1:24 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Thank you for your patience. I know everybody is probably eager to spend a little time with their families over the holiday. I don’t have anything at the top, so Lara, why don’t we go straight to you?
QUESTION: Great. Thank you. I noted the Secretary’s statement earlier today about the abduction and murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. I’m wondering if you can give us a little more information on what the Obama Administration knows about the circumstances or the motive of this killing.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Lara, there is an investigation that authorities are looking into this tragedy. A number of Israeli and Palestinian officials have condemned it. Prime Minister Netanyahu has called today for sides not to take the law into their own hands. The Secretary has also been in touch today with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I expect he’ll continue to be in touch with both sides, as our teams on the ground are as well. So I don’t have anything to convey to you, and I don’t want to prejudge the investigation.
QUESTION: But it seems that this is being linked to the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens. And so I’m wondering what makes anyone think – or is there any evidence that suggests that they are linked?
MS. PSAKI: Well again, Lara, that’s the reason why there is an investigation. And what we’re – what we’ve conveyed from here – and obviously, the Secretary’s statement did this strongly – is the need to refrain from violence, the need for all sides to find an alternative path forward. Clearly, our hearts go out to the families of those who have suffered with recent events, including the deaths of the three teenagers. But we’re going to let the investigation play itself out, and certainly, we would condemn in the strongest terms these despicable acts of violence.
QUESTION: But even the use of the phrase – you’re urging people to not take the law into their own hands. That seems to indicate that there is some kind of linkage. So does the U.S. have any independent evidence that they are linked?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any independent evidence here. Obviously, there’s an independent – there is an investigation going on on the ground. That’s the appropriate place for this to take place. We will continue to remain in touch with our counterparts from the Israeli – the Israeli and Palestinian counterparts. And again, clearly, we’re deeply concerned about the violence on the ground, and that’s why the Secretary issued a statement this morning.
QUESTION: And also, following up from a question that was asked yesterday about whether or not Hamas was responsible for the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens, I think there was a question taken about how the U.S. knows that, what kind of evidence was being relied on for that case. I think it was said that that was mostly Israeli and some Palestinian evidence. Is there any independent U.S. evidence about Hamas’ involvement in that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, right now – and again, I think it’s important to note in all of these cases that any investigation is going on on the ground, it’s not – there’s not an independent United States investigation. We are in close touch with both Israeli and Palestinian officials. We have been for weeks, and that will certainly continue.
Right now there are many indications pointing to Hamas’ involvement. It’s also important to note that Hamas’ leadership publicly praised the kidnappings, and we’ve seen a pattern of events over the course of quite some time that we would also point to. But there’s an ongoing investigation; that has not been concluded. Clearly, many officials have spoken to their views of what happened here, but we will remain in touch with officials on the ground, and we’re not going to prejudge the outcome.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: But Jen, this is a criminal case. I mean, it’s okay for Hamas leader to welcome the killing or whatever they say publicly, but is this good enough evidence for them to link them directly to the killing?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’m – I just made very clear that we are going to let the investigation play itself out. I think there’s no question there are some patterns that we’ve seen in the past. There are many indications pointing to Hamas’ involvement, but we’re going – there’s an investigation that’s ongoing. It has not yet been concluded.
QUESTION: Are you aware that there is an organization called Jamaat Ansar as-Dawla al-Islamiya, which is a group that link itself to the Islamic state that declared responsibility yesterday, and Palestinian news agency ran the story that they – actually they are the one who kidnapped the three teens and killed them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been a range of reports. That’s exactly why there’s an investigation ongoing. We’ll let that play itself out.
QUESTION: Okay. Just one last thing: You are aware that the Israelis demolished the house of one of the suspect of – they said they were involved in the killing. It was five-story house. The family lost their house. It’s a – do you see this as a collective punishment against the family? And in addition to that, they arrested the father and four of the brothers, and they already in Israeli jail.
MS. PSAKI: Well again, I think the Secretary’s statement this morning sent a very strong message from the United States that there has to be an alternative path forward, that violence is not the answer. And we’ve been in touch with both sides to convey that strongly, as well. There’s no question there are strong emotions on the ground. That’s understandable, given the circumstances, but we’re encouraging parties to continue to cooperate on security measures and continue the dialogue as well.
QUESTION: On the idea of collective punishment, I wanted to ask you about the notion of collective responsibility of governments, specifically of this Palestinian unity government. The Hamas/Fatah government is responsible for security and law enforcement in all the Palestinian territories. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s cooperation, as you know, on security front with the Israeli authorities as well. It depends on the part that you’re referring to.
QUESTION: Well, so when the unity government was announced, you said: “Based on what we know now, we intend to work with this government. We will continue to evaluate the composition and policies of the new government, and if needed, we will recalibrate our approach.” Is this a time to recalibrate? Are you re-evaluating? And if not, why not, given, obviously, this government has no control over the fact that dozens of rockets are falling on southern Israel, and not to mention these kidnappings?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point out as well that President Abbas has publicly condemned the kidnappings, and security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has remained and has continued. It remains the case that we will continue to assess – that’s been ongoing – our – the interim government based on its composition, its policies, and its actions. That’s ongoing. And we evaluate that on a regular basis, and nothing has changed in that regard.
QUESTION: But what does it mean for Hamas to have any part in this government and then turn around and fire – I mean, just now there was a red alert --
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s important to note here, Michael, that they don’t have – they’re not a part of the technocratic government. Obviously, the technocratic government is different from the reconciliation process. Obviously, everything’s linked. It’s all – but it’s different. They’re not a part of the technocratic government. We’ve seen President Abbas condemn the violence. Obviously, any incidents of violence we would condemn. We look at all of these circumstances as we evaluate our relationship moving forward.
QUESTION: And – but what are the technocrats doing? Do you have faith in the technocrats that are in this interim government that they have control over the situation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s no question it’s a difficult circumstance on the ground. And over the long term, yes, of course, preventing and ending this violence is a primary objective. And President Abbas, who is head of the Palestinian Authority, an important part of the technocratic process here, has strongly condemned these actions. And we expect and hope that that will continue.
