12:33 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
QUESTION: Welcome back.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Well, I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. I’d like to extend a warm welcome to the nine students from Ohio State University who are all sitting in the back. The students are participating in the Students Scholars Program. They’re visiting Washington for two weeks to explore how their majors fit in with their possible future careers. So welcome to all of you.
I just have two other items on issues of interest for the top. The United States notes with concern efforts by pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk in Luhansk to organize a bogus independence referendum – a bogus independence referenda on May 11th. We flatly reject this illegal effort to further divide Ukraine. This is the Crimea playbook all over again. No civilized nation will recognize the results; and if Russia takes the next step to reenact its illegal Crimea annexation in eastern or southern Ukraine and sends more forces over the border, harsh U.S. and EU sanctions will follow.
We want to underscore what has been our position all along: The future of Ukraine is up to Ukrainians to decide. The upcoming May 25th elections are an important moment. And Russian efforts in the east to destabilize the situation run contrary to the Ukrainian people’s aspirations for an election in which they can choose the direction of their country. All of us in the international community should support Ukraine’s effort to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to vote, to run for office, and to do so in peace.
One other item for all of you: This morning, Secretary Kerry called Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to reiterate our offer of assistance. President Jonathan welcomed Secretary Kerry’s offer to send a team to Nigeria to discuss how the United States can best support Nigeria in its response. In addition, our Embassy in Abuja is prepared to form a coordination cell, an interdisciplinary team – and this is what they discussed on the call – that could provide expertise on intelligence, investigations, and hostage negotiations, help facilitate information-sharing, and providing victim assistance. It would include U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officials with expertise in investigations and hostage negotiations, as well as officials with expertise in other areas that can be – that may be helpful to the Nigerian Government in its response.
The President has directed that we and the Secretary and the State Department do everything we can to help the Nigerian Government find and free these young women. The President and Secretary Kerry have their regular meeting this afternoon, and this will certainly be a prominent topic of discussion.
With that, Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I wanted to ask you about Ukraine, but if anyone wants to go for on Nigeria first.
MS. PSAKI: Roz.
QUESTION: I have a few on Nigeria. First, the Pentagon was telling us that there has been no request for any assistance from Nigeria for any military assistance. What would this military assistance under this coordination cell look like? Who would these personnel be? Are they already at the Embassy in Abuja? First off, some practicalities: who are they?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, some of that is still being determined, Roz. Obviously, this is a conversation they just had in the last couple of hours. The Secretary, again, will be discussing this with President Obama this afternoon. And certainly, there have been ongoing interagency discussions. So it could be a combination of personnel on the ground, and if others are needed to be sent it, I’m sure we’ll – we will deliver that.
QUESTION: And then on the formation of the cell itself, it’s been several weeks since these girls were first abducted, and then there are subsequent reports of more abductions. Is the forming of a cell really what’s necessary at this point? Isn’t the time for immediate action already gone?
MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that. One, we’ve been engaged with Nigeria, as you know, long before the tragic events of just a couple of weeks ago to coordinate and assist them in the fight against terrorist organizations, including Boko Haram. There’s a range of assistance that we have provided to them in that regard, and we’ve been in close touch. Certainly, we welcomed the openness of President Jonathan to this type of a coordination cell, this team that could help provide some of the assistance that may be useful for them at this difficult time. And we think absolutely this can be useful in the process moving forward.
QUESTION: There were reports over the weekend from some of the relatives of the kidnapped girls that the first lady – Patience Jonathan I believe her name is – may have been behind the arrest of some of these relatives who were demonstrating, trying to raise public awareness. Is the U.S. aware of these allegations of high-level interference, for lack of a better expression? And did the Secretary say anything to President Jonathan about the need to be sensitive to these families’ concerns and worries at this time?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, obviously, addressing all aspects of what is the situation on the ground, including – and I think what I mentioned in one of the areas that would be – we’d be assisting in is assisting with victims’ assistance. And as you know, there are some girls who have returned home, and obviously, working with them as they are returned is part of our effort as well.
We have not been able to confirm the specifics around the arrests of the protestors. I don’t have anything new on that today. But the focus of their discussion was really on how the United States can assist and our openness, again, to sending the team I outlined.
QUESTION: And then my final question: Given that Boko Haram is listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, how does the fact that it is claiming responsibility for these abductions affect how the U.S. can proceed legally in trying to resolve this crisis? In other words, does the U.S. feel that it has a legal grounds for doing more than providing assistance to the Nigerian Government? Can it do anything because this is affecting one of its allies and because it does involve a group that the U.S. considers a threat to its own security interests?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I understand your question.
