1:18 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
MS. PSAKI: Hello. I have just --
QUESTION: Thank you for waiting.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, my please. A couple of items at the top upon your request. The Secretary met this morning with Ambassador Al-Jabeir. They reaffirmed the strong and enduring partnership between our countries. They discussed a range of shared concerns including recent developments in
Iraq and our shared support for the
Syrian opposition, and how we can best move forward in the process to end the war and the suffering of the Syrian people.
The Secretary also hosted a – met this morning with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as part of our ongoing effort to consult with Congress. They discussed a broad range of foreign policy challenges, including Iraq, including Iran,
Ukraine, Africa, and the pending State Department nominations. And of course, a number of members will, of course, be meeting with the President later this afternoon as well.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Can you be a little bit more specific about his meeting with the Saudi ambassador? Did they discuss questions like the – about the accusations of Saudi funding ISIL?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more readout than that. As you know, we’ve expressed concerns in the past, but I’m not aware of that being a new issue raised today.
QUESTION: Okay. Did you get an answer to the question that was posed yesterday about whose authority or under whose authority the additional security troops that went to Iraq are under, under chief of mission or under some other agreement with the Iraqis?
MS. PSAKI: I – as I said yesterday, certainly understand your interest. I’m still working through the final details of that and we’ll venture to get you all an answer by the end of the day.
As I mentioned yesterday, the Department’s – and I don’t know if I did, so maybe this is new information. The RSO, of course, in the Embassy Baghdad is charged with the security and protection of mission personnel and facilities, and the DOD security teams have been integrated with the State security team. But we will get you a final answer on that by the end of the day, Matt.
QUESTION: All right. And then just back to the broader picture for a second. Are you familiar or have you seen the comments that Mr. Jarba made today in Jeddah?
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen those comments, but I’m sure you can inform me of them.
QUESTION: Well, I can tell you a little bit what I’ve seen. That he basically accused everyone in the room – this was at an Organization of the Islamic Conference. It used to be conference. It is still conference?
QUESTION: Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
QUESTION: Basically accused everyone in the room of being responsible for – everyone else in the room of being responsible for the situation not just in Syria but in Iraq. Would you have any reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, without knowing the details of who else was in the room, we --
QUESTION: Well, it’s 57 countries that are all predominantly Islamic nations.
MS. PSAKI: Well, you are familiar with our view, which is that all of the countries in the region and their leaders need to focus on supporting Iraq and the Iraqi Government and the broad range of Iraqi officials at this difficult time, and it’s not a time for a blame game. We are certainly concerned about the events in Syria and the overflow of violence that has – we feel is a predominant factor that’s led us to where we are in Iraq.
QUESTION: At the same conference, Foreign Minister Zebari said that they have submitted a official request to the United States to actually commence strikes, airstrikes against ISIL. Are you aware of that?
MS. PSAKI: I believe that Chairman Dempsey also spoke about this during his testimony today, and I would point you to his comments.
QUESTION: But as far as you know, are we about to take a decision in that direction?
MS. PSAKI: There --
QUESTION: Is that something that the Secretary supports?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Said, I know you’re aware – as you’re aware, there are a range of options the President is considering, not all military options. At this stage, the only thing that the President has ruled out is sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq. But as we’ve noted many times, the solution is not – needed is not an Iraqi one – is an Iraqi one – I’m sorry – and any U.S. action, including any possible military action, would be in support of a comprehensive strategy to build the capacity of the Iraqis. So I have no new update to provide to you at this point in terms of the President’s decision making.
QUESTION: Any more discussions planned with the Iranians about Iraq? Because they are – I know you said no yesterday, but I was wondering whether things have changed because they are today making noises about the fact that they’re willing to discuss Iraq with you and help if they get to a nuclear deal. So it sounds like they have quite a bit of leverage at the moment. Who wants the nuclear deal more?
MS. PSAKI: I would dispute that. There are still no more discussions planned in Vienna, as I mentioned yesterday. Further discussions would likely take place at a lower level, but I don’t have any update on that front. Our view is that any discussion with Iran regarding Iraq would be entirely separate from the P5+1 negotiations, and any effort to connect the two is a nonstarter for the United States.
QUESTION: But it sounds as though they’re going to play even more hardball in the nuclear negotiations to get you to talk to them about Iraq.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s no plans to have further conversations about Iraq at the P5+1 negotiations.
QUESTION: And that’s what I want to follow-up. You say there’s no more discussions in Vienna, but what about elsewhere?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned yesterday, we are open to engagement or discussions on these issues. I don't have anything to predict for you, but it would happen at a lower level.
QUESTION: But – and not in Vienna, but could be in --
MS. PSAKI: Correct. That hasn’t changed since yesterday.