QUESTION: Last one from me. Do you have a response to the members of the Palestinian leadership and the PA that are saying that the killing of these three teens is a vast Israeli conspiracy or that in some way the Israelis were involved in the kidnapping and killing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say I think the Secretary has not only spoken publicly about this, but he’s been in close touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu and a range of other officials, and certainly we don’t see validity in that claim.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly. Do we have any more on this topic before we – go ahead.
QUESTION: Yesterday, The Washington Post put out a story and based on some documents it also put out on its website, according to which U.S. has been spying on several political organizations across the world, five or six. One of them is BJP from India, which is now the main ruling party in India. What do you have to say on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as has been the case consistently, we’re not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity. As you know, since January 17th, the President has made clear that he’s instructed his national security team as well as the intelligence community to work with foreign counterparts to deepen our coordination and cooperation in ways that rebuild trust moving forward. I can confirm that diplomats from our embassy have met with their MEA counterparts on this issue, but I’m not going to get into the substance of our private conversations.
QUESTION: But can you say what’s the status right now? Is BJP still in that list or is off the list?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to have any more details I can lay out for you, other than to convey that we have a deep and broad partnership with India. We will discuss any concerns that are – we need to discuss through our private diplomatic channels. And obviously, that is already ongoing, including as it relates to these specific reports.
QUESTION: But I believe the State Department is always consulted on these issues by NSC and the White House. What is the need for such kind of activities within political parties in India? You always have a robust engagement with the BJP. I have seen several of its leaders coming here, diplomats from here going and having regular meetings with the BJP. So what is the need for that?
MS. PSAKI: What is the need for the meetings or --
QUESTION: No, not – for the activities that the U.S. was doing in 2010.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think we’ve spoken to this extensively as it relates to reports from around the world. I would point you to the President’s speeches and remarks on this issue and steps we’ve taken to change our policies. And beyond that, I’m not going to have a further comment on these reports.
QUESTION: Do you think this would have an impact on your relationship with India now since that the prime minister is from that party?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly hope not. We look forward to continuing discussion on a full range of bilateral and regional issues. As you know, there’s been an invitation issued for a visit, and we’re looking forward to that, hopefully in the fall.
QUESTION: Following the meetings that your diplomats had in New Delhi yesterday on this particular issue, have they given any assurance to the Indians that this will be not be done in the future?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to have anything else to read out. There’ll be continuation of private diplomatic conversations, and I’m not going to read out those out publicly.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Same? The same?
MS. PSAKI: In India? Sure. Or go ahead, in the region.
QUESTION: Not in India.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, okay.
QUESTION: Thanks. While Pakistan is carrying out a big operation in North Waziristan to flush out TTP and foreign militants, Pakistan has also demanded of Kabul to hand over Mullah Fazlullah, who is the leader of TPP and is carrying out and directing operations and bombings in Pakistan. But Kabul has declined to respond positively to Pakistan’s request to hand over Mullah Fazlullah to Pakistan. Do you have any comments on that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe we will. I’m happy to circle back with our team and see if there’s anything we’d like to add. As you know, the separation you’re referring to is strictly a Pakistan operation run by the government – or the officials in Pakistan and the Government of Pakistan, and they are the best source for additional information.
QUESTION: I mean, it was not in the – not too distant past that U.S. plucked one of the lieutenants of Mullah Fazlullah TTP leaders from Afghanistan – last year probably. And what is the U.S. doing there to help the two countries to cooperate on the cross-border militancy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I don’t think those are details that we’re going to get into from the podium.
Go ahead, Samir.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, mm-hmm. He also spoke with President Barzani this morning, so let me just give you kind of an overview of those two. During his – following on meetings that the Secretary had in Erbil just last week, he met this morning with a Kurdish delegation led by KRG President Barzani’s chief of staff, Fuad Hussein, to discuss the crisis in Iraq and the important role that Kurds have to play in assisting the efforts of the central government to manage this current security and political crisis in a way that is beneficial to all Iraqis. The Secretary emphasized to the delegation the critical role that the Kurds play in the government formation process, and with the new Iraqi parliament convened, the need for their full participation to move the process forward to forge an inclusive government that takes into account the rights, aspirations, and legitimate concerns of all of Iraqis – of Iraq’s communities. He also further stressed that formation of an inclusive government in Iraq was vital to uniting the Iraqi people and ridding the nation of the threat from ISIL, including in the Kurdish region. And finally, he underscored the historic relationship the United States shares with the Kurdistan Regional Government and its people, and emphasized our full commitment to that relationship.
The discussion he had with President Barzani was along the same lines in terms of encouraging the urgency – emphasizing the urgency of their participation in the government formation process, the important role the Kurds played moving forward – he raised the important role the Kurds play moving forward, and also emphasized that the focus should be on the existential threat that they all face, and that’s where their focus should be at this important time.
QUESTION: I assumed Dr. Fuad was scheduled to come here for some time, but the call of President Barzani was somewhat – can we assume it was precipitated by the fact that the Kurds walked out of the parliament meeting yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: He’s been in touch with a range of officials, as you know, throughout the last several weeks. So certainly we are aware of those events and encouraging them to participate in the process is part of that, and emphasizing the importance of the plan to reconvene next week is a part of that. But I don’t have any additional information on the timing or the reasoning of the call beyond that.
QUESTION: Did – I mean, I ask about the timing, because, as you noted, he met with President Barzani last week. I’m just wondering what different message he might have had from a week ago to today that would have necessitated a call.
MS. PSAKI: It’s not a different message, but I think consistency, especially in times of crisis, is part of his approach to diplomacy. So that’s what this was a part of.
QUESTION: And did President Barzani or Dr. Fuad commit to attending the July 8th parliament session?
MS. PSAKI: We --
QUESTION: Not themselves personally, but the delegations.