QUESTION: Is there anything that the U.S. can do, given Boko Haram’s FTO designation, that could increase the – its ability to look for these girls?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve already – before this offer that the Secretary made this morning to President Jonathan, we had already taken a number of steps, given that Boko Haram is a designated terrorist organization and one that we have had increasing concerns about, as you know, from our report that we issued last week. And we have up – leading up to now taken a range of steps, including providing counterterrorism assistance to Nigeria that’s focused on information sharing, improving Nigeria’s forensics and investigative capacity. We’re also working with the Nigerian Government to strengthen their criminal justice system, increase the government – the confidence, I should say, in the government by supporting its efforts to hold those responsible for violence accountable.
In just the last year alone, we have provided approximately $3 million in law enforcement assistance to Nigeria, including assistance to develop Nigerian capacity to search, identify, mitigate, and dispose of IEDs and related materials, a resident legal attache, and FBI agents have assisted Nigerian authorizes investigating bombings, training for Nigerian law enforcement officials on basic forensics, interview, and interrogation techniques.
So my point is that there are a range of steps we’ve taken long before the tragic events of the young girls who were kidnapped, and those efforts will continue. But this is obviously a new effort to offer a coordination team.
QUESTION: Jen, can I just – you said that you appreciate his openness to – on this – on Secretary Kerry’s offer, and you spoke about what the U.S. is offering to do and that the Embassy is prepared to set up this coordination cell. But can you just go further? I mean, did the – did he say he would consider it and let you know? Did he say yes, let’s get going? Are you – are people getting ready to go? I mean, what is the status of the offer?
MS. PSAKI: He welcomed the offer.
MS. PSAKI: This conversation was just a couple of hours ago.
MS. PSAKI: Secretary Kerry will speak with President Obama about this and how we can continue to step up our efforts to assist the Nigerians in this effort. And of course, naturally want to get this doing as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: But you said you would – it seems like it’s all contingent on the Nigerians saying – to saying yes, let’s get going, let’s pull --
MS. PSAKI: Well, President Jonathan welcomed Secretary Kerry’s offer, so obviously --
QUESTION: Did he accept the offer, is what I’m saying, and are you preparing a team to get ready to go?
MS. PSAKI: We’re having discussions about the team that – what this would entail, and who’s on the ground, who would need to be sent, and what we need to do to ensure all the resources --
QUESTION: I understand. I’m just trying to nail down whether this is an offer that has been accepted and now you’re getting the logistics together, or is this an initial offer that he said he would consider and get back to the Secretary?
MS. PSAKI: I think by conveying he welcomed it, Elise, I’m conveying that he is open to this team that we’ve offered. I don’t have any other details at this moment, just because this is so new, in terms of when and how and all of that. We’ll be working those specifics out over the coming hours and days. But obviously, we want it to happen as quickly as possible.
Catherine, go ahead.
QUESTION: About how large would the team be, and can you talk a little bit about the interagency cooperation and who would be running point on that? And then also, following on Elise, is there a follow-up call scheduled with President Jonathan to actually confirm-confirm this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t – I’m not trying to be too cute here. I think he welcomed it, so obviously, the offer of this coordination team is something that they’re open to, will continue to work through the specifics on. Our Embassy in Abuja is going to be forming the coordination or the interdisciplinary team. Obviously, because I mentioned there are – there could be representatives from – to provide expertise on intelligence investigations and hostage negotiations, as well as U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officials, this would be something that would cross several agencies, absolutely.
QUESTION: And the size?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail at this point.
QUESTION: But – I mean, I’m sorry to press this point, but --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- you’re deliberately not saying that the Nigerians have accepted the offer. And it seems as if that, while the U.S. is willing to kind of pull out all the stops and do whatever it takes and whatever the government would want and would ask for, that the Nigerians have not necessarily accepted U.S. help.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not meaning to imply that. I think when I say he welcomed it, obviously, we’ll work through the specifics of how this will work. But --
QUESTION: You can welcome in an offer without accepting it. You can say, “That’s a very nice gesture, thank you. I’ll get back to you,” or whatever. But --
MS. PSAKI: That – what you’re stating is not what I’m trying to imply here, Elise.
QUESTION: Then can you just say that he said, “Yes, thank you, and let’s work out the details”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this happened just a few hours ago. I don’t have that level of transcription from the call this morning. But I think the Secretary came away from the call with an understanding that this is something we’d work with the Nigerians to implement.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Might this be a good question to ask – to pose to the Secretary himself when --
MS. PSAKI: Might be.
