1:50 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
QUESTION: I just have one item at the top. Secretary Kerry arrived in Beijing, China to take part in the sixth U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue and the fifth U.S.-China High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange. He had a small working dinner with State Councilor Yang Jiechi. And tomorrow, the S&ED and the CPE will begin.
As you know, the S&ED is a central forum for the United States and China to take stock of progress, set new goals for the relationship, develop habits of cooperation in areas of mutual interest, and to manage areas of difference through candid, high-level discussions. The S&ED remains an important component of our efforts with China to build relations between our countries, and the CPE provides a high-level forum for government, civil society, and private sector representatives to discuss cooperation in various areas of common interest. Secretary Kerry will also co-chair this year’s forum and call for closer and expanded people-to-people ties.
With that, Matt, let’s get to what’s on your mind.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: As you are aware no doubt, the Israeli Air Force is conducting operations over in Gaza right now, and I’m wondering what you make of that. Also, the rockets have been – are being fired into southern Israel. Tel Aviv was – there were air raid sirens in Tel Aviv. What’s your take on the situation? Do you believe that this is the kind of restraint that you’ve been calling for from both sides for the past week or so?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza. No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we certainly support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks. We appreciate – we’re concerned, of course, about the safety and security of civilians, as you mentioned. I know there’s been a range of reported attacks that have gone directly on both sides, the residents of southern Israel who are forced to live under rocket fire in their homes, the civilians in Gaza who are subjected to the conflict because of Hamas’s action.
The Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu Friday and again on Sunday. He’s been in regular contact. Let me just make sure he hasn’t had a call today as well. Not today, but he’s been in close contact and he’s reiterated our concern, as our teams have on the ground, to both sides about the need to de-escalate the tensions on the ground. We’ve also – he’s also been in touch with leaders in the region about our concerns about what’s happening on the ground.
So in terms of what’s happening specifically today, our hope is certainly that by sending a strong message that Israel will be able to deter some of the attacks that have been happening that have been coming at them from Gaza. And again, I would just reiterate our view that they have the right to defend themselves.
QUESTION: Do you believe that this is – that the Israeli actions are “sending a strong message”? That’s what you were referring to?
MS. PSAKI: Sending – well, I’m referring to --
QUESTION: The air strikes --
MS. PSAKI: -- the calls this morning. I’m not referring to specific air strikes. But I would reiterate just that they’re defending themself. They have rocket attacks coming into their own country.
QUESTION: Right. I just – well, I don’t have an ulterior motive here.
MS. PSAKI: No, go ahead. Keep going.
QUESTION: I’m just trying to figure out when you say that you think that Israel is sending a strong message – by sending a strong message Israel will be able to deter future rocket attacks from Gaza, is what the Israelis are doing now, do you consider that to be sending a strong message, or is it something else?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not referring to specific action. I’m referring to their statements that they are prepared – they’re preparing themselves to respond to the attacks. Certainly, our preference, which is what the Secretary and others have been conveying to both sides, is to de-escalate the tensions, to bring an end to the violence. But we certainly believe they have the right to defend themselves as well.
QUESTION: They’ve – the government has authorized to call up 40,000 troops, which would appear to be paving the way for a potential ground operation. Is that something that you would oppose, something that you would think is fully within Israel’s right to do? What’s your – what are your thoughts about that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not going to get ahead of where we are. I’m not going to get ahead of where we are now. I would remind you that just this past weekend, Prime Minister Netanyahu called for acting responsibly, called for all sides acting responsibly. We’re continuing to convey the need to de-escalate to both sides. Again, it is not a surprise that they are taking steps to prepare themself, but certainly, our preference is to de-escalate the situation on the ground.
QUESTION: Do you believe that all sides are acting responsibly at the moment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think certainly, we’ve been calling for de-escalation because, obviously, the rocket attacks coming into Gaza, the recent violence on the ground --
QUESTION: So that’s no?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: On the Palestinian side, they are not – or on the Hamas side, they are not acting responsibly, correct?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not – we think all sides should act responsibly, all sides should take steps to de-escalate. But again, it’s important to note where the rocket attacks are coming from. But obviously, there are a lot of circumstances on the ground now, as you know.
QUESTION: I understand that. I’m just trying to get at – I’m trying to find out what the Administration’s position is on whether the sides are acting responsibly, whether they are showing the kind of restraint that you think is necessary to de-escalate the situation, or not. And it’s very possible that one side is and the other side isn’t, or that that’s your opinion, but I’m just trying to find out if – what is the – what does the Administration believe? Is its – are its calls for restraint being heeded by one side, both sides, or either side?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into that level of specificity, Matt, other than to say that we’re conveying through diplomatic channels the importance to both sides of acting responsibly and with restraint.
QUESTION: Okay. And then my last one is you said that the Secretary had been – in addition to calling Prime Minister Netanyahu on Friday and Sunday – was it Friday --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, correct, Friday and Sunday.
QUESTION: -- that he had also been in touch with leaders in the region to pass along the same message, I guess.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Could you be more specific about who in the region?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I’m specifically – let me see if there are more specific calls to read out for you. What I’m referring to is any leader in the region, any countries in the region that can send a strong message to Hamas as well.
QUESTION: But that would be – so, like the Egyptians, the Saudis, the – who, Turks? The --
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct. Those are all applicable. I don’t have any more specifics to read out for you, though, on that.
QUESTION: Well, what about the – what about Palestinian President Abbas sending a strong message to Hamas? I mean, you are recognizing his government, of which Hamas is a part. I mean, doesn’t he bear some responsibility for reining in Hamas?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t recognize governments. Hamas is not a part of the technocratic government. We certainly expect --
QUESTION: It’s a unity government of which Hamas is --
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. We certainly expect President Abbas to do everything in his power to prevent rocket attacks and to condemn violence, and he has made a range of those calls. But we’re conveying the same message to him as well about the need to exercise restraint and de-escalate the situation on the ground.
