2:07 p.m. EDT
As I announced on Friday, we’re launching our Free the Press – our annual Free the Press Campaign today. So today we have two journalists to highlight – see the visuals behind me – one from China, one from Uzbekistan.
Today we are – our first Free the Press Campaign case comes from China, where Qi Chonghuai, a prominent investigative journalist, remains imprisoned on charges of embezzlement, extortion, and blackmail. He was arrested in June of 2007 after the online publication of an article he wrote alleged corruption among local party officials in Shandong province. After documenting beatings and other prison abuses, he was tried a second time on charges of embezzlement, extortion, and blackmail on June 9th, 2011, convicted again, and sentenced to an additional eight years in prison.
We believe Chinese and foreign journalists should be allowed to operate freely in China and that censorship of the media and intimidation of journalists are incompatible both with China’s aspirations to build a modern information-based economy and society with its commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We continue to urge China to respect internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of press and expression, and to abide by its commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Our second journalist we’re going to highlight today is from Uzbekistan. Muhammad Bekjanov is an Uzbekistani journalist who has been in prison since 1999. Bekjanov is one of the longest-imprisoned journalists worldwide, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In January 2012, shortly before Bekjanov’s scheduled release, authorities scheduled – authorities sentenced him to another five years in prison for allegedly violating prison rules. His health has severely deteriorated over the last 15 years he spent in prison, and he is in urgent need of medical care. We call on the Government of Uzbekistan to provide this medical care.
I also have one on Ukraine. We deeply condemn the continued unlawful detention of the German-led OSCE Vienna document team and their Ukrainian escorts, and we are outraged by the shameful display of the international monitors on Sunday as they were paraded in front of the press. The Vienna Document was agreed on by all 57 members of the OSCE in Europe – I’m sorry, of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, including Russia. Its implementation has been a lasting source of cooperation and military transparency. Such an incident has never, to our knowledge, taken place before.
While we welcome the release of the Swedish member of the team for medical reasons, as a signatory to the Vienna Document, Russia should be using its influence with pro-Russian separatist groups to secure the immediate and unconditional release of all the observers, of their Ukrainian escorts – and their Ukrainian escorts.
We are also concerned by reports of mistreatment of the Ukrainian escort officers and look to Russia to ensure their security as well as their release. We appreciate comments by the Russian ambassador to the OSCE indicating that Russia thinks, quote, “that these people need to be freed as soon as possible,” quote, and that – and quote, “and that Russia was taking,” quote, “all possible steps to free the military observers.” However, we believe it is imperative for senior officials in Moscow to condemn the abduction and demand the team’s immediate release. It is critical for Russian authorities to state clearly what we all know to be true: Vienna Document inspection teams are not clandestine; the members are not spies; this team was operating fully in the open, consistent with the Vienna Document provisions that Russia as well as all other OSCE participating states has agreed to and implemented for decades.
Finally, on Syria, the United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the Assad regime’s missile strike today on the Aleppo Provincial Council headquarters, which killed one person and injured eight others. The Aleppo Provincial Council is a key civilian governance institution that works with more than a hundred local councils in Aleppo to meet the basic needs of its people.
Despite inadequate resources and in the face of the regime’s relentless attacks, local councils in Aleppo and throughout opposition-held areas of Syria provide education, water, electricity, civil defense, and relief to its residents. Teams of emergency responders supported by the provincial council regularly respond to the regime’s indiscriminate shelling. As the regime continues to protect only its interests, slaughter its citizens, and suppress the aspirations of its people, we applaud models of local governance like the Aleppo Provincial Council, which is working tirelessly to support the Syrian people. These attacks will not deter those who are working for a better future in Syria.
Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: I just want to start with your first thing, on the journalists. Thank you for the – for saying that and bringing their cases to light. But I’m wondering if you were able to get an answer to the questions that I posed on Friday, when you announced this, about whether the United – whether the Administration regards U.S. attempts to prosecute journalists as harassment that could be covered under this program that you’re talking about.
MS. PSAKI: Well again, obviously, these are Department of Justice cases. But a journalist being required to speak or to testify at a hearing on somebody who has broken the law I think is a different case than somebody being prosecuted for simply using their freedom of speech.
QUESTION: Well, no. The prosecution – it’s the revealing of sources that is the issue here.
