Daily Press Briefing - February 24, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
- U.S. Engagement / Secretary Burns' Travel / U.S. Encouraging De-Escalation and Dialogue/Aid Discussions Ongoing / Departure of President Yanukovych / Russia / Path Forward
- Departure of President Yanukovych
- IRAN / IRAQ
- Reports of Iranian Weapons sales to Iraq
- Secretary's Call with Foreign Minister Zebari
- ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS
- Peace Process / Core Issues
- Anti-Homosexuality Bill
- Government Resignation / U.S. Engagement
- U.S. Embassy Staffing / Leadership
- Capture of El Chapo
- UN Security Council Resolution / Geneva Talks / Chemical Weapons Elimination / Humanitarian Aid
- Bilateral Security Agreement
1:50 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. My apologies that we’re late today. I will make it up to you later this week, but it is a Monday. I have nothing at the top. Oh, here comes Lara.
QUESTION: Sorry, sorry, sorry.
MS. PSAKI: No, no, no, it’s all right.
QUESTION: I will be gracious and let one of my other colleagues start since I was late.
QUESTION: I’ll go.
MS. PSAKI: Hello, Lesley.
QUESTION: Hello, how are you?
MS. PSAKI: Great. How are you?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Have any calls been made today? The White House said at the weekend they thought that the developments were positive. We also understand that Hague is coming to town to speak with Kerry.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What kinds of – if you look at how – if you think this is positive, how do you see this moving forward?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, a couple of pieces just to update you all on. One, our ambassador on the ground, Ambassador Pyatt has been – and our team on the ground, I should say – has been in close touch with a broad range of officials on the ground. That’s been very consistent through the course of the weekend. I think most of you are aware of the range of calls that happened over the weekend, whether it was the Vice President or the Secretary – or even Secretary Kerry’s engagements with Foreign Minister Lavrov. If there’s a need we’re happy to get you that list, but I think you’re aware of those.
Also, Deputy Secretary Burns will be headed to Kyiv on the 25th and the 26th, so that is tomorrow and Wednesday. While he’s there, he will meet with a wide range of – wide selection of political, business, and civil society representatives to encourage a continued de-escalation – de-escalation – wow, I don’t know why that’s a hard word – in the security situation during a time of political transition in Ukraine. Right now, which is consistent to where we were the last 48 hours or so, we’ve advocated, of course, a de-escalation. That has been a big message we have been conveying. We’re certainly pushing for constitutional change; the creation of a coalition government; early elections, which as you know, have been called for; the creation of a transitional government. So these are all pieces that we are encouraging Ukraine and the range of officials in Ukraine to move forward on.
Now at the same time, we also encourage – continue to urge an end to violence and a focus on peaceful democratic dialogue. We think that is the best means to moving forward. You are right that Foreign Secretary Hague will be here tomorrow. They’ll certainly be discussing a range of issues. We’ll have more on this later today, but one of the issues that they will really be highlighting is the work that they’ve both done, and specifically Foreign Secretary Hague over the last several years on violence against women around the world, and that’s one of the issues that they’ll be talking about – and efforts that the UK and the United States have undergone, steps we can take together. So that will be a primary focus, but certainly there are a range of issues we work with them on, and I’m certain that they’ll be discussing the issue of Ukraine as well.
QUESTION: So the Russian prime minister said today that the West – criticizing Western officials for recognizing the Ukrainians that have come forward now, and they’re calling that they came to power during an armed mutiny. Do you see that as the way? I mean, there’s some – Yanukovych called it a coup.
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a case, Lesley, where an elected parliament is acting in response to fill the void created when Yanukovych and almost all of the other leaders of his government left Kyiv. As Secretary – as NSA, National Security Advisor Rice, said yesterday, he left – Yanukovych left Kyiv. He took his furniture, packed his bags, and we don’t have more information on his whereabouts. So there are officials who have stepped in and are acting in response to that leadership gap at the moment.
QUESTION: So --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just go one at a time. But we can go – let’s go to Lara, and then we’ll go to you next, Said.
QUESTION: Thanks. So as a result of the G20 meetings over the weekend, it was made clear that there would be some aid given to Ukraine, I assume through the IMF. But I’m just wondering if the U.S. piece of that is only going to be through the IMF or if there’s going to be separate aid by the U.S. as well.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a couple of pieces – and just to get others up to speed who haven’t followed as closely what Lara is referring to. The G20 met this weekend and Secretary Lew made clear that as soon as the transitional Ukrainian government is fully established by the parliament. We and many of the other ministers would certainly support Ukraine beginning discussions with the IMF. That’s one component. We are also working with partners around the world in discussions that have been ongoing for some time.
Obviously, there have been many developments over the weekend about ways to provide support for Ukraine as it takes the reforms it needs to go back to economic stability. It can complement an IMF program, and of course, the IMF has been clear and the G20 – the ministers at the G20 were clear that there would need to be a transitional government in place in order to begin that process – the IMF process.