QUESTION: But do you think that he bears some responsibility here? I mean, I just – it’s like at one point, yes, it was a conflict between just the U.S. and Hamas, and Abbas had no real kind of skin in the game because it was between these two parties, even though it was affecting the Palestinian people directly. But now, he’s part of a unity government and has some influence with Hamas now, wouldn’t you say?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have no evidence that Hamas plays any role in the interim technocratic government. And as far as we know, there have also been no steps taken for the implementation of the reconciliation. And obviously, as I mentioned yesterday, given the situation on the ground, it’s difficult to see how the reconciliation process can move forward in the current atmosphere.
I think, yes, we want President Abbas to do everything in his power to prevent rocket attacks and to condemn violence. But I would remind you, as you know, Hamas control – continues to control Gaza. The Palestinian Authority security forces only operate in the West Bank and don’t operate in Gaza. So there are certainly limitations to what is possible, though we want him to do everything in his power to prevent and condemn these type of attacks.
QUESTION: Remaining on the message theme, so you think that all Israel is doing is sending a strong deterrent message and that’s all there is, and that remains within the accepted proportion or whatever, proportionality?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s what I stated, Said. There is obviously a range of circumstances on the ground right now, as you all know. There are the unfortunate recent deaths of the three teenagers. There are – there is the kidnapping and then the beating of the other teenager.
MS. PSAKI: There is violence and back-and-forth. I don’t have to repeat for you. You know exactly what’s happening on the ground.
QUESTION: I know. I understand and you don’t have to repeat for me. But you feel that sort of the Israeli air raids, like maybe hundreds of them so far this day, are proportionate to the rockets?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not – I wouldn’t validate the accuracy of that number, but I would say, Said --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, the sorties – there are hundreds of sorties.
MS. PSAKI: I would say, Said, that I don’t think any country would be expected to allow rockets to come in and threaten the lives and health and well-being of the citizens in their country, and Israel has the right to defend themselves.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you believe that the Palestinians in Gaza have the right to defend themselves?
MS. PSAKI: I think – I’m not sure what you’re getting at, Said.
QUESTION: I am asking you: Do they have the right to defend themselves against Israeli aggression?
MS. PSAKI: What are you specifically referring to? Is there a specific event or a specific occurrence?
QUESTION: Do they have the right to respond to Israeli rocketing and bombing their homes, their houses, their areas, their schools?
MS. PSAKI: We’re talking about attacks from a terrorist organization, Said. I don’t think you’re --
QUESTION: No, but there is also a population --
MS. PSAKI: -- we’re having a conversation about what’s happening here.
QUESTION: I mean, you agree that there is a civilian population in Gaza that is also subject to --
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, and the threat, as I mentioned earlier, to civilian populations is of great concern to us. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re so focused on encouraging all sides to de-escalate.
QUESTION: Are you calling on someone like Egypt to intervene, perhaps, that can bring about some sort of quiet?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve, again, been in touch with countries from the region. I’m not going to get into any greater level of specificity.
QUESTION: Have you gotten a response from the Egyptians that they are willing to intervene or perhaps broker --
MS. PSAKI: I’ll let countries speak for themselves.
Do we have more on this issue? Okay. Should we move on to a new topic?
MS. PSAKI: Bahrain.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I believe we sent this out, but in case you didn’t all see it, I just wanted to give a quick overview of the meetings that he had on the ground. He arrived on July 6th. On that evening, he briefly attended the Wefaq Ramadan gathering, which was open to the public. Throughout his visit he was also scheduled to attend the Ramadan gatherings of a broad spectrum of society, as is traditional. He also met with the minister of interior and police chief; with the National Institution for Human Rights. He had meetings scheduled over the coming days with the crown prince, first deputy prime minister and director general of his office, the foreign minister, the minister of justice and Islamic affairs, the minister of interior, ombudsman, the commission on prisoner and detainee rights, and the chief of the public prosecutor special investigative unit.
So as was noted in the statement we sent last night, this was a trip that was prior planned, that we’d worked with the government on. He held meetings internally at the Embassy today, and he’s scheduled to leave today as well. To our knowledge, the Government of Bahrain has not changed its position.
QUESTION: How long had he planned to be there?
MS. PSAKI: He had planned to be there about through the end of the week – or through later this week.
QUESTION: Okay. And he will leave today, or has – it’s getting late there. I don’t know --
MS. PSAKI: He’s scheduled to leave today.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure exactly with the time change if he’s departed yet.
QUESTION: But will he have had all the meetings that he planned, or --
MS. PSAKI: No, he will not have.
QUESTION: The Bahrainis complained – and you had rejected this, but the Bahrainis complained that he was only meeting with one sect or one sector – wasn’t meeting with everyone, and that’s not conducive to their attempt at dialogue. The Gulf Cooperation Council, the head of that in Saudi Arabia has also – has expressed the same thing. Are you concerned that this incident is going to affect not just your relations with Bahrain, but also with the broader Gulf including Saudi, where you’ve already had a somewhat strained relationship?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not. Obviously, we remain and will be in close touch with both the Government of Bahrain and any other country that expresses a concern, as would be normal protocol and process. As you mentioned, but it’s worth noting, he was scheduled to meet with high-level government officials and had some of those meetings before all of these events happened just yesterday. But no, that’s not a concern that we have at this moment.
QUESTION: Okay. Assistant Secretary Malinowski in a tweet, which was then retweeted by the State Department, said that this was not about him; this was rather about the Bahraini authorities trying to undermine dialogue and national reconciliation. Is that the position of the Administration, of the State Department, that the Bahraini Government is not interested in a dialogue and national reconciliation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we spoke at great length and detail about this yesterday, Matt. Obviously, it’s important for all sides, including the Government of Bahrain, to move forward on the reconciliation process. But I don’t think I’m going to have anything to add to the tweet you referenced.
QUESTION: So did the retweet by the State Department constitute an endorsement of Assistant Secretary Malinowski’s stance?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t take it that way.
QUESTION: Have there been any conversations between the U.S. ambassador and the Bahraini Government about something which this building considers highly irregular?
MS. PSAKI: We have been in close touch with the Government of Bahrain. I don’t have any other specific meetings to detail for you.
QUESTION: How will you respond to this move, to this type --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re considering our response to the government’s decision. But again, obviously, this is new yesterday. So I don’t have anything to outline in that regard.