MS. PSAKI: Right. And they are --
QUESTION: So you don’t think that attempting to prosecute someone for not testifying is harassment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, individuals are required to testify in court cases all the time, Matt. In this case I think you’re referring to is where a separate individual is accused of violating the law.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. So the answer is no, you do not believe that the – that this Administration or any other U.S. administrations’ prosecution or attempt to prosecute journalists is harassment?
MS. PSAKI: I think, Matt, that there is an enormous difference between when we’re talking about an individual revealing classified information and what we’re seeing happen, unfortunately, around the world.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. But so the answer is no, right?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. And then on Ukraine, unless someone else has something on this.
MS. PSAKI: Ukraine.
QUESTION: Yeah. On your Ukraine – well, just in general on Ukraine – I don’t imagine you have a whole hell of a lot to add to what the President, what these people at the White House said earlier about the sanctions. So let me see if I can narrow it down. Has there been any contact since Secretary Kerry’s call to Foreign Minister Lavov on Saturday? Was it Saturday?
MS. PSAKI: Between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov?
QUESTION: Yeah. Has there been any contact since then?
MS. PSAKI: They have not spoken since then.
QUESTION: Do you know – I mean, is there a reason for that? Have they – has he tried – the Secretary, Secretary Kerry, has he tried to?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m --
QUESTION: Is there any --
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Matt. No.
QUESTION: Okay. So – and then just more broadly, since the OSCE guys are still detained, have you seen – and I presume you haven’t, given what was said on the White House conference call – any sign yet that the Russians are moving or willing to take steps, take the steps that they agreed to in Geneva?
MS. PSAKI: We have not.
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: Could I ask you a very quick follow-up? I mean, is there really any value in these conversations between the Secretary of State and the foreign minister of Russia? Because with every conversation the lines seems to get more intransigent, so to speak. And we can see – we listen to a language that is not very diplomatic coming out of both sides.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, broadly speaking, there always need to be lines of communication when possible to see if you can make progress. And yes, there are strong disagreements on Ukraine. We’ve had some strong words. The Secretary has had some strong words about Russia’s action, deservedly so. However, I would remind you even just this past weekend a big part of their call was talking about the removal of chemical weapons from Syria, which is an issue that we’ve worked closely with Russia on and we continue to.
QUESTION: I understand. But I’m sorry (inaudible). On the Ukraine, where is the progress? I mean, it seems that the Russians are taking actions that are definitely not, let’s say, in step with what you call them on to do, so to speak.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think obviously this morning we’ve been making clear – the United States has been making clear that it would impose additional costs if Russia – on Russia if it failed to live up to its Geneva commitments and failed to take concrete steps to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine. Consequently, today, this morning, the United States is imposing targeted sanctions on a number of Russian individuals and entities, and restricting licenses for certain U.S. exports to Russia. Can Russia still de-escalate and take steps? Absolutely they can. Do we still have a toolbox of steps we can take? Absolutely, we do, and we’re working in close – in close lockstep with the European on this as well.
Let’s go to Nicolas. Go ahead. Ukraine, or --
QUESTION: Yeah. On Ukraine, on the sanction issue. Is the U.S. exactly on the same page with the European Union, because – this question because some European countries, for obvious economic reasons, are very reluctant to impose sanctions. So are you exactly on the same page with your European allies?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been working in lockstep from the beginning of this crisis, whether that is on economic assistance to Ukraine to boost the legitimate government, or in consultations and working to take complementary steps on sanctions. We have different processes from the European Union, as you know. Our sanctions have not exactly matched before. We don’t expect they will exactly match now. But they are complementary. I, of course, refer you to the Europeans for specifics, but they’ve made clear through the G7 statement over the weekend and through other comments of individual countries that they’re prepared to take steps as well.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on the sanctions a little bit? I know it’s rare to sanction heads of government, but it was suggested that yesterday, by someone, that maybe we are moving towards sanctioning Mr. Putin. Is that --
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those comments. We have consistently felt that there are a range of officials with close ties to President Putin who have supported these illegal acts in Ukraine that we can target here.
QUESTION: How would you sanction the head of a government?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not speculating on that, because that’s not what we’re focused on.
QUESTION: Related --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. On Ukraine.