So those discussions are ongoing. As you may have seen in the media note that was put out about Deputy Secretary Burns’s trip, there will be Treasury officials traveling with him on that trip as well to participate in discussions about that. Obviously, EU High Representative Ashton is also on the ground, and we’re coordinating closely with them. So these discussions are ongoing. I don’t have anything to announce for you, but it could be a complementary effort.
QUESTION: Do you have any kind of idea of the range of money we’re talking about here, either from the IMF or the U.S. package that would complement it?
MS. PSAKI: From the U.S. standpoint, I don’t have any specific update on that. Those discussions are ongoing. And of course, we’d need Congress as a full partner in that, which is certainly an important component and one of the reasons that we remain in very close contact with Congress.
In terms of the IMF program, I’d have to check on that. They may have put out numbers. You all are familiar with the depth of the economic challenges that are being felt in Ukraine now, and we feel, as do many of our international partners feel, that we need to work together to bolster the country at this point in time.
QUESTION: I ask because it was suggested at one point that the IMF step in to fill what Russia had been discussing with Ukraine and – some months ago. And that was a total of, I think, 15 billion. And I’m just wondering, given some of the IMF’s financial issues --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- whether that’s even in the realm of possible.
MS. PSAKI: I would have to check, or I’d point you to the IMF, of course, but I would certainly have to check that piece. And you’ve all seen the announcement about the additional 12 that hasn’t been distributed from that amount.
QUESTION: And what makes you think that Ukraine’s going to stick to an IMF program this time? It hasn’t before, in the last ten years, including under Tymoshenko. What makes the IMF think that this is going to be different?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would let the --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) makes the U.S. thinks it’s going to be different?
MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly, Ukraine is going through an important period of transition now. The people of Ukraine’s voices are being heard. We have a real opportunity to move beyond the current crisis and pursue a more democratic future the people of Ukraine deserve. There’s certainly a recognition of the economic challenges the country is also facing. Obviously, there are a number of political steps that need to be taken right now, including the creation of a transition government, then elections that have been called for in May. So there are several steps that need to happen. But there is a – Ukraine is moving in a direction where we are hopeful and we are positive about the future that that entails.
QUESTION: Now, you said that you don’t know where Yanukovych’s whereabouts are, but there is also a warrant for his arrest. Do you like to see him arrested?
MS. PSAKI: Well, these kinds of decisions, Said, are up to the Ukrainian people. For our part, we encourage steps that lead to the kind of multiparty unity government that speaks for the Ukrainian people. We certainly believe that Yanukovych has lost legitimacy and is not actively leading the country at present. And again, as I mentioned, we don’t have any further information as to whereabouts.
QUESTION: Yesterday, the National Security Advisor warned the Russians against contemplating interference in Ukraine. And one of your Russian counterparts said that Americans should take heed of that advice. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s – I think it’s mixing a few things. I’m not saying you are; I’m saying their response is in the sense that what we’re talking about here is the future of Ukraine. And we believe that is and should continue to be up to the Ukrainian people – not the United States, Europe, Russia, or any other entity. We also believe – and this is a message that you saw this weekend, that President Obama conveyed to President Putin and they had a discussion about it, and Secretary Kerry conveyed to Foreign Minister Lavrov – that Russia and the United States both have a shared interest in a stable, peaceful Ukraine.
It’s certainly not in Russia’s interest to have tens of thousands of people in the street, deep discontent, and deep discontent with the government they were so closely backing. Instability and violence in Ukraine is simply not in their best interests. So what we’re working towards here, Said, is an effort to work together to peacefully resolve, find a peaceful path forward. There are a number of steps that can be taken to do that.
QUESTION: Is there a real concern that Russia might intervene, for Putin to sort of assert Russia’s power or to preempt any kind of similar activities in Russia itself?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I would point you to what Secretary Rice said – I mean – Secretary Rice – I’m sorry, National Security Advisor Rice said yesterday in that that would certainly be inadvisable. It wouldn’t be a step that we think is in – not just in the interests of the people of the Ukraine but the interest of Russia. They want to see a stable, prosperous – economic prosperous Ukraine. We all want to see that. And so that’s why we should all band together and work to see how we can help support that effort.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: First, welcome back.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, Lucas.
QUESTION: And just a few more on Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Jen, is this another situation where ordinary citizens of a foreign country suffering under tyranny and hungering for democracy brave bullets and bloodshed in the streets to achieve it, and then they see the United States not doing a whole hell of a lot to help them, and they hold it against us as they shape their new society, and the U.S. national security suffers in the process?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what your question is in there.
QUESTION: Is this --
MS. PSAKI: But that was a lovely speech. But – (laughter).
QUESTION: Thank you. Is this one of those situations where we support the protestors, we support a resolution, a peaceful resolution; people in the streets, they’re calling for help and we ignore them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, a couple things, Lucas. One is we don’t support – we support the people of Ukraine. The people of Ukraine have spoken about what they want to see their future hold, and they’ve been very vocal about that. You’ve seen a lot of steps taken over the course of the last couple of days.