QUESTION: When can we expect this response?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t predict that for you, unfortunately.
QUESTION: When he leaves, is he coming back here, or does he have other stops in the region?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a good question. I believe he’s coming back to Washington, but we can double-check and make sure that’s the case.
QUESTION: Will he respond to it?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) or is he out?
MS. PSAKI: He was scheduled to leave today. I’m not sure with the time change if he’s departed yet.
QUESTION: So his last meeting, just so I’m checking – his last meeting was this – with this group that they said that it’s not desirable to meet them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he had meetings yesterday also with the minister of interior and police chief and the National Institution for Human Rights, as well as the Wefaq leaders. But he had meetings with the government as well as, obviously, members of the opposition.
QUESTION: And if you can clarify – I’m not sure if it’s clear or not. The reason that it was the meeting, or that they ask for somebody to attend the meeting and you refused to let them in?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he was scheduled – there are a couple of reasons, and we outlined this a bit in our statement, but the Government of Bahrain did request to have an MFA representative in all of his private meetings with civil and political society leaders, including inside the U.S. Embassy. And that’s not typical, it’s not appropriate in our view, and it contravenes international diplomatic norms. But there have been a range of meetings that officials have had within the country where that wasn’t requested, so that certainly isn’t even consistent with what is standard there.
QUESTION: You said --
QUESTION: What --
QUESTION: -- “request.” The statement last night, I believe, said that they demanded, they insisted. It was more than a request, right?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Or – did the interior or foreign ministries have someone present in these meetings, or were they rejected?
MS. PSAKI: Well, not that I’m aware of, Matt. Obviously, there are some meetings where it’s appropriate and some where it’s inappropriate. I don’t have a list of who was at each of the meetings, but certainly having – requiring it or insisting or demanding, whatever you want to use as an adjective, that they be in meetings is something we didn’t feel --
MS. PSAKI: Sorry, verb. Sorry.
MS. PSAKI: It’s hot up here. Go ahead.
QUESTION: There is another question related to the same issue. Usually these meetings, I think it’s prescheduled and prearranged and preorganized with the authorities, wherever they are going. Is that – was the case here, or that meeting was like at the last moment was scheduled and then took place?
MS. PSAKI: This is a visit that was highly coordinated with the government and it certainly --
QUESTION: With all the details, including the meeting of this group?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s certainly pretty standard. The Secretary does, and a range of high level officials meet with a range of groups, civil society leaders, when they go to almost any country. So it was very – highly coordinated with the government.
QUESTION: The reason that I’m asking is like just to be sure that the Bahraini Government was aware that the assistant secretary is going to meet this group, right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there was a discussion about his agenda. I don’t have the list of exactly the meetings they were aware of, and some of these come together on the ground, but certainly we’ve had government officials meet with these groups before, so there’s a long precedent.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan?
QUESTION: I would refer to Matt’s wisdom on this, but how unusual is it to have --
QUESTION: How unusual is it to have a host government insist – and that’s the language in the statement from last night – that one of its representatives be allowed to attend private meetings that a visiting U.S. official would be carrying out?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s highly unusual, and in our view it’s also inappropriate and contravenes international diplomatic norms.
QUESTION: So given that Assistant Secretary Malinowski was simply visiting, how does the U.S. respond in this sort of situation? I mean, you don’t normally when there’s a PNG situation – there’s usually a diplomat or two in residence who was then told, pack your bags, you have 48 hours, or whatever. How do you respond in something like this to make it clear to the Emirate that this is not permissible?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re considering our response to the government. Obviously, this just happened in the last 24 hours, so I don’t have a prediction of the timing or the outcome of that at this point in time.
QUESTION: Is there a concern that the U.S. has to proceed carefully because of the presence of the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly our strong relationship with Bahrain is something that we would like to maintain, but obviously we’re considering a range of options with that in mind.
QUESTION: Jen, how do --
QUESTION: Really? Does the range of options include not maintaining a strong relationship with Bahrain?
MS. PSAKI: No. I don’t think I said that it did, Matt.
QUESTION: Well --
MS. PSAKI: But obviously, there are, of course – our response, there’s a range of options we can consider with that in mind.
QUESTION: Do any of those options have to do with moving the Fifth Fleet?
MS. PSAKI: No. That’s not what I said, Matt. I know you --
QUESTION: I know. I’m just --
MS. PSAKI: You have an obsession with the Fifth Fleet, I know, Matt. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m not --
MS. PSAKI: You need to visit.
QUESTION: I’m not saying that you said it. I’m asking if --
MS. PSAKI: I was actually trying to convey quite the opposite, that our strong relationship with Bahrain is, of course, something that we consider and something we want to maintain, and that’s one of the reasons that we’re having these conversations through diplomatic channels.
QUESTION: So in other words, maintaining your strong relationship with the Government of Bahrain is equal to or more important than them respecting human rights and working towards national reconciliation?
MS. PSAKI: It’s all a factor, Matt. Obviously, we raised human rights issues as – at every opportunity, and certainly we’ve expressed our strong concern about the events of the last 24 hours.
QUESTION: Would it be fair to consider the presence of the Fifth Fleet as a bargaining tool --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to --
QUESTION: -- or as any sort of leverage?
MS. PSAKI: No. I’m not speculating on that. Obviously, we – considering our response, this just happened in the last 24 hours, but I wouldn’t go down that direction, Roz.
QUESTION: So expressing your concerns about – the limit of your language and sort of expressing this – your displeasure with this act? Can’t you say that we are outraged, we are --
MS. PSAKI: I think --
QUESTION: -- annoyed, we are --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know if you saw our statement last night, Said --
QUESTION: I saw your statement.
MS. PSAKI: -- but it was a pretty strong statement in terms of our view of the circumstances over the last 24 hours. That remains the case and we’ve conveyed that privately and we’ll continue those discussions privately, and we’ll continue to consider our response otherwise.
QUESTION: New topic?
QUESTION: Well, let’s say it – hold on. It was a pretty strong statement when it comes to statements about Bahrain, that’s for sure. But “deeply concerned” is a far bit different than “we condemn” or “we are mortified” or “we are horrified” or whatever. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: I mean, I take your point; it was a strong statement, but it was a strong statement as related to other statements about Bahrain.
