12:47 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. I have a number of items for you at the top.
QUESTION: Oh, boy.
MS. PSAKI: Settle in.
The United States announced nearly $300 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help the people of South Sudan who have been caught in the conflict that began last December. We put out a Media Note that has extensive details, but obviously I wanted to highlight it. The additional funding was announced at the humanitarian pledging conference for South Sudan in Oslo, where we joined more than 40 other countries in supporting efforts to forestall a worsening humanitarian crisis. We continue to stand with the people of South Sudan and are working to bring an end to the conflict that has displaced 1.3 million people internally and as refugees, and has put millions of people at risk of famine. However, this aid can only be effective if the parties to the conflict adhere to the May 9th agreement to end the violence and allow immediate, full, and unconditional access for UN and humanitarian organizations to reach populations across all areas of South Sudan.
We wish to extend our condolences to the people of Russia and Moldova for today’s tragic Moscow-Chisinau train crash. We regret the loss of life.
Somebody asked this yesterday, so perhaps it’s responsive: Ambassador Nancy Powell will depart New Delhi on Thursday, May 22nd, following her March announcement of her retirement. Ambassador Powell departs India with a deep appreciation of the Administration and the State Department for her outstanding work as ambassador to India. Under her guidance, we continued our strategic partnership across a number of important areas, such as trade, defense, space, and education. Ambassador Powell is concluding a distinguished 37-year career that has also included postings as U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, and Nepal, as well as service in Canada, Togo, Bangladesh, and Washington, where she was most recently director general of the Foreign Service. We offer our profound gratitude for Ambassador Powell’s dedication and her inspiring career in public service, and wish her all the best in her retirement.
Ambassador Kathleen Stephens will serve as the charge until a new permanent ambassador is nominated and confirmed by the Senate. She is – Stephens is a career Foreign Service officer with the rank of career minister. She was U.S. Ambassador to South Korea from 2008 to 2011 and previously served in senior positions in Washington, Asia, and Europe. She will arrive in Delhi in early June and looks forward to working closely with the new Government of India on a range of issues.
QUESTION: She’s been nominated?
MS. PSAKI: No, she’s going to be serving as the charge.
QUESTION: So she’s not the new ambassador?
MS. PSAKI: No, until the new ambassador – until there’s a new ambassador nominated and put in and confirmed.
I’m also pleased to welcome a visiting class of Foreign Service officers today in the back. Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us. These folks will be heading out shortly to posts around the world to serve as public diplomacy officials. We’re excited to have you here and we wish you the best of luck in your new assignment.
QUESTION: Can I just ask a very technical question --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- on the India thing?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Is it – you don’t expect someone to be – I know this is a White House thing, but you don’t expect someone to be nominated before Modi has actually formed his new government, right, in terms of agrement? Would you get the --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any information on the timing --
QUESTION: I know, but --
MS. PSAKI: -- in terms of when a nomination will be put forward.
QUESTION: Well, I just want to know if it’s dependent --
MS. PSAKI: I understand what you’re asking.
QUESTION: -- on the formation of the new government.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more information on the timing or the process.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And I’m wondering if you got answers to the questions I had about whether or not there was coordination between the State Department and the Department of Justice on the indictments of these five Chinese computer – alleged computer hackers.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the State Department did receive advance notice of the law enforcement action. The United States routinely approaches foreign governments prior to unsealing indictments to request their assistance. The State Department is involved in communicating with foreign governments on these matters. This case was consistent with that approach so it shouldn’t have come as no surprise.
QUESTION: Okay. So in other words, what you’re saying is the Department of Justice came to you and said we’re going to do this, and you said – the building said okay, and then you went and told the Chinese – before the announcement? Is that --
MS. PSAKI: That’s not – well, that is --
QUESTION: Well, it --
MS. PSAKI: -- about the timeline of things, yes.
MS. PSAKI: We consult with governments on a regular basis as the State Department.
QUESTION: Did the State Department think that it was a good idea to do this?
MS. PSAKI: As – Matt, as I said yesterday, this announcement is consistent with the concerns that we have expressed publicly many times about the actions of China as it relates to cyber security, and we certainly are supportive of this announcement.
QUESTION: Okay. Given the reaction of the Chinese Government to indictments that even the Justice Department doesn’t think it will ever be able to prosecute, and the fact that it happened as President Putin was flying to China, can you explain how this was not an – what seems to be just an epic timing disaster?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, again, we are supportive of steps taken – the President has been supportive, the Secretary has been supportive – as it relates to stating concerns and taking actions as it relates to concerns about China’s actions. And this is consistent with that.
QUESTION: Okay. But you are – correct me if I’m wrong – seeking Chinese help, cooperation on any number of issues, ranging from North Korea to Iran to Syria to wherever. Is that right? Even Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: We are. But that doesn’t change the fact, Matt, that with China or any country, when we have concerns or are – when there is a law enforcement action that needs to be taken, that still precedes.
QUESTION: And at the same time, you are engaged in preparatory discussions for the S&ED, which is going on.
MS. PSAKI: We are.
QUESTION: So I don’t know. I just find it very difficult to believe that the State Department would say to the Justice Department: Okay, yeah, this is a good idea; let’s announce these indictments, which we’re never going to prosecute; it’s just for show. As the Attorney General said, this is a wakeup call to the Chinese. And you just basically drove the Chinese into Putin’s arms. You’re not --
MS. PSAKI: I think that is combining a few things, in our view. The – President Putin is on a trip to attend the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia. Obviously, any country – including Russia – can, of course, establish good relations with any country they choose. Our view here and the view of, of course, the Justice Department, was that these illegal actions required – activities required action. And we’re hopeful that we can maintain a dialogue with China about cyber security and a range of other issues.
