1:21 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
QUESTION: Welcome back.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Welcome back to some of you as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: I have one item at the top. I think you all saw the announcement by Foreign Secretary Hague, and I think you all know what an excellent working relationship Secretary Kerry has had with Foreign Secretary Hague, which exemplified the U.S.-U.K. special relationship. You’ll recall that the United Kingdom was the first country Secretary Kerry visited as Secretary of State, and Foreign Secretary Hague was the first foreign minister to receive him.
Secretary Kerry is immensely grateful for the close collaboration they’ve enjoyed on the full range of bilateral and global issues. In addition to the critical work on the peace and security challenges of our time, Foreign Secretary Hague has been instrumental in global efforts to improve the condition of humanity, to protect those who would become victims of trafficking and sexual violence and promote the rights of women and girls. He’s been a stalwart supporter of these working to give the voice to the voiceless and creating opportunity that empowers people to reach their potential.
Mr. Hague is and will continue to be a dear friend of the United States and of Secretary Kerry’s. We wish him the very – the very best to his successor, Phillip Hammond, as he assumes the duties of the office of foreign secretary. As friends and allies, the United States and the United Kingdom will continue to stand together for freedom and for liberty and to work for a more secure and prosperous world.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: I actually kind of have a question about that, but it can wait until the end.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Not about Hague, but about Hammond.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Let’s start with the Middle East and the situation in Gaza. The White House talked a little bit about this, as did Secretary Kerry earlier this morning. Prime Minister Netanyahu has just come out and said that the rejection of the cease-fire by Hamas gives Israel “full legitimacy to expand the operation to protect our,” meaning its, “people.” I’m wondering if you agree with that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first give you just a quick update that the Secretary has been in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’s also been in touch with Foreign Minister Shoukry of Egypt this morning, so just a couple of updates for you. And obviously, you saw all the – saw also the statement, I should say, we put out this morning of welcoming the Egyptian proposal. In our view, we’re going to – we need to all remember what’s at stake here, and we’ll continue to work for a cease-fire.
So clearly – and it’s important, I think, to remember the context of what happened over the course of this morning and last evening. Once this proposal which we welcomed was put forward and we feel is a goodwill effort by the Egyptians and by others to reach a cease-fire, the Israelis welcomed that. The cabinet supported it. There was actually – despite the fact that they were being – there were still rockets coming in, they declined to respond for several hours. Obviously, we saw the response from Hamas, and our view continues to be that Israel has a right to defend itself.
However, the goal for everyone here is to de-escalate – I should say the goal of the United States, the goal for Israel, is to de-escalate the situation, and we want to continue to work toward that.
QUESTION: Okay. But I missed the answer to my question. Do you believe that Hamas – do you believe – do you agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu that the rejection of the cease-fire offer by Hamas gives Israel “full legitimacy to expand its operation in Gaza”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we believe that Israel has the right to defend itself. That remains the case.
MS. PSAKI: But our focus continues to be on working towards a cease-fire. Obviously, there were some efforts toward that overnight, and we’re going to stay at it. The Secretary will remain engaged with the parties, remain engaged with countries in the region to see if we can return to that.
QUESTION: I understand that, but – and I understand your position that Israel has a right to defend itself. It’s a mantra that administration after administration --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- repeats, but --
MS. PSAKI: Consistently been our position.
QUESTION: Exactly. But you have been – how do I put this? – less than enthusiastic, or unsupportive perhaps, of broadening the operation or expanding the operation to include a ground offensive since this latest surge in violence began. Is that still the case?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. That is no one’s preference.
QUESTION: Okay. So you --
MS. PSAKI: That is why our focus remains on returning – taking every step we can, using every tool in our toolbox, to return to the ceasefire.
QUESTION: Okay. So you do not agree, then, with Prime Minister Netanyahu that the rejection of the cease-fire by Hamas gives him, gives Israel, full legitimacy to expand its operation if that expansion means a ground operation?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t put it – it’s not in as black-and-white terms as you just put it, Matt. We saw Israel and the cabinet embrace the ceasefire --
MS. PSAKI: -- just this morning, so just a couple of hours ago. Our efforts are going to continue to be to see if we can return to that.
QUESTION: So then is it a correct – is it correct that the U.S. position remains to urge restraint?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, again, the context here is important. The restraint – we’ve seen that – evidence of that from the Israeli side over the course of the last 24 hours. Our effort remains focused on seeing if we can return to the ceasefire. That’s why the Secretary has remained engaged with the parties, and I expect that will continue.
QUESTION: So your view is that the cease-fire offer remains on the table and is still – Hamas can still accept it?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, and our view is that --
QUESTION: Without modification?
MS. PSAKI: -- the political wing of Hamas, if they can have influence with the military wing, it’s in everyone’s interest to bring an end to the violence and civilian casualties.
QUESTION: You said that you had seen evidence of Israel showing restraint in the last 24 hours. What does that refer to? Does that refer to that they stopped firing?
MS. PSAKI: I was referring to embracing the cease-fire and not returning rocket attacks when they came in for several hours.
QUESTION: Do you have any concern at all about the number of civilian casualties in Gaza?
MS. PSAKI: We remain concerned. We have been concerned about the civilian casualties. We’ve spoken to that numerous times. And that is one of the reasons why we think it’s in everyone’s interests to return to a discussion about the cease-fire.
QUESTION: But – last one.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But the – going back to my question before, the evidence of the restraint that you’re talking about is that they accept – they welcome the cease-fire and then stopped responding to Hamas’s attacks. Has there – is there other evidence of the Israeli restraint?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that happened just this morning --
QUESTION: I understand.
MS. PSAKI: -- so that was the example I was referring to.
QUESTION: But you believe – do you believe in general that they have shown – that the Israelis in their air operations have shown restraint?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think the context here, as you know, is they have been responding to indiscriminate attacks into their country, into civilian communities.
MS. PSAKI: What I was referring to was what’s happened over the last 24 hours.
QUESTION: Right, okay. So – but prior to this 24-hour period, I just – I understand that – I get your point that they’re responding to rocket fire coming in that are targeting civilian areas of Israel. But in their response, do you believe that they have shown the restraint that you have called for?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what we’ve called for is a de-escalation. We’ve seen efforts to engage in that over the past 24 hours, so we’re going to proceed from here.
Go ahead, Elise.
QUESTION: Can I ask a few? So you kind of hint at this kind of split between the Hamas political wing and the military wing. It does seem as if that the political wing of Hamas is more – maybe more amenable to a cease-fire than the military wing. So do you make any kind of distinguish – do you distinguish at all if one side is kind of – if you get from your discussions with the parties that one of the sides is more amenable, how do you – do you – is there anything to be done with that?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of direct United States engagement, or what specific --
QUESTION: No, I just mean in terms of how you view the situation. Now, if the rockets are coming from the military wing – I mean, a lot of times it is a kind of whole of Hamas decision to launch some kind of offensive, but in this case it does seem as if the military wing is more interested in keeping this going than the political side. So how do you distinguish at this case in terms of whether there are kind of chances for a cease-fire here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I was just speaking to the – a range of public comments. Our engagement from the United States continues to be with members of the Arab community to use their influence to convince Hamas to accept a cease-fire. I mentioned right before you came in here that the Secretary spoke with the Egyptian foreign minister, and you’re familiar with all of the calls he’s done over the course of the last several days.
