyone in this building, senior officials – recommend to the White House that the President meet with Anwar Ibrahim while he was there --
MS. PSAKI: I will have to check on that.
QUESTION: -- while he is there? Can you take that question, please?
MS. PSAKI: I can.
QUESTION: Very quick one?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) as well.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead. Two quick ones. Go ahead.
QUESTION: During his talk at the Export-Import Bank, Secretary Kerry mentioned he plans to be in Africa next week. Could you give us more details?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any trip announcement, but we are hoping – planning to go soon. So hopefully we’ll have more details for you in the next 24 to 48 hours.
QUESTION: So you can’t even point us to what countries he may be visiting?
MS. PSAKI: Not yet, but hopefully we’ll have that for you soon.
Go ahead. Last one.
QUESTION: So the President, while he was in Japan during his state visit, he twice reinforced the notion that the islands known as Senkaku in Japan, fall under the administration of the Japanese Government and that the U.S. will resist any efforts to change the status quo.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is this a change of position from the U.S.? Because normally the position is that the U.S. has no position or it’s neutral in its stance towards the administration of the islands.
MS. PSAKI: There’s no change. As you know, we don’t take a position on the sovereignty, but you’re familiar with our past obligations.
QUESTION: And just a quick follow-up. I understand that the terms – I already said there’s a deliberate use of the term administration as opposed to sovereignty. But to the Chinese, there’s really is no distinction. And so, of course, the Chinese foreign ministry opposes this position, if it’s changed at all, from the U.S. Is the concern of the Chinese legitimate over the --
MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn’t changed and the Chinese have long been familiar with our position.
QUESTION: Jen, can we ask tomorrow about the Egyptian foreign minister visit on Tuesday?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Of course.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:54 p.m.)
DPB # 73