QUESTION: Well, okay. So you’re hopeful that you can maintain a dialogue. The Chinese have canceled it – suspended the working group, so that’s not happening. The Chinese and the Russians put out a joint statement today about Ukraine, which has certainly got to be disappointing to you, since you were hoping to exploit what was – what some people perceived to be as a rift between the Chinese and the Russians.
I just don’t understand how someone in this building didn’t say to the Attorney General: This is incredibly shortsighted. If we must announce indictments of people that we know is going – that we know are going to infuriate the Chinese and make them less likely to cooperate, and at the same time we also know that we’re never going to prosecute them because the Chinese are never going to turn them over – I don’t understand how someone didn’t say: Wait, this is not a good idea; Putin is flying there right now; this is going to make the Chinese more willing to deal with him. And two, the S&ED is being – the Strategic and Economic Dialogue is being prepared right now. The Secretary and Secretary Lew are heading to China in six weeks. How is this not really shortsighted? Why not wait to announce these indictments, which you’re never going to be able to prosecute, until after at least the S&ED?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we expect China to understand that these are a handful of individuals who have broken the law and that’s why (inaudible).
QUESTION: Right. Well, given the fact that they’ve protested, that they’ve suspended this dialogue, and now they’re talking about military – there’ll be military – ramifications for military cooperation, do you – and they’ve hauled your ambassador in to be – to hear their complaints. The Chinese ambassador has come here to complain. How did it go?
MS. PSAKI: The views of the Chinese were shared with our ambassador and I’ll simply leave it at that.
QUESTION: And you still expect the Chinese are going to be cooperative with you after this?
MS. PSAKI: We believe there are a range of issues that we work closely together on.
Go ahead. Another one. Oh, sorry --
QUESTION: And you haven’t seen – so you haven’t – well, you haven’t seen any deterioration in the relationship since yesterday when this announcement was made?
MS. PSAKI: Again, Matt, we’ve seen the concerns they’ve expressed. We believe we have a relationship on a range of important economic, strategic security issues. And we’re looking forward to the S&ED.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: A follow up. So according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the U.S. Ambassador to China was summoned yesterday, after the announcement of indictment. And according to the statement about this meeting – it says the U.S. has long been involved in cyber security activities, including against China. And the U.S. – and the Chinese Government demands the U.S. Government to make a clear explanation about what it has done and immediately stop such activities. So I wonder, are you considering kind of making explanations? And how will you deal with these demands?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I would reiterate what I said yesterday, which is that we expect the Chinese Government to understand that yesterday’s announcement relates to a law enforcement investigation of individuals who have stolen intellectual property from United States businesses. And there are a range of senior officials who have spoken to this from the United States Government, and I would leave it at their comments.
QUESTION: As you already mentioned, I – we understood this case is mainly handled by the DOJ.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But obviously we can see that the elements of Sino-U.S. relations are deeply involved in this case. So in this case, which is in your field, of course, so will you work with DOJ? Will you communicate with DOJ about this case? And so also, besides conducting dialogue with the Chinese Government, will you make other efforts to solve this problem?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a law enforcement action. As I stated a few minutes ago, we received advanced notice of the law enforcement action given the role the United States routinely approaches – plays in approaching foreign governments prior to unsealing indictments.
Again, we have a range of means of communicating with the Chinese, and we expect those will continue.
QUESTION: As we know, there is a – the Chinese Government wants you guys to withdraw the indictment. So you said that dialogue is very important with the Chinese Government, but in these dialogues, how will you address this issue? How will negotiate with them? What’s your direction? You are trying to withdraw this case or persuade the Chinese Government --
MS. PSAKI: Again, it’s a DOG action --
QUESTION: -- to bring people back to the States?
MS. PSAKI: Sorry – DOJ action. DOJ action. It’s consistent with the statements that the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, and many across the Administration have made about our concerns. We believe dialogue is the best path to continuing our relationship, and so we’re – we expect that will continue.
QUESTION: Also I wonder: Have you talked with the Chinese Government since yesterday, communicated with --
MS. PSAKI: Since yesterday? Obviously, we have a large embassy presence on the ground. As you know, the ambassador himself was speaking with the Chinese Government. So yes, we have been in touch with them.
QUESTION: Can I just you very --
QUESTION: Any details about the dialogue? Any details about --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details. No, I’m not going to read those out.
QUESTION: Very briefly, do you know – did anyone from this building suggest to DOJ that the timing of this was not – might not be appropriate? Do you know?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to read out any internal deliberations or discussions, Matt.
QUESTION: Okay. Because the impression that you’re leaving, and maybe you intend to leave it, is that the State Department was fully on board with this, knowing the kind of reaction that it would provoke from the Chinese, knowing that the president of Russia who you’re involved in a huge debacle with over Ukraine was going there and knowing that you have – were in the midst of very important preparations for the Security and Economic Dialogue. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, those were pieces that you stated, not me.
QUESTION: Well, those are just facts.
MS. PSAKI: I said they were consistent – this action was consistent with comments we’ve made and concerns we’ve expressed.
QUESTION: Well, I understand that. But no one in this building thought that it might be better for the Department of Justice, if they were going to go ahead with this at some point and issue indictments that they’re never going to be prosecuted, that they might wait? There was no suggestion like that?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get into internal deliberations.
QUESTION: The problem is – I understand that you don’t want to get into internal deliberations. I think that you’re gamely taking the heat here. But if there’s something else going on behind the scenes, it would be very helpful to know, because it just looks like what I said before. I mean, it looks like an epic failure – or an – not an epic failure but an epic mistake in terms of timing. It seems to have not accomplished anything, and in fact, made the situation worse.