MS. PSAKI: We certainly expect they will, but I’ll let them speak for themselves in terms of their own commitments.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Kurds, meanwhile, are working on their own country or own state, drawing the borders of this country and preparing for the referendum. Have you discussed this issue with them and what was their reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’ve heard the Secretary say publicly, but his message privately is exactly the same – that a united Iraq is a stronger Iraq, and the focus should be on the existential threat that all Iraqis face and that people in the region face, which is the threat of ISIL. And we should not give an opening to a horrific terrorist group by being divided at this critical moment. So that’s part of the message that he certainly has conveyed broadly on these issues.
Now, there have been statements made in the past, as you know, for quite some time about their desire for an independent Kurdistan. It’s not new as of the last week. I know you’re aware of that, but it’s important context here.
QUESTION: Today, was prime minister – sorry. Today Prime Minister Maliki and the Iranians saying that they oppose to any kind of secession by the Kurds. So you’re in agreement with them on that?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve been very consistent and clear about our view that a stronger Iraq is a united Iraq, a united Iraq is a stronger Iraq.
QUESTION: And do you believe that Kirkuk is still disputed?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Do you believe that Kirkuk is still a disputed area?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re certainly aware that the Kurdish – the Peshmerga are there, the Kurdish forces are there. But again, we have been encouraging all parties in Iraq to remain focused on the existential threat they face.
QUESTION: One more on Iraq. There are news reports saying that the Iraqi air force appears to be using Sukhoi fighter jets camouflaged to hide the fact that they were sent from Iran. And in an image analysis, it showed that the same exact markings on these planes in Iran’s fleet minus the country’s flag and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard logo, which appear to have been painted over. Do you have any idea about this, and do you think that the Iraqis have received fighter jets from Iran?
MS. PSAKI: We have seen the same reports that you have. I don’t have any independent information to share with you at this time. We’ve been very clear to all in the region that anything that might exacerbate sectarian tensions would fuel extremism in Iraq. That’s the reason we have expressed concerns about the type of help Iran may or may not want to supply, so those concerns remain.
QUESTION: Have you asked for any information from the Iraqi Government to confirm these reports?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re in touch with Iraqi officials about a range of issues, but I don’t have anything to read out on that front.
QUESTION: Yeah, but --
QUESTION: And if true – sorry – what would be your position?
MS. PSAKI: If true – if the --
QUESTION: If they have really received these kind of jets from Iran.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve been pretty clear on this that we have had concerns, and we have remaining concerns, about any effort to spark sectarian tensions in Iraq. And I think, broadly speaking, without having confirmation or providing confirmation from here of these specific details, that it would be a violation of the UN Security Council resolution regarding Iran’s sanctions if they provided – a violation to Iraq – Iraq would be violating if they were receiving this type of material and equipment from Iran.
QUESTION: Will this affect the U.S. aid to the Iraqi Government, the military aid especially?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, our consideration is regarding a range of factors, including the best way to see a stable and secure Iraq over the long term. The political process is an essential part of that, the government formation. Obviously, we’re committed to taking on the threat of ISIL, which is why we’ve taken steps we’ve taken. But I’m not going to go further down the hypothetical rabbit hole with you.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have more in Iraq?
QUESTION: On that.
MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The same analysis says that the five or seven Sukhoi 25s, whichever is true, are part of the Iraqi aircraft that were transferred to Iran during the desert operation in 1991. Now, if that is true, and this whole transfer – this report turns out to be correct, would still this be a violation of the sanctions? It’s Iraqi aircraft to begin with.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me lay out for you what a violation technically speaking and broadly speaking would be. It’s – the short version is: it’s the sale or transfer of equipment from Iran. The specific language is that, “Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel, and all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, whether or not originating in the territory of Iran.”
So I’m not going to speculate on whether or not it would be a violation. That’s what a violation is technically. I don’t have any other confirmation for you of these specific reports, of which there are a range.
QUESTION: The Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. yesterday was at Carnegie Endowment, I believe, and he said – he referred to – he said that Iraq is going to turn to Russia, Syria, and Iran for military assistance. Has anybody from this building been in touch with them regarding all, and especially with all these reports, different reports coming out, that Iran has been transferring and then Russia as well?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Mika, I will say first that we have been in touch with Iraqi officials over the course of time about any concerns about violating UN Security Council sanctions. In terms of assistance – and I think my colleague Marie addressed this yesterday, and we have a little bit over the course of days – but we have always been supportive of efforts by Iraq to work with a range of countries, and to be clear they work with a range of countries and have for some time, in terms of the military assistance and equipment needs and how to meet – meeting those, I should say.
We also provide and have increased this over the course of the last several months as well, as you know, because we’ve talked about it a great deal in here. So it’s not a surprise to us, nor have we expressed a concern about Iraq working with a range of countries that they’ve long worked with to meet their needs.
QUESTION: Marie said the other day that the U.S. wouldn’t be opposed to any legitimate transfers. Would this constitute a legitimate transfer of arms should it be proven that these are actually Iraqi --
MS. PSAKI: I think I just outlined pretty clearly what a violation would be. We’ve communicated that to the Government of Iraq. I’m not going to speculate further until we have any confirmation of the specific details here.
QUESTION: Have you seen any moves on part of Baghdad to work with regional countries?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry, the part of --
QUESTION: Have you – on part of Baghdad, the Iraqi Government, to work with other countries as well to control the situation?
MS. PSAKI: To – on – to address to threat of ISIL?
QUESTION: Yes. With the Arab countries, yes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think they’ve been in touch with a range of countries. You saw the announcement yesterday by Saudi Arabia, the humanitarian announcement that obviously Marie outlined, would go through the UN. One of the tasks that the Secretary was engaged with last week was working with these countries to focus on the existential threat that countries in the region face. So certainly there has been outreach and discussions, and we’ve been engaged in that as well.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. PSAKI: More on Iraq. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you think that after two weeks the ISIL threat is lessening or – I mean, getting less or is getting more?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to do a day-to-day evaluation of that. Certainly our concern remains about the existential threat that Iraq and the countries in the region face from ISIL. We have seen reports of government forces fighting back, but our concern remains. And that’s why we’ve continued to increase our assistance and why we remain closely engaged with government officials on the ground.