QUESTION: It’s related to Ukraine, but --
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s – should we finish Ukraine? Okay, Ukraine? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Ukraine. A couple questions following up from last week. One is that the leader of the Tatar community, Mustafa Dzhemilev, whether it’s the case that he’s banned from Crimea by Russia. Have you been able to confirm that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly the reports have stated that, and we expressed concerned at the time. As you know, the human rights situation in Crimea has worsened significantly since Russia occupied that region. One Crimean Tatar was abducted and murdered in March, although others, including a Greek Catholic priest, were taken and kidnapped. I don’t have anything specific to update you on. We, of course, have seen the reports, have no reason to contradict the reports that he has been banned for five years.
QUESTION: Again, follow-up from last week, the annexation of Crimea by Russia and (inaudible) do you have any kind of position regarding Armenians’ support of this decision?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to update you on. Our view remains the same. It’s an illegal step. We’ve put sanctions in place in response to that, and we don’t recognize it.
More on Ukraine? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Today, you issued a statement that the Department of State is expanding its export restrictions on technologies and services on the U.S. munitions list. (Inaudible) how – how much, how broad was the trade – this trade between U.S. and Russia – how much exports?
MS. PSAKI: How much exports? Well, I don't have that in front of me. I’m not sure that – we’re able to obtain that at this moment because we’re still implementing this process. So as – the step we announced this morning – part of the announcement, I should say – it refines our targeted use of export controls and processing export applications for Russia and for Russia-occupied Crimea by instituting a more expansive policy of denial for applications to export or re-export any high-technology items regulated under the U.S. munitions list which could contribute to Russia’s military capabilities, and it takes action to revoke any existing export licenses which meet these conditions. I don’t have a – data available in front of me right now in terms of the size of our current exports of those materials with Russia.
Any more on Ukraine? Okay.
QUESTION: This is related to Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Related to Ukraine. Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if you’ve seen these comments made this morning by Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin in which he said – and if you haven’t, I’m wondering if you could – if there is a response you could get.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: But he said association with the European Union will end in destruction for Moldovans and devastation for Moldova. Do you have --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t seen those comments. I will – I’m happy to talk to our team. I think it’s safe to say, though, that obviously that kind of rhetoric is not useful. We fully believe, we continue to believe that the people of Moldova, the people of Ukraine, the people of all countries should have the ability to voice their view on where they want to see their future lead. And Moldovans have obviously taken steps toward European integration. We fully support that. But I will see if there’s more to add from our team.
QUESTION: Okay. And I’m also curious if you see that this is kind – is a direct threat to Moldova and what you would say to it, and if you do think that that’s what it is.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s certainly threatening rhetoric, but I will see if there’s more beyond that statement that raises our concern.
MS. PSAKI: More on Ukraine? Okay, let’s do – let’s go to Lalit, just to – go ahead. Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan. Now it looks like they will (inaudible) for the presidential elections, that means the new – it’ll be still some time before a new government is formed. Does this mean that your chances of staying in Afghanistan is further reduced?
MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t. We obviously have said from the beginning that we would allow the Afghan elections officials to see the process through, and we completely respect the process, that it continues to be underway there. As it relates to the BSA and signing the BSA, we obviously leave it up to the individual who will be elected, but all of the candidates have said that they would sign the BSA. We made a decision a couple – several weeks ago that we would be certainly open to that, so we’ll let the process see its way through, and certainly continuing to have a presence where we advise and assist and train the Afghans and continue to work with them could be in the interests of the United States as well as the Afghan people.
QUESTION: I have one more on Afghanistan.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: To what extent the developments in Ukraine is going to have an influence on deciding your presence in Afghanistan post-2014?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a connection. Obviously, we – there are a range of global issues we work on at the same time, and certainly our desire to see a prosperous future for the Afghan people is no different from our desire to see a prosperous future for the Ukrainian people. Obviously, the circumstances are different, but we remain committed to both.
More – okay.