MS. PSAKI: I think it – again, it was an action taken by the Department of Justice that’s consistent with the concerns we’ve expressed.
QUESTION: Jen, do you see the dialogue going ahead?
MS. PSAKI: The S&ED? Yes, absolutely.
Do we – more on China? Or another topic?
QUESTION: No, another country.
QUESTION: I have one.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, one more on China. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, on President Putin’s trip to China. And at the same time that China and Russia is having a military exercise in East China Sea, and it is reported that it is the first time – it’s in East China Sea. Do you have some comment? And it is reported that this exercise is a kind of reaction against President Obama’s Asian trip and rebalance to Asia. And I’m just wondering, how do you comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that. Obviously, as I stated a few minutes ago, we believe Russia should seek to establish good relations with all of its neighbors. I would note that they issued a joint statement, and in that statement they called on all states to not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. And in that spirit, we again would call for Russia to stop its efforts to destabilize Ukraine.
QUESTION: Yes, on (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: China?
QUESTION: Yes, on China. You referenced this earlier, but leaders across Asia are meeting for what’s called the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia. Do you have any comments on that conference?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any particular comment. No, I think it’s a conference that many Asian countries – obviously, President Putin is attending, but I would point you to the attendees and the host for any specifics on it.
QUESTION: So the Russian president will be participating, but he’ll be meeting with Xi Jinping. Are there any concerns that this could be used as an opportunity to isolate the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: Again, Russia should seek to establish good relations with all of its neighbors. Obviously, we have our own relationships with China and a range of countries in the region.
China, or a new topic? Go ahead.
QUESTION: A new topic.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to – considering you say that the dialogue would still – you’re still – it’s still likely to go ahead, do you think that this will – is that – that would be a good place to resolve these tensions? Is there any talk of maybe delaying that dialogue?
MS. PSAKI: There’s no talk of that at this point. And again, there’s a range of important issues that we work together with the Chinese on, whether it’s issues that fall in the rubric of this building or the Treasury Department. And we expect we can have a full agenda at the S&ED conference.
QUESTION: I have a China question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Surprisingly. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, I – what is so new about China conducting industrial espionage against the United States? Or have you reached the point where enough is enough? I mean, is that what it is? I mean --
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, we’ve --
QUESTION: -- have they not done that, like, for decades?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve consistently expressed our concern. So this is actually consistent with that. And this action by the Department of Justice is – relates to a handful of individuals who have violated the law.
QUESTION: (Off-mike) have a full agenda at the S&ED, does that mean you’re hoping the Chinese will change their mind on the cyber security --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’d certainly welcome that and we regret the decision they made. We think the discussion on cyber issues is important, of course.
QUESTION: I know. But right now, as of this moment right now, you expect that that – that there will be discussions on cyber security as part of the S&ED?
MS. PSAKI: That was on the original agenda.
QUESTION: I know, but --
MS. PSAKI: I understand. I can’t make a prediction about whether they will be open to it in the next six weeks, but certainly we’d support that.
QUESTION: Okay. But if it gets taken off the agenda, which it seems to have been already, that’s not – I mean, you’re still ready to go even if they won’t – even if they refuse to discuss this issue with you?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. And there are a range of ways that we can discuss a range of issues, including cyber security.
QUESTION: Okay. So – I just want to – from the U.S. point of view, this is not an S&ED breaker?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So you put out a statement very late yesterday hoping that --
MS. PSAKI: I apologize for that.
QUESTION: -- no problem – hoping that the martial law would be a temporary action. So did you receive guarantees from the Thai military that it would be a temporary action and that they would not stage a coup, given the pattern of coups in Thailand?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are of course following the situation closely. They – the army has stated publicly that it would be a temporary action. We expect them to abide by their commitment that this is a temporary action to prevent violence and to respect – and that they will respect democratic institutions. We have remained in regular communication with the military since the imposition of martial law and are continuing with pre-scheduled meetings. We’re also in touch with the government. We continue to urge the government to respect – to refrain from violence and respect human rights as well. We are encouraging all to do that, of course. So we’ve been in close touch. I think the key – our key focus here, as was in our statement, is encouraging calm, encouraging protection of civil liberties and freedom of speech and freedom of media – included in our statement was some concern expressed about that – and support for upcoming elections. Obviously, that’s up to Thailand to determine the next steps on that, but those are our principles in this case.
QUESTION: Have your concerns about freedom of the press and freedom of media – freedom of speech been addressed satisfactorily, or do you still have them 24 hour – or 24 hours --
MS. PSAKI: We still are gathering information, Matt. And so all of our concerns haven’t been alleviated, but we’re still looking at what’s happening on the ground.
QUESTION: Okay. So do you believe – do you regard the declaration of martial law and the army taking control of everything – do you believe that that constitutes a coup?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously the situation on the ground is very fluid. As you may know, martial law, the declaration of that is allowed for in the Thai constitution. But we’re certainly closely watching what’s happening on the ground and we’ll continue to make evaluations of what’s happening.
QUESTION: So the Administration’s position is that until something extra-constitutional happens, it’s not a coup?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m just stating what’s allowed for in the constitution, which I think is an important point --
QUESTION: Well, what’s allowed for doesn’t always – isn’t always good. What’s allowed for doesn’t always mean democracy, doesn’t always mean freedom of speech.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And clearly it – this doesn’t, because you have concerns about them. So I’m just wondering, though, is – does something, not even just with Thailand but in the case of any country, does it have to be outside of the constitution for you to decide whether or not it’s a coup, or are we going to go through this ridiculous exercise that we went through with Egypt where you guys basically contorted yourselves to avoid calling it a coup by deciding not to make a decision on whether it was or not?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t compare the two, and I’m not going to make a sweeping claim about how we look at each situation.