In terms of our engagement and involvement, I think – I don’t know that anyone would argue on the ground that we haven’t been committed to supporting the voices of the people of Ukraine. We’ve been engaged both on the ground with calls to everyone from Yanukovych to opposition leaders, Deputy Secretary Burns is heading there tomorrow, we’re working closely with the EU, and we’ve been very engaged. But ultimately, the future is up to the people in the country.
QUESTION: And President Obama in Mexico last week said that if the Ukrainian Government stepped over the line – very similar language than we heard a few months ago in a different context, of course. In the view of the U.S. Government, was that line crossed by the Ukrainian Government?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Lucas, we have already put in place visa bans on those Ukrainians – as you know, because we announced this last week – who bear responsibility for ordering the security forces to move or have been responsible for other human rights abuses. Depending – we’re closely monitoring the situation on the ground, of course. But depending on how the situation develops, we’re prepared to take further steps if necessary, in close coordination with our European allies and partners. But naturally, our focus and our hope is that they will continue to take steps forward, whether that’s the creation of a government, elections in May, et cetera.
QUESTION: In your mind, though, was a line crossed by the Ukraine Government?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to lines and crossed and redlines and all of that. I will just point you to the fact that we took a step last week on the visa bans. We always reserve the option of taking more steps. But obviously, our focus at this point, of course, is on encouraging the officials there and the people there to take steps, positive steps, forward.
QUESTION: And one more. Does what’s happening in Ukraine right now offer the West an opportunity to draw swaths of Eastern Europe away from post-Soviet Russian spheres of influence, or a hundred years from now will historians be looking at this moment and asking what the U.S. did to lose Eastern Europe?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that’s a pretty Cold War-era way of looking at this or thinking about this. Our view is that we want to see a unified, prosperous Ukraine moving forward. We don’t think – and we’ve said this many times – but this is a zero sum game for Russia or any other country, that it’s in all of our interests to support a prosperous future for the country.
QUESTION: They’re in very much the Cold War there, are they not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would dispute the notion that they are. I think our point that – the point that President Obama made with President Putin this weekend, where they had a very positive conversation from both sides’ accounts, and the conversation Secretary Kerry had with Foreign Minister Lavrov, is about the need to work together to help Ukraine continue on a path forward.
QUESTION: Yeah. At least some elements of the protestors are asking that – or demanding, actually – that Yanukovych be prosecuted, some say in the square where all the protests were taking place and the shootings were last week. What is this Department’s view on how Yanukovych should be handled from here on out?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, these are decisions that are going to be made by the Ukrainian people. Given we don’t even know where he is at the moment, we’ll see how that transpires in the days and weeks ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish Ukraine. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Whether the people on the ground or --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- Under Secretary Burns, when you say they are in contact, in contact with the parliament member, opposition, or the former government?
MS. PSAKI: A very – a broad range of officials. So what I was pointing to is over the weekend we sent out a number of updates about calls that were made by Secretary Kerry, by Vice President Biden, by a range of officials. I can also update you that – and I meant to mention this earlier, so thanks for the opportunity – Ambassador Pyatt has spoken with Turchynov on his visit to Ukraine – and on his visit to Ukraine, Deputy Secretary Burns is scheduled to meet with him as well. So a broad range of officials from across Ukraine we’ve been in touch with.
QUESTION: The – how do you see or foresee the role of United States? I mean, because it was a kind of a battlefield between EU and Russia, the main partner or the main rivals in about Ukraine. What is the role of United States in all these things?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our role is to continue to advocate for a de-escalation of violence, for constitutional change, for the creation of a coalition government, early elections. And development in the parliament seem to be moving Ukraine closer to that goal. And of course, we urge an end to violence on the ground as well. But at this stage, what we’re doing is working with our EU partners, working with the UN and the IMF to support a strong, prosperous, unified, and democratic Ukraine. And we’ll – obviously, the situation on the ground is incredibly fluid, so we monitor it day by day and take steps day by day that we feel are necessary.
QUESTION: So I mean, because it – what we are seeing now, you said that there is political steps to be taken in the near future and the far future, let’s say. And there is the depth of economic challenges, but the talk about the economic challenges is there, but it’s like IMF and similar framework, which is like taking months or years.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I answered this a little bit earlier in that, obviously, as Secretary Lew said this weekend on the margins of the G-20 meeting, and as many other foreign ministers also said, they would certainly support efforts for Ukraine to pursue a path forward with the IMF. But the United States is also in discussions with the EU and other counterparts about ways that we can support – financially support Ukraine. I don’t have anything to announce for you at this point. And as I mentioned earlier, certainly, you would need support from Congress for those efforts, but these could be complementary steps.
Any more on Ukraine? Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Not on Ukraine?
QUESTION: No, Egypt.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s do last one --
QUESTION: Can I just do more on Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, sure.