QUESTION: And is your routing the U.S. armed forces to get material through northern route is having impact – is having an impact on your – on the – due to the Ukrainian condition? Because there you coordinate with the Russians for – and other (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check on that for you. I haven’t talked to our team about that in a little while.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: More on Afghanistan? Let’s just get around to get a few more people. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Egypt. After the Egyptian court’s decisions today regarding Muslim Brotherhoods and the April 6th movement, and your statements and the White House statements – how do you expect the meeting between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Fahmy tomorrow to be?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I noted last week, Foreign Minister Fahmy is in town for a variety of meetings, and he’ll be meeting, as I understand it, with other senior administration officials as well as members of Congress. And during their meeting, I certainly expect the Secretary will – it’s an opportunity to have face-to-face diplomacy. He’ll certainly talk about our ongoing commitment to a long-term relationship with Egypt, but also raise concerns about recent events, including those you mentioned that were in our statement, whether it’s the announcement over the weekend about the banning of the April 6th youth movement or it’s the preliminary death sentences handed down to 683 defendants by an Egyptian court. So those are issues, as you can see by the strength of the statement we put out, the White House statement that was put out, that we remain concerned about.
QUESTION: Do you read anything about the timing of these sentences, and – since Foreign Minister Fahmy is in town?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis of that. I know his trip has been long planned.
QUESTION: How about not analysis of it, but what do you think it says when this kind of a thing happens – and this is the second time there’ve been a very large number of people sentenced to death in one – I was going to say one fell swoop, but that’s probably a bad expression – at one time. This is the second mass death sentencing, and it happens just a couple days after the Secretary called Foreign Minister Fahmy and said, hey, we’re going to certify you as – now, I realize that the certifications that were announced last week don’t cover the human rights portions of the legislation. But is this the kind of thing that would impact your decision on whether to certify Egypt is meeting the other legislative requirements for the aid?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, these – you’re right, and let me just reiterate for everybody that the certifications that we did – we announced last week, were related to meeting specific requirements as it related to security in the Sinai and needs there, and as it related to a security cooperative relationship with the United States.
However, the remaining certifications are related to Egypt’s ability to continue to take steps toward a formal democracy. And obviously, steps like these are – these mass trials and rulings are unconscionable. These actions will further add to instability, extremism, and radicalization. And these are issues that, while the Egyptian Government has pledged to resolve, clearly, they don’t represent the kind of democratic ideals and progress that we need to see made in Egypt.
QUESTION: So this is the kind of thing that will weigh on your judgment on whether to certify or not on the human rights issues?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we obviously look at a range of circumstances on the ground.
QUESTION: Right, I understand. But this – and this is – but this is one of them. This kind of thing would be one of them that you look at?
MS. PSAKI: These are the types of factors we look at.
QUESTION: While we’re on Egypt --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- do you still think Egyptian military can restore the democracy as once Mr. Secretary stated?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we obviously – these are the types of issues the interim government has pledged to resolve. We urge the government to demonstrate, through actions rather than words, its support for the universal human rights and democratic, accountable governance that the Egyptian people continue to demand. So there are more steps they need to take. We’ll be watching closely, and I’m certain that will be a part of the conversation not just tomorrow, but in our ongoing engagement with Egypt.
QUESTION: By the way, Minister Fahmy just said – just now, as a matter of fact – that all NGOs need to have a license to operate. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve certainly – I haven’t – I don’t believe I’ve seen actually his specific statements, Said. We’ve expressed concern in the past about restrictions on NGOs. I’m not specific with which – what this would put in place. I’m happy to check with our team and see if there’s more we can spell out on that, but obviously restrictions on NGOs that provide much-needed services to the Egyptian people would be of concern to us.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s just finish Egypt and then we can go to a new – Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) agency. You just said that – your statement said that the prosecution of those, like, 800 – no, 683--
MS. PSAKI: 683. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and the 137, is going to increase instability and radicalism in the – in Egypt, right? So this mean they – there is more security concern for the United States in this issue, like, to keep prosecuting like the Muslim Brotherhood or Morsy supporters or whoever. So – but you still, like, release, like, the 10 Apache helicopter. I mean, does not – how do you keep, like, urging Egypt, like, to deal with the human rights situation, but at the same time, oh, we have security concerns that we have to take care? Is not like – doesn’t this, like, sound like kind of contradict to what you keep saying?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the specific decision on the Apaches was made because Egypt faces a significant and growing threat from extremist groups, particularly in the Sinai, and in the past several months, has used Apache helicopters as a component of its counterterrorism operations in the Sinai. And so we believe these new helicopters will help the Egyptian Government counter extremists who threaten U.S., Egyptian, and Israeli security. This is one component of a broader counterterrorism strategy. At the same time, as is evident by the statements we’ve issued and the comments I’ve made, we still do express concerns about whether it’s human rights issues, due process, steps needed to take – that Egypt needs to take towards democracy when warranted, and certainly these cases warrant those statements.