QUESTION: And then I have a follow-up. Do you still have confidence in Maliki as the head of state in Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Lesley, as you know, he’s the democratically elected leader of Iraq. Obviously, they’re working through their elections process now. It’s up to the people of Iraq to determine who their leadership is. We have expressed and continue to have concerns about the lack of inclusivity and the way of governing in a sectarian manner. There have been some steps taken over the last couple of days that have been encouraging, but clearly there’s more that needs to be done, and we certainly don’t expect that a couple of steps will solve months, if not years, of concern.
QUESTION: And then today they called for – they’ve asked the U.S. for airstrikes to occur, to – kind of formally. Was that done to the White House? Was Secretary Kerry involved in that? When was it done? How was it done?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details to share. Again, Chairman Dempsey spoke to this today during his testimony, so I would point – certainly point you to that. Obviously, military requests typically go through the military channels.
QUESTION: Did you see the prime minister was on the major televised appeal with Sunni and Kurdish leaders for unity?
MS. PSAKI: I did. There were actually a range of steps, so let me go through a couple of them. Yesterday, there was a national unity meeting in Baghdad at the initiative of former Prime Minister Jafari. We were encouraged to see that Iraqi leaders from all across the political and ethno-sectarian spectrum were a part of that. They met and issued a statement, including a joint call to defend the state of Iraq and protect its sovereignty and dignity. We also welcome, as I have before, but worth noting again, the Iraqi federal supreme court’s ratification of the April 30th election results, and we support Iraqi political and religious leaders’ call for national unity to confront the ISIL terrorist threat. I would also note that Iraqi national security advisor has announced the formation of a public mobilization effort to regulate the thousands of volunteers who have stepped forward to assist Iraq’s security forces. And Prime Minister Maliki also announced that he had dismissed four senior military commanders as they continue to address issues that led to a security breakdown. So these are a couple of steps. Obviously, there needs to be a continuity of this effort.
QUESTION: I just wonder if in this this building the thinking might be that these are steps that should’ve been taken perhaps months ago. As you said repeatedly, we’re calling for unity for the last few months. Is it a question that this is too late now to stop the march of ISIL as they try and capture more parts of Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our view is that Iraq needs to be unified, including all of its political leaders across the spectrum in order to take on that fight. Whether that is efforts to take it on with – through the security forces and in coordination and cooperation that’s happening on that front, or the need to be more politically united over the long term. And as I mentioned a little bit earlier, even if there is assistance from the United States or other countries, this is up to the Iraqi leaders to take steps to make this sustainable over the long term.
QUESTION: But I guess the question is: Why would the Sunni Iraqis, who feel they’ve been so badly marginalized over the last few years, now trust a televised appeal and some of these steps that you’ve outlined to be reflective of what will happen going forward in the future? Why should they believe the message now coming from the Iraqi leadership?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly any leaders have to earn the trust of their people, but these are a range of steps that have been taken to show unity and the need to take on the threat of ISIL with a united front. And they have a common enemy, and that is these terrorists – this terrorist group that is killing and terrorizing people across the country. And that should be incentive.
QUESTION: And did you have anything to say about the reports of fighting around the oil refinery near Baghdad?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Any concerns about what would happen if that were to fall into ISIL’s hands?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the refinery produces for domestic consumption, and production had already stopped for several days due to a combination of technical and security reasons. Iraqi authorities may need to import domestic fuel from neighboring countries. There’s no impact on Iraq’s crude oil exports, and we haven’t seen any major disruptions in oil supplies in Iraq. But we’re certainly constantly monitoring the global oil supply and demand situation.
QUESTION: Have you – and I understand there seems to be maybe at even the White House that any intervention, any American intervention should be conditioned or predicated on Maliki having a more inclusive government. Does the Secretary also subscribe to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’ve heard the Secretary speak about the steps that we feel Prime Minister Maliki and other leaders in Iraq need to take. But this is not a quid pro quo. We’re talking about what is – what will – what – regardless of the decision made by the President, Prime Minister Maliki and other leaders in Iraq must take additional steps to unite the country and govern in a non-sectarian manner in order to be successful over the long term.
QUESTION: So you would discourage Maliki from taking the election results and feel free to form a government of his own coalition here?
MS. PSAKI: Well again, I think the process of forming a government will work itself through the natural process in Iraq.
QUESTION: Jen --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead, Kim. And then we’ll go to Lucas. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to the Iran thing? I understand you don’t want to link the nuclear negotiations with Iran to any of the other issues.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But clearly they are. So how do you handle that in your nuclear negotiations with them? Aren’t you worried that the talks are going to stall until the Iranians get what they want, which is cooperation with you in Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we shouldn’t forget Iran has a significant incentive here, and cooperating and negotiating on the nuclear – their nuclear program, which is the impact that sanctions has had on their economy and the fact that President Rouhani ran on a platform of improving the economy. So I don’t think anyone is engaging in this effort as a favor to us or to the other P5+1 countries. That doesn’t change the fact that gaps remain. Significant gaps remain. It’s difficult, but our team will make – take every effort to keep them focused on that nuclear program.