MS. PSAKI: We’re looking at Thailand individually. I’m not putting any names on anything. I’m just noting what’s allowed for in the constitution. And obviously the fact that the army has committed to a temporary action here – that this is a temporary action is an important component and one that we will continue to watch closely.
QUESTION: So that’s important, that they say that it’s temporary?
MS. PSAKI: And that they committed not to undermine democratic institutions.
QUESTION: Okay. And so there won’t be any kind of – you would have to wait – or you would wait before making any determinations on aid, whether or not this triggers any kind of – (inaudible) right now, none of those triggers have been pulled?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: But you don’t agree with Human Rights Watch who said this morning that the martial law is the de facto coup?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think I’ll stand by what I’ve stated in terms of what our views are of the situation on the ground. I don’t have much more to add to it other than to say that we believe all parties must work together to resolve differences through dialogue and find a way forward. This underscores the need for elections that determine – to determine the will of the Thai people. But clearly, it’s a very fluid situation on the ground. We’re watching it closely.
QUESTION: Back to --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, did you have more on Thailand, or we’re moving on to the next?
QUESTION: Next one, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Libya. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have a clearer situation today than you did yesterday about this – what’s going on in Libya?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. One moment. Did you have a specific question, Said?
QUESTION: I have a specific – yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you consider the action done by General Khelifa Hiftar to be a coup, a military coup? And are you in a way supporting what he’s doing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say we – and this was a question yesterday, so if you don’t mind I address it proactively.
MS. PSAKI: We have not had contact with him recently. We did not condone or support the actions on the ground, and nor have we assisted with these actions. So we are continuing to call on all parties to refrain from violence and to seek resolution through peaceful means. There are a range of mechanisms to do that through the international community. We’ve been in touch with, of course, the interim government there. David Satterfield was just on the ground. He’s back in Washington now, but he had a range of meetings while he was there. And we’re still gathering information on what is also a very fluid situation, and we’re focused on helping to resolve the differences on the ground.
QUESTION: Now, the head of the parliament, Mr. Nouri Abu Sahmain called on militias to come to his defense, actually militant extremist militias in fighting the Libyan army. Do you have any position on that, or --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have, of course, been watching closely what’s been happening over the last two – couple of days, I should say. We have some concern about the gathering of support on the ground. Again, it’s a fluid situation we’re watching closely. Many of Libya’s challenges do require dialogue. We think that is the best means forward. I’d remind you there – they’ve gone through quite a transition over the last several years. We remain committed to supporting that, as is evidenced by the meeting the Secretary had last week and continuing efforts by the United States, the United Kingdom, a range of countries, to support Libya’s transition moving forward.
QUESTION: Okay. But General Khelifa insists that he’s fighting extremists, people that – militias and so on that are tied to al-Qaida in many ways or tribal feuds and all these things. And he claims to have contact either with Egypt and possibly the Europeans or you even – or he, in fact, envisions a role where AFRICOM can actually step in and give him some aid. Do you dispute any of that?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think I spoke to our contact – or lack of contact, and I’d point you to other countries.
Let’s go to – a few more. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On the general and former Falls Church resident, does the United States support him?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just stated pretty clearly we don’t condone or support his activities in or assist – nor have we assisted with his actions.
MS. PSAKI: Has the security posture? Well --
QUESTION: At the Embassy.
MS. PSAKI: -- as you know, Lucas – and I could give you a book of these – we regular update – regularly update our security posture and we put information out to make that public to American citizens. And so I can’t account for you every time that that has been updated, but certainly we do that on a regular basis.
QUESTION: And does update mean changed?
MS. PSAKI: Well certainly update means that new information that’s available we make available to American citizens.
QUESTION: And so has the security posture changed at the Embassy?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’d point you to the range of public announcements we’ve made over the last almost two years.
QUESTION: And how many people does the United States have at the Embassy in Tripoli?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t confirm those type of details for obvious reasons.
QUESTION: Jen, within your portfolio, do you – can you be more specific about when – you said you haven’t had any recent contact with him. How recent is recent? Does that mean that Satterfield, while he was there over the – he was there for three days? Over the course of the – that he didn’t have any contact with him?
MS. PSAKI: No. Correct, no.
QUESTION: Do you know when the last time there was contact?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure we’re going to get into that level of detail, but certainly recent --
QUESTION: Well, prior to – I don’t know, prior to two weeks, three weeks ago?
MS. PSAKI: I think prior to – I think it’s prior to that, yes. But I’m not going to get into any greater level of detail.
QUESTION: All right. And then one last one. This is – this has to do with Benghazi. I just want to know, has the subpoena issue with Congressman Issa been resolved now, since the war of words last week?
MS. PSAKI: It has not yet been resolved. We continue to have discussions, and obviously there are discussions on Capitol Hill as well.
QUESTION: At the moment does the Secretary plan to respond to the subpoena and appear at the hearing on the 29th that’s scheduled?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing’s changed since our statement we put out last week. We’re obviously working with the Hill and working internally to determine what the best way to be responsive to their request is.
QUESTION: Okay. But that – but your response last week didn’t say whether he would do it or not. It just said you thought that there might be a more appropriate witness, so --
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed since then.