More on Egypt? Okay. New topic. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: There are reports that came out this weekend that in a closed-door meeting, the Secretary said that Israel was at risk of becoming, quote, “an apartheid state” if there was not a two-state solution. This has led to a great deal of criticism. The head of the Anti-Defamation League, for instance, released a statement saying that it was undiplomatic, unwise, and unfair of him to say these things. Can you first confirm that the Secretary made those comments? And two, what’s your reaction to the criticism?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say, obviously, I’m not going to confirm the accuracy of comments made during a private meeting. But the Secretary does not believe and did not state publicly or privately that Israel is an apartheid state, and there’s an important difference there. Israel is obviously a vibrant democracy with equal rights for all of its citizens.
I would also note that Secretary Kerry, like Justice Minister Livni and previous Israeli Prime Ministers Olmert and Barak, believes that a two-state solution is the only way to have two nations and two people living side by side in peace and security. And that’s the only way where the level of prosperity and security that the Israeli and Palestinian people deserve is possible.
So that continues to be his belief. And without a two-state solution, it’s hard to see how it is possible. So he – again, I think no one should question or could accurately question his commitment and friendship with Israel and his belief that it is a vibrant democracy, and he continues to believe that there should be and can be a path toward a two-state solution that will be able to provide the security and the prosperity that the people deserve.
QUESTION: But the – his support and commitment to Israel does not prevent him from saying that if they continue these policies, they will end up being an apartheid state. Isn’t that what he said?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I’d rather turn it to what the benefits are of pursuing a peace process and what he would see as the benefits to the Israeli and the Palestinian people. But certainly, there are many, many officials, Israeli and American officials, who have stated that if we don’t pursue this path, if they don’t pursue that path, that is hard to see how the two states will be able to live side by side.
QUESTION: Well, these statements that have been made, or allegedly made, are an indication – would they be an indication that he may be so frustrated and losing hope that there is a solution in the offing?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it’s an indication of that at all. I think you’ve heard him say, even as recently as last week, that he still remains hopeful that the two sides will make the choices needed, it’s up to them, in order to move the process forward.
QUESTION: Are you – have you been in touch with the two sides or with the Israeli side since these statements allegedly were made or came into being?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly Ambassador Shapiro, of course, remains on the ground, and CG Ratney remains on the ground, and we have a range of contacts at many levels with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
QUESTION: Are we likely to hear a statement tomorrow, considering that the deadline is tomorrow, the 29th of April?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think so, Said. As I said last week, this is a long process. The President and Secretary Kerry both see the enormous benefits of peace, but we had always known that there might be a point when a pause was needed, and we’re at that point.
QUESTION: And last --
MS. PSAKI: So we’ll see what the parties decide over the coming weeks and months.
QUESTION: My last question: This much talk of a nine-month period – you’re just going out with a whimper, without even acknowledgement that the time has come and gone, or the deadline has come and gone?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve talked about the difficult choices that still need to be made, the unhelpful steps both parties have taken, and the fact that we still see a benefit and an opportunity. So we’ll see what the parties do.
QUESTION: Ambassador Indyk has left?
MS. PSAKI: He has left, yes.
QUESTION: He is back in the States?
MS. PSAKI: He is back in the States, yes.
QUESTION: And is not – doesn’t have any return travel plans in the foreseeable future that you are aware of?
MS. PSAKI: Not at this moment. But Ambassador Shapiro and CG Ratney remain in close touch, working these issues with the parties.
QUESTION: Can I – I’ve got – to go back to the Secretary’s comments --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- on Friday, to come at this from two ways. One, do you at least, or does he at least, acknowledge that using a term like apartheid is offensive to a lot of Israelis and pro-Israel supporters?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think his meaning of any comments he makes is his support for a two-state solution and his belief that it’s hard to see how the parties can prosper without it.