QUESTION: Can I just clarify one thing?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
QUESTION: On – you keep saying that there won’t be another talks in Vienna, but – on Iraq.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But it is possible that there could be talks at a lower level in Vienna, isn’t that right? I mean, not related to --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m referring to these ongoing negotiations.
QUESTION: Yeah, but are you ruling out Vienna completely as a venue for lower-level talks unrelated --
MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t speaking to Vienna as in the city. I was speaking to these P5+1 negotiations that are happening now.
QUESTION: Yeah. So, I mean, there could be, at some point next week or whatever – unrelated to P5+1, Vienna could be – is not ruled out as a venue for U.S.-Iran talks on Iraq, right?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not ruled in either, Matt.
QUESTION: I know, but I just want to make sure I – just want to --
MS. PSAKI: Just -- I was not implying city --
QUESTION: It sounded like you think Vienna (inaudible) --
MS. PSAKI: What I was – I perhaps shorthanded it. What I was meaning – what I meant was the talks that are ongoing right now on the nuclear program.
QUESTION: Were the Iranian officials in Vienna authorized to discuss Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve spoken to this, and I think they’ve spoken to this. So I think you can assume that they were to the degree the conversation was – briefly took place the other day.
QUESTION: Did you talk about Syria too in Vienna?
MS. PSAKI: No.
Go ahead, Nicolas.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up on Iran.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I think the question was asked yesterday, but I don’t remember your response on that. Was Syria discussed between the Iranians and the American officials yesterday in Vienna?
MS. PSAKI: No. Samir just asked the same question.
QUESTION: Okay. Sorry.
MS. PSAKI: No, no.
QUESTION: He came back.
MS. PSAKI: It’s Wednesday, it’s okay.
QUESTION: And --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. And since ISIL is your common enemy with Iraq, with Iran and Syria, would you consider any contact with the Syrian regime on the fight against ISIL?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, we’ve had a means of communicating in the past, but I’m not aware of that being a part of our calculation at this point.
QUESTION: Is ISIS your common enemy with Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Is it our common enemy? I think we both have concerns about the impact of their – the steps they’ve taken in Iraq and how they’ve terrorized the people in Iraq, yes.
QUESTION: Because earlier in the briefing you said that Secretary Kerry, when he met with the ambassador of
Saudi Arabia, expressed concerns about the past. Have you ever been concerned about Iran’s support of ISIL or AQI in the past?
MS. PSAKI: Well certainly, Lucas, we’ve been concerned about the role Iran has played in supporting terrorists in Syria and supporting the regime in Syria. But again, what I’m making a point about here is our shared concern about the impact of what’s been happening over the last week on stability in Iraq.
QUESTION: But like, is it – the Treasury Department in 2012 said that the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security had been funding and supporting AQI, which has now morphed into ISIS or ISIL. And I was curious how you intend to negotiate or have talks with a country who has supported two years ago a terrorist organization in Iraq; that it’s not just Saudi Arabia, it’s Iran as well.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not talking about negotiations. We’re not talking about military cooperation. We’re talking about a discussion, a brief discussion that took place earlier this week about concerns about the stability of Iraq, the need for the leaders to be more unified, and that was the thrust of the conversation.
QUESTION: By the way --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: -- is it ISIL or ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: Oh --
QUESTION: Is there like a standard operating procedure?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know different organizations and different individuals use different terms, but yes.
QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted to follow up on Iran.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: President Rouhani today vowed to protect the Shia holy places, and he spoke from a place nearby the border. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen, of course, those comments. As I mentioned in response to Lucas’s question, ISIL is clearly a common threat to the entire region, including Iran. But Iraq will only successfully overcome this threat by governing in a nonsectarian manner. We’ve made concerns clear regarding Iranian fighters joining the fight in Syria. We’ve made – we would view this as much the same.
QUESTION: So you – what he said about volunteers and so on, you look negatively on that aspect?
MS. PSAKI: Volunteers in what capacity?
QUESTION: Well, he said that there are basically thousands of – I’m paraphrasing – of volunteers who are ready to go and protect these holy places. You would --
MS. PSAKI: I said that?
QUESTION: No, not you. He said that. He said there are Iranian volunteers who --
MS. PSAKI: Correct, we believe that --
QUESTION: -- are ready to go in and protect --
MS. PSAKI: -- our focus should be on encouraging nonsectarian governance.
QUESTION: And would you call on Maliki to reject such an offer by Iran?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve called on Maliki – Prime Minister Maliki and any Iraqi leader to not be pulled into efforts to divide the country along sectarian lines.
QUESTION: Do you have proof that Iran is no longer supporting ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: Do we have proof?