In terms of differentiation, I was just making a point about public comments, nothing more.
QUESTION: No, I understand. But if Hamas itself is split about whether this should continue, I mean, how do you – not you, but the international community – kind of encourage the more, if you can say, moderate aspects of the group while the military wing of Hamas are the ones that are keeping this going?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we’re not directly engaged with Hamas.
QUESTION: I understand.
MS. PSAKI: I know. I’m just repeating --
MS. PSAKI: -- because it’s important to note. There are countries in the region that are that we remain engaged with. And obviously, they are – many of them – more expert, have greater expertise in how to influence Hamas. And we’re going to continue to be engaged with them in discussions about how to do that.
QUESTION: Okay. And then now – let me just, if you don’t mind.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: It seems as if the Egyptians, when they talk about Palestinian factions being invited to this for cease-fire talks, that they’re including the Palestinian government as part of the unity government to take part in any kind of ceasefire negotiations. And I’m just wondering, what is the futility of that if President Abbas has said many times that he has – that his influence over Hamas is limited? And you’ve said that from this podium. So why would they even be part – if they have nothing to do with the rocket fire and they’re not part of a cease-fire agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Well again, it’s an Egyptian proposal. It doesn’t – I would point you to them for specific details on it. I haven’t seen that level of detail. It doesn’t mean it’s not out there. But they’re making judgments about what the relevant parties and players are to have a discussion.
Our view continues to be that President Abbas – there is not – the technocratic government does include members of Hamas, but --
QUESTION: Well, then why would he – if he’s not – if they’re not inviting President Abbas as the – kind of head of a unity government of which Hamas is part, and Hamas is not part of that government, I don’t understand why he would have to be part of the – party to the negotiations.
MS. PSAKI: I would suggest you ask the Egyptians. And just because parties may be invited, if they are invited, it doesn’t mean there’s fault. It means they may have a relevant role to play in the discussion.
QUESTION: It just goes back to the idea that we’ve discussed over several days. I mean, what is the role of President Abbas here? I mean, on one hand you say he’s the head of the unity government; on the other hand, you say Hamas is not part of that government, and you seem to insinuate that he has no influence over Hamas and has nothing to do with the rocket fire that’s going on. So I mean, what is his role? What would you like to see President Abbas do right now to help de-escalate this conflict? Obviously, Israel has its part, and Hamas has its part. What is President Abbas’ part?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you’ve seen President Abbas condemn rocket attacks before. You’ve seen him speak out against --
QUESTION: I haven’t seen him in this particular instance do that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, in the past you have. You have him speak out against violence. I’m – I don’t have the additional details on what the Egyptians are proposing in terms of participants, so I’m just not going to speculate on it further.
QUESTION: I just would like to know what you would like to see from President Abbas in terms of his potential role in de-escalating this conflict.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think all – again, all members of the Arab League – we’ve spoken about how they can – any who can have a role we’ve spoken with about having a role in influencing Hamas. Certainly, President Abbas is a part of that. He’s certainly familiar --
QUESTION: So he’s just another member of the Arab League?
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. He’s certainly familiar with the organization. Just because he can’t bring an end to the rocket attacks, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have views and doesn’t have instructive – an instructive role he can play. But beyond that, I just don’t have any more to offer for you on this particular question.
QUESTION: I just have one more. You talk about various parties, that they would have a role. And obviously, Egypt is one of them, and obviously Qatar, with close ties to Hamas, is another. Do you see some kind of rivalry going on right now, or jockeying for influence, or very kind of dueling ideas or agendas on how this should go? It seems like Qatar also wants to play a similar role to Egypt, but it doesn’t look like they’re necessarily working together.
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speculate on that, Elise. Obviously, the Egyptians are the ones who put forward the proposal that has – we still feel is a live proposal and something that the parties can take a look at and hopefully embrace, and that remains where our focus lies. But we’ll continue to engage with any country in the region that has a role that they can play.
QUESTION: Jen, just to follow up on the ground assault: Are you telling the Israelis directly not to do that?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Are you telling them not to have that as part of expanding whatever operations they have to protect their civilians?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I think it’s important to note here that over the course of the last 24 hours, the Israelis embraced the cease-fire. The cabinet voted on that. They did not respond for several hours to attacks that were coming in. I think our message has been consistent, publicly and privately, about de-escalating to all sides. No one wants to see a ground war; no one wants to see additional civilian casualties, and that certainly is the message that we’re conveying to everybody involved.
QUESTION: So the message you are conveying to them, that they can continue with the bombing but not use ground troops?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not what I said, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: One of Hamas’ gripes is that this whole thing was hatched up without consulting with them. Their gripes is that they want to see as part of this deal maybe opening entry points and so on to Gaza to relieve the siege that Gaza has suffered for seven years. You disagree, therefore, that there is a need to have the entry points opened and the siege lifted?
MS. PSAKI: Said, this is an Egyptian proposal, one that we’ve, of course, been engaged with the Egyptians, engaged with a range of parties. But I would point you to them for more details of that discussions.
QUESTION: But in your discussions with the Egyptians sides today – with the Foreign Minister Shukri, was there – at any time did you discuss perhaps to open these entry and closure points, the border points?
MS. PSAKI: That was not a part of the discussion, no.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up on the American citizens that are in Gaza. As of yesterday, 150 were allowed to leave, but then there are apparently like 240 more who are saying that they are not getting facilitated, they are not allowed to leave. You have anything on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Said, I’m not going to speculate on those reports. I’m not even sure if those are accurate. We provide a range of services to American citizens. As you know, we put out some information publicly, as we often do. And we’ve been using all of our tools that we can to help citizens who want to depart.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the number of American citizens that are left behind in Gaza?
MS. PSAKI: I think you’re aware that we don’t track that sort of thing.
QUESTION: Okay. And apparently their – one of the complaints they had is that they were given a window of time, like, a half hour, to ride buses and so on, and if they are not there then tough luck.
MS. PSAKI: Said, we’re happy to get you information on the services that we’re providing. We’ve provided a range of public information and I’m not sure what you’re stating is accurate.
QUESTION: Okay. Don’t you think that it is a good idea for the United States to take a lead and – to cement the cease-fire, to bring it about, to have actually part of a broader agreement that does include humanitarian issues, the relief of Gaza? It has really suffered a great deal in the past seven years.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s almost no greater contributor to humanitarian assistance around the world than the United States. That continues to be the case. You’ve heard the – you heard the Secretary say this morning that, while he’s heading home now to the United States because the offer of the cease-fire is on the table, that he’s prepared to pack his bags and return if he can play a useful diplomatic role. That remains the case.
