Daily Press Briefing - March 4, 2014

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Secretary Kerry's Meeting with the Prime Minister Iurie Leanca
    • Announcement of 2.8 Billion in Assistance
    • Missile Test
    • Secretary Kerry's Meetings with Members of New Government
    • U.S. Assistance to Ukraine / Technical Assistance Training for Elections
    • Sanctions and Visa Bans
    • Russian Oil and Natural Gas Exports
    • Upcoming Elections / Egyptian People to Select Next Leader
    • Detention of American Citizen
  • IRAN
    • Reports of EU High Representative Aston Travel to Iran
    • Ambassador Ford's Comments
  • IRAQ
    • Urge Leaders to Address Challenges through Direct Dialogue and Political Process
    • Arrival of Brett McGurk
    • Secretary Kerry to Attend Paris Conference
    • Secretary Kerry and Negotiator Saeb Erekat Discussed Framework for Negotiations
    • President Obama to Meet with President Abbas Next Week
Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 4, 2014


2:52 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am.

MS. PSAKI: I know you’ve had quite a bit to work with today, and I only have a limited amount of time, but given the amount going on in the world, we still wanted to have a visit with all of you today.

I have one item at the top. The Secretary met yesterday – and I know many of you who were covering this area aware, but given the snow, we didn’t think it received enough attention. The Secretary met yesterday with the Prime Minister of Moldova Iurie Leanca, who is in Washington for a series of meetings with high-level U.S. officials. President Obama joined the prime ministers meeting with Vice President Biden as well. The Secretary congratulated the prime minister on initialing an association agreement with the EU and welcomed a new Strategic Dialogue between the United States and Moldova.

The Secretary also announced an additional 2.8 million in U.S. assistance to extend technical support and training to Moldovan businesses to increase their competitiveness and productivity, and additional support to increase Moldovan winemakers’ access to global markets. As you may remember, we visited one of those wineries when we were there. The Secretary also pledged our support for Moldova’s European integration through programs that help Moldova strengthen its democratic institution, combat corruption, and improve its business environment. And finally, he also reiterated our strong support for Moldovan sovereignty and territorial integrity, and our commitment to help further progress in settling the – I can’t say that word, you know what I’m saying – conflict through the OSCE 5+2 process.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: What? Nothing about Mardi Gras?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I had some beads, but I didn’t think it was appropriate.

QUESTION: Well, happy Mardi Gras.

MS. PSAKI: Happy Mardi Gras, everyone.

QUESTION: So I wasn’t going to begin with Ukraine, because there’s been so much about it, but after having just watched Senator McCain’s dramatic rereading of – or dramatic reading of the Putin press conference in near entirety on the Senate floor, I guess I’ll start with that.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: He, in this – in his comments, talked about how yes, you obviously don’t go to the G8 and Sochi, obviously you – or then, in his mind, obviously you throw Russia out of the G8, make it the G7, you go ahead with the visa bans, you go ahead with the financial sanctions, you go – well, my question is this: Recognizing that you’re preparing, or you have been preparing, ideas, at least, of these sanctions, has it – have you decided that it’s just a question of when and specifically who might be affected by these sanctions? Or – I mean, has – have the Russians reached the point of no return in terms of you imposing sanctions, or if they were to de-escalate, pull back, is that something that you would – that you might consider taking off the table?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think if – our preference here, of course, is not to escalate in any capacity, and certainly the military intervention or the military steps are what – are of greatest concern, as you know. But we’ve always said, and the Secretary said today, and the President said, there is an off-ramp here, and Russia can take that off-ramp by withdrawing their troops and taking additional steps. If they do that, certainly there wouldn’t be a need for additional steps on our end.

QUESTION: So the horse isn’t out of the barn on this, to – going back to your --

MS. PSAKI: There are certainly --

QUESTION: I mean, they can do – there are things that they can do to avoid the imposition of things beyond the not sending a delegation to the Paralympics, beyond the cancelation of the military exercise, beyond --

MS. PSAKI: We would welcome that, Matt, but we evaluate every day, of course.

QUESTION: So it’s – let me just – I just want to make sure.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So it’s not a done deal that sanctions are going to be – additional steps are going to be taken? There’s still time for the Russians to climb down?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. If later today or tomorrow they would like to take steps to withdraw their troops, we would welcome that, and certainly that would impact the steps we’re considering or may take as well.