QUESTION: Would the U.S. be prepared or are you – I mean, a few weeks ago you said you were in preliminary discussions with the EU --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
OPERATOR: -- about funding for Ukraine. One way that the U.S. and Europe can be part of an IMF program like it was in Greece – not the U.S., but there was a troika of money that came forward for Greece – was to put up bilateral loans alongside IMF loans that could also include Russia, and therefore you would push a country to reforming. That would just not only be from the fund because money from others would also be up there. Would the U.S. consider that kind of bilateral assistance?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we’re considering a range of options and the Treasury Department really has the lead on this – no surprise, Lesley – given they have the purse strings, it turns out. But our efforts here are to work with our partners around the world to provide support for Ukraine as it takes the reforms it needs to get back to economic stability. And obviously, as you mentioned – as I’ve mentioned, too – these efforts and this support could certainly complement an IMF program. But these are all part of the discussions that are underway and I’m certain will be a part of the discussions over the next couple of days.
Do you have on – Ukraine?
QUESTION: Finally, Iraq. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, Iraq. Sorry, you threw me off there. I said Iran and Ukraine. I wasn’t sure what the connection was there. Iran and Iraq.
QUESTION: Yeah, exactly. Signed – Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq arms and ammunition worth $195 million. Are you aware of this deal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve certainly seen those reports. If true, this would raise serious concerns. Any transfer of arms from Iran to a third country is in direct violation of UNSCR 1747. We are seeking clarification on his matter from the Government of Iraq, and to ensure that Iraqi officials understand the limits that international law places on arms trade with Iran.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry has talked to Foreign Minister Zebari during this weekend.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Has he – have he discussed this issue with him?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give you a readout of that call first. As you mentioned, Secretary Kerry spoke with Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari on Saturday to discuss bilateral and regional issues, the ongoing discussion between Baghdad and Erbil on energy and revenue sharing, and our shared commitment towards a long-term partnership under the Strategic Framework Agreement.
They also discussed the situation in Anbar province and the Government of Iraq’s efforts to combat ISIL in coordination with local police and tribes. The Secretary noted the critical need for support from the local population and encouraged the Government of Iraq to continue its efforts to empower local officials and tribes, and to drive ISIL out of the populated areas.
The Secretary also reiterated the United States commitment to support Iraq in its fight against ISIL. The two also discussed the importance of Iraq’s national election on April 30th, and Secretary Kerry assured Foreign Minister Zebari that the United States will continue to work with the United States Assistance Mission for Iraq to ensure that the election occurs on time, is transparent, and reflects the will of the Iraqi people.
Secretary Kerry also emphasized the importance of finalizing an agreement under discussion between Baghdad and Erbil on energy and revenue sharing, underscoring that this agreement should be concluded as soon as possible, as it will demonstrate that all Iraqis share equitably in the benefits of Iraq’s natural resources.
I don’t have anything further on the earlier question you had. It’s likely that was raised at other levels.
QUESTION: One more thing on this. Iraqi lawmakers say that Maliki had made the deal because he was fed up with delays to U.S. arms deliveries. Do you feel like you bear responsibility in pushing Iraq to make this deal with Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we are still looking into those reports, but we certainly view the Government of Iraq as a partner in the fight against terrorism and we’re committed to supporting them in this fight. We have provided the Iraqi military and security forces with more than $15 billion in equipment, services, and training through the FMS program in the past, and we are working to accelerate our FMS deliveries of critical CT equipment. We’ve made a number of shipments recently, including critical deliveries of Hellfire missiles and hundreds of small arms along with large quantities of small arms and tank ammunition. And we have worked to approve important military equipment to Iraq through our FMS program, including the recent notification of Apache helicopters.
So we will continue to work closely with them. I think the proof of our efforts is in the pudding there, and all of the steps we’ve taken to move forward, whether it’s small ammunitions or a number of the items of military equipment I’ve mentioned, and that tells you how committed we are to our partnership.
QUESTION: Will this deal with Iran, between Iraq and Iran, affect the cooperation between the U.S. and Iraq and the arms deals?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we’re still looking into those reports. Iraq, of course, is a sovereign country with its own unique identity. But given the international sanctions with Iran, the Government, of course, of Iraq should use caution as it looks to these reports or to any proposed deals. And – but again, we’re looking for clarification from our partners in Iraq.
QUESTION: Can you refute the claim that the United States is dragging its feet in delivering the arms needed for Iraq despite many statements since Maliki’s visit?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just did.
QUESTION: You just did. Okay.
QUESTION: So just to push you --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- a little bit farther on this, if those reports are true, and if the Iraqi Government is buying arms from Iran in direct violation of these Security Council sanctions, isn’t it obvious or inherent that the U.S. would end its FMS program with Baghdad? I mean, isn’t that almost a requirement if not some kind of moral obligation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to go too far, given we don’t – we’re not there yet, so we try not to get too far into hypotheticals, as fun as it is. But we – of course, that’s one of – we would be very concerned, as I mentioned, if this were – if we found this to be true, and obviously, we’d have to evaluate things. But I don’t want to go too far in terms of what that would mean.