QUESTION: -- a little later?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Is it – is this the first time that an offer of assistance has been directly communicated to the Nigerian Government? My understanding was that it had been offered by lower level people before. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly. This is obviously a team that would provide expertise on a range of issues, so --
QUESTION: No, no, no. But I mean the offer of assistance to Nigeria, had this not been made before? Or am I wrong on that?
MS. PSAKI: This specific coordination?
QUESTION: No, not this specific offer --
MS. PSAKI: In general? Coordinate --
QUESTION: -- the offer of we will do whatever --
MS. PSAKI: I believe we have made offers of assistance before, yes.
QUESTION: Related to this incident?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, this is something that’s new and specific to this. But we have had a range of assistance we’ve provided, we’ve offered, that have been connected to it, just given who is responsible.
QUESTION: All right. Any more on Nigeria?
MS. PSAKI: I think Scott and then Catherine may have – go ahead. Or Scott, why don’t you go? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Have you seen President Jonathan’s comments, which I believe may have happened when the Secretary was in Angola, that appeared to react skeptically to President Obama’s concerns about the human rights conduct of the Nigerian military in operations that Boko Haram – in areas where Boko Haram operates, saying essentially if President Obama has evidence that the Nigerian military is mistreating people, he should come forward and make that clear? Does the United States Government maintain its concern about the conduct of some Nigerian forces in the hunt for Boko Haram?
MS. PSAKI: We do. That has not changed in terms of our concerns. I am not aware that the Secretary and President Jonathan got into that level of discussion this morning. I’m happy to circle back and see. Obviously, beyond those concerns our primary focus, as all of you know, is on doing everything we can to get these girls home. And – but that doesn’t change our ongoing concerns we’ve expressed in the past.
QUESTION: Because past assistance has had that element in it.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There’s always been a phrase about ensuring that support for the Nigerian military is related to its safe conduct with civilians. I didn’t hear that in your announcement this morning.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware, given this is a team that would be comprised of U.S. officials that would be working with the Nigerian Government – I can circle back and see if that’s a piece that is included.
Go ahead, Catherine.
QUESTION: I just want to make a distinction or specify here. It seemed like a lot of the things that we’ve been hearing about building up forensic capabilities, for example, are part of the larger U.S.-Nigeria CT cooperation that’s been going on for some time.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So this offer of assistance today seems like the – one of the first thing that the United States has offered to do that would be specifically connected to the 200-plus girls.
MS. PSAKI: That’s right.
QUESTION: Am I correct –
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- that there was not as specific –
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Do you see what I’m asking?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, I think I do.
MS. PSAKI: From the beginning – and I think there’s a bit of a crossover here, which is what I was trying to convey, because obviously, the range of assistance that we’ve provided in the past on counterterrorism efforts or in terms of steps to increase accountability and their law enforcement capabilities are all applicable here, right?
MS. PSAKI: Because those are all of the tools that have been used in Nigeria to try to get the girls home. But this specific interdisciplinary team or coordination cell that has a range of officials and resources from the interagency is specifically related to this incident.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I just – sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Just a quick question on the forensics that you mentioned.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Are you able to give us any detail, even generally, on how forensics could help in the search for these girls?
MS. PSAKI: No, and the reason I’m not is because there are a range of capabilities and assistance that obviously we would discuss – we have been, we will discuss with Nigeria and any government that if we outline publicly, that defeats the purpose of the benefit. I will check with our team and see if there’s anything that we can share, but that is my understanding as of now.
QUESTION: And this is something that you’ve used in previous situations, is it, though – forensic science?
MS. PSAKI: As far as I understand it. I don’t have a history on that, but I understand the interest, and we can see if there’s more we can share on that.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: I just want to get more on what is the Secretary – what is he going to talk to the President about on this issue? Are they going to meet with – is that something that the President has asked --
MS. PSAKI: They have a regular – no, they have a regular meeting weekly whenever the Secretary is in town. And so given the events in Nigeria and given their shared interest in resolving this situation, I just am conveying I expect this will be a major topic of discussion.
QUESTION: So what other topics will the President and the Secretary be talking about in their meeting since you’re so eager to get their agenda out there today?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to outline it further, Matt. There’s quite a bit going on in the world, so --
QUESTION: Okay. I have a very brief one --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- and it’s not Ukraine. I just want to know, has the – one, will they be talking about the Benghazi issue and the subpoena? And two, has there been an accommodation reached with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on his appearance or nonappearance?