MS. PSAKI: I would also point you to the fact that I just said that their requests were inappropriate and contravene international norms.
QUESTION: Fair enough, fair enough.
MS. PSAKI: So Margaret, do you want to go to Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: With other statements that came out yesterday, beyond expressing “gravest concern,” which I think was the phrase in the statement last evening, can you tell us what the U.S. is doing to try to resolve the standoff on the ground?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first – and I know you’ve seen some of these readouts, but President Obama, Secretary Kerry, as well as S-Rep Dobbins, Ambassador Cunningham have been speaking with the candidates, the electoral bodies and Afghanistan’s political leadership over the past couple of days to try to come to a resolution. And Secretary Kerry has been in touch with both candidates, President Karzai over the course of the weekend, and I expect that will continue. And we’ve been – and as was noted in our statement last night or some we’ve issued over the last couple of days, we’re calling on both campaigns and their supporters to work towards a resolution which will produce a president who can bring Afghanistan together and govern effectively and avoid steps that undermine Afghan national unity. And clearly our engagement shows our level of commitment to not just the future of Afghanistan, but to a resolution to this issue.
QUESTION: In the – one of the statements yesterday there was also the – I mean, threat is what it appeared to be, but the mention that at risk here is a tremendous amount of aid and potential other forms of U.S. support. What exactly was that referencing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not our preference. It’s not the preference of the United States; it’s certainly not the preference of the Afghan people. That statement was in response to the fact that there have been reports on the ground of plans to declare victory, to create a parallel government. Both of those steps would be illegal, and it’s not a threat, it’s a fact that certainly we wouldn’t be able to provide the kind of support that is our preference to provide if those type of steps were taken. So it was conveying that.
QUESTION: Because it would be a coup, essentially?
MS. PSAKI: Well, those are illegal steps, and obviously we’re talking about a broad range of assistance that we provide.
QUESTION: Senator --
QUESTION: So if there were illegal steps taken to form a new government in Afghanistan, they would lose aid, but not in Egypt, huh?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, every circumstance is different --
MS. PSAKI: -- and you know where we stand on that particular issue.
QUESTION: Do you know – do you regard – does the Administration regard the steps that candidate Abdullah has taken already just by declaring himself the winner of the election, even though he didn’t name a – hasn’t tried to form a government – are those – isn’t that a step that undermines the – what you called the – what you called Afghan national unity and what one might say – one might ask if Afghan national unity actually exists, given the situation – but is that the kind of step that you think is bad? Just the (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly – I want to say acting on that step, yes. And one of the reasons the Secretary has been in close touch and we issued the statement last night is to convey that that is not acceptable.
QUESTION: That what – sorry --
QUESTION: -- which is unacceptable? The proclaiming oneself the winner --
MS. PSAKI: Correct. There are proper entities and bodies in Afghanistan who will --
MS. PSAKI: -- who can determine that. And this also – the rumors or reports that there were plans to create a --
MS. PSAKI: -- parallel government.
QUESTION: But what is – is that – that is a strike against Abdullah Abdullah in your – now, I’m not saying that there are three strikes; I’m not saying anything like that. But that is a checkmark on him; he’s done something that you think crosses the line?
MS. PSAKI: No, I wouldn’t say it that way at all, Matt. Obviously, we’re concerned about having – about the fact that Afghanistan has made tremendous progress. We want to preserve that. Any of these steps, the implementation of them would not be good for the future of Afghanistan, the future of the Afghan people. We’re not doing a day-by-day grading system here, but certainly we don’t think that would be a productive step moving forward.
QUESTION: Is the – Ghani agreeing to the audit of, I think, it was 3 million votes or something. Is that something that’s a step in the right direction?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we think there are two things that need to happen here that need to – that the candidate – that needs to happen on the ground, I should say, moving forward. The electoral commission and the complaints commission need to examine all of the allegations of fraud. There are serious allegations. They need to be looked into. There needs to be a review of all the ballots that may or may not be legitimate. There are – were the proposal of the couple of options, Margaret, that you reference, but there are also some UN proposals that we think the electoral bodies should be working with them on. And at the same time, the candidates and their supporters need to be in conversations with each other about the formation of a government of national unity and a government that includes all of the relevant parties and important groups, and we feel both of those steps are important moving forward.
QUESTION: Has anyone been in touch with Ashraf Ghani?
QUESTION: Senator Inhofe said --
QUESTION: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Sorry. Has anyone been in touch with --
MS. PSAKI: Ladies first, Said.
MS. PSAKI: You’re normally so polite. Go ahead, Roz.
QUESTION: Jen just said that he had called him.
QUESTION: He called – okay. Sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Senator Inhofe told reporters a short time ago that he’s very concerned about these allegations of fraud and he started reading off some numbers about vote disparities between the first round and the second round – 10 times, 12 times the gap in the first election to the second election.
He’s also very concerned that efforts to hew to the July 22nd final declaration may be stacking the victory in Ghani’s favor, and he wants to see more time so that these allegations of fraud can be fully explored. Otherwise, Inhofe is arguing, whoever becomes the new president won’t be considered credible. Does this building – does this Administration – share his concern about a rush to declaring someone the president?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we, one, feel there are serious allegations that – of fraud that need to be looked into, and we were disappointed. And I know that Matt asked this question yesterday, that the IEC went ahead with yesterday’s announcement – serious – because these serious allegations were not sufficiently investigated and we would have preferred that the announcement be postponed until there was agreement on further audit measures that need to be taken to address the substantial allegations.
All of that being said, there are proposals on the table that would help to address that. Our view remains that the audit process can be completed in time to allow the inauguration of the next president to proceed as scheduled on August 2nd.
QUESTION: Is there concern – and maybe this came up yesterday – is there concern that a resolution on the BSA could be in jeopardy because of this dispute over who was the actual victor?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we view – we feel that an audit can be completed by – an audit process can be completed in time to allow the inauguration of the next president. As you know, both candidates have made clear that they would sign the BSA. We are proceeding with our planning accordingly.