QUESTION: And you can’t go too far at this point because you haven’t verified the reports, right?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But once those reports are verified, which I assume won’t take very long, you would have a decision?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see where we are. And we can keep talking about it.
QUESTION: I’m sure we will. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can you please check if the Secretary has discussed this point with Foreign Minister Zebari?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, I’ll check and see. But again, my understanding is that it was raised at other levels.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Sorry. At what level?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specifics on that for you. I just meant it wasn’t raised at that level.
QUESTION: And since you discussed it with them, did you get any clarification?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more details for you than I provided.
QUESTION: Apparently, both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be here sometime next week. Are they likely to receive a copy of the framework agreement during that time?
MS. PSAKI: Is this when you’re going to ask me about our rollout plan, too? (Laughter.) Again, Said, as we’ve talked about a bit, as you know, the Secretary was just in Paris last week and he was meeting with President Abbas and Saeb Erekat there. They had productive discussions for a couple of days over a range of hours while we were in Paris. The White House has announced that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be meeting at the White House. But I don’t have anything to lay out for you in terms of a timeline. They’re discussing the core issues. There’s decades of history on these issues. There isn’t – so I don’t have any timeline to lay out for you in terms of when these issues – there’ll be a final framework.
QUESTION: Okay. But you can confirm that Mahmoud Abbas is coming to town next week, correct?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details. I would point you to his office in terms of his travel plans.
QUESTION: But wouldn’t it be likely that if they are both in town, that they’ll both be presented with at least a layout of the framework agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, these discussions are at the stage where we’re working to bridge the gaps between the parties. And Ambassador Indyk and other senior officials have been on the ground for extensive periods of time. As you know, the Secretary has had a number of calls and meetings with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu in recent weeks. But I have no prediction of the timing of when the parties will agree to a final framework.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed in this continuous expression of disappointment and frustrations by the Palestinians, especially in the aftermath of the Paris meeting, that nothing really has – no gains have been made, that no face-to-face talks have taken place? How do you assess that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know there have been a range of comments out there, but Said, we knew this would be challenging. We knew it would be hard. This is a key point in the process because we are discussing the core issues. We’re discussing the issues where difficult choices need to be made, where we’re trying to come to a framework on a path forward for negotiations. That’s something that hasn’t happened before. So certainly, it’s going to be challenging. That’s no surprise. And I don’t think the Secretary is surprised by it at all.
QUESTION: So you don’t think that the time has come for the Administration to take perhaps some bold or dramatic action to say, "This is it, take it or leave it," to both sides?
MS. PSAKI: We’re continuing to have constructive conversations with both sides. We know the issues are difficult, the decisions are tough, but we’re working through it day by day.
QUESTION: One more on --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, one – Middle East peace?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Both of us, I guess.
MS. PSAKI: And then we’ll go to you.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Just very quickly?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So it is being reported in Ramallah that President Abbas will be meeting at the White House – I thought the timeframe was next week. Do you – can you not verify?
MS. PSAKI: I have nothing to announce or confirm for you in terms of a meeting. I would point you to the White House on what their plans may or may not be.
QUESTION: After Paris meetings – meeting, several Palestinian officials have said that they refused the ideas that Secretary Kerry offered at that meeting. Do you have any reaction?
MS. PSAKI: Well, if everybody agreed on something, we would be announcing a framework. But we’re not at that point, and we certainly expected that as we have these discussions about the core issues, as we talk about these issues that have decades if not more of history, that there would be ups and downs and challenging periods of the process. But the fact is both sides remain engaged, remain at the table, remain interested in talking about these core issues, and we certainly feel that that is a positive sign.
QUESTION: You’re getting closer to the deadline.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, that is often what happens when you have a timeline. And the timeline is about what both sides will commit to in terms of staying at the table. But we are sitting down, talking about the core issues. We’ve always said we’re not going to outline day by day all the specifics. And naturally, every report can’t be correct because they’re conflicting with each other, so that tells you something about many of the reports out there. But what I can convey is that we’re continuing to work to narrow the gaps on these tough issues and we stay at it every day.
QUESTION: Let me just quickly follow up on that question. Do you expect the talks to go beyond April 30th?
MS. PSAKI: I have no expectation of that at this moment, but obviously, we’re working day by day. But nothing has changed about our timeline. The next step is a framework for negotiations moving forward.
QUESTION: I guess my question is that the nine-month period is not really cast in concrete; it can go beyond the nine months, correct?
MS. PSAKI: If both sides agree that that is beneficial, certainly, but again, we’re working towards a framework for negotiations moving forward that will address the core issues, and that’s really what is the focus of our efforts at this point.
Sorry, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: You’ve been very patient. Yes, of course.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary had any direct conversations with President Museveni over signing the anti-homosexuality bill today? And if so, what sort of – can you talk a little bit about some of the nature of those conversations if he has indeed had them with him?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls from the Secretary to read out for you. I don’t know if you’ve been able – if you’ve seen – I know it came out right before we came down here – the statement we put out from the Secretary. And let me just highlight a few points of that, if you don’t mind, for other folks who may not have seen it yet.