QUESTION: Okay. So basically he hasn’t – there’s not been a decision about whether he or someone else will go?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Jen --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- are you going to support General Hiftar’s actions since he’s fighting terrorism, as he says?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have much more to add.
Do we – go ahead.
QUESTION: One more on the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli. Any update? Are you planning to evacuate the --
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed since what I said yesterday.
QUESTION: On --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Oh, we’ll go to you and Samir next. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary asked him to travel with him last week, and he has obviously – as you know, has an extensive background as a foreign diplomat. And so he traveled to Libya in – as a private citizen to help build political consensus at this challenging time. And obviously, he sat in with him during the meeting with the Quint last week.
QUESTION: Sorry. The Secretary traveled – you mean he --
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary asked him – sorry, I did that a little out of order.
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary asked him to join him on the trip to London last week --
MS. PSAKI: -- to sit in on the Quint meeting, and then he went afterwards to Libya.
QUESTION: Right. And you said that he’s now back in Washington.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: But is he not based in Rome?
MS. PSAKI: You are correct.
QUESTION: Is he here for --
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check exactly where he is. What I meant is that he is no longer in Libya.
QUESTION: Is no longer in Libya?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s fair.
QUESTION: Is he a special envoy to Libya now?
MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not giving him a title. He was there – as you know, his specific position is as Director-General of the Multinational Force and Observers, the MFO. So he’ll continue to fulfill his duties in that capacity. Jonathan Winer, who you also may know, visited Tripoli in February in his role as Special Coordinator for Libya and met with a variety of Libyan and international partners, and he’s working closely with Ambassador Satterfield and our NEA team.
QUESTION: So Ambassador Satterfield is actually not at the moment a State Department employee --
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: -- or a U.S. diplomat. He works with the Multinational Force, which is a UN --
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: -- organization.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Just to --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Leslie. Go ahead, Leslie. Go ahead. We’ll go in – oh, sorry, Libya? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Just to clarify this point – I mean, still U.S. Ambassador is there, right?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, Deborah Jones. She was out of the country – out of Libya for some prior scheduled travel, and so --
QUESTION: So when David Satterfield went there she was not there?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. It just happened to be that way because of her prior scheduled travel.
Go ahead, Leslie.
QUESTION: On Nigeria. The U.S. has assisted Nigeria in a request to have Boko Haram blacklisted under the UN Security Council’s Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee. Does this mean that the U.S. now thinks that Boko Haram is affiliated to – with al-Qaida?
MS. PSAKI: We have been working closely with Nigeria and a range of other countries on UN sanctions, including by sharing information and evidence. Obviously, this is a UN-led process, and it’s ongoing. And I’m not going to predict for all of you what the outcome will be or read it out any further.
We have – while we don’t regard Boko Harm and continue – don’t – still regard Boko Haram as part of core al-Qaida, we have indications and have long had, I think with evidence in our – was included in our past fact sheets – indications of some limited assistance to Boko Haram from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, including funds and training. And that’s long been – that’s not a new finding. It’s just long – long been our view for some time.
QUESTION: So yesterday when you mentioned that there is no connection – there was no connection to core al-Qaida, not an affiliate?
MS. PSAKI: It was – they’re not an affiliate, correct. But there is connection in the sense that there are – there’s evidence in the past of assistance and funding.
QUESTION: And in the last few days we’ve heard from both the FBI director and Senator Feinstein. They’ve said that al-Qaida has metastasized. Does Secretary Kerry share that view?
MS. PSAKI: I think our view has long been, Lucas, that while core al-Qaida has been decimated, we’ve been concerned about affiliates or the growth of some of those around the world. I don’t think we’ve made any secret of that. And so it’s an issue that we continue to work on and we work on through the interagency in a – with a range of our partners around the world.
QUESTION: But does Secretary Kerry share the views of the FBI director and Senator Feinstein?
MS. PSAKI: He hasn’t spoken to it in that capacity, so I’ll leave it at what the Secretary has said about it.
MS. PSAKI: Sudan. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Jen – and as you mentioned some of this yesterday that the concern that the White House has expressed about this terrible case of Meriam Ibrahim who was sentenced to flogging and hanging. Apart from that White House statement, I’m wondering if you have any update on the letter that was sent by Senators Blunt and Ayotte to Secretary Kerry specifically asking for asylum to be considered and possibly granted. Is that under review?
MS. PSAKI: I’m aware of the letter. I’m not sure if we’ve received it yet. Sometimes it’s announced before it’s received, as you know. DHS would have oversight of that. Of course, we don’t speculate on that; neither does DHS in terms of seekers or cases or anything along those lines. I will say, just since you gave me the opportunity, we are deeply disturbed, continue to be deeply disturbed by the decision by a Sudanese judge to sentence 27-year-old Meriam Ibrahim to death by hanging after she refused to recant her Christian faith and declare herself a Muslim. She was also sentenced to a hundred lashes for the charge of adultery. We call on the Government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, including one’s right to change one’s faith or beliefs, a right which is enshrined in international human rights law as well as in Sudan’s own 2005 interim constitution. We call on Sudanese legal authorities to approach this case with the compassion that is in keeping with the values of the Sudanese people.
QUESTION: Has this building been in contact with Sudanese authorities about this case?
MS. PSAKI: We have been closely monitoring, responding to events in this case. We have joined with the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands in expressing our concerns. I think they are clear on our concerns. I don’t have any specific readouts of direct contact, but we have been expressing our concerns in a broad means of manners.
QUESTION: Also on this letter that it’s unclear if it’s been received or not, but there is a specific call for Secretary Kerry to appoint an ambassador for religious freedom who would take up issues, I guess, of having to do with her being Christian and in the past having been Muslim. Is that something that’s being considered? Is there a reason the post isn’t filled right now?