QUESTION: So the other thing which we – when you talk about the readout with the talks with the Kurdish leaders, you are talking about process or something to form at the end unified government and parliament and all these things, because they are not attending. What kind of contacts you have with the Sunni leadership? Do you have any contact with Sunni leadership?
MS. PSAKI: We’re in touch – of course. We’re in touch with Sunnis, with Shia, with Kurds. We’re in touch with a range of officials on the ground in Iraq.
QUESTION: Do you believe, still believe that the unified government minimized the threat of ISIL?
MS. PSAKI: We do.
MS. PSAKI: Because the focus should be on standing together and facing the existential threat that they all face and not on political infighting.
QUESTION: Jen, one more on the jets. Do you have any information if Russia has delivered the Sukhoi fighter jets to Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details to confirm for you on what they may or may not have delivered, no.
QUESTION: One on India?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish Iraq, and then --
MS. PSAKI: -- Iraq, or – okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have any contact with Iran regarding this Iraq issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we spoke about the contact that Deputy Secretary Burns had just about 10 days ago, but I don’t have any other contact to read out for --
QUESTION: Nothing updated? Nothing update --
MS. PSAKI: Nothing to update you on, no.
QUESTION: Can we just stay in the region with Iran?
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: A follow-up on --
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, sorry about that. But there was a meeting today between Under Secretary Burns and Minister Zarif in Vienna. Have they discussed Iraq or not?
MS. PSAKI: I think Marie addressed this yesterday that there was --
QUESTION: No, but today, the --
MS. PSAKI: -- no plans for that to be addressed. And I’m not aware of any reports of it being brought up.
QUESTION: I see that the Secretary is meeting at the White House with the National Security Advisor and the SecDef. I assume Iraq is on that agenda and the meetings should have – at least the first one should have already ended.
MS. PSAKI: They have an almost weekly lunch, so this is a part of that. And obviously a range of topics will be discussed, but we’re not going to read out the content of the meeting.
More on Iraq, or should we – okay, new topic. Let’s go ahead.
QUESTION: I have a small quick one on India.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The news reports from India are saying that the Secretary will be traveling to New Delhi for the next round of strategic dialogue with India on July 30th. Do you confirm this date?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any trips to announce and I’m not aware of plans at this point to travel in the coming weeks to India --
QUESTION: And also --
MS. PSAKI: -- but we look forward to going at some point.
QUESTION: But is it going to be late this month or next month?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of plans to travel this month.
QUESTION: The same news report is saying that Deputy Secretary Burns will travel into India next week. Do you have --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on his schedule in front of me. We can check, and as you know, we will put out an announcement whenever he was travel planned.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay? Ali.
QUESTION: We understand that the U.S. is supposed to announce today new security directives for foreign airlines and airports in response to threats from Syrian terrorists staging attacks, especially the foreign-born terrorists who have European and American passports. So I just wanted to know: Have you been in – has the State Department been in touch with foreign governments alerting them to this change? And what are your thoughts on the directive itself?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think this – any announcement hasn’t been quite made yet. I’d have to check on what our specific involvement would be. I would say, broadly speaking, that the threat of foreign fighters is a concern that we share with many counterparts in the world, whether that’s Europeans or others in the Western world, where we’ve seen an increase in foreign fighters who have traveled to Syria and other countries in the region and returning. So we have been discussing a range of steps we can take in a coordinated fashion for some time, but I don’t have anything on this specific announcement. But we can check and see if there’s more to share.
QUESTION: Sure. But it’s fair to say that the State Department has been involved in those discussions with other bureaus – DHS --
MS. PSAKI: We’ve been in discussion about, of course, a range of issues as it relates to taking on the threat of foreign fighters and what we can do more. In terms of this specific case, I don’t have any details on it. I’m happy to check about our level of engagement on it, sure.
In the back? Go ahead. Oh, and – he’s just been raising his hand aggressively in the back, so go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Or ladies first. Either way.
QUESTION: Ladies first, sure.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, all right. Okay, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: What is the U.S. expectation for the outcome of the summit generally, and do you have any concerns for any part of the summit – the agenda or the signing of any new diplomatic documents that they could sign?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not sure that this is an event – or you tell me – that we are involved in at any senior level or --
QUESTION: No, it’s between China and South Korea.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. So I would just say, broadly speaking, that we’ll see what the outcome is. Obviously, we remain in touch with both countries. I think we put out a readout of a call the Secretary did with one of his Chinese counterparts, and we’re in close touch with South Korean officials as well. But they’re both important partners, whether it’s in the Six-Party process or on other issues in the region. So we’ll see what comes out of it and if there’s anything we need to speak to.
QUESTION: Okay. And China is reportedly going to ask South Korea to join the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the U.S. has reportedly warned South Korea against joining it. Do you have any position on the development bank itself, or your expectations for what South Korea might decide whether to join or not?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I’m happy to check with our team and see if there’s any concerns or issues raised that we’d like to express publicly, though.
QUESTION: Okay. And then in general, do – is there any concern at all that South Korea is perhaps becoming too close to China, given the fact that President Obama emphasized on his Asia trip that the U.S. should be South Korea’s main security ally?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we also encourage dialogue between countries in the region, and we’ve long encouraged the strong and peaceful rise and prosperity of China. So we’ll see what comes out of the dialogue tomorrow, and certainly we’ll encourage meetings moving forward.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we stay in the region with North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Sort of as these meetings are happening, North Korea’s been sort of demonstrating increased aggressive posturing with this – these small missile tests, and also with the decision earlier this week to charge the two Americans that they currently detain. First of all, do you have any update on the status of those two Americans? Any more on what their health was the last time the Swedes were able to meet with them, or whether they’ve been – if they’ve been able to meet with them this week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been no new meetings, so the last meetings by our Swedish protecting power were ones I think we updated on a couple of days ago. That was with Mr. Fowle on June 20th and Mr. Miller on June 21st. It’s important to note that those meetings were prior to these reports of the charges. So to my knowledge, there hasn’t been an opportunity to discuss this with them specifically by our Swedish protecting power.
In terms of their health, obviously, we’re always concerned about the health and welfare and safety of U.S. citizens. That’s one of the reasons we seek to have close contacts and have consular access, but I don’t have any specific updates or new concerns to express related to their health.