MS. PSAKI: I --
QUESTION: Because your own Treasury Department in the past said that Iran was supporting al-Qaida in Iraq, which has morphed into ISIS.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it was as simple as that, Lucas, but I don’t think I have anything more to add to your question.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering if you also had any information or evidence of Iranian forces on the ground in Iraq. This was a question that was raised last week.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You said you didn’t have any information on that. Has there been --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new information on that, no.
QUESTION: So do you believe that there are Iranian forces on the ground in Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen those reports, but I don’t have any independent confirmation from here.
QUESTION: Do you have any embassy update?
MS. PSAKI: The process is ongoing of relocating staff, but other than that there hasn’t been any additional steps taken.
QUESTION: Was there any contact between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Davutoglu recently, Jen?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, there was just a couple of days ago, but not since then.
QUESTION: There was a phone call, another phone call – it was the third phone call, actually, over the last week – between Prime Minister Erdogan and Vice President Biden.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have anything that you can share with us?
MS. PSAKI: I believe the Vice President’s office would have any readout of that.
QUESTION: Turkish officials told recently that the Turkish side requested from U.S. not to take any military action until ISIL releases the hostages. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t. Again, we’re – the President has a range of options, not all of them military, that he’s considering. There’s a range of factors that are being considered. But I don’t have anything else to read out on that.
QUESTION: Are the Turkish hostages a concern for the Administration?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve been very clear about our concern about the hostages. We’ve offered our support and our assistance to Turkish authorities, and that door remains open.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Jen, yesterday the OPCW, the Ambassador Mikulak – I’m not sure if I’m saying his name properly --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- had issued that statement which was then posted on the website in regards to the OPCW probe that found there was very credible evidence of chemical weapons use in a systematic form in Syria, suggesting that perhaps that body should do a little bit more given that we’re three weeks out from the deadline, June 30th.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Has anything happened in this building? I mean, what are we exactly asking them to do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re continuing to ask the regime to --
QUESTION: The OPCW, I meant. Sorry.
MS. PSAKI: The OPCW? Well, our focus is on continuing to encourage the Syrian regime to meet its obligation to remove the remaining 8 percent of chemical weapons materials. As you know, the OPCW – and officials who are involved in it – remains committed to delivering on their part, and they have confirmed that packaging has been completed at the site where the last 8 percent remains. So we just join the international community on urging the Assad regime to uphold its obligations to remove the remaining chemicals, fully destroy the 12 production facilities that remain intact, and respond substantively – substantially to questions from the OPCW about the completeness and accuracy of Syria’s declaration.
QUESTION: But the ambassador said it doesn’t look like that deadline is going to be met. We’re three weeks out and none of the destruction has even begun on the 12 production facilities that we have concerns about and this remaining 8 percent that you mentioned there. So what’s happening actively on the ground? I mean, is it more calls to Lavrov or has there been any conversations with the – outreach to the Syrian regime?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is an issue, Margaret, that the Secretary raises with Foreign Minister Lavrov virtually every time they speak. The international community and many other countries are very focused on encouraging them to keep making progress. We’ve removed 92 percent of the most toxic chemicals, but obviously we want to see the remaining 8 percent removed, so we will use every diplomatic lever possible in order to encourage them to keep making progress on that effort.
QUESTION: Because broadly speaking, I mean, some argue that by allowing the Syrian Government to continue to, what it looks like, flout this deadline, not comply, hold on to the weapons which some would say is a tool to stay in power, that it feeds support of extremist groups, because you’re going to go to the guys who have movement been on the ground, whether it’s ISIS or others, and that failing to follow through with this diplomatic agreement in a more forceful way doesn’t serve the U.S.’s own purposes in terms of undercutting the extremist forces who are gaining support.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t limit our concerns about Syria to just the – removing the remainder of the 8 percent of chemical weapons. Obviously as long Assad remains in power, we have concerns about the role he plays as a magnet for terror. So it’s much broader than that.
But I don’t think we should lose sight of the fact that we’ve removed 92 percent. We have every mechanism and every tool available and ready to remove the remaining 8 percent. If they don’t abide by that, then I’m sure the international community and the OPCW will take a close look at what to do from there.
QUESTION: So – but what is that mechanism that you just referenced?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of what?
QUESTION: To make them follow through.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not just – obviously there is a UN Security Council resolution, as you know. There’s – there are consequences that are included in there. But our focus now is on continuing to press them to make additional progress. We believe that there is every tool possible on the ground to get this job done.
QUESTION: When the OPCW called on Syria to redouble its efforts – I think they call on them to redouble their effort – what does that mean? I mean, does that mean that Syria is not complying and not doing anything, that it’s lagging behind doing part of its job?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they’ve missed a number of target dates, to include the timeline it proposed for the removal of all declared weapons by April 27th. So we have expressed concern about the delay. We’ve expressed concern about the fact that they have blamed it on a variety of reasons that we don’t feel are valid. There have been some security issues on the ground that the OPCW and others have made every effort to address, but our focus remains on providing any support necessary to finish the job and get this done.