MS. PSAKI: All I have on the detail is – of course, what they’ll talk about is Nigeria – I wouldn’t expect that to be a topic of conversation, if I were to guess. I spoke with – as you know, in terms of what’s happening with the request, as you all know, Secretary Kerry returned late last night from his trip to Africa. Obviously, while we were there, we spent far more time on South Sudan and the ongoing process in the Great Lakes than on the process in the latest effort to reignite a debate on – about Benghazi on the Hill.
We did talk with him about it. He’ll spend – he’ll be engaged with his team here in the coming days to discuss the request from HOGR. He was surprised to see that after serving 29 years in the Senate and working with both parties for decades that he was sent a subpoena before a request to testify.
He committed, from the beginning of this process, as some of you have noted, to be cooperative in providing briefings and materials to Congress. And after seven investigations, 13 hearings, dozens of transcribed interviews, and more than 50 briefings, the numbers speak for themselves. But at this time, there are still questions related to – that members need to determine within their own caucus about who has jurisdiction over these issues. There’s been HOGR, there’s been the Armed Services Committee, there have been reports of a select committee, of course. Obviously, I would point you all to statements that have been made by Speaker – or by Leader Pelosi and by others in Congress, and they’ll, of course, work through those.
We remain – our belief remains that there’s little evidence that a select committee is going to be a legitimate vehicle for congressional oversight. And our focus remains in the Secretary’s view, from talking with him about this, is that the focus of Congress should be on continuing to take steps to protect the men and women who are serving overseas in high-threat posts where we have requested assistance, we’ve requested effort – or help in implementing – continuing to implement the ARB. And that’s what his focus is on.
QUESTION: Okay. That was a very expansive answer, thank you. But all I really wanted to know was if there had been an accommodation reached with the committee about the subpoena and his possible appearance. And if not --
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: -- has there been any contact between the – his staff and the committee staff to see – I mean, has the conversation begun?
MS. PSAKI: Our team has obviously been engaged with the Hill as would be expected, but there’s no specific updates I have to provide today.
QUESTION: So at this point, he still plans to be in Mexico on the 21st?
MS. PSAKI: He does, yes.
Go ahead, Lucas.
QUESTION: Last evening, Congressman Trey Gaudi called on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify. Would the State Department support her testimony?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Secretary Clinton is a private citizen, but she also testified, I believe, for about five hours on this case. And again, I’d point you to the level of cooperation both under Secretary Clinton and under Secretary Kerry with Congress, so --
QUESTION: Also, last evening a seven-page email was released with the title, “Fox News: U.S. officials knew Libya attack was terrorism within 24 hours, sources confirm.” This email was sent out approximately September 27th. Are you aware of this email?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure. I don’t have that specific email in front of me, Lucas, but --
QUESTION: Is it common when news breaks that emails go out with the source, CNN, Fox News, ABC, NBC?
MS. PSAKI: We do have a clips process in the Administration, where we track what all of you report, yes.
MS. PSAKI: Every outlet.
QUESTION: In hindsight, does the State Department still say intervention in Libya was a good idea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, our position hasn’t changed. Are you getting at a specific component, or what is your specific question?
QUESTION: Just in hindsight – the Administration ran on a policy of not intervening in other countries, and this kind of intervention in Libya was seen as something the government would not do. And I’m just wondering, in hindsight, would the State Department support going into Libya again?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, I would point you to those in the White House about what the President ran or didn’t run on, despite the fact that I was personally there. But I don’t think there’s any belief that they would change what efforts they’ve supported. Obviously – and this is a point I was making in the last point I made in response to Matt’s question – you look at, and there have been, because of the number of investigations and the ARB process, there have been steps taken to ensure that our men and women serving overseas are better protected, that we’re requesting the kind of resources and financial support we need, that that is all taken into account, so certainly that we have reflected and the changes we’ve made since then.
QUESTION: Despite all the testimony and all the questions in the ARB, one of the questions that remains, is still out there is: Was it the State Department or the White House that briefed Susan Rice before she appeared on the talk shows?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Lucas, I would have to tell you that from participating in a number of briefings for Sunday shows, it can have a range of officials, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. And as many have stated, the information provided was the best information provided by the CIA to members of Congress, same talking points, that we had available at the time.
QUESTION: Right, but so nobody knows to this day who briefed Susan Rice and suggested that this line about the video was something she should go out and talk about?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Lucas, I would point you to Mike Morell’s testimony where he conveyed that’s the information we had available at the time, and that’s what the intel community assessed at the time.
