1:23 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Sorry we’re a little late. A couple of things for you at the top.
First, as you all know, Secretary Kerry is in Mexico City today to discuss expanding trade and economic growth, increasing higher education collaboration, and our continuing security cooperation. While in Mexico City, the Secretary will also follow up on President Obama’s February discussions during the North American Leaders’ Summit regarding our North American and global partnership. He has meetings with Foreign Minister – Foreign Secretary Meade and the education secretary where they will all – and they will all attend the Joint Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation, and Research. He will also meet with President Pena Nieto. Tonight, the Secretary will meet with Embassy Mexico City employees and their families. He will attend the launch of the Clean Tech Challenge and the U.S.-Mexico CEO dialogue.
I wanted to give just a few more statistics. Obviously, our economic relationship with Mexico is a big part of the discussion and a big part of what the focus of the visit is. In 2013, two-way goods and services trade between the United States and Mexico reached 559 billion. That adds up to over 1.5 billion daily, supporting jobs in states throughout both countries. Mexico has become our second-largest export market and third-largest trading partner. We sell more to Mexico than we do to Brazil, Russia, India, and China combined. And millions of Mexican and U.S. jobs in states all over both countries depend on this economic partnership. So with that, I know the Secretary will have a press avail this afternoon; I’m sure he’ll speak to it.
One more update for all of you. We issued a new Travel Warning for North Korea just yesterday and I just wanted to highlight that for you. The protection of U.S. citizens overseas is one of the Department of State’s highest priorities. We updated the November 20 – November 19th, 2013 Travel Warning for North Korea to warn U.S. citizens of the risk of arbitrary arrests and detention in North Korea. We strongly recommend against all travel by United States citizens to North Korea. In the past 18 months, North Korea has detained U.S. citizens who are part of organized tours. U.S. citizens should not assume that joining a group tour or using a tour guide would protect them from being detained or arrested by North Korean authorities.
And I have some special guests in the back. My dad is back for a return visit to the briefing, I will say, as well as my stepmother Josiane. So I’m glad they’re here today.
QUESTION: Brave, brave souls.
MS. PSAKI: Brave souls. They read all of your work closely, so keep them --
QUESTION: But they’re not going to travel to North Korea now, obviously.
MS. PSAKI: They are not. No plans to.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you about that because you brought it up, and I also have one question on Mexico.
MS. PSAKI: The North Korea Travel Warning?
QUESTION: Yeah, was there some specific incident or – the November one was changed because, if I recall correctly, there had been an incident in which this guy was taken off a plane.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a six-month update, and so, obviously, relevant --
QUESTION: All right, so there wasn’t --
MS. PSAKI: -- information that’s happened in that time is included.
QUESTION: But you’re not aware of any other American – in the last – recently being taken into custody that would – there’s no incident that this is based on – this is just --
MS. PSAKI: Based on the last six months.
QUESTION: Have there been any others?
MS. PSAKI: Well, no, there have been the reports that you all are aware of. But obviously we take all of that into account when updating these warnings.
QUESTION: On that, could I just ask if there’s news about Matthew Miller, I believe his name may have been – the one who hadn’t signed a Privacy Act so we couldn’t have any information about it. Are you able to give us anything on him now? And has he – have the Swedish Embassy staff been able to get in touch with him, visit him?
MS. PSAKI: I have no new information on those reports.
QUESTION: So that would have been included in --
MS. PSAKI: Those reports? Yes.
QUESTION: Have we gotten to the point where the Privacy Act waiver is going to prevent you from saying that his being taken into detention is going to – is not --
MS. PSAKI: We obviously take into account --
QUESTION: -- is not a reason for the new Travel Warning?
MS. PSAKI: -- a range of reports, Matt. That is reflected, and that is why we wanted to highlight it here today.
MS. PSAKI: We sell more to Mexico, so we export more --
QUESTION: Than --
MS. PSAKI: -- than we do to Brazil, Russia, India, China, and China combined.
QUESTION: Okay. That’s a very interesting --
MS. PSAKI: It is. That’s why I shared it with all of you.
QUESTION: Well, I know, but how about South Africa? Can they be put in there too? (Laughter.) Does it still work?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a --
QUESTION: Does it still work if South Africa – all the BRICS are included?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have the specific numbers in front of me, Matt.
MS. PSAKI: But I thought it was an interesting statistic.
QUESTION: It would be even more interesting if it was all the BRICS.
MS. PSAKI: People are – don’t – they are not focused enough on our important economic relationship with Mexico.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: There was a report yesterday, which I believe you’ve seen, that that State Department denied visas or did not act on visas for a bunch of Chinese scientists who were supposed to attend a space – some kind of a space – outer space conference in Colorado last week. The – according to the report, the president of this – the CEO of the group that was organizing this, the Space Foundation, said that this was – that you didn’t do it because you knew of these pending indictments from the Justice Department and that is the reason why.
Can you say, without getting into anything that would violate visa confidentiality, whether or not this report is correct, that the visas were denied or simply not acted on? And secondly, if it’s true, was it related, in fact, to the indictments being announced?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the visa law and limitations do significantly tie my hands. As you know, these records are confidential and we can’t confirm details about these applications. But what I can say, broadly, is that millions of people from China apply for visas to the United States every single year, and I would caution anyone from drawing a connection between two events related to our relationship with China, even though chronologically they may appear to have taken place in the same timeframe.
QUESTION: The two events here you’re talking about are the denial of visas and the announcement of the indictments?
MS. PSAKI: Right, because visas are adjudicated on an individual basis. There’s a range of criteria, as you know.
QUESTION: Now, have you all made a formal request to the Chinese for them to turn over these five indictees?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Department of Justice for any formal steps in the Department of Justice law enforcement process.
QUESTION: So more broadly, in the absence of an extradition treaty with a country, is it the Justice Department that does this on its own? It doesn’t go through State? Is that what you’re saying?
MS. PSAKI: There is obviously an interagency process for a range of these steps, but I don’t have that level of detail. They’re the lead, so they’re still the appropriate place to inquire.
QUESTION: In a case of a normal extradition request, am I not correct in thinking that you are the transmitter of that request? It starts at Justice, they give it to you, and then you go to the foreign ministry or wherever --
MS. PSAKI: That’s my understanding, but --
QUESTION: Is that not the case in this situation since there’s no extradition treaty?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional information, and as you know, in normal cases we also don’t discuss the specific timing of those steps, so --
QUESTION: Unless it’s Manuel Noriega.
MS. PSAKI: There are exceptions to every rule.
QUESTION: Exactly. Well, so I thought I’d ask is --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Could you make an exception in this rule? And the other thing is: Have you contacted Interpol on behalf of the Justice Department about --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other detail. Again, I don’t expect we will. I’m happy to circle back and see if there’s anything more we can share on those steps.