Anne. Syria or --
QUESTION: Yeah, also on Syria. Is there any update on where the investigation into the possible use of chlorine gas stands? And what is your expectation for when that investigation will be complete, and you and the international bodies looking at it will have something to say?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the OPCW Technical Secretariat released a summary report – I believe it was just yesterday – on the fact-finding mission in Syria. We will be reviewing that. We feel it warrants serious consideration and we’ll study it carefully. The findings included in this summary offer credence ascribed to the systematic use – systemic use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine, and this underscores, of course, the importance as we’ve been discussing to – and the urgency of removing the remaining chemical weapons in Syria.
This fact-finding mission is an important first step. Obviously, there’ll be a final report released which we’ll also review when that is released.
QUESTION: Will there be a separate U.S. finding or declaration about what – either in conjunction with the OPCW or on your own?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe that is in the works. I’m happy to check and see if that’s something we have access to information about. Obviously, the OPCW, with support of the United States and other countries, is the mechanism that has access on the ground and kind of the information needed to make an evaluation.
QUESTION: But you’ve been participating in some sort of --
MS. PSAKI: Certainly we have been, but they’ve obviously been on the ground. The United States doesn’t have a separate investigative mission on the ground.
QUESTION: No, but why is this different than last summer when you did actually kind of run your – you didn’t have U.S. investigators there, but did sort of run a separate U.S. analysis of the evidence available and make your own pronouncement…
MS. PSAKI: Well, there obviously was – it was a different circumstance, certainly, in terms of the level and the horrific acts that happened. I mean, any of these is horrible, but I think last August certainly stands out to all of us. I can check and see if there’s any plan – not that I’m aware of at this moment – to do a separate U.S. report on these findings.
QUESTION: And lastly, would you consider the – if this bears out from credible evidence to actually OPCW saying that chlorine gas was used, that that also crosses President Obama’s redline?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to make any pronouncements about future redlines. We’ll evaluate the report when it comes out and make a determination about what that means from the United States.
QUESTION: I’m just curious about the – their use of the word “credence,” which is not confirmation. And what do you think needs to come next? Are you interested in getting 100 percent – the United States Government – are you interested in the OPCW getting 100 percent confirmation --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re --
QUESTION: -- that chlorine was used?
MS. PSAKI: We’re absolutely interested in as much certainty as possible, and this is a preliminary report. So again, we’ll review a final report when that is concluded.
QUESTION: So your – you would support the OPCW fact-finding team going back and doing what it needs to do to get 100 percent?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not --
QUESTION: I’m just not sure I understand what it means that their preliminary mission finds credence to reports that chemical --
MS. PSAKI: Well, they released --
QUESTION: -- I mean, that chlorine was --
MS. PSAKI: -- a summary report, Matt.
QUESTION: I know. I read it --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I’m not certain --
QUESTION: -- when it came out yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: -- what is required to release a final report.
QUESTION: But it seems just kind of – it’s kind of wishy-washy. It doesn’t – not kind of, it is. I mean it doesn’t say – doesn’t give a definitive answer one way or another whether chlorine was used or not, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it states exactly as you read and I stated.
QUESTION: Right. I mean, it says “gives credence to.” So what was the point of it? I mean, it was credible. There was credence to these reports when people started showing up in hospitals with lung abrasions and problems, pulmonary --
MS. PSAKI: Well, they evaluate the information that’s available on the ground, Matt. They’re not going to obviously provide an evaluation or a conclusion that they don’t find. So I would --
QUESTION: So --
MS. PSAKI: -- point you to the OPCW for more specifics on --
QUESTION: But --
MS. PSAKI: -- what they have and the information they have available.
QUESTION: Right. But I’m less interested in what the OPCW thinks about it than what the U.S. Government thinks about – does the U.S. Government think that this preliminary report is worthwhile – I mean, you said it warrants serious consideration, but I’m wondering: Why?
MS. PSAKI: Because we review any report that is issued by a body like the OPCW. We’ll take a look at that and see if there’s more conclusions we can draw from it.
QUESTION: But does the U.S. Government believe that there is credence to the reports of chemical – of chlorine gas use?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve expressed before, Matt, concerns about the reports that we’ve seen. I don’t have more information than what was available in the OPCW report.
QUESTION: But you would endorse this report? The government – the U.S. Government backs the findings of this report?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we obviously are reviewing it, and if we have any more to add I’m sure we’ll do that.
QUESTION: But, Jen, I think you’ve used the term “systemic use” of – that there’s been use of chemical weapons systemically.
MS. PSAKI: Systematic use.
QUESTION: Systematically, okay. So is that like every – was there a pattern or --
MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m sure that --
QUESTION: Every month?
MS. PSAKI: -- the OPCW can give you a more conclusive briefing on the findings of their preliminary report.