QUESTION: Is it – you say that you were disappointed that the IEC went ahead with this and that you would have preferred that they had waited.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Was that conveyed to the IEC itself?
MS. PSAKI: I believe not through the Secretary, but I believe on the ground in some capacity, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So in fact you – the U.S. has been involved in this process.
MS. PSAKI: Well, not exactly. I mean, I think obviously there’s – we’re not involved in the process of considering allegations or considering – or counting ballots. That’s what I’m referring to. But certainly, when there’s a partial result announced, which we’ve expressed a concern about --
MS. PSAKI: -- because it doesn’t represent or doesn’t necessarily represent the outcome, that can cause confusion. And that was one of our concerns.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. But I’m just trying to get it – so if you expressed your concern about that to the IEC, they clearly didn’t listen to you. They clearly didn’t buy – it’s a bit like calling for restraint from people who never show restraint. So I’m just wondering: Are you – when you say that you’re disappointed, are you – you’re disappointed that they didn’t heed your advice? You’re disappointed that – disappointed at what?
MS. PSAKI: That they went forward with yesterday’s announcement when there was serious allegations of fraud that remained on the table that hadn’t been properly investigated.
QUESTION: Okay. But you still think, as you said before – I just want to make sure – that there is time enough to resolve all the fraud complaints, inaugurate a new president, get the BSA signed by the time you all and NATO have to figure out what you’re going to do.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
MS. PSAKI: Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: I mean, I’m trying to understand who is – both sides are ready to make this count or recount process? Because one of them is declaring that he’s the victor, and the other one is saying that I’m going to make a parallel government. Who in those two sides or other sides is ready to continue the process until they come to the 2nd of August?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll let them speak for themselves.
MS. PSAKI: But obviously, the – not the candidates, but the election commission and the complaints commission are the ones who would look in – the complaints commission specifically is the entity that would look into the allegations of fraud and examine those allegations.
QUESTION: So you believe – as United States believe that they want – you want them to recount the process, right? Recount the votes.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are serious allegations, and we think that more can be done to examine the allegations.
QUESTION: Keeping in line with this country’s own special experience with the 2000 election, what would be an acceptable audit – and I’m using your word – for reviewing these allegations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been a number of proposals put out there. There have been some that the complaints commission and the electoral commission have referenced; Margaret referenced those a little bit earlier. But there are also some proposals put forward by the UN. We think they should all talk about the best way to move the process forward.
QUESTION: So just to be clarified: So U.S. and UN and others believe that this process has to be done, right? Is – am I correct or wrong?
MS. PSAKI: We think there are serious allegations of fraud. They need to review all of the ballots that may or may not be legitimate.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: Is two weeks really enough time? Two weeks from today?
MS. PSAKI: I would stand by what I just said. We feel there is enough time to conclude an audit process by that time.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
QUESTION: France foreign minister said today the differences in approach between some of the world powers and Russia had appeared in the last few days during negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Do you feel the same, or do you have the same feeling as France?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there – this is a long process that’s been ongoing for more than six months now, and there have been concerns expressed in the past – actually, the last round we had – by France, and the P5+1 remains united through the process. We certainly believe that that will be the case here.
That doesn’t change the fact that significant gaps remain with Iran. Everyone is working very hard to see if we can get to an agreement here, and we have put on the table a reasonable, verifiable, and easily achievable proposal that can show the world that Iran is committed to what it means. And that means a peaceful program and preventing them from acquiring a nuclear weapon. So we’re in the middle of it right now, so I don’t have much more to speculate on.
QUESTION: Did you mean that the U.S., Europe, and Russia are still on the same page?
QUESTION: And China?
MS. PSAKI: The talks are continuing. Obviously, we never said this would be easy, and that certainly is the case now where gaps remain in the discussions.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary planning to attend the meetings in Geneva – in Vienna?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary is always happy to get on a plane, as you all know and many of you have experienced it. But there hasn’t been a decision made at this point in time for him to travel to Vienna.
QUESTION: Because the French foreign minister has said that the United States wanted foreign minister to join the negotiations in Vienna. That means maybe he talked to the Secretary, and --
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a lot of rumors on the ground, as there always are, around negotiations like these. But we evaluate day to day. I have nothing to announce for you, and there hasn’t been a decision made at this point in time.
QUESTION: So I suspect – and I’m only – I know what your answer’s going to be, but I would be remiss not to ask it.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: And that is: Would you expect the Secretary to bring his case for and on Afghanistan to the candidates in person any time in the near future?
MS. PSAKI: I have nothing to announce in regard to upcoming travel beyond his trip in China that’s ongoing.
QUESTION: Somalia. There was an attack today on the presidential election – on the president’s – presidential palace. Do you have any information about this attack?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new information. I know it just happened, I believe, this morning or overnight.
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we would condemn that attack, but let me circle back with our team post-briefing and see if we have more details. I’m not sure if there’s been any claims or anything along those lines.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Does the United States have – on China. Does the United States have a view on Chinese authorities preventing some Uighur civil servants and students from observing the Ramadan fast?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are deeply concerned by reports of discrimination against and restrictions on ethnic and religious minorities in China, including Uighurs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan. We urge Chinese authorities to take steps to reduce tensions, uphold China’s international commitments to protect religious freedom and other universal human rights – and certainly, observation of religion is one of them – and reassess counterproductive policies in the region and other ethnic areas.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that this is not the first time that this has happened in that area?
MS. PSAKI: I believe there is some history here. I don’t have that in front of me. But certainly, we’ve been – expressed concern about discrimination against Uighurs in China, and I know that’s been related to religious observations as well.
MS. PSAKI: I think you’re referring to reports --
QUESTION: -- rumor?
MS. PSAKI: -- of allegations of --
QUESTION: Allegations, yes, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: It’s a --
QUESTION: They’re saying that he was kidnapped from the Maldives.
MS. PSAKI: It’s – I just want to make sure I’m referring to the same person. Hopefully, there’s only one incident you’re talking about. You’re talking about the Department of Justice case that’s been raised?
QUESTION: No, they’re – they said that one of their citizens, Roman Seleznyov, was kidnapped from the Maldives by American agents.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know there have been – obviously, there’s been a recent case that I would point you to the Department of Justice on. I’m not sure if this is exactly the same case or not, Said, in terms of allegations that have been issued. Certainly, no kidnapping took place.