QUESTION: Can I ask --
MS. PSAKI: On China?
QUESTION: Yeah, on China.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You probably saw today that Putin has signed and China have signed a large $400 billion gas deal at a time when the U.S. and the West is trying to put a squeeze on Russia regarding Ukraine. Is this in any way – I mean, he doesn’t – you can put as many sanctions on him as you want to. A $400 billion gas deal is pretty lucrative at this time. Does this in any affect your strategy on how you’re going to influence him in any way?
MS. PSAKI: It does not. Russia and China, as many of you know, have been negotiating for more than a decade about a natural gas deal. I know there have been a range of reports about whether it’s been locked in or hasn’t been locked in, and so obviously I don’t have any conformation of what the specifics are. But energy is a global market. There are always new deals getting signed, particularly with major consumers and producers like China and Russia, and so we will continue to pursue our strategy as it relates to putting pressure on Russia.
QUESTION: So even if you put sectoral sanctions on Russia, I mean, they could still go ahead with this and Russia could be fine.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it depends on what those look like. And obviously, I don’t want to speculate on that given that decision hasn’t yet been made.
QUESTION: Do you think it’s the right moment to – for China to make this agreement, Gazprom agreement? Is this --
MS. PSAKI: Again, energy is a global market and there are negotiations about deals happening all over the world, especially between major consumers and major producers and that looks like – it looks like the discussion was about exactly that. Again, I don’t know the specifics of what’s been finalized or not between the two countries.
QUESTION: Is it safe to say that the development makes it even safer to say that China is not cooperating with the United States in the effort to affect Putin’s calculus vis-a-vis Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: It is not. Our view is, again, that there are – these negotiations have been going on for about 10 years, and certainly there are decisions that China needs to make, many countries make, based on their economic needs, their energy needs. But they continue – as you know, they signed a joint statement yesterday about intervention, and so we’re hopeful that the Russians will follow through with that.
QUESTION: So since money is fungible, isn’t it safe to say, though, that a deal like this, which is going to pump all kinds of money into Kremlin coffers, serves to offset the impact of the sanctions that the U.S. and its European allies have ben imposing? Isn’t that indisputable?
MS. PSAKI: Well, James, I’m not an economist and I’m not aware that you are either, although who knows? And I think we’ve already seen from --
QUESTION: One of your many talents.
MS. PSAKI: One of his many hidden talents. That’s his next book coming out. But --
QUESTION: My talents are not so hidden, but let’s proceed.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. What we have seen by the economic consequences we’ve already put in place, that even with a range of individuals and financial entities we’ve seen a dramatic impact on the Russian economy. So whether this specific deal, if there is a deal, would impact, I don’t think we’re prepared to jump to that conclusion. We still believe we have a range of tools at our disposal. The executive orders the President has signed has given us those, and we’re prepared to put in place consequences if needed, as the Vice President said just yesterday.
QUESTION: Is it a welcome development?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think it’s not a development that we are spending a great deal of time focusing on. We believe that there are deals that countries have been negotiating around the world for years, and in this case a decade. It’s a global market and we’ll continue to work toward our goals as it relates to our relationship with China and our concerns about Russia.
QUESTION: Slightly different --
QUESTION: Still on Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Well, I have a --
QUESTION: Well, if we can just say with that.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, it’s just more broadly, though, are you at all – is the administration at all concerned about this – what appears to be a growing closeness between the Chinese and the Russians at a time when you were hoping to exploit what had appeared to be a rift over the situation in Ukraine, specifically regarding Crimea, with the Chinese abstention in the Security Council?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, our view is that there are global relationships that many countries have – Russia and China, the United States and Russia, the United States and China – and we – it is not a surprise to us that countries that are relative neighbors would be communicating about how to work together.
QUESTION: They are neighbors.
MS. PSAKI: Okay – neighbors – communicating about how to work together, whether that’s through an economic partnership or otherwise.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, you mentioned three relationships there: United States-Russia, United States-China, Russia-China.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Of those three, which one do you think is the most robust at the moment?
MS. PSAKI: I --
QUESTION: Which one is getting – which one is improving and which one is – which ones are not improving?
MS. PSAKI: I appreciate the opportunity to rank, which obviously I’m not going to take you up on. But --
QUESTION: Well, let’s put it this way.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: Well, actually, Matt, Kin Moy was just in China – he may actually still be there now – for planning discussions about the S&ED talks that we have upcoming that are a very important part of our strategic relationship with China.
QUESTION: I mean, it was an honest question. Can you say – is that an improvement in relations or is the suspension of the cyber working group, which of course this is all about, is that problematic to you? And can you say that your relations with Russia are on a good footing right now?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s – we’ve clearly expressed our concerns about steps Russia has taken. But at the same time, we’re still working with them on a range of global priorities, whether that’s the P5+1 negotiations, continue to pressure on the Syrian regime as it relates to chemical weapons removal. And again, preparations are ongoing for the S&ED talks upcoming in July, and we had high-level personnel on the ground there in the last couple of days.
QUESTION: Okay. So you would say the Administration overall is pleased with Russian cooperation on Syria, or Russian cooperation on Syria only as it relates to chemical weapons?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’ve made a secret of our concerns as it relates to broad challenges, as with Syria and moving the ball forward, and Russia and the fact that they could do more. But we have been working together on CW removal and that continues.
QUESTION: How about the Chinese in the specific cases of Syria and Ukraine? Have they been – have they been helpful to what you believe is the correct path forward?
MS. PSAKI: You’re familiar with the last steps the Chinese took as it related to the UN Security Council vote, their broad views on intervention. There was a joint statement signed yesterday. So again, we work with a range of global partners, including China and Russia, on issues where we agree. We express concerns when we disagree, whether that’s through diplomatic steps, legal steps. There’s a range of tools we can use.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: How about Chinese cooperation on cyber? How much progress had you actually made since the launch of this cyber working group a year ago?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it was just launched a year ago, and clearly because this is a concern that the President, Secretary Kerry, others in the Administration have had growing concerns about. And there are a range of tools that we can use to make those concerns known. There are diplomatic tools; there are legal tools, obviously through the Justice Department. So this is evidence of our ongoing concern about the actions of China. But we believe dialogue is the right way to proceed forward, and we certainly hope that that is the path we can proceed down.
QUESTION: So would it be correct to surmise that you hadn’t made enough progress in the cyber working group, which is why you decided to go ahead with the --
MS. PSAKI: No, it’s not. It’s not. Dialogue and having this discussion with the Chinese is obviously an important part of our strategy given this is – there have been rising concerns over the last couple of years about cyber security. That was a mechanism for doing that. But these are individuals who broke law – broke the law by stealing U.S. trade secrets. And so it’s not one or the other. There are a range of paths that we’re pursuing and will continue to as it relates to this issue.