QUESTION: Okay. And just my last question to follow up on what Elise was asking about President Abbas. Do you believe he is really the biggest loser in this whole thing, that he comes off completely marginalized, he is not effective, and especially with the peace talks or the peace process is on the rocks? Does he remain relevant?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. And Said, I would remind you that, as we talked about a little bit last week, I think, President Abbas’ willingness to engage in the peace process for several months was certainly an important signal about the challenges that the people, the Palestinian people face, and on the other side that the Israeli people face. And the lack of a peace process right now is – leaves a vacuum that is often filled and has historically been filled by violence. That’s one of the factors we’re seeing at this point in time.
QUESTION: I just want to broaden it out a little bit.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I mean, there are a lot of critics right now of this Administration that say that the way that you’ve handled the Syria crisis, kind of has seen an explosion of Islamic extremists in the ISIS situation, and the pullout of Iraq has seen the situation that we have now with the political vacuum and ISIS taking over and your – the way that you handled the end of the Libya conflict and lack of political engagement, kind of now you see a lot of violence and instability. And now you look at the situation and the Israeli-Palestinian – after the – that some would attribute to the breakdown of the talks. I mean, what do you say to respond to critics that say – the kind of region and turmoil that we’re seeing right now is a direct result of U.S. foreign policy failures?
MS. PSAKI: I would refute that completely. There have been a range of factors happening in the Middle East and other parts of the world as well, including the growth of some extremist groups. You’ve seen the proposal the President’s put on the table, putting a counterterrorism fund in place, $5 billion to try to address the threats from where we face them. The United States has never been more engaged in more places in the world than it is today. The Secretary alone, if you look at his level of engagement, he has spent the last 10 days at the S&ED in China while discussing with parties in the region, with the Israelis, with the Egyptians, with others, what to do about the situation in Israel, while at the same time negotiating a deal in Afghanistan. There – this is not an Administration or a Secretary that rests. The fact is there are a range of factors happening in the world that are not caused by the United States but the United States remains engaged in, because we care about the stability in the region as well.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, you’re talking about all the stuff that Secretary Kerry did, and that’s absolutely true, but like, where are the other top foreign policy advisors in this Administration? And there was a recent op-ed by a very senior columnist – Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post – that suggested that maybe there needs to be a rethink of the President’s foreign policy team because the bench – given that the Secretary is pulled in so many directions and he’s really – obviously he’s America’s top diplomat, but there are supposed to be others. I mean, it seems like the bench is pretty thin.
MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that, Elise. I think what’s important to remember is the role that the Secretary plays, that traditionally any Secretary of State plays.
QUESTION: Well, it seems that he’s stretched a lot more than most secretaries have been.
MS. PSAKI: The role any Secretary plays is to be on the front lines of diplomacy and to be the person negotiating and reporting back. Obviously, the President makes the final decisions about whether – everything from military engagement to whether negotiations will continue in Iran from the – with Iran the United States perspective. And the Secretary’s role is to be out there in the world meeting with his foreign counterparts.
QUESTION: I understand, but there are only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week and – I mean, this is not impinging upon the Secretary, but doesn’t he think sometimes, like, “Gee, I could use a little bit of help here”?
MS. PSAKI: I think he loves his job, as you know, and I think he’s happy to be out there representing the Administration and spending time through tough negotiations and trying to grapple with some of the world’s biggest challenges.
But I would remind you that he remains in close touch on the road with everybody from the National Security Advisor to Secretary Hagel to, when warranted, the President of the United States. These are tough issues, and they require and include the participation of all members of the national security team.
Go ahead, Samir.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a role that we see at this current time.
QUESTION: So does --
QUESTION: Just one more.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: At the White House today – there was one Israeli death, and obviously any death on either side of the conflict is terrible – but at the White House, Josh Earnest says that this death today – the reports of this death, this Israeli death – indicate that this situation is not sustainable. But I mean, shouldn’t the death of a hundred Palestinians indicate that the situation is not sustainable? I mean, is there an equivalency between how many people are dying on each side here?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s what – point he was making at all. Obviously, the death of any civilian is a tragedy, and that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been so focused on using every tool we can to de-escalate the situation on the ground. We’ve seen the reports of the number of Palestinian deaths, including children. That’s horrific. And that’s why we want to see an end to what’s happening on the ground and a return to the cease-fire.
QUESTION: On that, Jen, there have --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- been accusations from the Palestinian side that the Israelis are intentionally targeting civilians. Do you give those allegations any credence?
MS. PSAKI: I – we do not.
QUESTION: So you believe that any civilian casualties that have been caused in Gaza have been the result of what? Been the result of – they’re just very unfortunate accidental collateral damage? Or is it Hamas actively using human – civilians as shields, or what is it?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any speculation on that, Matt.
QUESTION: You said that you didn’t track that sort of thing in response to a question about whether there are American citizens still in Gaza trapped or not trapped, whatever word you want to use, but --
MS. PSAKI: Well, numbers, specifically.
QUESTION: I understand. But – I know, but are you aware, have American citizens in Gaza gotten in touch with the consulate to say we’re still here, and can – is there any help you could offer, I mean, post the first evacuation?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly – obviously, you’re aware with the fact that we put out information.
MS. PSAKI: We were able to help a number of citizens. I don’t have a recent update. I’m happy to check on that for you.
QUESTION: Right. But I just want to know – I mean, you do know, though, that there are American citizens who are still stuck in – or maybe they’re there – they want to stay, but that there are Americans in Gaza, right?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have information on the circumstances, Matt, but we can see if there --
QUESTION: All right. No, no. I know. Regardless of the circumstances. But that they are there. There are still Americans in Gaza. You don’t know?
MS. PSAKI: I assume so. I don’t have any more details on it to share.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on the issue of responsibility for the deaths of civilians and so on. I mean, Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth, probably second to Kolkata. It’s very difficult to really avoid civilian casualties, no matter what kind of weapon you use. You do agree with that, don’t you? You agree that it is basically, whatever you use, whatever weapon you use – you can throw a stone and injure people, it is so densely populated, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Do you have a question?
QUESTION: This is in response to the suggestion that maybe Hamas is bringing all these people and putting them in an area where they can be --
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speculate on that, Said. Do we have more on this topic, or should --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Roz.
QUESTION: You said before that the Secretary decided to come back to the U.S. primarily to consult on the P5+1 talks, but also because this cease-fire had been announced.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: If my timeline is correct, Hamas had not given an answer one way or the other. Was an opportunity missed for the U.S. to be in the region and to try to, in particular, work with those countries that have a direct connection to Hamas?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would remind you that we have been working with those countries, and the Secretary spoke with the Egyptian foreign minister on his flight. So that diplomatic engagement continues. If there is a role that he can play in the region, he will return to the region and he is happy to do that.