QUESTION: But he mentioned demonstrations; he never mentioned the video.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not – I don’t think I’m going to play much further into looking back into the rearview mirror on this.
Do we have any more on this topic?
QUESTION: Well --
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: No. It’s not on this specifically.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. New topic?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure there’ll be a range of topics of – out there in the news today, Matt; Ukraine, certainly.
QUESTION: Well – yes, Ukraine, certainly. Okay, good. So what exactly are they – even without talking about a private conversation between the Secretary and the President that hasn’t happened yet --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- what is it the U.S. sees now, the Administration sees now, as – let me start again. Is that --
MS. PSAKI: Are you talking about Ukraine now, or --
QUESTION: I’m talking about Ukraine, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, you started out by saying that this May 11th referendum would – you would reject it, it would be completely illegal. Do you have any indication that the Russian Government is prepared to recognize this poll or is encouraging it in any way?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think these reports are obviously new. This has been pushed for by pro-Russian separatists. We’re simply conveying what our position is, which I’m sure doesn’t come as any surprise, given this isn’t in coordination with and in accordance with Ukrainian law. But I don’t have any other additional details about President Putin’s view or others. I would venture to guess they might support it given their past history here.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re concerned that they will support it, and hence you’re warning that if they do support and then recognize a referendum like this and presumably, I guess, take it over just as they did in Crimea, that they will definitely 100 percent face these sectoral sanctions from the U.S. and the EU?
MS. PSAKI: I think what I said, Matt, is that we will continue to look at --
QUESTION: You said “harsh U.S. and EU sanctions will follow.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously --
QUESTION: Is that --
MS. PSAKI: -- we have more we can tap into. There’s a range of steps we look at. This would certainly be one of them.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. And then you – the other thing you said was that “no civilized nation will recognize this” – I’m just curious about the use of the word “civilized.” You’re saying that – would you say the same thing about Crimea, the Crimean referendum?
MS. PSAKI: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: So Russia is an uncivilized country? Is that what you’re saying?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say – what I’m conveying there, Matt, is the broad spectrum of the international community opposed the referendum in Crimea. And we don’t think the international community will support this either.
QUESTION: Okay, so --
MS. PSAKI: Despite Russia’s views.
QUESTION: Right. Fair enough. But you – but any country that recognized the Crimean referendum and annexation by Russia, or would, if these other places go – is uncivilized in the U.S. view? Is that right?
MS. PSAKI: I think you’re using the word in a way I didn’t mean to convey it.
QUESTION: Oh. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I ask about --
MS. PSAKI: Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The presidential elections are on May 25th.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you’ve seen the comments from Foreign Minister Lavrov today that he believes that perhaps the elections should be postponed because of the chaos that’s happening in eastern Ukraine at the moment. Did you have a comment on the idea that they – maybe we should – is it actually logistically possible to organize a full countrywide elections? And what about Crimea? I mean --
MS. PSAKI: We do believe it is. We believe that’s another delay tactic from the Russians.
QUESTION: So you wouldn’t go along with the foreign minister’s – Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments about the postponing the elections?
MS. PSAKI: We would not. We believe it’s important – it’s an important moment for Ukraine that they take place on May 25th.
QUESTION: Do you have some information about the number of observers? Toria Nuland was just on a call or – Atlantic Council I believe it was, talking about --
QUESTION: -- USIP, thank you --
MS. PSAKI: Talking about the number of observers, international observers?
QUESTION: Mm-hmm, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t, but let me take it and we’ll see if we can get more details.
QUESTION: There was one more question as well. I think President Putin is planning to visit Crimea on May 9th. Do you have a comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve heard reports of that. I hope he enjoys his visit to Ukraine.
QUESTION: But he’s free – (laughter) – to Ukraine, right. He’s free to visit? You don’t have any objections to him visiting Crimea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, it depends on what he does there. But again, you know where we stand on Crimea, and Crimea is part of Ukraine. And we continue to recognize it as part of Ukraine.
QUESTION: And there are also rumors percolating about a possible Ukraine meeting next week. Do you have anything on that – in Europe?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, the Secretary has been, over the course of the last few days, actually very closely coordinated with a range of European officials. He spoke with Swiss President Burkhalter yesterday as well as German Foreign Minister Steinmeier. He – let’s see – and I expect he’ll have more calls in the coming days. So we do expect that next week there will be an opportunity in some capacity either to have bilateral meetings or a meeting to discuss Ukraine with the United States and some other officials.