QUESTION: All right. And are you intending to say tomorrow, so it’s like a deadline, if you don’t do anything by tomorrow then you’re going to get hit?

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not. I’m just welcoming --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- if they would like to engage in those steps tomorrow.



QUESTION: Can I just go to the question – there’s reports coming out that Russia has tested some kind of advanced ballistic missile.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you in a position to be able to confirm those? And was this something that you know of advanced, or is it something that’s alarming to you, given the tensions at the moment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I did see those reports. I know they just came out. I don’t have any independent information to confirm any of those reports. Obviously, any report of action that is – would be seen as additional military intervention or provocative in any nature would be of concern to us, and we’re watching it closely. But again, I know these reports just came out, and I haven’t had a chance to kind of communicate with our team about them quite yet.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t know if you were informed in advance or if --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other details about it, other than what I just conveyed.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Could you please, if I may --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just go ahead, Arshad. Do you have anything?

QUESTION: It’s a different – it’s Egypt, so --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s finish Ukraine, and then we’ll go to Egypt if that works.


QUESTION: I asked you last week on the issue of recognition of the new government in the Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what is the status of this? I mean, are you recognizing the new government? Is this – or is it a continuation of the former government? What is the actual status of this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as I said to you last week, as a standard process or a procedure, we don’t recognize governments. However, the fact that the Secretary is on the ground, he’s meeting with members – or he has met, I should say, he’s already departed – with members of the new government, he believes they have taken steps, you heard him say today, to move the ball forward. They’re taking steps toward an election. They’re taking steps to be inclusive. They’re taking steps to de-escalate. Those are all positive things. And the fact that he’s on the ground should be the indication you need about how closely we’re working with the new government.

QUESTION: And now the only reason from, let’s say, yesterday’s briefing on the phone, over the phone – the only reason that the former president is illegitimate is the fact that he fled, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Is there any other reason that you consider him to be illegitimate?

MS. PSAKI: I think, to look at the history here, Said, he not only fled; he kind of left a leadership void in his country. I think even I would point you to President Putin and what he said himself about whether there’s a future for Yanukovych as the leader of Ukraine. So I don’t know that there’s anyone who’s suggesting that he is the future of leadership in the country.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, I understand he was corrupt, all kinds of things, but – actually, he was not, let’s say, indicted of these charges. But as far as you’re concerned, the fact that he left delegitimizes him, correct?

MS. PSAKI: He has lost his legitimacy.


QUESTION: On the – can I just steal from him?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any specific comment about Putin’s performance today? Do you have any thoughts about that at all?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that the President and the Secretary have both spoken to it, but I will say that his rhetoric is far from the reality of what’s happening on the ground. And you saw the Secretary go point by point, but the fact is that Russian military forces, as we all know, have taken over Ukrainian border posts. It’s a fact that Russia has surrounded or taken over practically all of the Ukrainian military facilities in Crimea. It’s a fact that yesterday Russian jets entered Ukrainian airspace. So – and I could certainly go on from there. But that is our view of what was conveyed. Obviously we still do feel there’s an off-ramp, as I mentioned. But --

QUESTION: Right. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Any more on Ukraine? Ukraine.

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. In the lovely orange.

QUESTION: I’d like to ask on U.S. assistance, this $1 billion for Ukraine --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Sure.

QUESTION: -- and part of it will go to elections in Ukraine. Now, the elections are end of May, so two and a half months. What exactly are the programs of assistance? Because, for instance, short-term monitoring requires at least three months; long-term election monitoring requires six, seven, eight months. So what exactly those programs will be?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a bunch of steps. So – and there is a fact sheet, but let me just reiterate these for all of you. There’s one billion in loan guarantees, which is aimed at helping insulate vulnerable Ukrainians from the effects of energy subsidies. That is that particular piece. And we’re, of course, moving quickly to provide technical expertise to help the National Bank of Ukraine and the Ministry of Finance address their most pressing challenges. This will complement any effort and work being done by the IMF and also contributions, of course, by other countries.