QUESTION: But I’m saying that the evidence was gathered apparently by people showing up at the hospitals and so on, and showing symptoms and so on – do you have any other evidence?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I – the OPCW has had the lead as the appropriate international body here, and I’m sure if they’re going to provide a briefing, you can participate in that.
QUESTION: Can I go to Ukraine?
QUESTION: Just --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, and then we’ll go to Ukraine.
QUESTION: Just I wanted to clarify your previous answer --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- about the Turkish hostages. When you said that the door is still open for the Turks – for helping the Turks to release these hostages, does it mean that Turks haven’t yet asked your help on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update on that. I’m happy to check and see if there’s been any change to what we discussed last week.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: I’d like to go to Ukraine. And today, President Poroshenko announced plans to order a unilateral ceasefire in the east, which would allow the pro-separatists – the pro-Russian separatists to lay down their arms. Is this something you would welcome? Is this a good step?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly welcome President Poroshenko’s announcement that Ukraine would implement a ceasefire as a first step of a peace plan, a plan he discussed with President Putin during a phone call last night. President Poroshenko reiterated that amnesty would be offered to those who lay down arms voluntarily and who are not guilty of capital crimes.
He also committed to providing a safe corridor for Russian fighters to return to Russia. He’s been clear that he will continue discussions about decentralization and constitutional reform to also address the legitimate concerns, but this was a unilateral step. So these steps were taken by the Ukrainian Government, which we certainly commend them for these good-faith efforts, but naturally they need a partner in this effort.
QUESTION: Did they consult – did the – did President Poroshenko and his team consult with the United States before making this offer?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Was it something that you put together with them?
MS. PSAKI: This was a plan put together by the Ukrainians. As you know, we and the European Union have been in consultations and discussions with them for months about the best way to de-escalate the situation on the ground.
QUESTION: Have you seen any reciprocal good-faith efforts from either Russia or the separatists?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing to update you on today, Matt. I think that’s one of the reasons why a partner is needed. And Russia, of course, must support the peace plan instead of continuing to support the separatists on the ground.
QUESTION: So as far as you’re concerned, they – there has not been any reciprocal good-faith action?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it just --
QUESTION: I know it’s – but so far, you haven’t seen anything, and so far what you have seen is a continuation of Russia being a bad actor? Is that --
MS. PSAKI: Well, there isn’t any specific thing I’m pointing to at this moment. But I don’t – I have not seen them speak out in support of this ceasefire either.
QUESTION: Okay. Would you also – would you be supportive of investigations into what has happened in the east specifically, I mean, what has been going on in the fighting, in the clashes, the bombings, the killings of journalists, et cetera?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. I believe I spoke to this yesterday and said we would --
QUESTION: Little bit.
MS. PSAKI: -- certainly support an effort to look into what happened.
QUESTION: Not just with the journalists. I’m talking about everything writ large, not just the actions of the Ukrainian authorities and the Ukrainian security forces but also the separatists. I mean, is there any kind of a call for an investigation into what – would the U.S. be prepared to support an investigation by whatever body might be appropriate into the actual what happened on the – in the --
MS. PSAKI: Into – I’m not sure which specific --
QUESTION: Well, there’s been a lot of fighting. There’s been a number of civilian casualties on both sides. And I’m just wondering if this is something the U.S. feels should be investigated.
MS. PSAKI: Again, I mean, every day we make every effort, as do the Ukrainians and others, to obtain the most information we can in these circumstances. I’m not aware of a plan for or desire to call for a broad, sweeping investigation.
QUESTION: All right. Do you – yesterday you talked about how you were concerned about the movements of Russian troops inside Russia near the border. Is that still a concern, or is that gone away?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe anything has changed on that front.
QUESTION: All right. And on the transfer of heavy weaponry and vehicles like tanks, still – you still haven’t seen anything new since that one incident with the three tanks?
MS. PSAKI: Correct, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But it remains – but you still – as you said yesterday, you still believe there is a lot of cross-border traffic and --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Just to go back to the ceasefire, I wondered what the thinking was behind not giving an immediate order for the unilateral ceasefire, one? He said that he could – or the Ukrainian officials are saying it could take place in a few days. Why not do it immediately?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of steps I think they likely needed to prepare in order to implement it effectively from their end, so a couple of days is – obviously whatever they think is appropriate and possible is, of course – we support that – that process.
QUESTION: You don’t have a timeline from here?
MS. PSAKI: No, I would point to them on what the specific implementation timeline is on their end.
Ukraine or any --
QUESTION: Sorry, just have there been – have there been any discussions between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov since --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe --
QUESTION: -- or the Ukrainians?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe there have been. I think he may speak with both sides in the coming days, but I don’t – there hasn’t been one since I came down here.
QUESTION: Both sides meaning the Ukrainians and the Russians?
MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes.
QUESTION: Can we go to the clampdown in the West Bank?