MS. PSAKI: Oftentimes there’s a process that is underway to find the right person, and certainly it’s something the Secretary is committed to. I don’t have any prediction of the timing, but it is something we certainly will be filling.
QUESTION: So it’s already being done?
QUESTION: No one’s been nominated, right?
MS. PSAKI: No, I don’t believe so.
QUESTION: And sorry, just to tie this up. To be clear, when you said DHS would have authority on this, does that mean the letter – basically the letter was sent to the wrong building?
MS. PSAKI: Well, DHS, broadly speaking, has authority over asylum cases.
QUESTION: So the fact that the spouse is an American does not mean that consular rights or anything like that would be extended to her in this case?
MS. PSAKI: Broadly speaking, that’s not typically how it works. We have seen reports identifying him as a U.S. citizen. We don’t have any Privacy Act waiver, so I don’t have any more details I can share.
QUESTION: Broadly speaking then, and the concerns of members of Congress aside, are you – is this government in a position under any administration to offer and grant asylum to someone who’s in a foreign country’s prison? I mean, I just don’t understand how this would work. I mean, maybe DHS is the right place to ask, but it seems to me that members of Congress asking for this may be asking for something that’s just not possible to do. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d point you to DHS for the history here, but certainly this is a horrific case and that’s why everybody’s so concerned about it.
QUESTION: No, no. I understand that, and I mean, I guess the concern of these people in Congress is admirable. But getting up and saying that the United States should offer and grant asylum to someone who is not in your custody, I’m not – is that possible to do?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know the intricacies of the law on that front, Matt.
QUESTION: Is the – there is a law that governs asylum, right? It’s not – in fact, Congress wrote the law on how asylum can be granted, is that correct? It’s not like an executive decision?
MS. PSAKI: I believe so. And – but again --
MS. PSAKI: -- we don’t have jurisdiction over that.
So go ahead.
QUESTION: Regarding Sudan – back to Sudan. The main --
MS. PSAKI: South Sudan. Sudan or South Sudan?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Because you at the beginning of this briefing you mentioned the statement about 300 million --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and between the lines it was mentioned that it is hard to reach them. So how it’s going, this 300 million, to be materialized in real aid to the refugees, which is 1.3 million?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a multi-tiered strategy, and I would note also that today’s pledge of 291 million – so almost 300 million – brings U.S. assistance in fiscal year 2014 alone to more than 435 – 434 million to help people displaced inside South Sudan, as well as those who have fled to neighboring countries. And we’ve contributed the largest sum, to date, for humanitarian assistance to South Sudan. But the point you raised is an important one, in that unless aid organizations or international organizations have access to the areas where the aid – whether it’s food or other kinds of assistance – can be delivered, then it is challenging for it to be effective. And some assistance – some – has reached individuals in need but far from enough is getting through, and that is one of the reasons that Secretary Kerry and others have been working so hard on pushing for both sides to abide by the ceasefire and their agreement of just a couple of weeks ago.
QUESTION: So you believe that those steps were take – the political steps or diplomatic steps or means that were taken, that – become effective or not yet to settle the situation there?
MS. PSAKI: Can you say it one more time?
QUESTION: Okay. Sorry about that.
MS. PSAKI: No, no. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I mean, I will rephrase it.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, rephrase it.
QUESTION: Do you think that the efforts were done in the last few weeks or months – or weeks in particular – have any kind of impact on the situation there, or it’s just like fluid, as it is?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obstacles do remain related to the fighting or obstruction by armed groups. And those continue to present challenges. But clearly, ongoing dialogue, efforts to come to an agreement about the path forward – whether that is access to humanitarian assistance or it is the creation of a transitional governing body – we do think those are positive. But you have to abide by those and implement them. And so that’s what we’re working on right now as well as efforts with the Security Council to renew and revise the mandate for UNMISS so it prioritizes three core activities, which is the protection of civilians, humanitarian rights monitoring investigations, and facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
MS. PSAKI: To Iraq? Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yes. Do you have any comment on the election result? It seems that his State of Law coalition got 92 seats. While it’s not a majority, it still – it gives Maliki an advantage to form the government again, because he’s trailed by the Sadrists and distant third is Hakim and so on. So would you support him in his effort to get a third term?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we welcome the release of provisional election results by Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission – IHEC – and congratulate IHEC, the Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi people, candidates and coalitions for carrying out a well-organized and credible election. It is clear that the Iraqi people care about having a say in who governs them. Even faced with the real threat of terrorist violence, the Iraqi people courageously marched to the polls in significant numbers to decide Iraq’s future.
Given the challenges confronting Iraq, our focus is really on encouraging a new government and its leaders to seek to unite the country through the formation of a new government that is supported by all Iraqi communities, and is prepared to advance tangible and implementable progress. And obviously it’s up to the Iraqi people to determine their leadership, and there’s a process that needs to be seen through on that front on the ground.
QUESTION: So you have no objection to a Maliki third term, although he’s promised American officials in the past that he would not run or seek a third term?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it is too soon to speculate on the formation of a new government. Obviously, that is a process that is underway. We expect that Iraq’s political blocs will now enter into negotiations to determine the next Iraqi government. And again, we believe it’s essential that new leaders are – or leaders in the next government are able to secure support from all communities and unify the country.
MS. PSAKI: On Iraq or another topic?