We are also separately providing training for technical assistance – technical assistance to train election observers. Are you asking when they’ll be on the ground, or when specifically they’ll move to the ground? That’s a good question. I’m sure we’ll work to do that quickly, but I don’t have an exact update on their arrival. And we’re also deploying an interagency team of experts this week to begin to work with Ukrainian counterparts to identify assets that may have been stolen and identify their current location and assist in returning those assets. So there were a couple of steps that Secretary Kerry announced today, and there was a fact sheet that went out from the White House.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Ukraine?


MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You mentioned that there’s an off-ramp, and if Russia were to de-escalate, then the sanctions that you’re talking about may not be imposed. But Congress might not have the same position on that and may be less charitable. And as you know, Congress is formulating its own sanctions plans. I just wondered how much coordination there is between the Administration and Congress on that.

MS. PSAKI: Of course we work very closely with Congress. I think the important context, though, here is yes, as I said yesterday, and as many others have said, we are moving forward. We are preparing a range of options in the event that Russia continues to move down this path. Obviously, we haven’t made a decision about that. It hasn’t been announced. So those discussions are ongoing internally about what they will be, how it would be, when we would roll it out.

QUESTION: Is there a possibility that Congress would seek to compel the Administration to act in a way that it feels is appropriate?

MS. PSAKI: Of course. Congress can take steps or may take steps as they see appropriate. However, I think the point I was making is that obviously, there’s an opportunity for Russia to take a different path than they’ve been taking, and that would naturally, as I think you would all expect, impact what steps the Administration would take.

QUESTION: And can I just ask one kind of follow-up question on the types of sanctions that are being considered? Because the Secretary’s spoken about freezing assets and visa restrictions or visa bans. Is – does the menu of options include the possibility of – and those are all against individuals – sanctions against the Russian economy or commercial interests, possible trade restrictions impacting the energy sector, for example?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to go into too much detail. Obviously, as I said yesterday, if they proceed down this path, it is likely we will proceed down our own path, which reflects a range of options including individuals, financial sector. Those are all under consideration, but I’m not going to detail them further at this point.

QUESTION: So something which would attack the – Russia’s economy as well as individuals is part of the broad gamut of options which are being considered?

MS. PSAKI: Of options? Sure. There’s a range of options that are at our disposal. It doesn’t reflect that we may go down one or the other. Obviously, this is evaluated day by day.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You say that there’s nothing – no decision’s been made yet, nothing rolled out. Obviously, otherwise, we’d know about it. But I understand there was, from some officials who were traveling with the Secretary, they hinted at possible sanctions later on this week. Is that --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything – obviously, this is a discussion that’s being had at a very serious level, given we’ve been talking about this. But I don’t have anything to convey to you about what, when, how at this point, and obviously, we’re taking a look at it day to day. That is what I was meaning to reflect.

QUESTION: So yesterday, in the briefing on the phone, you said that you’re preparing something. How far along the line have you got? Have you got a document that’s ready to go, it just needs to be signed, or --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to outline that level of detail.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: On the sanctions, Senator Menendez put out a statement yesterday saying that his panel is working with the Administration --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- to have possible sanctions against individual Russians as well as Ukrainians. Can you confirm that there are Ukrainians that are also going to be targeted with --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve already put in place, I believe it was two weeks ago, visa bans on a specific list of Ukrainians, and we’ve always said that we would maintain a range of options that we could use. So that hasn’t changed. That’s perhaps the less newsy part of what we’ve been talking about this week.

QUESTION: One more? Many --

MS. PSAKI: On Ukraine?


MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Many U.S. allies are interdependent on Russia as far as energy and economic situation is concerned. So how it’s going to affect especially those U.S. allies in the region?

MS. PSAKI: You’re talking about – I’m not --

QUESTION: Energy and the – also economic – dependable on Russia. Many countries are there.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we know – I mean, there have been some reports of this in terms of Russia and specific steps about Ukraine. I’m not sure if this is what you’re asking, but I’ll answer it and then we’ll see if it is or not. But we understand there’s been no interruption of oil and natural gas exports from Russia to Ukraine and Europe at this point. Any disruption to Russia’s energy shipments to Ukraine and Europe is a lose-lose situation for everyone, because, of course, Russia is incredibly dependent on these exports for their own economy and they’re very critical export markets for Russia. They earn about $50 billion per year from sales to Ukraine and Europe. So if Russia takes this action, it puts their own economy at risk, but we haven’t seen a disruption at this point.