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Ukraine just on – sure. On which --
QUESTION: Palestinian and Israeli --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- issues. As the search for the three teenagers goes into its sixth day, the Israelis are arresting hundreds of Palestinians, rounding up some or re-arresting in some cases many of the ones that were released. They’re having a clampdown, a lockdown. It’s really causing a very difficult humanitarian condition. Are you talking with the Israelis to sort of lighten – but I asked you this yesterday. Are you asking them to lighten up their heavy hand in their search?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, we’ve been in touch with both the Israelis and the Palestinians throughout the course of the last several days since these teenagers were kidnapped. We know this is a difficult time obviously on the ground. We’ve urged continued security cooperation between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the search for the kidnapped teenagers. We were encouraged by President Abbas’s strong statement to the Arab and Islamic foreign ministers today in Saudi Arabia. But – and certainly as the search continues and in our conversations, we urge both sides to exercise restraint and avoid the types of steps that could destabilize the situation. And that’s a message that we are conveying in all of our conversations as well.
QUESTION: So it would be more prudent for the Israelis to sort of search selectively and work and coordinate with the Palestinians rather than subject the whole Palestinian population to collective punishment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our understanding is that there is security cooperation that’s ongoing --
MS. PSAKI: -- and we encourage that to continue.
QUESTION: Well, wait. So I’m going to re-raise the questions I asked yesterday, which he kind of got – what – you do not believe at this moment that what the Israelis – that the Israeli operation to free – to find and free these teenagers is – amounts to collective punishment of Palestinians in the West Bank? Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed since what I said yesterday.
QUESTION: So no. But you have expressed concern to the Israelis that – I just want to make sure I understand. Have you expressed to the Israelis concern that an operation might become some form of collective punishment?
MS. PSAKI: I would not state it in those terms. We’ve – know this is a difficult and sensitive time and we’ve urged both sides to exercise restraint.
QUESTION: In the Secretary’s statement from Sunday he talked about how there are many signs that point to Hamas involvement in this.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is that – are you now confident that Hamas is responsible for this, as confident as the Israelis say they are?
MS. PSAKI: No conclusion has been made on our end since the statement on Sunday, so we remain in the same place we were in the Secretary’s statement.
QUESTION: So you do not know or you do know that these teenagers are being held by Palestinian militants?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t have any other independent information.
QUESTION: Okay. You said that you had offered assistance to Israel.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Has that happened? Do you know? And do you know – if it has or even if it hasn’t – what specific kind of assistance you have offered?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details. I’m happy to see if it’s been accepted or if there are any specifics about what we may be able to offer on this front in the search for the three teenagers.
QUESTION: All right. And then I just want to draw a fine point of it. Is the U.S. – is the Administration concerned or not concerned about the Israeli operation and the impact that it’s having on the Palestinians?
MS. PSAKI: I think we recognize this is an incredibly sensitive --
MS. PSAKI: -- and difficult circumstance on the ground, and we feel all sides should exercise restraint. So --
QUESTION: And thus far you believe that all sides have exercised restraint? Is that --
MS. PSAKI: We wouldn’t say all sides should exercise restraint if we felt all sides were at this point.
QUESTION: Oh. Okay. So which side, or maybe both have not --
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to have much more to add on this particular topic, Matt.
QUESTION: I – well, but it sounds as though you – you’re not convinced that – it sounds as though you think that either one side or both sides have been acting without restraint.
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s just important, given the circumstances, that they do moving forward. And I’m going to leave it at that.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about --
MS. PSAKI: Said.
QUESTION: The spokesman for Hamas said today, to the suggestion that they kidnapped these young Israelis, it’s stupid. Doesn’t that amount to sort of denying that they have done it?
MS. PSAKI: They may have. There’s obviously an investigation going on. There’s lots of accusations. I don’t have any other conclusion from here.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: Can I ask if you have a privacy waiver for the – one of the teenagers?
MS. PSAKI: We do, yes. So we can confirm that one of the kidnapped was an American citizen.
QUESTION: Which one?
MS. PSAKI: I believe his name has been reported. I don’t have it in front of me right now.
QUESTION: And what is the – is it the Consulate General in Jerusalem or the Embassy in Tel Aviv that’s involved in trying to provide consular services to the family and --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail. I’m happy to check and see which entity on the ground is in touch with the family. But we certainly are.
QUESTION: In your opinion, has Israel taken advantage of the situation to sort of break – tear down the infrastructure for this national unity government in its infancy?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to have much more to add on that front, Said.
QUESTION: On this at all, I just want to make sure that – yesterday, again, you were asked this question as well.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But there’s – numerous Israeli officials have said that the U.S. decision to work with and continue to fund the Palestinian government, the new unity government, is – contributes – contributed to this incident with the three – is it – am I correct in thinking that you still would reject such an allegation?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, that is correct.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have a new topic? Are we done?