QUESTION: And did you give them a heads-up that it was coming?
QUESTION: Well, wait a minute.
MS. PSAKI: Hmm?
QUESTION: An indictment isn’t a conviction.
MS. PSAKI: Fair enough. Our lawyer in the house.
QUESTION: Did you give them --
QUESTION: One of his hidden talents. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Economist, lawyer, (inaudible) a doctor. (Laughter.)
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: I’m none of those things.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Did you give the Chinese authorities a heads-up that these indictments were coming then?
MS. PSAKI: We did. I talked about this a little bit yesterday. As part of our – we routinely approach foreign governments prior to unsealing indictments to request their assistance. And obviously the State Department is involved in communicating with foreign governments, and this case is no different.
QUESTION: But so you did request assistance.
MS. PSAKI: In terms of – as – in terms of dealing with the process moving forward, absolutely. Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, but such assistance, in this case, I mean, I can’t imagine it would be anything other than turning them over. Right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get into any greater level of detail.
QUESTION: Well, but assistance in this – would it be wrong to assume, even if you don’t want to say it, that when you asked for assistance, what you mean is, “Give us these guys to try”?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly when individuals are indicted, then our hope is that they will be turned over to face legal action. Yes.
QUESTION: And should we – is it safe to assume then that such a desire would be communicated to the Chinese --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to --
QUESTION: -- when you asked for assistance?
MS. PSAKI: -- get into any greater level of detail about our communications.
QUESTION: I have one on a China-related topic.
MS. PSAKI: China? Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. So during his keynote speech at the CICA summit, Xi Jinping said without acknowledging any specific countries that beefing up an entrenched military alliance aimed at a third party is not conducive to maintaining common security. And that echoes a sentiment recently expressed in an opinion piece published in Chinese state media that says that Asia is home of the Asians. So I wanted to know if you can respond to that, and do you think that there is a role for the U.S. in Asian security?
MS. PSAKI: I think most countries in Asia, including China, would say that there is. And so – and that’s an important part of the dialogue we have with a range of countries in Asia. So I think that ongoing dialogue answers your question.
Do we have any more on China? Lesley, go ahead.
QUESTION: I thought I should just double-check again that there’s – that the dialogue is still going ahead next --.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. We just – and let me get the specifics here because I mentioned it, but --
QUESTION: Any cyber security part of that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Chinese have made their own comments about that. But deputy – EAP Deputy Assistant Secretary Kin Moy just completed meetings in Beijing to discuss S&ED planning with his Chinese counterparts, and there’s a range of issues that will certainly be on the agenda this upcoming July.
QUESTION: Would you think that the tensions over the cyber security would be – that that would be a good place for you to raise them, even if the Chinese don’t want to?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it was planned to be on the agenda. We’re certainly open to it being on the agenda, but there are also a range of issues that can be discussed.
QUESTION: Or do you know, did the Chinese raise this issue in the talks that the deputy assistant secretary had?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional readout. I can check and see if there is more we would convey.
QUESTION: But did he report back to Washington that everything is going along just fine, and with the exception of this one working group?
MS. PSAKI: We are proceeding as planned as – in planning for the July S&ED talks.
QUESTION: Do you have a date, a precise date for those yet?
MS. PSAKI: I do not. We will wait to announce that, of course, with our friends over at the Treasury Department. I expect hopefully we’ll have more on that in the coming days.
QUESTION: Around July 32nd or 3rd?
MS. PSAKI: 32nd? Ha ha. (Laughter.) Got it.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. PSAKI: James, yes. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the outcome of the trial for Hosni Mubarak and his sons?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. We have seen the reports. We’re awaiting details of the specific ruling so I don’t have much to add at this point in time. I’m sure we’ll continue discussing this issue.
QUESTION: The State Department often comments on what it sees as the constitutionality or basic fairness of legal proceedings overseas.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And I wonder if the conduct of the Mubarak trial to date, absent your receipt of final details on the verdict, meets, to the eyes of the State Department, the basic standards of fairness.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to add today. As you know, we’ve expressed concerns in the past, not just about this case but about a range of court rulings in Egypt. And it’s one of the issues that we continue to press Egyptian officials when we have discussions with them.
QUESTION: The Egyptian elections are upcoming, and by all accounts it looks as though former General al-Sisi will likely be the winner. I’m not asking you to get engaged in the business of predicting elections, but this is a bit unusual as a circumstance, simply because he has served as the de facto ruler of Egypt since last July, at which time or shortly thereafter the United States suspended its deliveries of some weapons systems, as was well publicized.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is it presently the intention of the Obama Administration to resume those deliveries?
MS. PSAKI: The – so which specific piece, because there are so many different components of this? As you know, we just announced the certifications a couple of weeks ago. The other certifications, which I think is what you’re referring to, James, are related to Egypt taking steps to support a democratic transition. We’re continuing to evaluate those. Obviously, we’re not yet able to or we would be announcing it, to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition given the concerns about freedom of assembly, expression, press, and association, which we have spoken about frequently. So it’s not just about having an election. There are a number of other steps that we would require Egypt to take in order to make those certifications.
QUESTION: What has been the highest-ranking contact between the two governments lately that you can cite?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Secretary Kerry has actually had a couple of conversations with Foreign Minister Fahmy over the last couple of days about Libya, and I would point you to Secretary Hagel and his team about his conversations with al-Sisi in the past months. But Kerry – Secretary Kerry is in close contact with his counterpart.
QUESTION: From everything you’ve seen, does it appear that al-Sisi is poised to take the kind of political and economic reforms that the United States has been encouraging?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we’re not predicting the outcome of an election, James. But certainly, we will continue to press these issues and encourage a new government to take these steps, but I’m not going to make a prediction about what steps they will or will not take. We have consistently been calling for these steps.
QUESTION: Let me just say I think it’s both deplorable and probably a violation of relevant international laws for you to use your parents as human shields here in the briefing room to try and deflect tough questioning. (Laughter.) It’s shameful, really.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: That’s all.
QUESTION: On India, India’s incoming government has invited the leaders of seven South Asian countries to attend the swearing-in ceremony. How do you see this move?
MS. PSAKI: Well, broadly speaking, we welcome increased engagement between India and Pakistan and their leaders and other, of course, leaders in the region, and India’s engagement with its neighbors leading up to the inauguration.
QUESTION: Will you encourage Pakistan leaders to attend the swearing-in ceremony?
MS. PSAKI: Will we encourage?
QUESTION: The leaders, including those of Pakistan, to attend the ceremony?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re going to get into that level of engagement, but certainly, the invitation has been issued, we support increased dialogue, and this is representative of that.
QUESTION: How do you see, particularly, the invitation to the Pakistani Government to attend? This is a first, I believe.