QUESTION: Can you compare this as just, like, Iran in the past – like, Iranian sanctions? There were – many countries were dependent on Iranian oil and gas, and now it will be same thing?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t want to strike that comparison. Obviously, every situation is different, but that’s what the situation is with Russia and Europe and Ukraine and the export market there.

QUESTION: Can I stay on Iran or --

MS. PSAKI: Or Egypt?

QUESTION: Can we go to Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: General Sisi has dropped a pretty broad hint that he plans to run for president, saying in an interview with the Middle East News Agency that he could not “turn his back on calls by the majority of Egyptians for him to run for president.” Is that a good idea for the country’s current military ruler to run for president?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, he hasn’t announced he’s running for president. As you know, we support a process in Egypt. As we’ve said before, we don’t support any particular candidate in Egypt’s presidential election. It’s up to the Egyptian people to select their next leader, so I hesitate to say. We probably will have very little to say even when there are declared candidates, but beyond that, I don’t have any more comment on his remarks.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So you’re aware of this little firestorm – or maybe not so little – about the situation involving Medea Benjamin, who is the co-founder or founder of Code Pink --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- being detained at the airport in Cairo? She has made several claims in interviews that both she and her supporters tried frantically to get in touch with people from the Embassy and that no one came, no – or no one helped, both – while she was being abused, beaten up by Egyptian security officials and then deported to Turkey. What can you say about that? Did the Embassy respond to requests for – her request for assistance?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our consular officers in Egypt were in contact with the U.S. citizen and provided all appropriate consular assistance. We, of course – due to privacy considerations, we can’t provide additional details. But I can assure you that our consular officers in Egypt did provide all of the assistance necessary.

QUESTION: Well, can – all of the assistance necessary? So what --

MS. PSAKI: All of the assistance --

QUESTION: What did they do?

MS. PSAKI: All of the appropriate consular assistance.


QUESTION: What did they do?

QUESTION: Okay, so what --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to outline further. Obviously, there are a range of duties or a range of steps that are taken, but I can check with our team and see if there’s more we can provide to all of you.

QUESTION: Okay. And you’re saying that she – that there is – you do not have a Privacy Act waiver from her or authorized representative, which is why you cannot say more?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is that – that is correct?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. So in the meantime, even if she – you were saying your side of the story or the Embassy’s side of the story is that she was – that there was contact between her and the consular officers and that they did provide all appropriate assistance.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And you are unable to refute her allegation that that’s – that that didn’t happen, that there was no contact, that she waited and waited and waited, and there was --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I --

QUESTION: There was no contact and no assistance --

MS. PSAKI: I think I refuted the fact that there was contact and assistance.

QUESTION: Yes, but you can’t – right. But you can’t refute that with – by saying exactly what they did because you don’t have a Privacy Act waiver. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I will – let me check, Matt, and just see. I know – I understand the interest, obviously. Let me see if there’s more specific details I can provide --


MS. PSAKI: -- about what we were able to do.

QUESTION: Right. But the – would the – what you were able to do be at all in any way affected by Ms. Benjamin’s well-known political activism or her, at least, past antipathy to former Secretary of State Rice?

MS. PSAKI: In terms of what services we would provide?

QUESTION: In terms of what embassy officials would help her with, or would they ignore her pleas or her distress?

MS. PSAKI: Of course not. Of course not. We provide a broad range of assistance to people from a broad range of backgrounds.

QUESTION: Okay. So can you just check and see if there’s more that is able --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, I’m happy to.

QUESTION: -- to be said, because this is kind of exploding up here on the --

MS. PSAKI: No, I understand. I understand. I’ll see if there’s more detail we can provide without a waiver.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Can we go to Iran just because Jo was --

QUESTION: Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask about the news that’s coming out of Iran today. The IRNA news agency’s reporting that Cathy Ashton is expected in Tehran on Saturday.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: She’s going to meet President Rouhani and other Iranian officials on Sunday, and also go to Isfahan. Is there a U.S. reaction to this?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you, of course, to the EU for any specific announcement. I’m not sure if they’ve put anything out yet, so I wouldn’t want to make any announcement on their behalf. Broadly speaking, it’s only natural that given EU High Representative Ashton’s important role she plays in the negotiation that she would be in contact with officials from Iran as well as the P5+1 countries. But beyond that, I would point you to the EU.