MS. PSAKI: Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Well --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to follow up from my question yesterday about these journalists who were detained --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- from Life TV.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: And now apparently there’s been a British reporter who’s been detained by the Kyiv authorities, or at least people who are acting on their – who are apparently acting on their behalf. Do you have anything to say about that? Have you been in contact with the authorities there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we would condemn, of course, the unlawful detention of journalists in any capacity. I will say on the specific – I don’t have any details on the new report of the British journalist, so I’ll have to look into that, Matt, for you. But the question you asked yesterday – the Ukrainian security services, according to reports, detained a number of individuals who were in possession of fake journalist credentials issued by the nonexistent Donetsk People’s Republic. Reportedly, they were carrying man-portable anti-aircraft missiles in the trunks of their cars at the time of their detention. So I haven’t looked in your trunk lately, but I think it’s unlikely you have those in there. And certainly that raises some questions --
QUESTION: Well, wouldn’t you like to know?
MS. PSAKI: -- about these individuals and whether they were actually journalists.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that these guys who were detained from the Life TV had MANPADS in the trunk of their car or that – and that you know that?
MS. PSAKI: These are according to reports and our conversations with Ukrainians on the ground.
QUESTION: So whose conversations with Ukrainians on the --
MS. PSAKI: The United States, yes.
QUESTION: So you have raised the issue of these guys with the Ukrainian authorities and they have come back and told you that we arrested them or we detained them because they had weapons in the trunk of their car?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of reports that have been going on on the ground as well, including I believe U.S. journalists who have been reporting about this on the ground, about these individuals and what they were carrying with them, which certainly raises the question as to who they are.
QUESTION: Well, okay, maybe. I mean, possibly yes, I guess it does. But the question is whether or not you, the U.S. Government, is relying on reports from outside or whether the Ukrainian authorities have specifically told you that this is why they were detained, that they were carrying – that they were carrying – that they had MANPADS in the trunk of their car.
MS. PSAKI: This is from our team on the ground, who is certainly in touch with Ukrainian authorities.
QUESTION: And they believe that these reports, that they were carrying weapons and had – I’m not sure – that they were carrying weapons are credible?
MS. PSAKI: They – that is their understanding. Yes.
QUESTION: So you believe that these people who have been detained are not necessarily journalists?
MS. PSAKI: I think it certainly raises that question. Yes.
QUESTION: Does that – okay. Are you – is there any – is the United States asking for clarification on whether they are or not or whether – well, whether they are actually bona fide journalists? And if they are, you would call then for their immediate release?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. But our focus is more on calling --
QUESTION: I understand.
MS. PSAKI: -- continuing to press on the release of the international and Ukrainian journalists who have been detained by Russian separatists, and many for weeks, if not longer.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just one more thing on this: You said that they were in possession of fake press – journalist credentials from the so-called People’s – whatever – from where was it?
MS. PSAKI: The Donetsk People’s Republic.
QUESTION: Okay. Is that --
MS. PSAKI: Nonexistent Donetsk People’s Republic, self-proclaimed.
QUESTION: Well, but you – yeah, but you guys did it – Crimea, you don’t accept that either. But is that, in itself, a reason for – a reasonable reason to detain someone, that they had press credentials from – I mean, a lot of times in areas of conflict people have press credentials that are written out by the neighborhood militia, who you guys wouldn’t consider to be a legitimate authority. I mean, it’s the weapons that is the --
MS. PSAKI: I think, Matt, that it’s relevant information. And obviously I’d refer you to the Government of Ukraine on more details on these individuals and why they were detained. But I think these pieces and the context is obviously relevant information.
QUESTION: Do you know if the Russian Government has contacted you about this case?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check into that. Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Excuse me.
MS. PSAKI: But I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Yeah. Is it --
QUESTION: Can I just go back to Libya for just one (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: When you said that you had not had recent contact with General Hiftar and that you did not – that you do not condone or support the recent actions on the ground, you were – I would just want to close the loop – make sure that you were referring to the attack on the Libyan parliament building on Sunday that was claimed by forces loyal to him and also the violence in Benghazi, in which some 70 people died. Correct?
MS. PSAKI: The events over the last couple of days, which is what people are asking about, yeah.
QUESTION: Those two – yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Ukraine?
QUESTION: Do you – yes. Do you rule out – just a follow-up on Matt’s questions – do you rule out the possibility that it’s the reporting that they do and the outlet that they – they’re affiliated with, that’s what got them detained?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the information I just outlined, including their – the fact that they were apparently carrying man-portable aircraft missiles in their trunk I think is relevant information to consider, so --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Ukraine?
QUESTION: I have general question regarding the elections in the coming days. Is there any official U.S. team or observers are going to participate and watch what’s going on there?
MS. PSAKI: So the OSCE’s election monitoring agency, ODIHR, has already deployed 100 long-term observers to Ukraine and an additional 900 short-term observers arrived today – I believe today’s May 20th, yes, okay – which will be the largest monitoring mission in ODIHR’s – in their organization’s history.
The United States will provide approximately one-tenth of the observers. So these 1,000 observers will be joined by more than 100 members of the OSCE parliamentary assembly, including some members of Congress – those are members from the Helsinki Commission of the U.S. Congress. And these election observers will complement the work of thousands of Ukraine-based workers. In addition, we’ve also provided a total of $11.4 million to support free and fair elections in Ukraine, and that goes to a range of activities on the ground.
Some of you asked yesterday – I acquired a few more statistics that I thought might be useful in terms of the preparations for the elections. Of the 213 district election commissions nationwide, according to the Central Election Commission today, 11 district election commissions in Donetsk and Luhansk have closed where pro-Russian militants are threatening local election workers, raiding election offices, and stealing election equipment. But even in Donetsk and Luhansk, this means 23 of 34 district election commissions are functioning despite the difficult environment.