QUESTION: But isn’t it preferable to actually be on the ground and to actually have people who agree on the overall framework but not necessarily on the details yet, to actually be on the ground together and actually work more energetically to get both sides to buy into the deal?
MS. PSAKI: It --
QUESTION: Or was this a strategic way of essentially letting Israel and Egypt reaffirm their longstanding relationship that some would argue had been disrupted by the political turmoil in Egypt over the past three years?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, it certainly can be. And you know the Secretary always is happy to get on a plane and roll up his sleeves and spend the night negotiating if needed. And if he needs to do that, he can get on a plane tomorrow, as soon as tomorrow. There’s no plans to do that at this point in time, but he reserves that particular option.
But the fact remains that he can still engage with the parties on the phone. He can still engage through a range of tools in order to play the role that the United States can play in this particular case. This is an Egyptian proposal, one certainly we’ve commended and we’ve supported, and we’ll give it some time to see if it can work its way through.
QUESTION: And I know that there wasn’t any – there was a deliberate decision to not talk about Israel/Hamas during P5+1. What contacts has the U.S. initiated or received to Iran regarding the situation inside Gaza?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on that to read out for you.
QUESTION: So they passed the point of no return, as it were, on their way back?
MS. PSAKI: To Shannon?
QUESTION: There’s no way he could decide to change his mind and head back?
MS. PSAKI: I have not been tracking their movements. We have done that before, but my understanding is he’s still --
QUESTION: No? Okay.
MS. PSAKI: -- planning to return to Washington.
QUESTION: He could still go to Frankfurt.
QUESTION: And how – I mean, I know you said if there’s a reason for him to go back then he can go back. But like, what’s the earliest that – how much – let’s not talk about how, when you – how much time do you feel that you need to give this before saying, look, we really need to --
MS. PSAKI: Well, part of what he’ll do over the course of the next couple of days is consult with the President and also be in touch with Congress about the P5+1 negotiations as well. So I expect we’ll give that some time to occur.
QUESTION: The Secretary --
QUESTION: Is he concerned about having – about the perception that some critics have that, as Elise said before, he’s spread too thin? That he’s showing up everywhere and doesn’t have much to show for his on-the-ground efforts?
MS. PSAKI: I actually don’t think there’s evidence of that, Roz. I think – look at what happened over the weekend with the deal in Afghanistan. He was doing that while at the same time remaining engaged with our team on the ground in Vienna. Taking on tough challenges, you don’t do that because you’re guaranteed victory; you do it because they’re tough challenges and they need to be addressed. And that’s why he’s engaged in all these issues. It doesn’t mean that you’re assured of a victory at the end.
QUESTION: So his motto would be “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard”? Is that what you’re saying?
MS. PSAKI: That is fine, Matt.
QUESTION: Can I ask you, when you --
MS. PSAKI: That’s an excellent headline of an AP story. Go ahead. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You know who said that, right?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. You said roll up his sleeves and negotiate, ready to get back on a plane --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: On the ceasefire, who is there to negotiate with? The Egyptians came up with it with some heavy U.S. work, I would expect. The Israelis agreed to it. He’s not going to talk to Hamas, or is he?
MS. PSAKI: No. That has not changed.
QUESTION: So who would he negotiate with?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t maybe put it in the form of negotiating as much as playing a role and advising, or going to any of these countries that can play a role and working with relevant parties on the ground.
QUESTION: In other words, going to third – going to countries that might be able to apply pressure to Hamas to accept it?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. That’s part of what he could do.
QUESTION: Because --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: That is part of what he could do? But there’s certainly no plan to talk to Hamas, correct?
MS. PSAKI: No, there’s not. And there’s no current plan to travel back to the region either.
QUESTION: Here’s something.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So the – just to go back to what we were talking about before, the Egyptians have invited Palestinian factions – and that’s to include President Abbas and possibly – obviously, members of Hamas would have to be part of that negotiating team because they’re the party enacted in the – engaged in the fighting. So feasibly, could Secretary Kerry go to – be meeting with those – the entire delegation which might include Hamas, or do you completely rule that out? Or would he just meet maybe with President Abbas on the side or something like that?
MS. PSAKI: Elise, we’re getting way too ahead of where we are currently. We don’t even have a plan to go back to the region at this point in time. So we’ll have to evaluate --
QUESTION: Well, you do have a plan, but you just don’t have a date. Is that right?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll have to evaluate what productive role we can play, whether that’s here, whether that’s in another country. And we’ll, I’m sure, keep talking about it.
QUESTION: Has Secretary Kerry spoken with President Abbas about the cease-fire?
MS. PSAKI: He has not spoken with him over the last couple of days, but I would remind you that we obviously have a consul general on the ground, we have a very active team there, and they’ve been closely engaged with him and his team.
QUESTION: Given that – all of the conflicts over the last several years in this – the violent conflicts have been because Hamas is a party to them. And clearly they’re the ones, like, with the influence to stop this bloody conflict. Possibly have – would they end their resistance potentially, that there would be an opportunity for the peace process to move forward. Do you think that there was a mistake all those years ago to boycott Hamas when it won those elections? I mean, do you not think that engaging with them as a party that actually has an opportunity to end the conflict would’ve done some good?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s nearly impossible to look back and make an evaluation, and I’m not going to do that from the podium.
QUESTION: Only nearly?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not impossible.
QUESTION: It is.
Go to someone else.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on this topic before --
MS. PSAKI: -- okay, in the back. You’re sitting in a different seat. I’m very thrown off. Go ahead.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) okay, so you mentioned few times that this – the proposal, the Egyptian proposal is still on the table.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Are you expecting or – the possibility of making some changes in the content of it, or just try to convince both sides to accepted it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as you heard or you saw in our statement this morning, we believe that this is a goodwill effort to put a cease-fire in place. The Egyptians deserve time and space to be able to make this initiative work. So I’m not going to speculate on whether anything could be changed. Obviously, the effort at this point is on working with Hamas to see if they will engage in this ceasefire.
QUESTION: Just to follow-up, why I’m saying this is because there were some reports regarding two issues, which was many issues of disagreement from Hamas. One side is – was the border passing gates with Egypt, and the other was related to some money payment for the employments that they are not paid. So all these two issues are on the table, or you are not aware of these issues?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Egyptians to answer any questions on what they may or may not be considering.
QUESTION: There is another thing, which is like two mentioned – two publicly – publicly, two issues were mentioned at the beginning of this proposal: that – first the cease-fire, and second that the Israelis and Palestinians will sit together in Egypt somewhere and discuss these issues. Are there – these two issues are – United States are going to be part of it or not?
MS. PSAKI: The United States obviously – I’m not aware of our plans at this point to be a part of it. They – this hasn’t been scheduled yet, so I will – why don’t we see how this plays out and determine whether there’s a productive role we can play.
QUESTION: Jen, last round --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- on this issue. One of your allies, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, today in his speech before parliament accused your other ally, Israel, of committing massacres against the Palestinians, that it is committing terrorism by the state. And he basically said that it’s shameful that the world remains silent. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those specific comments, Said.