QUESTION: But do you expect Russia to be involved in that?
MS. PSAKI: It’s still in the planning stages. So we don’t have that level of detail quite yet.
QUESTION: What would be the purpose of a meeting given that the last meeting in Geneva abjectly failed to de-escalate the tensions in Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look. I think there’s no question that unity and coordination is incredibly important and effective at this point. And so it could be that. But again, I’m getting ahead of a little bit of what the details would be and what it would look like.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: What are you expecting from Catherine Ashton’s visit today? And I assume that Ukraine is the focus, or is it a broader issue?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly expect they’ll talk about Ukraine and the ongoing situation on the ground, efforts to remain unified moving forward. And they’ll also certainly share conversations they’ve had with officials who also have a stake in the events there. I expect they’ll also discuss the upcoming next round of negotiations on Iran that’s coming up next week. And of course, the technical talks are happening this week in New York. And finally, the Secretary was, of course, as you all know, just in Africa and had an important visit in South Sudan. And there’s ongoing efforts underway there, so I expect they’ll talk about that as well.
QUESTION: Hi. Whilst we’re still in Russia’s backyard and dealing with separatist conflict, I have a question about Ambassador Warlick’s speech tomorrow to spell out U.S. policy on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He tweeted this morning that he will speak tomorrow at Carnegie Center, but he did not indicate what time, and there isn’t any announcement on the Carnegie website --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- or anywhere on the State Department website. So I think if it is an official statement of U.S. policy it could have been advertised a little more widely through public channels. So do you have any details?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we typically – I don’t have the details on this specific speech. Typically, we put out events the night before in a public schedule, but I will – we will check and see what the details are or if this – what’s happening with the speech.
QUESTION: And also as a follow-up, do you have any comment on the recent news from Baku that they may seek him being recalled as a co-chair?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those reports, so let me check and see with our team if there’s anything new to add.
Go ahead, Roz.
QUESTION: Is there anything more towards thoughts about how to help the Ukrainian military improve its capacity? It’s my understanding that some nonlethal aid has been given to the army. Has there been any renewed consideration of whether lethal aid might be appropriate, and if so, under what rubric?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed on our policy on that. Obviously, we continue to consider their requests. But I don’t have anything new to preview for you today.
QUESTION: Is there any official hesitation within the Obama Administration on providing lethal aid, and if so, what is it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I’d point you to what the President – President Obama said just last week about how we want to de-escalate, not escalate, the situation on the ground, that obviously there’s no way for the Ukrainian military to get up to the speed of the Russian military, and so we continue to believe that economic and political assistance is the best way and the most effective way we can spend our resources.
QUESTION: Just two brief ones. Foreign Minister Lavrov apparently said earlier – or the foreign ministry said earlier today that Ukrainians who live – pro-Kyiv – what we would call pro-Kyiv Ukrainians and pro-Moscow Ukrainians will live eventually in one country. Do you regard that as a threat or do you regard that as a potentially positive sign that the Russians might accept a decentralized rather than a federal state?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I don’t want to venture to guess on what his comments meant because that will send a message I’m not sure we’re prepared to send. But I will see if there’s more from our team and how they view them.
QUESTION: Okay, all right. And the other one is: Do you have any concern or response/reaction to the situation in Moldova, where they’ve gone on a heightened state of alert? Is that of concern to you?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, it’s something we’ve been watching closely. We’ve been in close touch on the ground. As you know, this isn’t – these aren’t new concerns being raised by the government there. But I will also check on that one with our team and see if there’s more we can convey.
QUESTION: Okay. And then – oh, sorry, I had one more. And just on the situation in Odesa was – that Marie was asked about yesterday and the Jewish community there.
MS. PSAKI: Oh. Mm-hmm. I think she was asked about the reports that they’re prepared to evacuate. Is that – specifically?
QUESTION: It wasn’t – yeah. It wasn’t my question. I’m pretty sure that’s what it was.
MS. PSAKI: Well, local Jewish groups have reported a few incidents of anti-Semitism in general across Ukraine.
QUESTION: Few or a few?
MS. PSAKI: Few. Few. There have been – there has been an increase in isolated anti-Semitic acts in Crimea and eastern Ukraine since the Russian occupation of Crimea. Following anonymous death threats, the chief reform rabbi fled Crimea. Given the violence that began in Odesa May 2nd after pro-Russian separatists attacked a Ukrainian demonstration, we understand the local community’s concerns. Our Embassy is in close contact with several Jewish communities in Ukraine. We understand they’re coordinating with local authorities to keep their members informed of any developing situations.