QUESTION: Right. Well, I understand, but the use of – using this word – the A-word, I guess we can call it – is kind of a touch-button issue for many in the pro-Israel community, including – and many Israelis. Does the – is the Secretary aware of that?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, I think many officials have used similar phrases that have been reported, and he’s aware of that as well.
QUESTION: And then – you mean many Israeli officials. How about American officials who are supposed to be – you guys are supposed to be the neutral – the arbiter, the honest broker here. Are you aware of any other current or an American official who has used “apartheid” in – while they were in the middle or still trying to – maybe near the end, of a negotiation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, he certainly didn’t say “is.” He said – the reports are that --
QUESTION: Right. No. I’m not saying he said that it is. We’ll get to that in a second, because that’s the other side of the coin here. But he did use the word, unless I’m mistaking you – your explanation. Does he understand that using that word whether he said “is,” “was,” “may be,” “could be,” “definitely will be,” “definitely won’t be,” that that is a loaded term that’s going to cause a lot of angst and a lot of indignation, whether one believes that that indignation is faux or not?
MS. PSAKI: We’re certainly all familiar with the term, but I don’t have any other commentary for all of you on his --
QUESTION: All right. From the other side of the coin – from the other perspective here, which is the Palestinian perspective, there are a lot of people who have – who are pro-Palestinian who would argue that, in fact, Israel is now an apartheid state. You’re saying that you don’t – that the Secretary does not believe that. Can I ask you why he does not share the views of those pro-Palestinians?
MS. PSAKI: Because he believes that Israel is a vibrant democracy with equal rights for its citizens.
QUESTION: Right. But it’s also – it is also an occupying power. Correct?
MS. PSAKI: We’re all familiar with the circumstances in the region.
QUESTION: Okay, okay. And people under – and people – not every person who lives under Israeli authority is an Israeli citizen with equal rights. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, we’re all familiar with the reasons why we’re – we’ve been – he has been so – putting so much effort into pursuing a peace process --
MS. PSAKI: -- but that doesn’t change his view on Israel currently.
QUESTION: Right. But you do accept that there are people who live under Israeli administration – live under Israeli authority right now who do not have equal rights. Correct? Yeah?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to analyze this further.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, look, the Secretary is getting it from both sides here. The pro-Israel people are furious that he would even deign to utter the word – the “a” word – even if it was referring to something happening in the future, or possibly happening in the future. The other side is upset that the Secretary is not using it – using the “a” word to describe how Israel is right now.
Given that, given that circumstance – you’ve acknowledged that that’s the situation, right?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Okay. Was using the word smart? Does the Secretary understand that using a loaded term like that is going to cause him a lot of grief?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to give any analysis on that, Matt.
QUESTION: Let me just follow up on this one a little bit --
MS. PSAKI: Okay, Said. Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- because – how do you understand the term to mean? How do you understand the term, “apartheid”? Isn’t it when people have separate roads, separate access, under control, lack of movement, checkpoints and so on, what do you call that? Is that --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give a definition of it.
QUESTION: Would you say that this is a --
MS. PSAKI: Do you have a specific question?
QUESTION: Yes, I do.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I mean, because you have the walls, you have – the Israel settlers have separate roads that the Palestinians are not allowed. Isn’t that contrary to the Geneva Convention? Isn’t that – doesn’t that sort of negate the aspect of equality to all its citizens or those under its control?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re ready to move on. Do we have a new – go ahead in the back.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: And according to the U.S. Department of – press release, Secretary Kerry will meet Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom to discuss efforts to advance peace and democracy in the region, especially in Ethiopia.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: My question is: What is the United States position in regards to human rights, democracy, as well as press freedom in Ethiopia?
And also, if you hear recently there is a report all over the internet that there are six bloggers and three journalists that are arrested ahead of Secretary visit to Ethiopia. Could you have some comment regarding this?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, I can. We are aware that six independent bloggers and three independent journalists were detained by Ethiopian police April 25th through 26th. We urge the Government of Ethiopia to expeditiously review the cases of these detainees and promptly release them. We have raised these concerns on the ground directly with the Government of Ethiopia.