QUESTION: Do you have any indication why these charges are happening now? Because it seems the one man was in custody since April.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we, again, have seen reports of the charges, but I don’t have any separate confirmation or additional details on them at this point in time.
QUESTION: And then also, between that and the missile tests, some experts are coming forward saying that they indicate that North Korea is frustrated by not being sort of more on the U.S.’s radar, more on other countries’ radars, that it’s not a priority in people’s foreign policies. Does that – is that an analysis that this building shares, and is it affecting the way you kind of go forward in your policy towards North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s a shared concern by the United States, by other countries in the region about the bellicose rhetoric and the threats posed by North Korea. And we’re certainly concerned by the reports of yet another round of provocative weapons launches, the third in a week. These launches are intended to unilaterally heighten tensions in the region. They’ll not provide North Korea or the North Korean people with the prosperity and security it claims to seek. And it’s long been the case that the ball is in North Korea’s court to change their relationship with the international community. It’s not in ours; it’s in their court. But clearly, actions like those of this past week don’t help them take steps forward in that regard.
QUESTION: Can I, Jen, just follow up on that? In the case of Mr. Miller, the reports are that he sought asylum in North Korea or he – that he tore up his visa to the country upon entering and said he wanted to stay there. Is it your understanding that he wants to come back here or that he wants – doesn’t want to, or do you have any details on that?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more details to share in either of these cases.
QUESTION: But you are still seeking – your official position is that you’re seeking him to be returned to the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely, and we’re also seeking additional consular visits --
QUESTION: Okay. And then --
MS. PSAKI: -- through our protecting power.
QUESTION: Okay, great. And then one more on the summit: A lot of people are noting that this is the first time a Chinese president has visited the president of South Korea before visiting – paying an official visit to North Korea. Are you encouraged by this as a sign that China is sort of moving away from North Korea and perhaps a little bit more willing to put diplomatic pressure on them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve had a range of conversations with China over the course of the last several months or even years, I should say at this point, that we have been here, that the Secretary has been here. And they have played a role in pushing North Korea to take more helpful steps forward. But I don’t want to analyze further the order of visits. I’ll leave that to others to analyze.
QUESTION: Sure. I guess what I’m trying to get at is: Do you detect a shift in the Chinese position toward a greater willingness to work with you and other partners in the region to put pressure on North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary has spoken to this in the past about conversations that he has had with Chinese leaders about the threat we face and the concerns we have about North Korea’s rhetoric. But I think that’s – I would point to that more than the order of visits.
QUESTION: Jen, sorry, (inaudible). Is the United States seeking China’s help to get the detainees out of the DPRK?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything else to read out for you in terms of our efforts.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Regarding the talk between Japanese Government and North Korea, did the U.S. have any report from Japanese Government? And how does the U.S. think about the possibility of Japanese Government is going to – lifting of the sanctions in North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have certainly been in close touch with our Japanese counterparts on this and a range of other issues. Certainly, they are the experts on the discussions that are ongoing. I know there have been many reports about what they may or may not do. We don’t have any independent confirmation of that. I don’t believe any public announcement has been made. So we would refer you to the Government of Japan for more information. We continue to support Japanese efforts to resolve the abductions issue in a transparent manner.
And as I noted at the top, we of course maintain regular consultations with Japan on issues related to North Korea, security in the region, and a range of issues we have shared concern about.
QUESTION: And what do you think about the possibility of lifting of the Japanese original sanction on North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I’m not going to speak to a hypothetical. There hasn’t been any announcement made. Obviously, I don’t have any independent information here about that particular report.
Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. There is a noticeable escalation of anti-Armenian rhetoric in Azerbaijan recently. Ilham Aliyev personally called Armenia a historic Azerbaijan land this time, which analysts qualified as territorial claim. The main question is about the violation of ceasefire recent weeks. Azerbaijan violated ceasefire not only in line of contact with Karabakh, but also across the state border with Armenia, severely shelling civilian rural settlements in northeastern part of Armenia. Some local authorities already have reported that full-scale war has already broken out.
So as a co-chair of OSCE Minsk Group, do you follow the situation and any actions to put – do you put any efforts to restrain Azerbaijan from belligerent statements and action? Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are committed – as a co-chair, we’re committed to helping both sides reach a peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It’s our hope that the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will accept French President Hollande’s invitation to hold a summit in Paris as soon as possible, and that they will agree to structured negotiations that will lead to a peace agreement. And we call on both sides to redouble their efforts at the negotiation table and to focus on the benefits that peace will bring to people across the region. Obviously, inflammatory rhetoric and statements run counter to the principle of reducing tensions, and so we certainly think that that damages the peace process, and that’s why we’re encouraging them to redouble their efforts.
QUESTION: Jen, have you seen the reports that (inaudible) civilian settlements this time has been bombarded by Azerbaijan in Armenia?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of those specific reports, but clearly, a peaceful settlement is in the interests of both countries.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Some Syrian opposition groups in Aleppo issued a statement today asking the SOC to provide them with more arms to fight ISIS that getting stronger in Syria, and they threatened to desert their position in one week – or their positions in one week if they did not receive the military aids that they are asking for.
MS. PSAKI: Who was this? I’m sorry, this statement was issued --
QUESTION: Some military opposition groups in Aleppo especially. Do you have anything on this, and will the U.S. accelerate the military aids to the opposition to fight the regime and ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you saw the President’s announcement just earlier this week, or last week – it’s all running together – last week. And clearly, we’ve taken steps here to continue to boost support for the opposition, whether that is political support or military assistance. I have not seen that specific statement you’re referring to. Clearly, our view is that the opposition needs to continue to strengthen their membership and work together to take on the threat that they face, both from the brutality of the Assad regime as well as, certainly, some extremists who are present in Syria. So I’d have to check and see that specific statement and what groups it was coming from. I don’t know if you have more information on it. We can talk about it afterwards.