QUESTION: Oh, could I have one more on
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead, Lesley.
QUESTION: Sorry, I was --
MS. PSAKI: Sure, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The mother of Alan Gross has passed away.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And his wife’s come out and called again on the U.S. to secure – to do everything it can to secure his release, saying that she didn’t think – she was worried what he might do, that he might do something drastic. Are there any – given – what’s the latest development? Any new efforts made to try for his release?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say first that we of course express our deepest and sincerest condolences to Mr. Gross and his family on their loss. We obviously feel it is a tragedy that he was unable to be home in the United States at his mother’s bedside for her passing. We’ve urged the Cuban Government to grant Mr. Gross a humanitarian furlough so that he can travel to the United States and be with his family during this time of mourning, and we’ve made very clear that this is a strong priority for us.
QUESTION: Was that made today, that request?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a specific timing, but it’s obviously recent, given her death today.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but in fact, haven’t you been asking – yeah, you’ve been asking for this for some time --
MS. PSAKI: We have, but in --
QUESTION: -- but not just --
MS. PSAKI: -- but specifically as it relates to returning home to --
QUESTION: For a funeral.
MS. PSAKI: -- be with his family during this time of mourning.
QUESTION: Right. But I’m trying to figure out if this is separate from – have you been asking for a temporary furlough in the past, or just for his complete release?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been asking for his release, as you know.
MS. PSAKI: But in these circumstances, we think that immediately --
QUESTION: So this --
MS. PSAKI: -- this is – would be a gesture that they should grant.
QUESTION: So this is a new request for him to be allowed to leave prison, come to the States, be with his family for the mourning period and funeral possibly, but then he would go back?
MS. PSAKI: That is what a furlough is. Yes.
QUESTION: I understand. So that – and you’re okay with that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we would like him to be released. That is what we’ve been pressing for for some time. But the death of his mother – the tragic death of his mother is a recent event and one we’re --
QUESTION: Do you have to provide some guarantees that you would ensure that he would return?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get into any greater level of detail on that front.
QUESTION: Jen, I wondered if I could ask a question about
Libya. Are you aware that some 40 Egyptian workers – oil workers – have been kidnapped in Libya? And some are tying it to the apprehension of Ahmed Abu Khatallah.
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen those reports, Said. I’m happy to look into them.
Oh, go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Aru Pande from Voice of America. Just a quick follow-up on Libya. Some Libyan officials, including the justice minister, have come out condemning the operation, saying it’s a violation of Libya’s sovereignty. Your reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this was a unilateral U.S. operation. Obviously we’re in touch with our Libyan authorities. We’ll keep those conversations private, but it should come as no surprise, given the tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2012, that we would take the opportunity to apprehend this individual and bring him to justice. And we have long stated that as a priority of the United States.
QUESTION: Any concern that if the United States had not helped dispose of Qadhafi in 2011 that none of this would have happened?
MS. PSAKI: I think, Lucas, we’re focused here on moving forward. And obviously, detaining this individual, who I can also confirm is currently aboard a ship en route to the United States, which is a slight update from yesterday, was an important step forward.
QUESTION: Do you know which court he has to report to (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any – I think any of those details would come from the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: Including the --
QUESTION: Can I just – I just wondered, the fact that you went in and got this guy – arrested this guy – whether does – that shows a lack of belief in the strength of the Libyan forces to have done this? They were supposed to be – indeed they were – they have their own investigation into what happened in Benghazi. Have they ever shown you any results of it? Have they come up with any names? Have they made any kind of – has there been any proof that they’re serious in trying to investigate what happened?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think any of those conversations would take place through law enforcement channels. Obviously this was an effort that has been underway for quite some time, and we saw an opportunity over the course of the last couple days to detain this individual, so we did that. And I think, obviously, we’ve been speaking about it for some time. So --
QUESTION: I guess also the requests that they have for you to return him so he could be tried in Libyan courts is not one that you’re going to agree to.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would refer you to the Department of Justice, but I think we’ve been very clear that the plan would be for him to be tried in courts in the United States.
QUESTION: Well, does your referral to DOD for further details also cover when --
MS. PSAKI: DOJ.
QUESTION: Well, he’s aboard a military ship, right?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: When does that ship dock, even if you don’t know where?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other details on that at this point in time.
QUESTION: Okay, but would that be – that would also be at DOJ, or would that be --
MS. PSAKI: It may be, but I’m not sure that there are details they’re sharing at this time. So to save you a phone call.
QUESTION: And it – are there any State Department personnel as part of that package traveling with them?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check on that for you. Not that I’m aware of, but I’ll check and make sure that’s the case.
QUESTION: Does he still have a right to consular access?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. We discussed this yesterday, and obviously we will – we are committed in general to the principle of consular access, so we’ll meet our obligations for that.
QUESTION: So that would be done on U.S. soil or on the ship?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on how it would take place.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:04 p.m.)