And we, of course, reiterate our longstanding concern about the abridgment of the freedom of press and the freedom of expression in Ethiopia, and urge the Government of Ethiopia to fully adhere to its constitutional guarantees. And certainly while the Secretary is there as part of his trip to Africa, he often raises, at every opportunity, issues surrounding human rights, whether it’s media freedoms or equal treatment, freedom of speech, and I expect that will be the case this time as well.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have the taken part of the question from last week about the activists on hunger strike?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You answered the journalist halfway, but --
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I believe I do. We – the United States calls for a just and fair outcome in regards to the plight of the detained NIDA activists in Azerbaijan. The U.S. Embassy in Baku and other Western embassies have been closely following the case. The United States supports freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest as well – as is fundamental to any democracy. We have raised our concerns with senior Azerbaijani officials on several occasions, and obviously, the health and welfare of any activists as well as their families is of utmost concern to us.
Go ahead in --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go – can I do the one in the back and we’ll go back to you, Said? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, Jen. Do you have anything on the controversy in Taiwan over nuclear power plants? The President Ma’s government, under massive demonstration, has – was forced, actually, to decide to mothball a newly completed number four nuclear power plant. And we understand that a 40-year-old U.S.-Taiwan agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy is up for renewal. Will the controversy have any impact on the renewal process? Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: I have no predictions on that. Matters regarding the construction of Taiwan’s fourth nuclear power plant are for the people of Taiwan to decide. We trust that all sides will handle these democratic protests peacefully, and that, of course, is of utmost concern to us.
MS. PSAKI: Syria? Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any comments on Assad declaring that he’s going to run for the presidential election?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken to this.
QUESTION: No, but he did today. He submitted the papers today.
QUESTION: His specific candidacy.
MS. PSAKI: His specific – his specific announcement.
QUESTION: Right, his specific announcement.
MS. PSAKI: I would say, obviously, I spoke to this pretty extensively last week when there was rumor of him running or there were just talk of him running. I would point you to those comments. They are still applicable about our views of his intention.
QUESTION: Okay. Just a quick follow-up on the chemical weapons aspect on the --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- the chlorine. Now, the Russians are saying that this is all a figment of somebody’s imagination, it’s not true, and it was – it’s just a way to sort of – or an excuse to maybe strike Syria. Is that the thinking here?
MS. PSAKI: As we’ve said, we’ve seen indications, of course, of the use of a toxic chemical, probably chlorine. We’re examining allegations, continue to examine allegations, that the Assad regime was responsible. We take all allegations of the use of chemicals in combat very seriously. So we’re continuing to consult and share information with the OPCW and international partners as we work to determine what has happened, and that’s the phase we’re in at this point.
QUESTION: Are you independently examining these allegations on your own?
MS. PSAKI: We’re obviously --
QUESTION: Are you doing it as part of the UN or --
MS. PSAKI: We’re working closely with international partners, through the OPCW, with the UN as well.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Oh, okay.
QUESTION: And lastly, on what – did you – do you have any information on Brahimi resigning?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new information. I would point you to Mr. Brahimi and his team.
Ali, did you have --
QUESTION: Yeah, on Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: In light of the failure of Syria to meet the deadline on Sunday, I just wanted to know if you had any reaction in general to that. And where do we go from here?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. As you noted, Syria has failed to meet the April 27 target date for the removal of all chemical weapons materials, one that it set for itself, just as it failed during the past three months to meet the milestones set by the OPCW for CW removal.
As of last week, approximately 92 percent of declared chemicals have been removed. While that is significant progress, we’re not finished. There is more work, clearly, that needs to be done.
With our international partners, we’re going to continue to press the regime to live up to its obligations, including by removing the remaining 8 percent. Syria has an obligation to complete packing and preparations at the remaining site and transfer those materials to Latakia. They have the capability to do this, and there should be no further delay.
QUESTION: And there have been comments by Western officials in recent days that there are doubts resurfacing that the declared weapons that are left are not all the declared – are not all the weapons that are there, that Syria is withholding information. So does the United States share these concerns that Syria is withholding information about chemical weapons they haven’t declared?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve never taken Assad, the Assad regime, at its word, and we will continue to approach this process with our eyes wide open. It’s important to remember that the removal process is not the end of the OPCW’s work, and the OPCW’s inspection and verification teams’ efforts will continue to ensure the accuracy and completeness of Syria’s declarations that its CW production facilities are dismantled and that the entire CW program has been completely eliminated. The OPCW will, of course, have our full support. So it will continue, and we will take every step through the OPCW to ensure that that is all looked into.