QUESTION: Oh, you mean that there’s more than one incident of a Russian citizen being taken --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure exactly --
QUESTION: -- by U.S. officials from the Maldives?
MS. PSAKI: -- what he’s referring --
QUESTION: I was referring --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what he’s referring to specifically.
QUESTION: The issue (inaudible).
QUESTION: That’s the issue.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The son of a member of parliament --
MS. PSAKI: Yes, from the Maldives.
QUESTION: -- has been taken to Guam.
QUESTION: Right, yes.
QUESTION: Have you gotten a official or any kind of a protest from the Russians about this? They’ve been speaking about it publicly.
MS. PSAKI: I know they’ve spoken a great deal about it publicly. I don’t have anything privately to lay out for all of you.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, do you know how it works in terms of consular access when you’re – when someone is in Guam? I mean, you’re still obligated to – it’s not like Guantanamo, right? Even though the first three --
MS. PSAKI: It is a U.S. territory, yes.
QUESTION: -- first three letters are the same, but I think – (laughter) –
MS. PSAKI: That’s good.
QUESTION: -- the airport code is probably different, so --
MS. PSAKI: It may be. We can look that up.
QUESTION: But is there some kind of – one of the things that the Russians say or the father of this guy says is that he suspects that his son was taken to Guam because people in Guam may not be – may not enjoy the full legal protections of – and I’m just wondering if you know if that – I don’t expect you to know if that’s a case. I know it’s a DOJ thing. But in terms of consular access, I would expect the State Department, even if you don’t know off the top of your head, or the State Department might know, is there some difference in terms of consular access versus someone who’s being detained in Guam as opposed to someplace that’s a state?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Matt. And let me just reiterate – and I think part of the confusion is Said also referred to a woman, so I just wanted to make sure we’re talking about --
QUESTION: I didn’t say a woman.
MS. PSAKI: -- we’re talking about the same individual, but --
QUESTION: I said his name was Roman.
QUESTION: I think we are, right? We’re talking about the same --
MS. PSAKI: This is – yes, I believe so.
QUESTION: I did not --
QUESTION: This is a computer fraud --
MS. PSAKI: This is a – yes, there were accusations made. It’s a Department of Justice case. Certainly, there was no kidnapping involved. I believe that certainly a U.S. territory would abide by the same consular access obligations.
MS. PSAKI: We can check and confirm for you that that is the case.
QUESTION: But I’m not sure – all right, maybe “kidnapping” is a bit too strong. But if someone is in the capital of the Maldives trying to get on a flight to – back to Russia, and somehow they’re spirited away and they end up in Guam charged with a crime, how is that not abduction?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to have much more on this case to offer, Matt.
Do we have a new topic?
QUESTION: Yeah. With your indulgence and my colleagues, of course --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, okay.
QUESTION: Because the Israelis said this will take – it will take days, not hours. So this may go on for a long time. Is that okay with you? I mean, is Israel within its right to conduct this operation for as many days as it deems appropriate or necessary?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m happy to indulge you, as always, but I’m not going to speculate. Obviously, our focus is on communicating the need to de-escalate the situation on the ground, but I would reiterate that we believe Israel has every right to defend itself. And certainly, no country would – should be expected to stand by while rockets are impacting and threatening their citizens.
QUESTION: In light of calling 40,000 reservists to duty, are you concerned that there may be a ground invasion in Gaza?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve already addressed and exhausted this topic.
Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: My name is Jason Chong with Yonhap News Agency from South Korea.
MS. PSAKI: Hello.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- talks with China. And what kind of specific outcome do you hope to see from the meeting with regard to this issue?
And my second question is: U.S. has been negative about Chinese plan to set up regional development bank AIIB.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And do you think this will also come up during the strategic talks? Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of topics, certainly, that will be discussed that may or may not be at the top of the agenda. In terms of the AIIB, we believe that there is a need for additional public, private, and multilateral development bank to support infrastructure development. But we also believe any proposal for a new international development financial institution should clearly explain how it will complement and add value to existing institutions. As you know, there’s already an existing institution that does some of the same work.
And additionally, we believe that any international institution involved in infrastructure investment and development should incorporate high standards of governance, environmental and social safeguards, procurement, and debt sustainability that have been established over decades of experience at multilateral development banks.
And as you know, there’s already the ADB, which plays a critical role in regional infrastructure development, so the AIIB – excuse me – hasn’t – doesn’t exist yet, and obviously, those are the bar – that’s the bar we believe it should pass.
In terms of North Korea, there’s been an ongoing dialogue between the United States and China as well as all of our partners in the Six-Party process about how to best work together to put the necessary pressure on North Korea, but the ball remains in their court to take the necessary steps to abide by their international obligations. But certainly, we expect the threat from North Korea, our concerns about North Korea to be a part of the discussion ongoing on the ground now.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
MS. PSAKI: I believe it’s a part of our standard efforts to make sure members of Congress are up to date on our thinking and policy and what’s happening on the ground.
QUESTION: So this is just a routine update?
MS. PSAKI: That is my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: Was there any coordination with the Pentagon, given the Secretary of Defense’s briefing this morning?
MS. PSAKI: Frequently, we have briefings the same day as the Pentagon and – or other officials throughout the Administration. So that certainly is not uncommon. And as you know, all of these senior officials are in regular meetings together about our policy, so I can assure you there’s coordination.
QUESTION: Now, granted that this was closed door and classified, but Senator McCain told reporters afterwards that from his perspective, this Administration does not have a coherent policy on dealing with the Islamic State group. Is that a fair criticism?
MS. PSAKI: I think that’s a common refrain from Senator McCain no matter what the issue is. But I would say, look, every member of Congress has every right to express their view of what our policies are and what they should be and where they see frustrations or where they support us. And that’s the case for Senator McCain or any member of Congress.
In this case, I think our policy is fairly clear. The President has been clear, the Secretary has been clear, that we’re going to take – go after threats where they face us. That includes ISIL and includes other terrorist organizations. But in Iraq, our focus is also on the political process, and that is the only way to have a long-term, sustainable, and successful Iraq. So hopefully, the continued briefings will help shed some light.