The statement from him expressed our deep disappointment in the enactment of the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda. For the four years since the bill was introduced, we have been crystal clear that it blatantly violates human rights obligations. I’d also make clear that now that the law has been enacted, we are beginning an internal review of our relationship with the Government of Uganda to ensure that all dimensions of our engagement, including assistance programs, uphold our antidiscrimination policies and principles, and reflect our values.
So I’m happy to check back and see if there have been other calls that I’m not aware of since I came down --
QUESTION: When you say – when the Secretary says internal review of our relationship, does that mean something like cutting aid as the Dutch Government has done today, or you’re calling the ambassador, or even sanctions? What would that specifically mean?
MS. PSAKI: Just – because this just happened, the review means a range of things. And I don’t want to outline all the specifics at this point, but it means we’re considering a range of steps.
QUESTION: Including those three things?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Certainly, we’re looking at a range of options.
QUESTION: And final question: Do you know how much per year the U.S. gives to Uganda in terms of aid? I know that there’s been some security --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- funding with what’s been going on with the Lord’s Liberation Army in Central African Republic, and --
MS. PSAKI: Sure. That is a good question, and I’ve had that in the past. Let us venture to get that to you right after the briefing. And on an annual basis you’re looking for, assumably?
QUESTION: Yeah. Exactly.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Nicolas.
MS. PSAKI: Egypt.
QUESTION: Do you have some clarity or at least an explanation regarding the surprise resignation of the government today? And do you see that as a preparation ground for Marshal Sisi to contest the presidential election?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you mentioned, Nicolas, this just happened today. We don’t have details on the announcement that a new government will be named under a new prime minister. Obviously, we’re watching it closely. We are reaching out to our Egyptian counterparts. Of course, this step was unexpected, so we’re looking to obtain information on it.
Our focus, of course, remains on pressing and encouraging Egypt to take steps forward that will advance an inclusive transition process that leads to a democratic civilian-led government selected through a credible and transparent elections process. In terms of what it means, I know there have been a range of comments made on the ground, but we don’t have any additional analysis from the United States Government.
QUESTION: So you don’t see this as a prelude to Field Marshal Sisi running for president?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that announcement hasn’t been made. Obviously, it’s up to the people of Egypt to determine who will lead their country in the future, but I don’t have any additional analysis on the meaning at this point.
QUESTION: Would you be annoyed if Field Marshal Sisi sort of nominated himself for elections and perhaps win?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to entertain that hypothetical question, and again, no announcement has been made at this point.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Regarding this resignation of the government --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and your contacts – what level of contact? Because if it’s supposed to be your counterpart already resigned with the government, what kind of contacts you have?
MS. PSAKI: With officials in Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: Well, over time we’ve been in touch with a broad range of officials both on the ground – you may have seen that Secretary Hagel spoke with Defense Minister al-Sisi this weekend, but our officials on the ground remain in close touch with a range of officials.
QUESTION: The other question is related to Secretary Kerry’s response to one of the questions that when you were in Tunisia, I think.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: And it’s regarding his being in touch or his hope to go and visit Egypt. Is there any plan in this --
MS. PSAKI: I have no plans to announce. As you know, he was there last fall. And certainly he, just like every official in the United States Government, has a deep commitment to our longstanding relationship with Egypt, but I don’t have any trip or plans to announce at this point.
QUESTION: The other question related, your contacts, because if for a while there is no ambassador there, as a matter of fact --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and even the person was acting and he left the position. He is – somebody is in charge of his position or his duties. Is there any plan – I know just you may say it’s coming from the White House, but --
MS. PSAKI: I may say that. You’re right. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Is there any somehow to be in touch with the – I mean, there is a plan or something going on to appoint as a matter of fact because there is no ambassador and there is no consul general in Alexandria? I mean --
MS. PSAKI: Well, a couple pieces. I mean, we certainly still do have a senior team on the ground in Egypt, in Cairo. As you know, the former ambassador, we stole her for lack of a better term, to become the assistant secretary for NEA here. But there is a strong senior team on the ground now. On – in terms of Alexandria, I think you’re confusing that as related to the Travel Alert that’s been underway in Egypt, and specifically kind of where the efforts that have been underway to update some of the security in certain parts of the country.
QUESTION: So who’s running the shop in the – at the U.S. Embassy? Is it David Satterfield? He left, I assume.
QUESTION: He left.
QUESTION: So who is in charge of the U.S. Embassy?
MS. PSAKI: We have a range of officials, Said, who are in charge. I’m happy to get you a list of our senior team in Egypt.
QUESTION: No, can I --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So who’s running the shop in Egypt, then? I mean, who are you all dealing with?
MS. PSAKI: You mean in the Egyptian Government?