MS. PSAKI: That’s true. We believe increased engagement between India and Pakistan is a positive step, so we’ll see what happens.
QUESTION: Do you know if the – if an invitation’s been issued to the American Government to attend?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t have any plans to send a representative from the United States. It’s standard for events and inaugurations in India, so it should come as no surprise.
QUESTION: Can I ask you – this just happened, so I don't know if you’ll --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- have any, but --
MS. PSAKI: If only I had the internet up here, it would be great. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, it happened just before we --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: -- just before we came out, but now it’s been fleshed out a little bit more. Congresswoman Pelosi has said that the Democrats will participate in the Benghazi select committee hearing and she’s named members of it. Given the fact that I assume – well, let me retract given the fact – do you still believe that this committee is a waste of time and money?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve expressed before – not exactly in those terms – we’ve expressed before an interest in being responsive to requests from Congress. Obviously, we’re continuing to remain engaged with them about their requests and their subpoena to have the Secretary testify. There’s no resolution of that. And as we said last week, we’re still going to explore what the best means of proceeding is.
QUESTION: No, no. Well, wait. I want to make sure we’re not confusing – there’s two things here. One is the subpoena from the – from HOGR.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And then this is the select committee.
MS. PSAKI: Understood, but again --
QUESTION: And this is the Democrats --
MS. PSAKI: -- there – as there have been throughout the process, there have still – there have been confusion about who has oversight over what. So as it relates to us, I think the most relevant question is what – how are we going to participate. But – you tell me.
QUESTION: Well, that would be with this – with the oversight government reform committee, right? This is – I guess I’m asking about the select committee.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The decision by the Democratic leadership in Congress – the party of the President – to participate. Do you have any – the State Department has previously said that they don’t – that this is an unnecessary committee; this whole thing has been investigated --
MS. PSAKI: We continue --
QUESTION: -- ad nauseam, and then --
MS. PSAKI: Thank you for clarifying. We continue to believe that. But with that all in mind, given our level of cooperation throughout the last several months – the number of documents we’ve given, the number of briefings; I could go on and on – but with that being said, obviously, we still – and this is relevant, because it’s all related to the same issue – are engaged with Congress about the most appropriate steps moving forward.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, maybe a better question to ask is: Did you encourage Congresswoman Pelosi to have the Democrats participate, or would you have preferred that they had not participated?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other – further comments on it. Obviously, there are --
QUESTION: If it’s possible to find out what – I mean, the entire Administration, but this building in particular has said – and the White House as well – has said that they don’t think that this committee is necessary. They think that the taxpayers’ money is better spent on improving embassy security in the future --
MS. PSAKI: That remains the case. Nothing has changed about those concerns. I don’t think I have anything to add to it.
QUESTION: Just to put a sharper point on Matt’s question, has Secretary Kerry discussed the House Benghazi Committee with Leader Pelosi, to your knowledge?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, James.
Do we have any more on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: On Libya? Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have – French media is reporting that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the individual who claimed responsibility for the attacks in Algeria last year, has been captured by U.S. forces. Do you have any knowledge of that?
MS. PSAKI: I have no information to confirm that or to confirm there’s any accuracy to that report.
QUESTION: Can I stay with the Libya (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: How about: Do you have any information that would --
QUESTION: Yeah. Not confirm.
QUESTION: -- not confirm, that would reject it, that would deny it, and say “this is not true”?
MS. PSAKI: I – again, I mean, this just came out.
QUESTION: You have no information either way?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any information either way, but also, these – is just one report in a – in French newspapers. There’s no information I have internally that that is accurate.
QUESTION: Just staying with Libya, and on the elections that the government’s decided to call for June. I wondered if you could give us the U.S. opinion on whether this was a wise move; whether in the circumstances a general election can actually be held, given that there’s so much turmoil across the country.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I understand it, these elections – or a date has been leaked but not officially announced. So I will – at least the last reports I have seen, just to be specific. So we’ll wait for any official announcement.
But we certainly would support and encourage Libya to quickly officially announce parliamentary elections. We’re prepared to help support elections preparation from here. We remain committed to working with all parties to encourage dialogue and unity and to avoid further violence. And so moving forward with new elections that establish a broad – broadly representative government will help lay the foundation for a more stable Libya.
QUESTION: Do you think it’s possible, though?
MS. PSAKI: We do, yes.
QUESTION: Why? Could you give us an explanation about why you think it’d be possible to do this?
MS. PSAKI: Well again, I think there’s broad support. One of the issues that Secretary Kerry has been discussing with not just – I believe I mentioned Foreign Minister Fahmy, but he also spoke with Foreign Minister Davutoglu this morning; he spoke with Elaraby; he spoke with Foreign Minister Fabius. He’s been speaking with a range of his counterparts around the world about shared concerns, about the dire situation in Libya, and what we can do as an international community to support the process moving forward, and elections are certainly part of that.
So if they announce this, I think the international community will be prepared to support this and support their process to get to that point by the end of June or whenever it’s announced.
QUESTION: But what kind of practical support do you envisage happening from the United States once you decide?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a range of support, as you know, that we support – that we have provided to countries in the past. I don’t have anything specific at this point, but as that develops we can talk more about it.
More on Libya? Libya? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Question related to Foreign Minister Fahmy contacts – I mean, what was it, the last two days? I mean, it was frequently done or just once?
MS. PSAKI: Secretary Kerry spoke with him today and yesterday both --
QUESTION: About Libya?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And the other question: You mentioned --
MS. PSAKI: And – as well as about Egypt, of course, but --
MS. PSAKI: Has he specifically? We have --
QUESTION: You just went through a whole list of people that didn’t include any Libyans that he was talking about Libya.
MS. PSAKI: I would remind you that we have a range of officials who engage with Libya and the Libyan Government, so that is ongoing. But go ahead.
QUESTION: So I mean, the – yesterday you were mentioning that you are following the events, or ongoing events, or the fluidity of the events in Libya.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Are you in touch with different portions of the, like, fighting powers, or what? Or officials or – quote-unquote – in charge of Libya?
MS. PSAKI: Well, yes, we are. Secretary Kerry, Ambassador Jones, a range of department officials have been in contact. Also, obviously, Secretary Kerry’s focused on international interlocutors, as Matt pointed out, but Ambassador Jones and a range of Department officials have been in touch with Libyan officials and others to impress upon them the need to find solutions to a conflict that is threatening the stability of Libya and the region as a whole. We have not – as I mentioned yesterday – been in touch in some time with Hiftar, and that hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: You have not?
MS. PSAKI: Have not. I said that yesterday too, yeah.
We have more on Libya?