QUESTION: I will forward it to you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Sounds good.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we say now that the issue or the files of chemical weapons are closed now, or still you have some concerns about the chemical weapon of mass destruction that is in Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Well, part of what Syria committed to last September was joining the Chemical Weapons Convention. So while we made the announcement last week about – or OPCW did, I should say – about the removal of 100 percent of declared chemicals, there are – of course we’re going to keep our effort going here in terms of ensuring that that covers all chemical weapons that would pose a threat. And that’s an ongoing effort that the OPCW will be seeing through in the months ahead.
QUESTION: Some people, already they are saying that what was done regarding the chemical weapon was done based on what was provided as a stockpile, as an information, so more weapons are there. What is your understanding of that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we have never taken the Assad regime at their word. That’s why we refer to it as the declared chemical weapons. But I think it’s important to note here that a significant amount of toxic chemicals of the worst kind, who had been used by the Assad regime to kill their own people, has now been removed from Syria. Those are chemicals that they can never again use against their own people. But we will continue, through the OPCW, to take every step necessary to ensure that all is verified and that we prevent this from happening again.
QUESTION: Yes please, more.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: And – please. Regarding refugees.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. In Syria.
QUESTION: In Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I mean, with the – what was going on in the last two weeks, it seems that more disturbance happening with the ISIL movements and regarding the refugees. Do you have any update about refugee status there?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new update. Obviously, we’ve been concerned about the growing number of refugees, the impact that this has had on countries in the region. I would point you to the Secretary’s visit just a couple of weeks ago to Lebanon, where they talked about this issue and what a strain it is on the Government of Lebanon. We know it’s a strain on the Government of Jordan. That’s why we’ve increased our assistance over the course of the last several months in this regard, but our efforts are continuing on that. And as it relates to this, we remain the world’s largest donor, but obviously, end – bringing an end to the suffering and the bloodshed is the best way to address the refugee crisis.
QUESTION: Few days ago there was concern or reports saying that ISIL already infiltrated in some of the refugee camps in Jordan. Is that – this is just rumors, reports? Did you check it? Are you sure about --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of that. I’m happy to see if there’s more we can say on that from here. Obviously, we’d be greatly concerned about that.
Michael, go ahead.
QUESTION: The chemical weapons deal. Two proponents of the deal that you helped forge are Shimon Peres and Bibi Netanyahu. They have come out and called it a good deal multiple times, but then they said that your negotiations with Iran with the other P5+1 members in Vienna should model the deal that you reached on Syria’s chemical weapons. Do you think that’s an apt comparison? Do you think that’s a fair model?
MS. PSAKI: Well, without knowing the full context I’m not sure what the comparison is, and so I’d point you to them on describing exactly what they mean by that.
QUESTION: Well, they say – they call it the Audi model and they say zero, zero, zero, zero in terms of capability, infrastructure, and the like. What they say is that the deal on Syrian chemical weapons managed to remove all of the most dangerous materials and therefore all of the most dangerous materials in Iran in its nuclear program should be dismantled or removed, and that should be the model. So do you think it’s an apt model?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Michael, there’s an ongoing negotiation that started today. I can update you that there was a trilateral meeting today that’s still ongoing between the U.S., the EU, and Iran. It may have concluded now, actually. I know it’s late there. The delegations, as you all know, are led by Deputy Secretary Burns, Lady Ashton, and Foreign Minister Zarif respectively. The opening plenary will be tomorrow morning, chaired by Lady Ashton and Foreign Minister Zarif.
We’re certainly familiar with the concerns by the Israelis. We remain in touch with them and have done a range of briefings. Our goal – we’re not – no deal is better than a bad deal. That’s something that remains the case and remains the bar. But we also believe that this is a process that could lead to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, which we feel is in the interests of all countries, including Israel. But beyond that I’m not going to speculate or comment on those reports.
QUESTION: And just one more on this. With the Secretary’s op-ed in The Washington Post, he said that the parties would be working tirelessly until July 20th. The plan is for the U.S. delegation to be on the ground until July 20th in Vienna.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. They’re – we’re committed to the 20th, we’re working toward the 20th. Again, we don’t – I’m not going to predict what’s going to happen every day between now and then, but that remains our focus.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the issue about potentially ISIL infiltrating some of the refugee camps outside of Syria and Iraq? I mean, I’m sure you saw yesterday Abu Bakr Baghdadi’s call for Muslims to --
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- join the fight in the territories that ISIL controls. And I’m just wondering if there are steps being planned now or taken now beyond the military aid that’s going to Syria and Iraq to prevent the spread of ISIL into other areas or states that would present even greater threats to the West or to Israel.
MS. PSAKI: Were there specific steps you’re – that are on your mind, or what are you referring to exactly?
QUESTION: Well, I’m no military expert, so I leave it to you.
MS. PSAKI: Give yourself more credit, Lara. (Laughter.) Are you referring to military steps, or are you referring to political steps, or what specific --
QUESTION: Well, more military because I assume that a group like ISIL doesn’t care as much about political steps as they would respond to actual force.
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: But if you’ve got ideas, I’m --
MS. PSAKI: No, the – I think the reason I ask that question is because, clearly, part of the effort, the diplomatic effort that is underway that the Secretary is a leading member of, is communicating with the governments of neighboring countries about the importance of conveying to their public the threat that ISIL poses. And that is certainly part of our education effort. In terms of military steps, I can check with our team and see if there’s anything more specific in that regard.
QUESTION: For example, it’s been suggested that Jordan is really a redline in the Mideast, that if ISIL starts coming into Jordan, which is so vulnerable right now anyway with regard to refugees and the economic crisis there, that that could really be the thing that spurs more U.S. or Israeli aid, and a more robust aid to the region.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – and I would point you to the President’s remarks, which were carefully crafted, of course, in the sense that we are concerned about the threat of ISIL not just to Iraq but to the region. We are talking about how we can combat that threat to not just Iraq but to the region. I don’t want to get ahead of where we are because, obviously, as it relates to the events in Iraq you know where we are with the need to – the urgency of moving forward on government formation and the important role we think that plays. But even prior to this crisis I’d point you also to the President’s West Point speech, where he talked about the changing threat we face and how we need to be – dedicate time and resources and energy to taking that on in the right way and how that’s changed over the course of time. So that relates how we address needs in the region as well.