QUESTION: Yeah, exactly.
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, this announcement just happened today. And so we’re still – we don’t have any analysis at this point in terms of what it means and what steps will be undertaken. President Mansour, I believe, still is in place. There are some other officials that are still in place. It referred to the resignation of some cabinet officials, but in terms of what it means, we’re still taking a look at that. And we have been in touch through this transition with a wide range of officials, given they’re moving towards a democratic election and they’re not quite there yet. So --
MS. PSAKI: Lucas?
QUESTION: Oh yes, please.
MS. PSAKI: Oh. Okay.
QUESTION: A few weeks ago --
MS. PSAKI: I like your tie, by the way. It’s very colorful.
QUESTION: Yeah. Right in this – the transcript of the briefing --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, it’s going to be reflected there. (Laughter.) That’s true.
MS. PSAKI: Oh.
QUESTION: The transcript of the --
MS. PSAKI: A hieroglyphics tie. Let the record note it. Go ahead, I’m sorry. Another on Egypt?
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, a few weeks ago there was a team from State Department went to UAE and Kuwait, I think, for the economic assistance --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- or part of a package.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: What’s – I mean, what’s – how – you have an update about this team?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it --
QUESTION: I mean, it’s – at that time, I have some update, but I think one of the people, he went back to Abu Dhabi again. And do you have any update about it?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I’m happy to check with our team and see. Obviously, there have been a range of consultations with neighboring countries that have a stake in the future of Egypt. But I will see if there’s more we can provide on where things stand with that.
QUESTION: Can I – on Mexico?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Does the State Department have any plans to ask for his extradition to the United States?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you probably know, Lucas, we don’t talk about extraditions as a matter of policy. Let me just see what I have to provide for all of you on this.
But let me first say, just since you gave me the opportunity, that we congratulate the Mexican people and their government on the capture over the weekend of El Chapo. This is a significant achievement for Mexico and a major step forward in our shared fight against transnational organized crime, violence, and drug trafficking. We have a strong security partnership with Mexico and will continue to support Mexico in its efforts to improve security for its citizens, and we’ll continue to work together to respond to the evolving threats posed by transnational criminal organizations.
As I mentioned, in accordance with longstanding policy, we don’t speak to or comment on extradition processes. The Department of Justice naturally has the lead there, so I would point you to them.
QUESTION: Is that the Department of Justice, or the states? Because he is wanted in Illinois and in Texas and in California. Isn’t that state business? I mean, I’m trying to understand --
MS. PSAKI: I believe it’s the Department of Justice. I would start there.
QUESTION: The Department of Justice? Okay.
MS. PSAKI: I would lodge your first phone call there.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry has made a phone call during the weekend to the Lebanese prime minister. Do you have any readout?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe I do, but let me – I know I’m very aware – let’s see – of that call on Saturday. Why don’t we get a readout together and send it out to all of you after the briefing, if that makes sense.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Mr. Guzman for a second?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: There have been some suggestions that if he were allowed to remain in Mexico, that he would be a top prison break risk. There have also been some suggestions, I think, by the Mexican Government that they have assured the State Department that they would build a special type of detention facility or prison for El Chapo to prevent any kind of escape, to – as a step towards resisting any kind of extradition. What is State’s reaction to that? Is that satisfactory?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’d have to check on that with our team and see if we have any specific commentary or analysis. But I’m more than happy to do that.
QUESTION: Okay. Please.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s see, who did I miss?
MS. PSAKI: In Syria. Sure.
MS. PSAKI: What would you like to know?
QUESTION: I’d like to know where you stand now. Where do you see the effort, let’s say, post-Geneva II, is going?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, a couple of things. As you are well aware – and I would point you to, of course, the statement that we issued from – we released from Secretary Kerry this weekend about the passing of the UN Security Council resolution. We felt that was certainly a significant step. It is a resolution that has many specific requirements, which is why we felt so positively about it. It breaks – the resolution breaks new ground. It’s demanded that the Syrian regime allow access for UN humanitarian agencies and their partners across borders. Our estimates are that this cross-border access will enable the UN and its implementing partners to reach an additional one million people in need of assistance. What’s important now, of course, is the implementation of this, and that is what we are working and pressing our partners to work with us on as well.
In terms of Geneva, the Geneva conference – I think we talked about this, or perhaps Marie talked about this last week – they took a recess and that is not a surprise and is something that often happens in these cases. And we’ve long said, or we’ve said over the past couple of weeks that the international community needs to use this recess in Geneva – in the Geneva talks to determine how to use the time most effectively in order to bring about a political solution.
You heard National Security Advisor Rice yesterday reiterate that there is no military solution here; there is only a political solution. I spoke with the Secretary about this this morning, and his view is that Geneva helped create a framework for the international community to work together and coordinate moving forward. You had more than 40 countries and organizations stand together and reiterate the need for the implementation of the Geneva communique and the creation of a transitional governing body.
What the next step is, I can’t tell you at this point. And we’ll take it day by day and work with our international partners to determine that.