Go ahead. More on this, or --
QUESTION: No. P5+1.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Should we --
QUESTION: Well, whether or not you’ve seen them or not, you disagree with them, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure if they’re accurate, because I haven’t seen them printed anywhere. So --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, if Said said it himself, or if I said it, would you agree or disagree?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly would disagree, Matt.
MS. PSAKI: But why don’t I see if that’s actually an accurate depiction of the statements.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: A few days ago, Secretary Kerry said if there is a real – I quote, “real” – progress, we can consider extension. Yesterday he spoke about “tangible,” and I quote. Are they the same, real and tangible, so the extension is on the table?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think he also spoke to this issue this morning, and I would certainly point you to his comments that he made there. We’re still working. Our team on the ground is still working. Over the course of the next couple of days leading up to July 20th, the team in Vienna will continue to meet. Progress has been made and the process continues. The Secretary is going to be consulting with the President and with Congress in the coming days. And certainly, an extension will be an option that’s discussed, but I’ll leave it to the team on the ground to provide any updates of forward movement in the negotiation in that regard.
QUESTION: But you do agree that real is tangible, isn’t it?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Tangible means real.
MS. PSAKI: Tangible means real?
QUESTION: That’s what he said. He said yesterday “tangible;” previously, he --
MS. PSAKI: I think there --
QUESTION: He put a condition to have --
MS. PSAKI: They have similar meanings, yes.
QUESTION: -- real progress.
MS. PSAKI: They have similar meanings, those words do.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: So this is about Gaza, Israel.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. Okay, that’s fine.
QUESTION: Just one --
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: -- last question.
So there are multiple reports from some Hamas spokespeople who’ve said that this proposal was presented to them by Israel and Egypt as sort of an ultimatum, that they received no rough draft to consider, that it was kind of sprung on them and they didn’t have time to ingest it. And many of them actually said that they heard about it through media reports. Do you know for certain that they had ample time to ingest the information, to determine how they wanted to respond?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Egyptians for that. I don’t have any specific information to offer.
Should we go back – let’s – can we finish Iran, and then we’ll go back. Does anyone have other Iran questions? P5+1 negotiations? All of them are answered. All right, good.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary prepared to recommend an extension of the talks beyond Sunday?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that. He spoke to this this morning. Obviously, our team on the ground – that remains an option, but our team on the ground is continuing to work, and we’ll just see where things proceed over the coming day or so.
QUESTION: Just in the last few days, diplomat – last few minutes, rather, diplomats in Vienna – Western diplomats, which could be U.S. or any other – or any of the European partners were saying that it’s inevitable that the talks will continue for months.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we will see, Elise. Obviously, that has remained an option. We’ll see what happens over the next couple of days.
QUESTION: So for the past several months – like clockwork, pretty much – you have been – you and Marie have been asked about oil sales, Iranian oil sales --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and the – and the cap set by the JPOA. The reason you’ve been asked is because statistics have been showing that they are exceeding the million barrels a day that was agreed to. And you have consistently said that it’s too early to tell, that it’s an average; you have to average out the whole six months. It is now mathematically impossible – and actually has been for some time, although you wouldn’t concede the point the last time I raised it with you – that they will come in and meet that cap that was set by the JPOA, which puts them in violation already of the agreement.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I’d --
QUESTION: What do you --
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to take a look at your mathematical calculation and talk to our team and see what their view is on that.
QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t have – you’re not prepared to say what you have said in the past, at least, that well, it’s too – it’s way too early to say, that the average might not be --
MS. PSAKI: I just have not spoken with them about this particular issue --
MS. PSAKI: -- in a couple of weeks.
QUESTION: I would be curious to an answer of what the Administration – whether the Administration believes that the – that this part of the agreement has been violated by the Iranians or not, and if it has – which I think it may be an unlikely event, no matter how strong the math supporting it is – but if it has violated the JPOA, what you are prepared to do about it. And what do you think it means for not only the JPOA until Sunday, but any extension in the negotiations and then a final agreement? Can you trust the Iranians?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I am happy to talk to our team. I will just remind you that, as we’ve talked about before, there are a range of factors and data that we look at as we make our calculations. So I’ll discuss that with them as well.
QUESTION: A number of Republicans on the Hill have been basically repeating the Secretary’s line, “no deal is better than a bad deal.” And in recent days they have echoed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s concerns about not just the Iranian demand to retain their centrifuge arsenal, as it were, but also to develop and expand their arsenal of ICBMs. Are those the two main sticking points?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get into specifics. You’re familiar with the range of issues on the table. You’ve touched on some of them; enrichment, centrifuges, transparency, and other issues. It’s all about how they fit together. That’s what our team is discussing on the ground. You heard the Secretary this morning talk about how the number of centrifuges that Iran has now are too many. So I think we’ll let the negotiations happen behind the scenes with our negotiating teams and refrain – continue to refrain from playing all of these numbers out publicly.
QUESTION: And with whom is the Secretary planning to consult from Capitol Hill?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a list of members. That’s something, obviously, we’ll work through with a range of others in the Administration and what’s appropriate.
QUESTION: Does that mean that members of Congress will be coming here, or would he be meeting with them in a closed-door session on the Hill?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail. I think, obviously, he was in Congress for 28 years and he can also pick up the phone, and I expect that will be part of his engagement, and there’ll be other officials who also engage with the Hill in other ways.
QUESTION: Would he be prepared to – absent what’s happening in the Gaza Strip, would he be prepared to go back to Vienna this weekend?
MS. PSAKI: He said this morning that he’s open to doing that if there’s a productive role he can play. That’s not currently planned.
MS. PSAKI: Iraq. Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: I’m getting an assist from Said here. The Secretary --
MS. PSAKI: We put out a statement from the Secretary. It came out right before I came out here, so I’m not sure if you saw it.
QUESTION: I didn’t see it.
MS. PSAKI: Let me just reiterate some of the points that he made. We certainly, of course, congratulate the Iraqi people on the election of a new parliamentary speaker as well as two deputies. This election of a speaker is the first step in the critical process of forming a new government that can take into account the rights, aspirations, and legitimate concerns of all of Iraq’s communities. We urge the – Iraq’s leaders to follow this step today with rapid formation of a new government. That means, as you all know, selection of a president and a prime minister. We expect as they – as the meeting breaks, and maybe that’s already happened, we’ll know more soon about the next time they plan to meet. And obviously those are the next appropriate steps in the process.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Stay in Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Without getting into the classified information, a report that’s on Secretary Hagel’s desk – has Secretary Kerry, as a member of the National Security Council, expressed concern over U.S. personnel who are in Iraq and are working with different forces and officials?
MS. PSAKI: Are you speaking to military personnel, or which personnel are you referring to?