QUESTION: Two follow-ups on that. One, has this Administration seen any change in Nuri al-Maliki’s political posture? Is he doing the work that this Administration believes needs to be done in order to make his government more inclusive?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our concerns haven’t changed. But obviously, we continue to encourage all parties to move forward with the government formation process. I think you’ve seen overnight that they have announced that they’ll be meeting on Sunday instead of August. So that was a positive step forward. Obviously, we’d like to see that happen and see the rapid – the – all parties move forward with the rapid creation of a government.
QUESTION: And then in terms of confronting the Islamic State group, Senator Graham said that he could not see any scenario in which the Iraqi security forces, Syrian opposition, even the Syrian Government, would be capable of confronting this organization without the assistance of the U.S. military. In particular, he said he couldn’t see this happening without the use of air strikes. Is this Administration in any way contemplating some sort of very active engagement to confront this organization?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to outline from here what our options may or may not be. Obviously, we have a – always have a range of options at our disposal. Those are decisions for the President to make in consultation with the national security team. Our focus remains on continuing to encourage the rapid formation of the government.
QUESTION: Sorry. So you say it was a positive step forward for them to move up the resumption of --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly --
QUESTION: -- I mean, surely --
MS. PSAKI: -- welcome the announcement. But I won’t stop there. We – it will require --
MS. PSAKI: -- a prompt agreement on a new parliamentary speaker, and following that candidates for president and prime minister in order to have a successful creation or formation of a government.
QUESTION: All right. In response to one of Roz’s earlier questions, I mean, what are the odds of you ever agreeing with critics who say that the Administration’s policy is incoherent on any issue?
MS. PSAKI: That’s probably unlikely, but we certainly support freedom of speech here in the United States.
QUESTION: Because there are people that – Iraqis who have accused Mr. McGurk of being one of Maliki’s staunchest allies and that, in fact, his position may have in any way hamstrung your position, so to speak, the Administration’s position in Iraq in pushing forward some sort of reconciliation type of government. Do you agree with that assessment?
MS. PSAKI: I would not, and I’m not sure who the unnamed critics are. There are certainly a lot of unnamed critics out there. I would say that Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk has been on the ground for weeks now. There’s almost no one in the government who knows Iraq and the political parties and all the leaders better than he does, and he’s been working day and night to move the political process forward. And I’d remind you he’s been meeting with leaders from all – from all sects and it hasn’t been just Prime Minister Maliki and his government. Far from it. He’s had a diversity of meetings, and that, I expect, will continue.
QUESTION: Would you say that he’s a strong advocate of Mr. Maliki?
MS. PSAKI: I would say he’s a strong advocate of a stable Iraq, and he cares deeply about the future of the – for the Iraqi people.
QUESTION: When you are asking all these parties to be part of this process of, let’s say, stable Iraq, what these people are expecting from U.S.? I mean, guarantor is like what – how do you – is – what is the U.S. role in the coming future? I mean, it’s going to be like guaranteeing that these people are sitting together or secure the borders?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s up to the Iraqi people to make the political choices that they need to to move forward. At the same time, we have provided a great deal of assistance. We’ve only expedited that, and we’ve increased that in recent months. That is part of our effort to support Iraq, but we have a stake in a stable Iraq just like we have a stake in a stable region, and that’s one of the reasons we’re so committed to the future of what’s happening on the ground.
QUESTION: But let’s say when we are – U.S. is providing to the Iraqi army things, people looking to it as if it’s – you are supporting Maliki against the others, right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve provided also some support to the Peshmerga. We’ve advocated for a united security force that works with all parties that is united against the shared threat they all face with just ISIL, and that’s the message we’ve been sending.
QUESTION: So there is no U.S. role in the coming future – I mean, the coming Iraq? Or there is a role for it?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what you’re getting at.
QUESTION: I mean like in 2011 or end of 2012, I mean, it’s like it was decided to leave Iraq and come out of it. Now, it’s getting another involvement, or I assume it’s involvement. Am I wrong?
MS. PSAKI: A little bit. I think we’re not considering putting combat troops back on the ground. That’s not what is under consideration. We do have a stake in a stable and secure Iraq just like we have a stake in the stable and secure region, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve increased our assistance. Iraq will remain a partner, and we’re working to address the short-term threat so we can have a long-term successful Iraq.
QUESTION: Jen, yesterday – this is a new subject.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: On the Central America and the migrants. Yesterday in exchange with Elise, you were talking about – the question about a potential UN role and whether or not these people could be considered refugees or not. There are people with UNHCR now who are saying that at least some of these people should be identified as refugees and be made eligible for resettlement. Is the Administration’s – does the Administration believe that a UN role in this situation is appropriate or needed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the UN plays a role. I know you know this, but they play a different role depending on the countries around the world. Obviously, we’re – we have a far different circumstance than, say, Syria. And in this case, the UN – UNHCR has previously conducted monitoring trips to the U.S. border in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security. That should come as no surprise. In terms of how you label what an individual may or may not be, that’s determined through a process run by the Department of Homeland Security where they conduct interviews, and there’s an entire process I would point you to them to get more details on.
Typically, the UNHCR conducts these interviews in countries where the host government is not capable or willing to conduct these interviews. And obviously, the United States – that’s a process that we undergo ourselves.
QUESTION: So you do not – you believe that DHS – the Administration believes that it is capable of doing this itself and that the United Nations is not needed --
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: -- to do the screening and the classifying of whether people are refugees or not? Is that --
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to DHS to see if there are needs that they have, but that’s typically how the process works as a standard operating procedure in the United States.
QUESTION: Well, I guess I’m – so there is no Administration position? It’s only a DHS position on whether they need help? I’m – I guess I’m --
MS. PSAKI: DHS oversees a process in the United States – obviously, in the United States.
QUESTION: I understand that.
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to them for more detail on how they work with the UNHCR.
QUESTION: But you don’t – but – yeah, but you’re the main – the State Department is the main --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- interlocutor with all --
MS. PSAKI: You’re right.