QUESTION: Did you all – I didn’t ask yesterday, but I meant to. Did you all have any kind of reaction to al-Baghdadi’s call to arms other than – I’m sure you’ll say – it’s bad?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we would say it’s bad, but I hope I can be a little more eloquent than that. But our view is that these calls only further expose the true nature of this organization, its desire to control people by its fear and – by fear and edicts, and anyone who is aligned with ISIL is aligning with a terrorist organization. The Iraqis have a long history of fighting against extremism, and people from all – Sunnis, Shia and Kurds all have that long history, and so we are hopeful that will be the case here as well.
QUESTION: Prime Minister al-Maliki today made kind of a “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” sort of statement regarding Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq. It wasn’t that blunt, but it was if you don’t admonish ISIL, then we will see you as the enemy. Do you think that that’s an appropriate way of addressing the situation in Iraq, and do you think that that will do much to encourage Sunnis to feel like they are part of the government?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve been pretty clear that Prime Minister Maliki has not been the model of inclusivity in the past, and perhaps there are different ways to portray the need for inclusivity moving forward. I haven’t seen the full context of the comments, but I think the broad point that whether you’re a Sunni, whether you’re Shia, whether you’re a Kurd, you all face this same threat is a point, broadly speaking, that we certainly agree with. And that’s why we’re encouraging everyone to focus on government formation and focus on unifying against the shared threat that they face.
QUESTION: Jen, new topic?
MS. PSAKI: On Iraq or --
QUESTION: On Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Okay, one more on Iraq. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, please. You mentioned the word “educational.” I mean, I don’t understand what – who is educating whom in this process of the fights going on in that region.
MS. PSAKI: The point I was making is that while there are strong emotions and history about division and lack of inclusivity in the past, the fact is that whether you’re in Iraq and you’re a Sunni or you’re a Kurd or you’re Shia, you are all facing the same threat, same with people from other countries in the region. So communicating that both to leaders in the region as well as to people in the region is what I was referring to.
QUESTION: The other question – I mean, two days ago it was you were asked about the Islamic caliphate that – which is like – because ISIL, till two days ago or three days ago or maybe a week ago, it was almost like characterized as terrorist and all these things. But they put this ideological approach two or three days ago. Whether it’s true or not, that’s not the issue. What’s your understanding of what they are saying? Is it – because it seems that there are – some people are believing in it. Do you have anything to say about it? You’re trying to understand what they are saying?
MS. PSAKI: I think I spoke to this the other day, so I would point you to those comments that I made.
QUESTION: Jen, on the border issue, some experts are saying this is beginning to look like a refugee situation. Does the U.S. see the families and unaccompanied children coming across the border as refugees?
MS. PSAKI: Coming across the border from Iraq?
QUESTION: No, I’m talking about the southern border of the United States.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah, no. Switching, different topic.
MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t sure what you were talking about. (Laughter.) There are different ways to characterize, and I don’t mean characterize their specific qualifications, whether an individual is a refugee or an asylum seeker, and there are definitions of that which I’m happy to get to you. As you saw the Secretary say yesterday, part of our focus and our diplomatic effort here is on working with countries where these unaccompanied minors are coming from to change the root causes, and that is not a short-term process but it’s something that we’re dedicating resources to. That was a big part of the discussion and conversation he had with these leaders yesterday. And you saw the President also speak to this issue and the challenge of communicating to parents of these unaccompanied minors within the countries that this is a dangerous journey, one that they should not send their children on.
So in terms of how they’re characterized, I’m happy to get around to everyone the technical differences between an asylum seeker, a refugee, and how that works. Obviously, we are trying to take on this challenge through many avenues, and that’s what our focus is on and one of the reasons the Secretary had the meetings he did yesterday.
QUESTION: If you could send that around, that’d be great. But do you see these people as one or the other at this point, or a mixture of both, or --
MS. PSAKI: There are different ways that individuals are characterized, and it relates to a range of factors, so why don’t I get that around to you. I wouldn’t group everybody into the same category.
MS. PSAKI: Great. Oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: One more. So the American Court of Human Rights upheld the French ban on the burqas, and I was wondering if you had any comments about that. Do you think that this is discriminatory towards Muslims? And do you think that this is an example of a normalization of racism in Europe?
MS. PSAKI: I had not seen that, so – but we’re happy to get a comment around to all of you as well.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, Matt.
QUESTION: Yes. I apologize, I came in very late.
MS. PSAKI: It’s fine.
QUESTION: I was having lunch.
MS. PSAKI: Good to know. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m sure that you – yes. I’m sure that you’ve covered all the main topics of the day. Have you covered Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: No, we have not talked about Ukraine.
QUESTION: Really? Okay. Well, I’m wondering if you have any comment on what’s going on in terms of the military operations in the east and the attacks by the separatists, as well as the abductions of journalists.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first speak to the abductions of journalists. We, of course – and I think you’re referring to the report from the – of the two detained in Luhansk.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we condemn the unlawful detention of the two journalists in Luhansk and call for their immediate release, along with that of all the other hostages. We further call on all parties to ensure the safety of media. In terms of events of what’s happening on the ground, our view is that the Ukrainian security forces’ operations have been moderate and measured; they’ve been taking steps to maintain calm within their own country. Our belief is that while President Poroshenko said he’s ready to implement a bilateral ceasefire, any ceasefire must be mutual, and there are steps that the Russians have not taken that they need to continue to take.
In terms of specific events on the ground – and let me just see, I have a quick update on this for you – you may have seen, Matt, but I’ll just reiterate it here, that General Breedlove made some comments earlier this week about Russian regular forces actively facilitating the movement of forces, equipment, and finances across the border. He also noted that Russian irregular forces are very active in Luhansk and Donetsk and are receiving Russian financing. And finally, he noted that we – that he – they see – we see about seven or more battalion task groups on the Russian side of the border, plus numerous special operation forces. Obviously, that type of troop buildup is certainly of great concern to us.
And as you know, the discussions, the four-way talks, are ongoing. They may have broken for the day, but those are ongoing. And certainly, we support that effort.