QUESTION: You’ve never taken Assad at his word? Is that – that’s what you said?
MS. PSAKI: That is what I said.
QUESTION: Okay. But you’re willing to take his word that he’s going to run for president?
MS. PSAKI: If he doesn’t, if he’s kind of joking us about that, then that’s fine with us.
QUESTION: Would there be any consequences for the failure of meeting the deadline or not?
MS. PSAKI: We’re continuing to press through with our international partners for them to meet the deadline. I don’t want to make any predictions. I know we’ll keep talking about this in here.
QUESTION: Actually, it seems that Kaag in her press conference was quite positive in her assessment of Syria’s cooperation. Do you feel that the Syrians are underhandedly keeping 8 percent, or they are just not able to meet the deadline?
MS. PSAKI: There is – they have the capability to ensure that the declared chemicals are removed, so now they need to do so.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: You said that the reasoning behind the approval of the Apaches was in part to help them combat extremism?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And in your response to this massive court ruling, the death – the mass court ruling, you said that this encourages extremism, right? This kind of --
MS. PSAKI: Yes, but let’s remember I was talking about use of Apaches in the Sinai and our counterterrorism cooperative actions.
MS. PSAKI: And obviously, actions that don’t promote democracy or are contrary to democratic processes certainly promote unrest.
QUESTION: Right, but I mean if – the court case in Cairo is not just going to affect extremism or influence extremism in Cairo. It – there are people who live in the Sinai who will be affected by it.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So how do you make – how can you make the case that your two policies here, your human rights policy and then your strategic policy on one hand, aren’t operating at cross-purposes? If the government is doing one – on one hand doing things that encourage and promote extremism --
MS. PSAKI: Which we condemned.
QUESTION: -- and you’re having – and then you’re having to give them Apache helicopters to fight extremism, that – do you see the problem there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think in all points here we are working to combat extremism, whether it’s working with the government on military counterterrorism operations or encouraging them to take steps that do not promote unrest within their country.
QUESTION: So – all right. So the government then – the government takes steps that encourage extremism and you give them helicopters to go kill the extremists. Is that the --
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s a little more complicated than that, Matt, but --
QUESTION: Okay, well, it sounds like a good deal for whoever makes Apache helicopters.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Nicolas.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the Secretary’s trip later this week?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: And to Ethiopia? We – you have probably seen that the talks for South Sudan have resumed this morning in Addis Ababa. So, one, has the U.S. played any role in making that possible? And does the Secretary plan to take part to these talks when he’s visiting Ethiopia next – later this week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, the situation in South Sudan, the horrific violence we’ve seen, will be a big part of what he will talk about during his Africa trip. He spoke with President Kiir on the 26th, which was just on Saturday, and he expressed his grave concern about the ongoing conflict, including the recent violence in Bentiu. He welcomed the government’s decision to release the four senior political officials who had been in detention, and he urged him to stop military offenses and to adhere to the cessation of hostilities.
As you know, Ambassador Booth was also just on the ground as well. Obviously, it is the relevant parties who make the decision about reconvening, but certainly this is an issue that the Secretary, Ambassador Booth, Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield have all been working very closely on over the past several months.
QUESTION: Is Ambassador --
QUESTION: Question on Iraq.
QUESTION: Is Ambassador Booth in Sudan now, South Sudan?
MS. PSAKI: He was. He’s returned, is my understanding, Samir.
QUESTION: He’s returned now?
MS. PSAKI: I believe he’s back. I can check that.
I have time for about two more here. Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Very quickly.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The Iraqis today admitted that they struck a convoy inside Syria. Do you have any comment on that? Or do you think that’s part of the political electioneering that is going on two days before the elections?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any independent confirmation of that, Said.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any information about Matthew Todd Miller? Have you been able to reach out to his family?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new information to offer on that case.
QUESTION: Okay. Have you been trying to reach out to his family, though?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional details.
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check with our team and see if there’s more to offer.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) with the Swedes?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. There’s no additional update since I last spoke to it.
QUESTION: That my question, the Swedes.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. Sure. No additional update. We’ll continue – I know there’s a great deal of interest in these reports, so if there’s more to say tomorrow, we’ll offer that tomorrow.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:52 p.m.)
DPB # 75