QUESTION: Yeah. If there is presently in Libya a conflict raging that, as you just told us, threatens the stability of the country, how is it you can have confidence that the central government has the wherewithal to conduct national elections safely and securely?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, James, I think conducting elections, in our view, is an important part of medium and long-term stability here. And there will be a great deal of support from the United States, and certainly from the international community, in conducting those. But these are steps we’ve been – expressed concerns about in terms of the events over the last couple of days. Obviously, we’re working on the – with parties on the ground to encourage calm and a reduction in violence. And these are all steps we have to take at the same time.
QUESTION: Has the central government in Libya recently done anything to demonstrate that it warrants your confidence, that it has the wherewithal to conduct secure and safe elections?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think this is an issue where there will be broad support from the international community. We’ve been working closely with the Libyan Government. That will continue, and we continue to believe that it’s an important step and an important step forward in the process.
QUESTION: So since I keep asking about security and you keep talking about the imminent provision of support from the international community, is it fair for me to infer that the kind of support that you envisage providing does include security?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get into details yet, because obviously this – these are discussions that we would have to continue having once we know when elections would be and what the needs are. And obviously, meeting the needs is part of what you try to address.
QUESTION: Can I just ask what you feel an election would achieve for Libya?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: What is the necessity of calling an election at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Well, in our view, Jo, it helps lay a foundation for a more stable Libya, because having an elected government that can continue to work on the challenges that need to be addressed – whether that’s increased training and improving security on the ground, dealing with some of the economic challenges – is clearly an important part of what we think needs to happen from here.
On Libya? More on Libya?
QUESTION: Yeah, just a last one.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead, James. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Is there any update on the whole evacuation story or anything to do with that?
MS. PSAKI: There’s nothing new. I know there have been a range of reports out there that are inaccurate. We have not made decisions to move any of our personnel out of Libya. We continue to review the situation. It’s incredibly fluid, and obviously we can make decisions quickly to address embassy security needs. But those reports are inaccurate at this point.
MS. PSAKI: Libya? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Regarding Ambassador Jones.
QUESTION: Sorry, can you – reports saying what are inaccurate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, James was referring to – I’m not suggesting this was on your network, but I’ve seen it other places referring to an imminent evacuation from Libya, yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re saying it is inaccurate that there is an imminent evacuation planned for --
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Correct. But obviously, we’ll review the security needs of our personnel, and we make preparations --
QUESTION: Ambassador --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry, I was going to say Ambassador Jones is in Washington at the moment, I believe. She is planning to go back as she had planned to? She’s not delaying her return for any reason?
MS. PSAKI: She’s – she’ll be returning to Tripoli in the near future, yes. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: She asked my question already.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. Any more on Libya, or should we move on? Libya? Okay, let’s go to Scott.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Foreign Relations Committee vote on sanctions against members of the Venezuelan Government?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, as an Administration, we continue to consider all available options to foster a peaceful solution to the unrest in Venezuela. We possess a range of diplomatic tools, including sanctions, to address human rights violations. But in our view, sanctions are a tool. They’re not an objective.
And we believe that genuine democratic dialogue continues to be an appropriate path here. We have also no indications that other Latin American countries at this time would support sanctions on Venezuela. So of course, Congressional – Congress is free to call for or vote on whatever they choose to, but we continue to focus on a range of diplomatic tools to see how things can be resolved on the ground.
QUESTION: Could I ask something entirely unrelated?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Well, I – just one on that. What difference does it make whether any countries in Latin America would support it?
MS. PSAKI: I just --
QUESTION: Do you mean – would that affect the – would that have an impact?
MS. PSAKI: No, it didn’t. I just added it because I thought it would be a useful point for all of you to be aware of.
QUESTION: Right, but – I mean, do – because the impact of sanctions, should they be imposed, would be negligible if it didn’t have the support of --
MS. PSAKI: I should’ve separated it. I don’t want you to overthink the importance of that point. I just thought it was an interesting one to share.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Since then there’s been a pretty big response from some other members of the international community. Is there anything you have to add?
MS. PSAKI: I did not get an update on this. Let’s see.
Well, let me give you an update. And this – I’m – Scott, is from just yesterday, so I can see if there’s more specifics. But the U.S. Government through USAID and the Defense Department has already sent resources to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts in Serbian Bosnia. We’ll continue to look for ways to assist to meet other requests.
Our embassies in all three countries are working day and night to help; they are providing funding, coordinating with each of the governments, raising funds within the embassy community, and assisting in volunteer efforts and more. I can see if there’s any specific update, if that would be useful.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- Cuba. I don’t know if you’d seen that the blogger Yoani Sanchez launched a digital newspaper yesterday, which apparently had been quite long-awaited. But this morning it had been blocked, and people who were trying to visit it were redirected to another page. Do you have any comments on (a) the launch of the news – of the digital newspaper; (b) the apparent blocking of it?
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen that specific case. Obviously, broadly speaking for Cuba and any country around the world, we would support the freedom of media and freedom of expression, and that takes many formats, including blogging. So we’ll look into the details and see if we have more to share.
MS. PSAKI: Yep, I’m happy to.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Ukraine? Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday I asked you about these detained journalists, including the two Russians and the Brit, and there was some skepticism or some questions that you raised yesterday about whether they were actually journalists. Wondering if you had made a determination or if you’ve been told that the Ukrainians have made a determination, and on what – I don’t know, what their status is and whether you would call on the Ukrainians, if they in fact did nothing wrong, to use their influence, or to – if you would use your influence with the Ukrainians to get them released in the same way that you have asked the Russians to use their influence with pro – with separatists in the east to --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I said this yesterday, but it’s worth repeating: We would condemn any unlawful detention of journalists and call on all sides to allow legitimate journalists to conduct their work free from interference. I don’t have any new updates from what I shared yesterday about the circumstances surrounding these individuals and what they may have been carrying with them, but we would call on Ukrainian authorities to investigate these incidents, to release these people if they’re legitimate journalists and not involved in illegal activities. I don’t have any update on that, but that certainly is what we are encouraging them to do.
QUESTION: Okay. And that applies to all three of them?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The two Russians and the --
MS. PSAKI: And the British journalist you asked about yesterday, yes.
QUESTION: And do you have any – have you gotten – realizing that you don’t have new details on the Russians, but are there details on the Brit?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new details beyond what’s been publicly reported.
QUESTION: Okay. But you are still not convinced, or you’re less unconvinced now that they’re legitimate?
MS. PSAKI: “Less unconvinced”? I – we still have the same concerns that we had yesterday about the circumstances around these individuals.
QUESTION: Are you – do you continue to seek clarification of that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re certainly encouraging the Ukrainian Government to do that, and they’d be the appropriate force to do that.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I just wondered if there was any update on these reported movements by the Kremlin away from the border. Have you seen any change?
MS. PSAKI: There are some indications of activity on the border. It’s too early, in our view, to conclude that indicates a withdrawal. Certainly, we would welcome such an effort if it materializes, but at this point it’s premature to make that conclusion.