QUESTION: Any officials in Iraq. Is the United States or people in this building concerned about insider attacks for U.S. personnel working with their Iraqi counterparts?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a couple of different things I think you’re referring to here, so let me just break those apart, if that’s okay with you. I think the Pentagon confirmed yesterday that Secretary Hagel and Chairman Dempsey received the draft of the assessment from Central Command. Obviously, they’re the front individuals to review that draft and they also have oversight over military personnel who are on the ground in Iraq.
Broadly speaking, certainly as the State Department and the Secretary are always evaluating the safety and security of our personnel, the men and women serving in a variety of capacities in Iraq, and any other high-threat post around the world, and we take steps accordingly and as needed. And you’re familiar with the steps we recently took. I don’t have any of those to be – to predict at this point, but that certainly is something we evaluate broadly speaking on nearly a daily basis about places like Iraq.
QUESTION: And specific to Iraq, are you concerned about Shia forces aligned with Iran and about Sunni forces aligned with extremist elements? Are those specific --
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to reports in a draft that obviously the proper officials have not yet reviewed.
QUESTION: I know that you want the choice of a prime minister to the Iraqi people.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You’ve said – stated --
MS. PSAKI: You’re familiar with our point on that.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m fully familiar with it, but --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: But as Maliki becomes more and more polarizing, a polarizing figure – and those were the words of someone like Barzani in Turkey, those are the words of even allies within the Shia coalition, even his own coalition – are you willing to support as an alternative someone that the Iranians might support, who is Ahmed Chalabi, someone who has been tarnished in the United States as someone who collaborated with the enemies of the United States?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not going to pick or support candidates. Obviously, as you noted, but it’s worth me repeating from the U.S. Government, we – it’s up to the Iraqi people to determine their leadership. We’ve expressed concern in the past about the lack of inclusivity in Prime Minister Maliki’s leadership. That hasn’t changed. And obviously, we want to see a future government and future leaders who govern in a more inclusive manner. But that’s one of the next steps in the process, and we leave that to the Iraqis to determine.
QUESTION: Do you believe that Mr. Maliki, the message he gets from this podium and other podiums and so on, that the United States sticks to him no matter what?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t evaluate for you what I believe Prime Minister Maliki hears or listens to or reads, but --
QUESTION: If he gets that message, do you think that he’s getting the wrong message?
MS. PSAKI: I think our message has consistently been that it’s up to the Iraqis to determine their future leadership. So I think that would be what anybody would hear.
QUESTION: Well, if they haven’t elected him, then it means that they don’t want him. So I mean, they have chosen, don’t you think?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll let the process play itself out, Elise.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Iraq?
QUESTION: Yes, please. I mean, you mentioned that the Iraqis have to choose their prime minister and the president, assuming that they have this parliament now, proper parliament president.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have in your mind a timeframe? Because a while ago – I mean, it’s like last week you were talking about Sunday or 10 days or something like this. Do you have a timeframe for this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, so they did meet on Sunday, and obviously, this – the selection of the speaker just happened today.
MS. PSAKI: So I think we’ll leave it to them to make any announcements about their next planned meeting where we – and expect and hope that they will move forward with the remaining steps in government formation.
QUESTION: And like few days ago, Prime Minister Maliki replaced the foreign minister or asked him to leave his job or replace him with another person. Do you have any concern and especially Zebari has had a good relation or at least long relation with Secretary Kerry and the State Department – is this representing any concern to you in your relations with – foreign relations with Iraq, or it doesn’t matter?
MS. PSAKI: In the selection of a new foreign minister?
MS. PSAKI: That’s, again, an Iraqi political decision. Obviously, you’re right that the Secretary has worked with the former foreign minister quite a bit in the past, but we’ll work with the leaders and the representatives who are selected by the government and the people of Iraq.
QUESTION: Was there any contact with the new foreign minister or not yet?
MS. PSAKI: Not at the Secretary’s level. I don’t have anything to read out from our team on the ground, though they remain engaged with a range of officials on the ground.
QUESTION: And who – still the same team on the ground doing contact with all this leadership?
MS. PSAKI: That’s right. Ambassador Beecroft, Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk. They remain on the ground and closely engaged.
Do you have any more on Iraq before we continue? Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Japan?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So according to reports in Japanese media and his phone call to Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida, last week Secretary Kerry warned Japan against moving too quickly to unilaterally remove some sanctions. Is that an accurate depiction of the phone call?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to read out on the call. Why don’t I check back with our team and see if there’s more we can convey from here.
QUESTION: And also according to the reports --
MS. PSAKI: And you said that was a report or a – can you just repeat for me where that was from? Was it a news report?
QUESTION: News report from Kyodo agency. And also according to that report, Foreign Minister Kishida said that he intends to visit the U.S. to explain directly to Secretary Kerry his view on this particular issue. Is that an accurate report? Does Kishida have any plans to come and visit Secretary Kerry anytime soon?
MS. PSAKI: I would refer you to him. We’ve obviously welcomed him many times in the past and certainly would be happy to again. I don’t have any scheduling plans in front of me. They, I think, would likely announce that from there.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: The – did you have a specific question about it? Or --
QUESTION: The whole – like the summit. Any comments?
MS. PSAKI: The fact that they’re meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Did you have a question about it specifically or a component of it?
QUESTION: Yeah. President Xi Jinping visit the Latin Americas and is --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything specific other than to say that the --
QUESTION: Yeah, how does it going to affect U.S. policy --
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, the BRICS summit is a venue for leading emerging economies to discuss economic issues that they may have in common. And we’ve – obviously have relationships with all of those countries and work closely with them. I think the Secretary has actually visited all but South Africa of the BRICS countries. And these countries also have important differences that this is a forum to discuss. So it remains to be seen what the specific focus – the planned BRICS development – the – BRICS will have in the coming months and years, and we’d certainly defer to them. But I don’t think we have anything specific – a specific comment or concern about their summit.
QUESTION: Were you asked last week while I was away about President Putin’s tour, which – of Latin America – of Latin and South America that ended with this – with this summit?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t remember if I was or not. I don’t think so.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment about it?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have anything specific to add on it.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, Elise, as we’ve said before, but it’s worth repeating, of course we have a range of tools at our disposal, including sanctions on individuals, sanctions on different companies or banks or entities. That remains the case. We – I don’t have anything predict for you in terms of new sanctions or decisions from here. We certainly welcome the additional – the announcement by the Europeans on the additional individuals.
QUESTION: Well, you also have in your range of tools – you mentioned individuals and companies, but you --
MS. PSAKI: And sectors. But I was trying to kind of lay out that it’s not exactly how it describes when we said – it’s described when we say sectors. So --
QUESTION: Right. But do you – when you’re considering – I mean, have things reached the point where sector – sectoral sanctions are a distinct possibility? Or are you still in the kind of individuals and companies realm?
MS. PSAKI: Sectoral sanctions have remained an option. I don’t have anything to preview or announce for you today.