QUESTION: -- almost all these UN agencies.
MS. PSAKI: But specifically on individuals coming into the United States, as you know, DHS is the point for that specifically.
QUESTION: Right. But what I’m getting at is that – I’m trying to find out if the Administration broadly thinks that it’s appropriate or necessary for the UN to involve itself in this. I’ll take it and I’ll go to DHS and ask them if that’s – if they’re the ones who decide whether that’s the case or not. Are they?
MS. PSAKI: Well, DHS screens children to determine the validity of their asylum claims, consistent with our domestic law and international obligations. I’m not aware of a role needed --
MS. PSAKI: -- for UNHCR, but I just was pointing to you DHS because they are better versed on this specific issue.
Go ahead, Lucas.
MS. PSAKI: The process, as you know, Lucas, is ongoing on the ground, and they’re going to be meeting on Sunday, so I think that answers your question.
QUESTION: But isn’t it a little insensitive on the part of the U.S. Government based on the religious obligations of the Iraqi Government and Muslims everywhere?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s up to the Iraqis to determine their process. They have determined the timing of their process, and we’re simply urging them to move forward as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: But I mean, if someone asks the U.S. Government to do something over Christmas, wouldn’t it be a little unrealistic?
MS. PSAKI: I think, Lucas – I think you’re forgetting the fact that this is a Iraqi process that the Iraqis run, and we are certainly just here to support them and encourage them to move forward as quickly as possible?
QUESTION: You should ask the same thing about Afghanistan.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: A question on Syria.
QUESTION: On Syria real quickly.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: Said, the declaration --
QUESTION: I mean, today there was --
MS. PSAKI: -- is on declared weapons.
QUESTION: Right, right.
MS. PSAKI: The OPCW remains --
QUESTION: I mean the declared weapons.
MS. PSAKI: -- let me finish – they remain a member of the CWC, so obviously the OPCW will continue to take steps to verify that the declared weapons represent the stockpile in Syria.
QUESTION: So all the declared weapons have been accounted for?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. They’ve – 100 percent have been removed.
QUESTION: Now, on this issue of the SOC is holding elections, presidential elections in Turkey. Is there any U.S. representative there, or not?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a good question. I will check and see. Obviously, we’re not – these are internal SOC meetings, so no U.S. officials will attend. So there – we don’t have any officials on the ground.
QUESTION: And the situation in Aleppo is deteriorating and the opposition is warning about the situation there. Do you have anything on this?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not in a position to give any ground updates. Obviously, you know we remain concerned about the situation on the ground. And that’s one of the reasons we’re so focused on doing everything we can to address it.
QUESTION: Does that concern extend to the fact that the opposition might lose Aleppo and then they might really have essentially lost the battle, lost the war?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speculate. Obviously, we’re not there at this point. So – go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering what – it looks like people – the separatists in Donetsk are gearing up for a big – a last stand, and that the Ukrainian authorities are doing the same around these last little enclaves in the east, and I’m wondering what the – if the Administration believes that its – once again, its calls for restraint and for minimization of civilian casualties are being heeded by either or both or neither sides.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have remaining concerns about the actions of the Russian separatists. I’d also note that President Poroshenko proposed to hold ceasefire talks with the separatists today in the Donetsk region. They have not responded yet. And certainly a peaceful outcome is what would be in the best interests of everyone, in our view. Ukraine, again, has the right to defend their country and their people and maintain calm and order to the degree they can. So we certainly support them in that effort. And there are – continue to be steps that Russia and the Russian separatists can take to de-escalate the situation.
QUESTION: In terms of either side or any of the three sides, two sides, however we want to call this --
MS. PSAKI: It could – it has three-side potential.
MS. PSAKI: Go back to a triangle.
QUESTION: Right. But let’s talk the two sides at the moment, Ukraine and the separatists. Do you have concerns about reports of large – widespread civilian casualties --
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, and --
QUESTION: -- on --
MS. PSAKI: We would have concerns, of course, about reports of widespread civilian casualties. And obviously de-escalating the situation and bringing an end to the violence is the step that could end civilian casualties. That’s where the – one of the reasons we’re so supportive of the ceasefire effort.
QUESTION: Okay. But to date, do you believe that either or both or neither side has shown any inclination to heed the call for restraint and for trying to minimize or prevent at all civilian casualties? You were presented here at the briefing yesterday with some graphic photos. I don’t know if they could be authenticated or not, but I mean, have you expressed concern to authorities in Kyiv and also to the Russians for whatever influence they can have with the separatists about things like that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, I mean, we – in general, the Ukrainian security forces have sought to minimize casualties among the Ukrainian population during their security operation. There have been numerous reports on the contrary to Russian – the Russian-backed separatists using privately owned buildings as firing positions. We’ve also seen a great deal of exaggerated and outright false claims from Russian sources throughout the crisis in Ukraine. So certainly we would encourage all sides to minimize civilian casualties, and we’ve also seen the Ukrainian Government make effort to do just that themselves.
QUESTION: And you have not – but you have not yet seen the Russians use their influence with the separatists to do the same. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct.
QUESTION: And then one more thing on this. The Russian foreign ministry has said that the proposal you mentioned just now for Poroshenko was not – the venue is not good. And in fact, I believe some of the separatists or one of the separatist leaders said that venue is no good because it’s under the control of Kyiv, which would seem to be a bit of a stumbling block. When you referred to that offer to meet, are you referring to that specific offer or do you not know? I mean, I’m trying to figure out this --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure which offer they’re referring to.
QUESTION: You think it’s appropriate – you think his offer should be acted – should be taken up by the separatists?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re talking about discussions about the Government of Ukraine – what’s happening in the country of Ukraine, I should say. So certainly, I think it’s appropriate that it could be held in a government building run by the Government of Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks, everyone. Oh, sorry in the back. One more.
QUESTION: Sorry, guys. I had asked this question before but haven’t gotten a response.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: It’s about the European Court of Human Rights which had upheld a French ban on burkas. Did you get that question?
MS. PSAKI: I think we have something on that. I’m happy to send that you after the briefing.
QUESTION: Okay. Great, thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:50 p.m.)
DPB # 119