QUESTION: What does that – does that mean that you’re not sure if they’re moving away or towards the border?
MS. PSAKI: It just means, Matt, that there have been some indications of activity, but whether that means they’re moving, we don’t have that determination yet.
QUESTION: What kind of activity?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other level of detail I can share with all of you.
QUESTION: Well, okay. I’m – I mean, either there’s activity – like, what, are there guys in the courtyard doing, like, jumping jacks? Is that what – I mean, I don’t understand. What kind – I mean, activity, are you talking about guys getting into trucks or tanks or something and driving someplace?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of things we watch, but I’m not going to get into any greater level of detail.
QUESTION: Okay. But when you say that you’re not sure if it’s – or when you say that it’s too soon to say whether they’re withdrawing or not, does that mean that there’s a possibility in the eyes of the U.S. that these troops are actually not – the activity is not a withdrawal, but rather an advance?
MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t indicating that, but there obviously is somewhere in the middle of activity that doesn’t mean they’re moving away from the border, which is what President Putin specifically said would happen. And we’re just not in a final conclusion spot on that at this point.
QUESTION: And I don’t know if you had seen comments from the Ukrainian interior ministry, who said that there’s a threat of Russian aggression and there’s – the threat of Russian aggression and actions of the separatists in the east could compromise Sunday’s presidential vote in Ukraine. Do you have anything to add to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as we’ve said all along over the course – excuse me – of the last couple of days as we’ve been giving updates on the elections, across the vast majority of Ukraine, things are calm. You’ve seen the reports from both the OSCE and NDI on the preparations that have been put in place, including accommodations for individuals living in areas where it has been more challenging – Luhansk and Slovyansk and even Crimea – to vote. There have been some incidents that certainly we have been watching, and we would continue to call on Russia and Russian separatists to refrain from that and allow Ukrainians to have their voices heard.
QUESTION: If the vote in eastern Ukraine proves difficult at the weekend, do you feel that this could compromise the legitimacy of the overall vote across Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to make a prediction of that, and certainly what we’ve seen is quite the contrary in terms of the preparations and the accommodations that are being made to prepare for that. So the fact that you have now 1,000 OSCE monitors on the ground, that’s one of the – a very large presence of monitors. You have 213 district election commissions nationwide up and running. You have accommodations being made even in Donetsk and Luhansk to allow people to vote, so even in Donetsk and Luhansk, 23 of 34 district election commissions are functioning despite the difficult environment.
So the preparations are made. People are prepared in the country and we’ll see what happens, and obviously, if there are actions taken to interfere with Ukrainians being able to vote, that would be something that would be regrettable and there would be consequences.
QUESTION: But I suppose the question is: Do you need the Ukrainian vote from the east in order to certify internationally that the vote across the whole of the country is actually a credible result?
MS. PSAKI: Well, preparations are being made across the east, including the areas where there have been concerns to take every step possible to allow people to vote. So certainly, it’s a vote for the people of Ukraine, not just one region of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you a technical question? You just gave – the figures that you gave, the 23 of 34 --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- those were the same figures you gave yesterday. Do you know if --
MS. PSAKI: Same ones, yes.
QUESTION: Do you know if that was – was that checked in the last 24 hours or are you just using the same number that you had for yesterday? I’m just wondering if it’s moved.
MS. PSAKI: They are the same numbers. I haven’t had any indication that’s changed.
QUESTION: Because they’ve stayed the same?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Do we have more on Ukraine? Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, Ukraine?
QUESTION: No, (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s do one in the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. It’s again about our colleague, Graham Phillips, who is detained in Ukraine. I know you said you don’t have any specific information on his status right now, but there’s so much conflicting information coming in. The interior ministry – from Kyiv – the interior ministry says Graham is with the defense ministry. The defense ministry says Graham is at the British consulate, where he’s apparently not. And from what you were saying yesterday, it appears that you take everything Kyiv says at face value. I’m wondering if you’re really trying to verify any of the information that’s coming from Kyiv.
MS. PSAKI: That’s actually not what I said yesterday, but I think I just reiterated the fact that we --
MS. PSAKI: -- let me answer your question – that we call on Ukrainian authorities to investigate these incidents and to release these people if they are legitimate journalists and not involved in illegal activities. And certainly, they’re the appropriate – as the government of the country, they’re the appropriate entity to do just that. So we’ll continue to encourage them to do that.
Do we have any more on Ukraine? Okay. New topic?
MS. PSAKI: Nigeria, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So you condemn the twin bombings of yesterday --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- the abduction of the 200 schoolgirls.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So did your people on the ground make any progress in trying to locate the girls? And given the international mobilization, the international support to Nigeria, does the U.S. believe that Abuja is able to confront Boko Haram and to defeat Boko Haram, or that it’s too late?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly don’t think it’s too late and it can’t be too late, given the atrocities at the hands of Boko Haram are ongoing, as we’ve seen over the course of the last several days even. The search for the kidnapped girls is ongoing. The Nigerians are in the lead. We’re continuing to lend our unique assets and capabilities to assist in this search. We’ll continue to evaluate what additional resources we might bring to bear in support of this effort. And long before the tragic kidnapping of these girls, we have been working with Nigerian authorities, with partners in the region to address the threat of Boko Haram, and that assistance we’ve been providing, whether it’s financial assistance or mentoring assistance in a range of areas, has only increased over the last several months, and I expect that will continue.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Should be brief. One, apparently there was, in fact, a Quartet meeting yesterday in Brussels. Yes?
MS. PSAKI: Did you ask me this yesterday and I gave you the wrong answer?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. I don’t know --
QUESTION: No. No, you said --
MS. PSAKI: -- you just said it in an accusatory way. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Oh, it wasn’t – sorry, it wasn’t intended to be accusatory. I think someone asked if there was a Quartet – someone --
QUESTION: A statement. I asked on Monday if there was a Quartet statement due out.
MS. PSAKI: A statement coming.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. And I said I’d have to check.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Anyway, so there was a meeting yesterday in Brussels.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Ambassador Indyk was there --
MS. PSAKI: -- and he participated in the meeting.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what happened? What did they discuss?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this was a regularly scheduled session and provided an opportunity for Ambassador Indyk and other envoys to asses where things stand and consult on the way ahead. Consistent with the approach of President Obama and Secretary Kerry, the focus of these discussions and of the effort overall is on getting the two sides to come up with new ideas and avoid unhelpful steps, and hence there wasn’t a statement that came out.
QUESTION: Okay. So they discussed where things stand and the way ahead. Where do things stand, and what is the way ahead?