QUESTION: Sorry. When you talk about – when you say range of tools and then you talk about individuals, companies, sectors – that seems – are you talking about a range within the sanctions tool?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. That’s what I’m referring to.
QUESTION: So what is the actual – okay. So what is the actual range of tools? Zero is doing nothing, and then 10 is nuclear war? What – and sanctions would fall about --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I was referring to a range of sanctions tools.
QUESTION: Sanctions would fall about what? Three or four into that?
MS. PSAKI: Actually, I would strongly disagree with that. Since you gave me the opportunity, let me just give you a couple of additional economic data points --
QUESTION: Please. Please do.
MS. PSAKI: -- on the impact of our sanctions. The IMF has downgraded Russia’s growth outlook to .2 percent this year and has said that the country was in recession the first half of the year. This stands in stark contrast to previous IMF forecasts, which as recently as February were projecting 2 percent growth. These are some specific data points of what our impact has been. The IMF has also said they expect up to $100 billion in capital flight from Russia this year. And since March, Russia companies and government – and the Government of Russia have had to cancel numerous bond auctions. Russian companies have had to pay more to borrow and the ratings agencies have downgraded Russia’s credit rating to one notch above junk status. I know that’s your favorite example.
But those are some examples of how our sanctions to date have had an impact, and obviously as we consider additional sanctions in a coordinated manner with the Europeans. That’s the impact we’ve already had.
QUESTION: So what impact has your – what impact have your sanctions and what you just mentioned had on the actual Russia policy in Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think there has been engagement and discussion about a ceasefire. We are clearly – still believe that there are more steps that the Russian separatists need to take, that the Russians can take themselves; we feel that this has been exerting a strong amount of pressure on the economy there; that we feel if President Putin cares deeply about his people, about the economy in his own country, should continue to impact his decision making.
QUESTION: Right, but you just went through this bevy of statistics --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- talking about how crappy the Russian economy is doing since you and the Europeans have imposed your sanctions. And I’m just curious, since you say that it’s having an impact on the economy, where’s the impact on the – on Russia’s policy towards Ukraine? You – they still have Crimea. I mean, that seems to be just gone now. The ceasefire, despite your pushing it and trying to get the Russians on board numerous times is not going anywhere. In fact, the situation is getting worse. They don’t – they haven’t changed their attitude or their policy at all. So I’m just curious as to how it is exactly you would argue that the sanctions are having an impact.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think that’s why we reserve the option of doing more if we decide we should and we decide it would be effective.
QUESTION: So you would agree, then, that the sanctions to date have not been effective in changing the policy, the Russians’ policy?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve seen in the past that there are occasions where economic sanctions can hit a breaking point and can cause the willingness to engage. Obviously, it’s very different from Iran, but we’re seeing a dramatic impact from the economic sanctions. And if, again, the leaders in Russia care as deeply as they say they do about their people, then we hope and expect that this will change their behavior.
QUESTION: Have you – right. But it hasn’t yet, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think you’re --
QUESTION: I mean, you’re still seeing this could go --
MS. PSAKI: You’re familiar with --
QUESTION: This leads into my next question, which is: I’m wondering – since we last spoke, since early last week when I was last here – have you seen any movement from the Russians to stop the supplies or what you say, the transfers of weapons and material, from Russia into eastern Ukraine in support of the separatists? Have you seen any change in it?
MS. PSAKI: There have actually been a range of reports, I’m sure you’ve seen over the course of the weekend, but I don’t have anything new in terms of positive steps to outline for you.
QUESTION: Okay. So that would just – going logically, right, your sanctions, while they may have had an impact on the Russian economy according to the IMF, have not had – they have not stopped, slowed, deterred anything that Russia is doing in aid of the pro-Russian separatists in the east. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have remaining concerns about their support for the separatists. That has not changed. We can’t disprove a negative. We don’t know what they would have done had these not been in place. That’s nearly impossible to guess about.
QUESTION: Yeah, but it hasn’t stopped them from doing what you are complaining about.
MS. PSAKI: We have remaining concerns that we continue to express.
QUESTION: Okay. So where does this stand now in terms of contacts between Secretary or other senior people in the Administration and the Russians and the Ukrainians? I saw that Vice President Biden had a couple conversations, but what – where do things stand right now? Are – is it kind of frozen or is there active diplomacy going on despite the fact that the Russians haven’t shown any interest --
MS. PSAKI: There continues to be active diplomacy on this issue on the ground. We have – Ambassador Pyatt’s on the ground. He remains closely engaged with the Ukrainian Government. We – the Secretary, as you know, regularly speaks with Foreign Minister Lavrov. Let me just see if there’s anything specific to read out for you.
I don’t have anything specific over the last couple of days, but --
QUESTION: Okay. Do you – there were a couple incidents, I believe – and forgive me if they happened a while ago, but I’m still trying to get caught up with what I missed.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: One, a plane being shot – a Ukrainian plane being shot down, and then the Russians complaining about Ukrainian military firing across the border into Russia. Do you have anything on either of those?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have – there have been a range of reports, which is what I was referring to.
QUESTION: Was referring to before?
MS. PSAKI: We are – I don’t have any confirmation of these reports. Obviously, there are statements being made by the Russians. They accused – I think one of the things you were referring to – the Ukrainians of strikes or of shelling Russian – a Russian village. We’ve heard these comments, but we don’t, again, have any confirmation of them. The U.S. Embassy defense attache received an invitation from the Russian Ministry of Defense to visit the Rostov region, accepted the invitation. The Ukrainian Government, as I noted, has of course, denied these allegations. The trip and the itinerary was controlled by the Russian Government without input from the participants. It wasn’t conclusive in our view.
QUESTION: So the attache from the Embassy in Kyiv or in Moscow?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I’d have to double-check on that, Matt, but I’ll – I can do that.
QUESTION: Okay. But they – the attache was among others who went to where this allegedly happened and decided – his observation was there was nothing conclusive about what he saw or (inaudible) visit saw --
MS. PSAKI: Sure, where – the cause or where it came from.
QUESTION: -- to prove that. Okay, so are you concerned that the Russians might use such a claim as a pretext to invade, for lack of a better word? To do what they did in Crimea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen a pattern in the past of Russians’ comments using incidents to justify military action or direct military engagement. And certainly that is concerning to us. And our view is that if there is such a high level of concern about the violence on the ground or the overflow of it, there are steps they can take to de-escalate which they’ve chosen not to take at this point in time, the Russian separatists specifically.
Any more on Ukraine? Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: North Korea.
MS. PSAKI: North Korea.
QUESTION: Yes. About the missile launch of North Korea. As you know, the – I’m not sure you are aware of this. The top official of the Workers’ Party of North Korea told that the Japanese member of the House of the Councillors. This time the missile launch represent the protest against United States and South Korea, particularly this military exercise. Are you aware of this? And what is the position of this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that we’re concerned by reports that North Korea fired multiple suspected rockets and artillery shells into the sea just one day after yet another reported round of missile launches. I think you’ve seen it’s about a half dozen if not more of these incidents over the course of the past several days. I’d caution anyone from linking the missile launches to the joint military exercises. These annual joint exercises are transparent, defense-oriented. They’ve been carried out regularly and openly for roughly 40 years now, and these recent missile launches were conducted without warning and are clearly designed to raise tensions. So an effort to link them, in our view, is not appropriate.