QUESTION: But you assess the Ukrainian Government’s actions to this point since the end of the ceasefire to today as moderate and measured?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: That’s – you don’t have any concerns about what they’re doing or what either side --
MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s not forget that we’re talking about Russian-backed separatists and Russians moving troops near the border, moving equipment across the border.
QUESTION: Do you --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: No? If you didn’t – I didn’t mean to --
MS. PSAKI: And efforts that have been underway to invade, occupy, and attempt to annex part of a sovereign country, which is Ukraine. So they have – they instituted a 10-day ceasefire. They did not have a partner in that effort to institute the ceasefire. But they have a responsibility to maintain calm and order when possible within their own country.
QUESTION: So you see what the Russians are doing now as an attempt to invade, occupy, and annex --
MS. PSAKI: I’m talking about what’s happened over the last several months, Matt.
QUESTION: Okay. But it sounds like – and I didn’t see the comments from General Breedlove. But you are saying that the Russians actually have moved troops into eastern Ukraine, so there --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wasn’t --
QUESTION: So there is an invasion of a sort?
MS. PSAKI: What he was referring to on – is a buildup on the Russian side of the border that we’ve been seeing, but decreased and kind of seemed to come back.
QUESTION: Well, ahead of – before you – before that, you said something about them – the Russians facilitating separatists in eastern Ukraine. I mean, are you saying that there are Russian troops --
MS. PSAKI: Irregular forces, so Russian-backed separatists, are very active, as we know, in Luhansk and Donetsk.
MS. PSAKI: That’s what he was speaking to. But he was also speaking to a troop buildup on the border that we know – pulled back, but we’ve seen it build up again.
QUESTION: So you don’t have any – you don’t say that there are actually Russian troops in eastern Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: I was referring to his update. I don’t believe that we’ve seen that in terms of a massive influx into eastern Ukraine.
QUESTION: Okay. Yesterday, Secretary Kerry spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov by phone.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, yes.
QUESTION: The two readouts, yours – or the U.S. version’s – the U.S. side’s and the Russian side, I mean, are pretty diametrically opposed. Given the fact that the message conveyed from Secretary Kerry to Foreign Minister Lavrov and the message from Foreign Minister Lavrov to Secretary Kerry seemed to be at complete odds with each other, are these phone calls – are these conversations worthwhile at all?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, we certainly believe they’re worthwhile because it’s an opportunity to discuss where you have disagreements and differences. And as you know, readouts are often a portrayal of one side’s message to the other side, since we don’t typically read out the other side’s views. There’s no – it’s also no secret that we have some ongoing differences of opinion with Russia --
MS. PSAKI: -- on Ukraine. And certainly, part of the discussion was, in part, focused on that. They also talked about the P5+1 negotiations as well as Iraq.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, if you could come to – is there any narrowing of – any narrowing of the gaps between the two sides on the issue of Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are talks ongoing. The four-way talks are ongoing. Obviously, keeping a line of communication open, in our view, is important. That’s a part of that, and we think that’s true as well for our bilateral relationship.
MS. PSAKI: I have not.
QUESTION: Okay. So they went ahead and ratified this EU agreement today, and some Russian officials are saying that this is a violation of the rights of the people of Transnistria. Do you agree with that?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t. We congratulate Moldova on ratifying the association agreement.
QUESTION: Okay. I was going to ask you, has Hong Kong come up?
QUESTION: No, but can I stay on this topic for just a bit?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: May I just ask – maybe I’ve missed it --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- but why is the United States not a part of the four-way talks?
MS. PSAKI: I – again, we have a range of ways of communicating with all of the countries involved, and I think we’ve been in touch with all of them throughout these talks as well. But --
QUESTION: Well, right, which is why I find it surprising that it’s – the United States isn’t in the room. I mean, it has been quite a major player in this entire – since going back to February and prior to. So I was just wondering if it was seen that it would be more productive for these talks to go on without active involvement by the United States.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s our view. We’re in close touch with all of the parties involved, and where we can play a useful role, we’re happy to play a useful role.
QUESTION: And also, it’d be five-way talks. There’s a four-person limit to the conference call.
MS. PSAKI: It may be. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: They’re not going to --
MS. PSAKI: Hong Kong.
QUESTION: Hong Kong. Yeah, do you have any reaction to the crackdown on these pro-democracy – or I’m not sure “crackdown” is the right word, but the arrests of large numbers of pro-democracy demonstrators?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly support Hong Kong’s well-established traditions and basic law protections of internationally-recognized fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression. And we support democracy in accordance with the basic law and the aspirations of the Hong Kong people. We believe that, of course, an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by the rule of law is essential for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity, and that as they look at events, they should certainly respect and behave in that manner as well.
QUESTION: So you don’t have any particular concern with those mass arrests?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve certainly seen the report, and we believe that they should abide by their own declarations of how they feel they should govern.
QUESTION: Sorry, who – the Hong Kong authorities or the demonstrators?
MS. PSAKI: The Hong Kong authorities.
QUESTION: And then I’m presuming that you, in your discussion of the Middle East, talked about Israeli-Palestinian stuff --
MS. PSAKI: We did.
QUESTION: -- talked about Secretary Kerry’s phone call with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
MS. PSAKI: I just mentioned that they had spoken, but I didn’t have an additional readout to share.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the last thing, back in Asia: Do you have – oh, first, did you get to Sudan?
QUESTION: No, but if you’d like to ask --
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: No, no. Listen, I defer.
QUESTION: Well, I was going to ask first about this Lao – this Hmong guerilla leader who was – the Thais had thrown back into Laos. Do you have anything to say about that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t, but I’m happy to take it and we can get you something.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on her location, and as has been the case, we’re just not going to be providing specific details on that.
QUESTION: Well, is she still in Sudan?
MS. PSAKI: That hasn’t changed. She still has the documentation, as do her children, that would be needed to travel to the United States. And as you know, she – there are others who don’t feel that she does have that documentation.
QUESTION: Right, but she’s still in Sudan, right?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: She hasn’t --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Great. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)