So again, there have been few incidents, but we remain in touch with them and some have taken steps, given the impact of a Russian takeover in some areas.
MS. PSAKI: Syria. Yeah. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Syrian opposition defense minister has presented today as what he said is proof of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. Do you have anything to confirm this or any reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, the OPCW is overseeing a process of looking into these details. We’ll let them – let that process see itself out. Obviously, there are a range of information and details that is being provided from across the board, but I don’t have anything new to update you on today.
QUESTION: And on Lebanon, if possible, too.
MS. PSAKI: Lebanon? Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yeah. The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon has visited Saudi Arabia lately to discuss the presidential elections there. Do you have any readout for his visit, and how do you view the presidential elections?
MS. PSAKI: In --
MS. PSAKI: In Lebanon? I don’t have anything new for you. I can see with our team if we have anything new to --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) presidential elections in Saudi Arabia?
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t know what he was referring to. (Laughter.) That would be a short conversation.
I don’t have anything new on Lebanon or a readout of that visit. You said it’s – can you repeat to me? It’s the – our U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon --
QUESTION: Has visited Saudi Arabia to discuss the Lebanese --
MS. PSAKI: The Lebanese elections.
QUESTION: It’s a little bit, yeah, strange, but --
MS. PSAKI: Okay. So – and what – I’m sorry. What were you specifically asking for?
QUESTION: To see if you have any readout for his visit and why he visited Saudi Arabia to discuss the Lebanese presidential elections, and if you have any readout.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let me check with our team and see if there’s anything to communicate on that front.
QUESTION: Do you have anything about reports of FSA members apparently now possessing TOW missiles?
MS. PSAKI: I think I spoke to this a couple of weeks ago and just --
QUESTION: There’s new video that we’ve been provided with that shows them using them rather expertly over the weekend.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to convey from what I offered a couple of weeks ago.
QUESTION: Yeah. Marie was asked about this yesterday, but the Vietnamese have been protesting the relocation of the Chinese oil rig in waters that they claim to be their territorial waters. I wanted to know if you had any comments on that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are, of course, aware of these reports and developments. We’re looking carefully into this matter. Given the recent history of tensions in the South China Sea, China’s decision to operate its oil rig in disputed waters is provocative and unhelpful to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region. These events point to the need for claimants to clarify their claims in accordance with international law and reach agreement about what types of activities should be permissible within disputed areas.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead on the back.
QUESTION: On Brunei, Marie took a couple of questions yesterday. The first was whether the Secretary had had any conversations with the sultan of Brunei or other Asian partners on this new law that would – could result in stoning for people convicted on homosexuality, also whether State officials stay at any Brunei-owned hotels when they travel. So do you have anything to add on that?
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary has not spoken with the sultan since the law was announced. Our ambassador has relayed our concerns privately to the Government of Brunei. We can’t – obviously, we’re not going to elaborate more – further on those, but he has conveyed those concerns that Marie expressed yesterday.
In terms of – sorry. What was your second question again?
QUESTION: The second question was whether State officials stay at hotels owned by the sultan of Brunei or other Brunei entities when they travel, and what your, I guess, broader take would be on the boycotts that have been happening of such hotels in Los Angeles.
MS. PSAKI: Well, a boycott is an acceptable way, of course, for private citizens to express themselves. We don’t take a position on this specific effort. It’s our understanding that the boycott specifically targets the Dorchester Collection of hotels, which has issued a statement that it does not tolerate any forms of discrimination of any kind. As such, the State Department has no specific restrictions prohibiting an employee from staying in a Dorchester hotel.
QUESTION: Sorry. Can you say what you said again about boycotts being acceptable?
MS. PSAKI: I understand where you’re going to go with this, Matt. Obviously, there are --
QUESTION: You do?
MS. PSAKI: I do. BDS, I’m just going to guess.
QUESTION: I was thinking about the boycott of Papua New Guinea. No, of course, you’re right. Well done, well done. Are boycotts an acceptable way --
MS. PSAKI: I’m learning to predict you.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, I – look I just want to – if you believe that boycotts are an acceptable way for private citizens to register their unhappiness with certain policy, you’re saying – is that a universally held view of the Administration? Or are some boycotts less acceptable or non-acceptable?
MS. PSAKI: There are certainly circumstances, Matt, as you know, given every country and every circumstance is different --
MS. PSAKI: -- where we have a specific view by the United States Government. You’re familiar with our position on BDS. I don’t think I need to restate it. I was conveying, in this specific case that obviously, private citizens will take their steps. We have not taken a position.