In addition, the Ukrainian Government has established – and that number, 213, of course, does not include Crimea, to Matt’s question yesterday. The Ukrainian Government has established alternative voting arrangements for residents of Crimea and the town of Slovyansk to allow individuals to cast their vote. So individuals in Crimea can cast their vote in mainland Ukraine; individuals in Slovyansk can cast their vote just outside of town as well. So they’re taking every step possible to ensure people can vote.
QUESTION: So you believe that even with the 11 election offices closed that they could still have a bona fide – a credible election?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. And the OSCE and NDI have both done reports to that point in terms of preparations.
MS. PSAKI: Jordan, okay.
QUESTION: Yes. The King of Jordan is visiting.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Could you update us on what’s going on with the meetings and what is he discussing?
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary is meeting with him later this afternoon. They’ll discuss a range of issues including the ongoing crisis in Syria, and I’m sure we’ll be able to do a short readout after the meeting.
QUESTION: Okay. Will there --
MS. PSAKI: Lucas --
QUESTION: Was there a dinner last night?
MS. PSAKI: Did they have a dinner --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) dinner with the --
MS. PSAKI: -- with the Secretary?
MS. PSAKI: No. The Secretary isn’t attending a dinner. I’m not sure what the King of Jordan’s plans are, but – go ahead.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: Pakistan?
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Jen, as you no doubt saw, the White House and CIA have released various documents concerning the use or non-use of vaccination programs, which naturally leads to the Dr. Afridi case. I was wondering if you had an update on his situation and his condition.
MS. PSAKI: I believe I do have something on this, Lucas. One moment. We remain concerned – and I think you’re referring to, just so everybody is aware of the announcement of the letter that’s been sent by the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security to deans of 12 schools of public health. We remain concerned about Dr. Afridi’s case. We have clearly communicated our position, as we consistently have, to Pakistan, both in public and in private. We continue to raise this issue at the highest levels during discussions with Pakistan’s leadership. Our position has long been clear and has not changed. We believe his treatment is unjust and unwarranted. We regret that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence.
QUESTION: When was the last time that U.S. diplomats have been in contact with the Pakistan Government over this?
MS. PSAKI: Over this issue? I’d have to check. Obviously, we are in close – very close touch on the ground have an Embassy – not just an Embassy, but several consulates in Pakistan. So I’ll check and see if there’s something more specific on that front.
QUESTION: Jen, on the meeting with – between Secretary Kerry and King Abdullah, you mentioned that they will discuss Syria. There is no discussion on the peace process, or it’s not on the table anymore?
MS. PSAKI: I’m certain they’ll discuss a range of issues, and they’re in regular contact, so we’ll do a readout after the meeting so you’re all aware of what they talked about.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have a response to that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: And then I have another one about this shooting.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, we have seen similar statements to Minister Bennett’s. We’ve seen them in the past. They don’t reflect the position of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government. Our position is clear. Final status issues including borders can only be resolved through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and obviously we believe that’s the proper place for addressing them.
QUESTION: So if there was a movement to go ahead within – even within the government, you would tell the Prime Minister that you think that this is a bad idea? Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve stated that. But it also doesn’t reflect his view, either, so --
MS. PSAKI: Prime Minister Netanyahu.
QUESTION: Oh, Netanyahu. Okay. Now, the other one is – there’s this video footage that surfaced yesterday, and more to the point today, showing what appears to be snipers shooting and fatally wounding two Palestinian teenagers. Have you seen this video? If you have, do you – have you talked to the Israelis about it? What’s your reaction?
MS. PSAKI: We are closely following this incident in the video. We’re seeking additional information from the Government of Israel, so we certainly have been in touch. We look to the Government of Israel to conduct a prompt and transparent investigation to determine the facts surrounding this incident, including whether or not the use of force was proportional to the threat posed by the demonstrators. We express, of course, our condolences to the families of those deceased and urge all parties to exercise restraint.
QUESTION: Judging from what you have seen on this video, was the response proportional to the threat?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to make an evaluation on that from here. We are encouraging the Government of Israel to conduct their own investigation.
QUESTION: Do you – what have the Israelis told you in response to your query? That they’re – that they are investigating?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other update. I can check and see if there’s more a response from their end.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to – people have looked at the video, right?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you all have any reason to believe that it was edited in some way to make it appear different than the actual reality on the ground?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Matt. But obviously, an investigation is the right step in this process.
QUESTION: Okay. And then one more that’s just kind of related to this, and also on journalists --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have you seen that there was a – reports or claims that an Israeli journalist was roughed up, nearly lynched by Palestinians in the same kind of – around this same area? Have you seen those?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen that. Obviously, that would raise serious concerns. But let me look into it more closely with our team.
MS. PSAKI: Said.
QUESTION: The British Government is establishing a legal office for the Palestinians in Jerusalem for recourse on issues such as this that concern – are you – do you have any plans to do the same thing, to emulate the British and perhaps provide the Palestinians with some legal aid when they need it?
MS. PSAKI: We provide the Palestinians a range of assistance. I’m not aware of anything new and I don’t have anything new to announce.
QUESTION: Okay. Following up on yesterday’s discussion regarding the government: Do you have any more information regarding accepting a government, a coalition government that includes Hamas if they do accept the Quartet principles?
MS. PSAKI: Again, the announcement was the creation of an interim government of independent technocrats. Obviously, we don’t have the details at this point. Abiding by the Quartet principles has long been our view – or our requirement. So we’ll base our assessment on – when we have more information.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:42 p.m.)
DPB # 89