MS. PSAKI: We’re still determining that, Matt. It remains in the hands of the parties to take – make the choices necessary if they want to resume discussions. Obviously, there’s a great deal going on in the world, and Secretary Kerry is focused on everything from Ukraine to South Sudan, all the issues we talk about in here every day. But we’re still engaged with the parties and we think that’s an important --
QUESTION: Is “where things stand” actually the right phrase to use? It may appear to be --
MS. PSAKI: You don’t have to use it in your report if you choose not to.
QUESTION: -- prostrate on the ground, lying on their – things don’t appear to be standing at all; they appear to be going nowhere. So they didn't – they weren’t able to – there was no statement because they weren’t able to agree on where things stand or on the way ahead, or just because it was --
MS. PSAKI: No. It’s because it’s up to the parties to determine. And obviously at this stage we’re in, we’re clearly in a hiatus from the talks. Nothing has changed from that.
QUESTION: But they couldn’t even – I’m just trying to figure out, did they try to find some consensus on something? I mean, could they – they couldn’t even --
MS. PSAKI: They didn't feel it was necessary given where things stand, and obviously the Quartet is – there’s broad support for the effort. It’s just a need for action to be taken.
QUESTION: The Quartet are all playing without bows, it appears. What – I mean, does the roadmap still exist? Does the Quartet still endorse the roadmap?
MS. PSAKI: You’d have to ask the Quartet that question.
QUESTION: Well, does the United States still support the roadmap as the Quartet’s main reason for existing?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we think that they serve an important role and will continue to, and the discussions going on between the parties and where they left were obviously reflective of what they had or hadn’t agreed to. So – but --
QUESTION: Are you aware of there being any discussions now between the parties? Have they – have you – has either side mentioned to you that they’re involved --
MS. PSAKI: Nothing to update you on from here. We’re all aware of the meeting that Justice Minister Livni and President Abbas had last week.
QUESTION: Yeah, well that’s – that wasn’t – I mean, the --
QUESTION: That was private.
QUESTION: Exactly. The Israeli prime minister went out of his way to say that Minister Livni represented only herself and perhaps her family in this meeting, and not --
MS. PSAKI: Well, perhaps I should say that maybe we’ll allow the parties to announce if there’s any other contacts between them.
QUESTION: Yesterday you called on – you said that you were encouraging Israel to conduct a thorough, transparent investigation of the shooting incident in which these two Palestinian teenagers were killed. The foreign minister of Israel has reacted rather negatively to that and to your – to you in particular, saying that it’s essentially – I don’t want to mischaracterize his quote, but saying that it’s not appropriate for the United States to demand an investigation into an Israeli military activity, that the IDF is the most moral army in the – armed force in the world. And I’m just wondering: Do you stand by the call for the Israelis to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation given the foreign minister’s comments?
MS. PSAKI: We do. And we also have deep respect for the Israeli army’s moral code, which is exactly why there should be an investigation. And I believe in the foreign minister’s comments he also referenced a plan for an investigation or a desire to have an investigation, or the Israelis can call an investigation. We certainly support that. They’re in the lead; it is events happening on their soil, and we would support that effort.
QUESTION: Okay. And you don’t have any concerns about what such a – let me put it this way: Past investigations by the Israelis into their – into alleged Israeli misbehavior or alleged Israeli violence – I don’t know how you would call it – you have been satisfied with them? They have a proven track – do you believe they have a proven track record in self-investigations of this kind?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a sweeping comment about that. But obviously, they are in the lead, they should be in the lead, and we support their efforts to investigate.
QUESTION: All right. And do you have any specific comment about Foreign Minister Lieberman’s response to you and what you said?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t, no. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can I just go back to the statement --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: -- from the Quartet?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Was part of the issue that the Quartet had been trying to put together a statement which would include a reference to the Palestinian unity government?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe – I don’t have any other detail on the discussions of the Quartet. I’d point you to the Quartet for --
QUESTION: Because Quartet statements have to be made by consensus, I would imagine.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what their process is. So I would point you to them for their – how their statements are put together and how it works to get those out.
QUESTION: Okay. And i had just had one more --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: -- whether you’d seen the reports – this was just again, just happening as we came in, was that the – Israel has apparently ordered house arrest for some of Jewish extremists during the Pope’s visit. Would you have any kind of comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: I had not seen that before I came out. You know our position on actions as it relates to vandalism and unhelpful steps, but I’d have to check with our team and see.
QUESTION: This would seem to be – yeah, this would seem to be some kind of preemptive move against – I don’t even know what this group or these individuals may have been trying to do, but --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail. I’m happy to take it and get you a comment on it.
QUESTION: Do you have – more generally, do you have any thoughts on the Pope’s visit and what appears to be a rise in anti-Christian activity among some in the region?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is one of the issues that certainly when the Secretary was meeting with his counterpart in the Vatican he discussed – broadly speaking, I should say – the Pope’s visit to the Middle East, and it’s something that we strongly support. We have had – would certainly be concerned about any rise of anti-Christian or anti-religious sentiment that’s growing there. Obviously, we condemn that type of rhetoric and behavior, but beyond that I don’t have a further comment.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Daily Beast published a story yesterday reporting that there are more than 100 American citizens who have joined jihad in Syria. Does that sound about right?
MS. PSAKI: We are certainly concerned, James, as you know, about the flow of foreign fighters into and out of Syria. It’s difficult to provide a precise figure of the total number of foreign fighters in Syria, though our best estimate indicates that approximately 9,000 fighters may have traveled to Syria since the beginning of the conflict. I don’t have any specific numbers, but it certainly is something we watch from here and we engage with our international partners in watching around the world.
QUESTION: And you have reason to believe that of those 9,000 – which, by the way, is a significant increase from what other Administration officials have testified to just in recent weeks – do you have some reason to believe that Americans are among those 9,000? And if so, roughly how many?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have any numbers on that front. It’s difficult to account for. We are engaged in a focused outreach effort with key partner governments regarding our shared concern over the flow of fighters to the Syrian conflict. Our partners across the region and Europe are gravely concerned as well with the threat posed by citizens traveling to Europe – to Syria, I’m sorry, to fight, and the implications that this has. But again, this is an issue we’re watching closely, we are concerned about, and we’ll continue to work with our international counterparts on.
QUESTION: Without specific figures having to be divulged, can you say that the 9,000 foreign fighters who’ve traveled to Syria since the beginning of the conflict include any American citizens at all?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other level of detail, but I’ll check with our team and see if there’s more we can share.
QUESTION: Can we have that as a Taken Question?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to look into it and see if there’s more to share.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: You don’t have figures at all as to whether you think the majority of those 9,000 are coming from Middle East and neighboring countries?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a public breakdown we have. But I’ll, again, with James’s question, I’m happy to check with our team and see if there’s more to share.
MS. PSAKI: On Pakistan. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Pakistan has suspended three Geo TV channels for allegations against ISI. Have you seen this, and what do you make out of it?