QUESTION: So these exercises just annual? You don’t have any intention or message to North Korea, actually?
MS. PSAKI: These are, again, exercises that we’ve been undergoing for 40 years now. They show the strong U.S. commitment to the alliance, and they’re done in a transparent manner and I expect they will continue.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, Libya.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are aware of the reports that Faraj al-Shibli was found dead in the Libyan coastal city of Marj. We are also cognizant of reports that he had been in the custody of local militia prior to his death. I don’t have any independent confirmation from here, Lucas. I’d refer you to Libyan authorities.
QUESTION: Can I ask one about Libya?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: It does seem as if – well, that the airport is – continue to be shelled, most of the planes even are damaged, I don’t – and the Embassy is near the airport, I mean, and it doesn’t seem as if there’s been any movement on any type of evacuation. So I’m just wondering what’s going on.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re obviously deeply concerned about the level of violence in Libya and some of the incidents you referred to. Every day, we make assessments about the level of violence and the impact on our personnel there, but I don’t have anything to predict for you or outline in terms of any changes to our security posture or level of staffing on the ground.
QUESTION: I mean, it seems as if there wouldn’t be any way for those employees to get out unless you had some kind of airlift because the airport is inoperable right now.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Elise, I think it’s safe to say that we evaluate every single factor when we’re making determinations about our staff. There’s nothing more important than the safety, almost nothing more important than the safety and security of our staff, but we do that in private and I have nothing to outline for you here from – publicly.
QUESTION: Is Ambassador Satterfield in Libya now or here?
MS. PSAKI: I know – I’m not sure, actually, where he is. We can check and see if we can get that information to you.
Sure, I can just do a couple more. Go ahead in the back. Welcome back. Hello.
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a case being overseen by the Department of Justice. I don’t have anything specific for you in terms of his transit. Obviously, Guam is a territory of the United States and he’ll be afforded all consular access as is accorded by the Vienna Convention.
QUESTION: I just --
QUESTION: Would he have the same rights as a U.S. citizen under these circumstances?
MS. PSAKI: He has the same rights as any citizen through our – he’s not a U.S. citizen, but through the Vienna Conventions where we grant consular access. And that will, of course, be observed in this case.
QUESTION: One more: What would you say, what would the U.S. say, if the Russian secret service started capturing U.S. citizens in third countries and shipping them to Russia, denying them necessary medical care, as is the case with Konstantin Yaroshenko, another Russian?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note here --
QUESTION: Would you find it acceptable?
MS. PSAKI: -- that this was a law enforcement action. It was based solely on law enforcement considerations. The indictment in this case was returned more than three years ago and thus predates – I think it’s important to note – any current issues or current disagreements between Russia and the United States. He was arrested following his expulsion from another country under – acting under its own laws, and he was advised of his rights and given consular notification.
So I think this is a judicial case, a case that belongs in our law enforcement – discussed along those lines and with those appropriate contacts, and I think I’ll leave it with that.
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: But if Russia did the same, would you find it acceptable?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think this is a case where this individual is accused of violating the law.
QUESTION: Violating the law, but he was picked up by U.S. officials and then flown to Guam. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: That is correct.
QUESTION: And he went there willingly?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more details on this case for you, Matt.
QUESTION: Okay. I’d just be – I mean, what is – does the U.S. have some kind of a treaty with wherever it was he was – was he in Seychelles or – no, it was the Maldives? Do they --
QUESTION: The Maldives.
QUESTION: The Maldives. Is there some kind of a treaty with the Maldives that allows U.S. law enforcement agents to come in and just pick people up off the street, throw them on a plane and fly them to Guam, or anywhere else for that matter?
MS. PSAKI: This is – these actions were in no way inconsistent with our treaty obligations.
QUESTION: Were they consistent with international law?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, they were.
QUESTION: I have --
MS. PSAKI: Do you have another topic? I have a meeting but I can do a couple of more.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Syria? Sure.
QUESTION: One just very brief on Hammond.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note that as a result of this conflict in Syria, 10.8 million Syrians in Syria now need assistance. I know we’ve actually talked quite a bit, thanks to your questions, about the refugee crisis in Syria and how we can address that. So what the council did was they authorized the use of four additional crossings to UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners without the need for approval from the Syrian regime.
Obviously, typically the UN or other entities work through the government, but in this case we were seeing trucks and – UN trucks fully loaded literally sitting at the border waiting for the Syrian Government to issue travel papers. So this gives – it allows the UN to move forward while notifying the Syrian Government with 48 hours notice in advance of humanitarian – in advance of action.
So this step was taken in an effort to break the logjam here and see if there can be afforded more flexibility for UN convoys to make sure they can reach or take every step they can to reach the men, women, and children who need assistance in Syria. Obviously, it needs to be implemented, and that’s the key component. But certainly, we support this effort.
QUESTION: So there is a time to start to implement it, or just what – when you voted it, you realize it?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything. I’d refer you to them in terms of when they’ll be able to start implementing it. I’m sure they’ll try to do that as quickly as they can.
QUESTION: Are you beginning to see eye-to-eye with the Russians on your timing on the Syrian issue --
MS. PSAKI: I think --
QUESTION: -- by unanimously agreeing to this resolution?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we have existing areas of disagreement, but hopefully we can find ways to work together on making sure humanitarian assistance reaches the people who need it most.
QUESTION: So since 1991, the U.S. has made it a point to talk about how it desires to see Europe whole and free and at peace. And this Administration has, as have previous ones, celebrated the fact that the EU as the EU, and just this morning we saw the Secretary give some effusive praise to Catherine Ashton. The U.S. is generally supportive of the European Union as an entity, correct, and believes that it is a good thing for Europe to be united rather than disunited; is that – that’s correct?
MS. PSAKI: Let me see where you’re going with this first, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, the new foreign secretary of Britain is what people call a Euro-skeptic. He has suggested that the Brits might want to consider or should consider a referendum on withdrawing from the EU. And I’m wondering if in light of that, which seems to go against pretty much everything the Secretary has ever said about Europe and the EU, if you think that this can be as close of a working relationship as he had with Foreign Secretary Hague.
MS. PSAKI: We do.
QUESTION: You do? You don’t have any concerns about Mr. Hammond’s rather outspoken criticism of the European Union?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ll leave that to domestic politics in the U.K.
QUESTION: But do you take it as a sign that Europe does not – that Europe may be moving towards their position, or do you see it as now that he’s joined the government he’s going to follow the --
MS. PSAKI: His selection?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to David Cameron and his reasons for selecting him.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:33 p.m.)
DPB # 122