QUESTION: You don’t think they are, at least the Russians, suggesting that the UN resolution is more consistent with their position and less consistent with yours? Do you feel that way, too?
MS. PSAKI: Can you say it more time, Said?
QUESTION: Is the UN resolution more consistent with the Russian position all along, or is it more consistent with your position?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re not trying to have fisticuffs here. We’re trying to work towards what we feel is morally right, which is determining a way to provide humanitarian assistance to the people in Syria – the men, women, and children who are literally starving to death every day. So every process is a negotiation, but we did pass the UNSCR this weekend, and we feel that’s a positive step because it lays out concrete steps that need to be taken.
QUESTION: And finally, on the issue of chemical weapons, do you feel that Syria is balking on its commitment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d point you to what was said – I believe it was last week or the week before – by our ambassador, who said that it is very possible for – is possible and feasible for Syria to meet its deadline or the timeline that was set out initially if they get to work now. The experts in the OPCW’s planning group also agreed last week that completion of removal and destruction by June 30th is certainly possible.
So we continue to press the regime. We continue to ask our partners to press the regime. They have all of the tools they need. The international community is poised and ready to destroy the chemical weapons, and that’s where we stand.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: All right.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, and then we’ll go to Lara. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, Syria. I mean, when the whole talk the last weekend was about the necessity of the UN resolution and especially for the humanitarian corridors.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Sure.
QUESTION: Do you think – I mean, or not do you think. The reality is – is the reality that the flow of the humanitarian aid is going on, or it’s, like, interrupted?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it certainly is not reaching all of the people that it needs to reach. So we’ve seen some steps taken with a couple of different areas, whether it was Yarmouk a couple of weeks ago, or there was some efforts around Homs. But there are many targeted, besieged areas that the UN has identified that were not reaching the aid and assistance. Some areas had not received assistance for up to a year. So this was a widespread concern across a range of areas, which is why we felt it was so important to act with this UN Security Council resolution.
QUESTION: So the other question is to chemical weapon, because from your answer, I got the impression that you are just worry about the deadline which is 30th of June. So what – but was – it was reported that the process of shipping out all these chemical weapons almost stopped, right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what was reported --
QUESTION: And if I’m wrong, correct me.
MS. PSAKI: No, no, no. It’s okay. What was reported was that certainly by December 31st was the timeline of when the regime was supposed to move the chemical weapons. The chemical weapons were to have been moved to the port at Latakia, and then the international community was prepared to take steps to destroy. I would have to check on the exact percentage at this point, but it’s been 5 percent, 10 percent. It certainly hasn’t been the percentage that it was supposed to be.
So the larger point I was making is that they have all of the tools and resources needed to move this process forward, and the international community stands ready to take the steps they’ve committed to. So we need the regime to do more on their end.
QUESTION: Just last question regarding this. So now let’s say U.S. are relying on the goodwill of Syrian regime to take this from – to Latakia and then --
MS. PSAKI: It’s not about goodwill --
QUESTION: Or whatever.
MS. PSAKI: It is about – as you know, this was put in place through another UNSCR and through a plan put in place by the OPCW. The international community is watching closely. Obviously, it’s to every – it’s in everyone’s interest for the regime to take the steps they’ve committed to and move the chemical weapons out of Syria. So that’s what we’re pressing on at this point.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead, Lara.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if you have any update for starters on BSA negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: I do not. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay. I’m sure you saw it reported today that one of the options DOD is looking at would involve about 3,500 residual troops remaining in Afghanistan. I understand that’s a Pentagon issue and you don’t want to speak to that; but if that were to be the number, that would have a massive impact on State operations in Kabul and around the country as well, and I’m just wondering if you can comment on that.
MS. PSAKI: What I will say is that the President has a range of options. He has long had a range of options. Obviously, he hasn’t made a decision about what options he will go with or what option he will go with. But beyond that, any reports out there are speculation about what he’s considering and what he may lean towards. So I don’t want to speak to what the internal deliberations are about.
QUESTION: Could you put brackets on that range of options?
MS. PSAKI: I would prefer not to. You’ve long heard us say that, obviously, it’s in everyone’s interests – the interest of the Afghan people, the national security of the United States – to see a BSA signed, because otherwise we will need to initiate planning for a zero option. But clearly, that is not the preference, and that’s why we continue to press on that front. But in terms of troop numbers, I will leave that to my friends over in the White House.
QUESTION: Do you think that the longer the negotiations are dragged out that the closer – not just the zero option yet, but is there a proportionate agreement between lower numbers being considered the longer the negotiations or the discussions are dragged out?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t look at it that way. I think, obviously, the longer it goes, the more – not just the United States but our NATO allies – as you know, there’s a meeting going on, I believe this week, a NATO meeting going on this week – makes it more and more challenging for all of us. But beyond that, there are discussions at the most senior levels about this nearly every week. But I don’t have any prediction of what it will mean at this point.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:40 p.m.)