MS. PSAKI: We are aware of various reports regarding the status of Geo’s broadcast license and signal. We’re following the events closely. But again, there’s a lot happening on the ground, and so I don’t have an additional update from here.
QUESTION: Do you believe this is against the freedom of press or freedom of media in --
MS. PSAKI: As you know, that’s a broad value we have around the world. But there are a lot of reports coming out of Pakistan, so I don’t have any other specific comments on these reports.
QUESTION: There’s these events, including the last month or this month one of the senior journalists was attacked for same allegations. Does these events are of concern to you?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we expressed at the time the attacks – I believe, if you’re referring to the individual who was attacked – who the Secretary, I believe, had done an interview with just a year ago, and we expressed concerns at the time. That hasn’t changed. But we’re closely watching various reports on this specific instance, so I just don’t want to group everything together.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to Scott in the back. Go ahead, Scott.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Not unlike Mr. Modi, there is a presidential candidate in the Indonesian election, Mr. Subianto, who in the past has been denied a visa to come to the United States. Could you speak to his potential visa eligibility should he be elected?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have anything to speculate on given the elections are ongoing there, and that was the same as it related to the elections in India. It remains the case that heads of government or heads of state are eligible for A-1 visas, so we’ll see what happens in Indonesia, and I’m happy to speak to it once things conclude.
QUESTION: It’s eligible, not guaranteed, right?
MS. PSAKI: That’s right, Matt, but obviously, that is what they travel on, so --
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, just because – when you say “eligible,” you don’t mean they are guaranteed entry at – with an A-1 visa?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are individuals, as you know, that we have denied --
QUESTION: They’re eligible to apply?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: I do. Briefly, Secretary Kerry and King Abdullah – and they’ve met many, many times – I don’t even have a number in front of me – talked about the ongoing crisis in Syria, including the overflow of refugees, of course, into Jordan, and the efforts to deal with that. They also talked about the discussions – the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and where things stand and where things should go from here, so that was the focus of their discussion.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Southeast Asia for a second?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, as we talked about yesterday – let me just see if I have a specific update on here. I think I have something new to share with all of you --
QUESTION: Coup-o-meter, Jen.
QUESTION: The coup-o-meter.
QUESTION: A technical term (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) Okay. Well, the army has indicated that it does not seek to run the government and that this imposition of martial law is temporary and aimed at preventing violence. Clearly, this is a situation we’re watching closely. We remain in touch, as I mentioned yesterday, with parties – with both the military as well as civilian leadership on the ground.
But our goal here is to see restitution of full – a return to, I should say, full democracy in Thailand with respect for Thailand’s democratic institutions, and that’s what we’re continuing to encourage on the ground.
QUESTION: So it’s your position that what Thailand has now and what they have had since yesterday is not full democracy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is clearly – a temporary martial law is in place on the ground.
QUESTION: Well, that’s what they say it is. I don't know if it’s clear that that’s what it will be.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I said, we’ll be watching closely. Temporary is an easy thing to determine whether it’s temporary or not, so we’ll be watching very closely. We firmly believe that the parties need to work to communicate through dialogue. As you know, they’ve had a meeting --
MS. PSAKI: -- and we encourage – we’re encouraged by reports we’ve seen so far.
QUESTION: You are – you’re encouraged by reports of cooperation or --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re encouraged by reports that the meeting took place. Obviously, there’s a great deal more work that needs to be done.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you had expressed some concerns about freedom of speech, freedom of the press --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- freedom to assemble. Do those – have those concerns been addressed at all? Have things – do they still exist? Are they – have they gotten worse, better?
MS. PSAKI: We continue to be troubled by restrictions on the media and our communications with the Royal Thai Army. We’re encouraging them to respect democratic principles, including freedom of speech and the press, so those concerns are ongoing.
QUESTION: So – a follow-up?
MS. PSAKI: Thailand? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, a follow-up to that. So the Thai military is acting as a broker between the opposition and the government. Is it a good thing for the United States that the Thai military’s as a go-between between the opposition and the government in a democratic country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, broadly speaking, we believe dialogue between the parties is a positive step, but I’m not speaking – I don’t think we’re making a judgment about how that takes place.
QUESTION: Is there a metric for what counts as temporary in this situation? Is there a line?
MS. PSAKI: We track it every day, Ali, and we’ll know it as we watch.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) You’ll know it when you see it, with temporary --
MS. PSAKI: I will say we will be watching every day, Ali.
QUESTION: So it’s like pornography, temporary. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Noted for the transcript. (Laughter.) Did you have another question, Ali?
QUESTION: On an unrelated region, so – okay. On Iran, there was a large international outcry against the arrest of six young Iranians who were dancing to a video that they made about – set to Pharrell’s song, “Happy.” Just wondering if it’s – this building shares the concerns about those individuals, and then I have one related question.
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we do, and we would. We call on – although there have been reports about their release, which obviously we can’t independently confirm, but we believe that freedom of expression should be guaranteed for all Iranians, and if they are still detained, we would call on their release.
QUESTION: And President Rouhani tweeted about it, using a quote from his victory speech talking about how happiness is a good thing and we shouldn’t punish people for wanting to pursue happiness. So would the fact that --
MS. PSAKI: We agree. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Would the fact that he was tweeting about this indicate – and going against what was an action by – I don't know exactly who apprehended these individuals – but does that suggest that there’s a significant break between Rouhani’s influence in situations within the country?
MS. PSAKI: I will leave it to you to do the analysis. Obviously, our priority here is ensuring that Iranians are guaranteed freedom of expression, and certainly this is an example of that.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Has there been any communication between the United States Government and Burundian authorities about the detained human rights activist Pierre Mbonimpa?
MS. PSAKI: We are – well, let me first say we certainly are concerned by the May 15th arrest of Pierre Mbonimpa – that’s quite a name – president of the Association for Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons. As you know, he’s a prominent member of civil society on the ground and plays an important role. We understand he was charged with threatening and – threatening the internal and external security of Burundi by disturbing Burundi’s relations with the D.R.C.
We urge the Government of Burundi to respect all the rights afforded to Mr. Mbonimpa under Burundian law and under Burundi’s international humans rights – human rights case. We will continue to closely monitor this case. We – our post on – our team on the ground is closely monitoring his case and is seeking to speak with the minister of justice to ensure he undergoes proper due process under Burundian law. So we have out – done some outreach to the government, yes.
All right. Any --
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: How could you make your parents sit through this briefing? Is that part of some effort to punish them for some long-ago psychic conflict that you’re involved with with them?
MS. PSAKI: It is. I’m just glad you’re here, James. (Laughter.) I practiced you before we came out here, so – (laughter).
(The briefing was concluded at 2:31 p.m.)
DPB # 90