QUESTION: All right. Well, then, will you at least acknowledge that the Administration does not have a consistent position on boycotts being a acceptable way for private citizens to demonstrate --
MS. PSAKI: I will acknowledge, Matt, that every circumstance is different, and so I’m speaking to this specific circumstance. You’re familiar with our other view.
I may have to go in a moment here, so let’s just get to a few more.
QUESTION: Can I (inaudible) --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- just a little bit? When Russia passed its law banning gay propaganda, there was a lot of condemnation from the State Department. So I’m just wondering if we should read anything into the fact that the Secretary hasn’t called the sultan of Brunei or that there hasn’t been the same kind of strong rhetoric about this.
MS. PSAKI: I would not. I think, around the world, our view is that LGBT rights are human rights, and that is an issue that the Secretary raises, President Obama raises, every Administration official raises, when it’s warranted. And that is no different. As you know, the Secretary just returned from a trip to Africa. We’ve conveyed our concerns here and we’ve publicly conveyed them pretty strongly here as well. So I’d point you to that and certainly would not read into it further.
QUESTION: One more.
MS. PSAKI: Roz.
QUESTION: South Sudan. In light of the Secretary’s visit to Juba in the past several days, does he believe that now is the time to impose sanctions on one or both sides in the conflict? And if so, when?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as the Secretary himself stated, we have been actively considering sanctions. I expect we’ll have more to say on that soon, maybe even this afternoon. Tune in.
We – there’s another update I just wanted to provide that – to all of you that you may have seen, but as you know, when the Secretary was on his trip, he spoke – he met with President Kiir. He also spoke with Riek Machar. And there have been reports overnight about the openness to engage in a meeting. There has been a report – or the Government of Ethiopia has – plans to convene President Kiir and former Vice President Machar in the coming days, tentatively on May 9th. The Secretary also spoke with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam this morning. They have been in close touch about this as well. We expect both men to live up to these commitments and believe it is crucial that both come to the table and meet face to face and for their delegations to negotiate in good faith. As a reminder, in terms of sanctions, the executive order the President signed is – covers from December 15th forward, so also reflects past actions that have been taken.
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: Are discussions with Ashton all going to be over sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: No. I expect, given the Secretary was just there, that he will certainly provide an update if there’s time in the meeting.
QUESTION: I’ve got two really brief ones. I don’t know if you have the answers. One is there was some – actually, I’ll get this later, but it was about the Abu Dhabi book fair, but I can get it later.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The other one is that yesterday, WikiLeaks complained on Twitter that the State Department is denying visas, journalist visas, to journalists that it says it employs. I’m wondering – and I don’t want to – to not run afoul of the privacy and the visa confidentially thing, I’m wondering: Do you – is there a policy to deny WikiLeaks employees or WikiLeaks journalists visas – or journalist visas to the United States? And if so, or even if not, does the Department regard WikiLeaks as a – journalists that work for WikiLeaks as bona fide journalists who would be eligible to get a journalist visa to the U.S., presuming they met the criteria?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I looked into this question a little bit, obviously saw some of the reports. There are specific requirements under the INA, but I’m going to have to get back to you and anyone else who’s interested on a specific answer. Obviously, as you know, individuals apply for visas and they are considered on an individual basis. But we will venture to get an answer out this afternoon.
MS. PSAKI: I can answer your question – I perhaps can – on the book fair, if you’d like.
QUESTION: Oh, I thought you had to go. But go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: I do, but I can do this.
QUESTION: Okay. Sure.
MS. PSAKI: And just remind me what we’re – just so I --
QUESTION: Well, it was just – did these anti-Semitic books that were on display – did they come down as result of a U.S. or – maybe not as a result of, but did you guys point them out to the organizers and then they took them down? Or did they just take them down on their own, after other complaints?
MS. PSAKI: It appears this was a U.A.E. action. Our Embassy officials were not aware that inappropriate material was being sold, so we did not officially raise this issue with U.A.E. authorities before the material was removed.
QUESTION: But you were – you were aware of it only after the fact? Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: As I understand it, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
QUESTION: Just one quick one.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: A follow up. This was mentioned a little bit yesterday, but the Marine reservist who was detained in Mexico on weapons charges – apparently a number of members of Congress, including Congressman Hunter, have been writing to Kerry and to Mexican officials. So do you have anything to add on this?
MS. PSAKI: I do not, for the same reasons Marie outlined yesterday.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:17 p.m.)
DPB # 81