QUESTION: Is this an indication, though, that the talks are going well – excuse me, the P5+1 talks are going well?

MS. PSAKI: Look, I think there’s a range of ongoing consultations right now, whether that’s the technical experts who are meeting on an ongoing basis in preparation for the next round of comprehensive talks. And I think it’s only natural that given the prominent role she plays that she would be in close touch. But in terms of what her travel plans are or details of that, I would point you to them for that.

QUESTION: And that’s March 17th, is that right? The next --

MS. PSAKI: The next round?


MS. PSAKI: Yeah. It’s the middle of March.

QUESTION: Okay. And is there any – given that Cathy Ashton is apparently going, is there any plans yet for the Secretary to, perhaps, follow in her footsteps?

MS. PSAKI: There are no plans.

QUESTION: Do you know when the – at what point would it be conceivably diplomatic or – yeah, diplomatic for him to be able to go to Iran, do you think?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are no plans at this point. I don’t have any prediction for you about the future.

QUESTION: Do you think you need to have a full comprehensive treaty with them on the nuclear --

MS. PSAKI: We’re far from a point where we’re outlining what would be required to make a trip to Iran.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

And then you can – did you have an Iran question?


MS. PSAKI: Iraq. Okay, we’ll go Syria and then Iraq.

QUESTION: Former Ambassador Ford spoke at Tufts University on Saturday.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And he said that we should include everybody in the talks. He called the decision to deny Iran a seat at the table ill-advised, a mistake, and so on. And I wonder if you could comment on what he said. I’m sure that you probably heard or saw what he said.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Our position hasn’t changed as the U.S. Government. Obviously, Ambassador Ford is now a private citizen.


MS. PSAKI: And as you know, we’re not going to speak to comments by private citizens from the podium.

QUESTION: So you still think that it was the right decision to deny Iran a seat at the Geneva talks?

MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn’t changed on it, Said.

QUESTION: And do you believe that – what he said? He suggested that maybe we should include Hezbollah in these talks as well, because we need to include all militant groups.

MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have anything further to add to it or analyze.

QUESTION: And will Mr. Silverman, let’s say, take advice from former Ambassador Ford and the --

MS. PSAKI: I am sure Mr. Silverman will seek advice from a range of people around the country who have worked on these issues.


QUESTION: Okay. Tensions between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad have escalated over the past week, ever since the Baghdad government formally suspended the budget, the 2014 budget of the Kurdistan region.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What’s your position on the suspension of the KRG’s budget?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we urge Iraq’s Council of Ministers, the Iraqi parliament, and Iraq’s regional, sub-regional governments to address the outstanding issues that remain as quickly as possible so that the national budget can move forward to a vote. While this is essentially an internal Iraqi matter, U.S. officials are engaged as appropriate with senior Iraqi leaders to support efforts to resolve differences through direct dialogue and the political process, consistent with the Iraqi constitution. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk arrived in Iraq on Monday, and he will meet with officials in Baghdad and Erbil to address ongoing issues and urge all sides to reach a swift resolution.

QUESTION: You don’t have anything specific about the suspension of the budget? Because Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region, has called that a declaration of war against our people.

MS. PSAKI: I think I just conveyed to you what our position is. Obviously, Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk is on the ground. We of course believe that these issues should be addressed as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Iraq, or --

QUESTION: On Lebanon?

MS. PSAKI: Lebanon. Sure.

QUESTION: The Secretary will attend tomorrow in Paris the conference about Lebanon. Do you know what he expects to achieve, to come out from this conference?

MS. PSAKI: I know we did a briefing on this yesterday, so let me see if we can get that transcript around to folks and get you some more details after the briefing.

QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli talks?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Could you tell us about the content, the meeting between Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Secretary Kerry yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Said, they – the focus was a continuing discussion on the ongoing – on the ongoing discussions about a framework for negotiations. I’m not going to share further details at this point. I know you asked yesterday about – and some other people asked, too, about meetings that Saeb Erekat had. He of course met with the Secretary, as you know, and we have the upcoming meeting of President Abbas next Monday with the President.

QUESTION: Okay. Also, the Secretary of State yesterday said, “We will not allow the West Bank to become another Gaza” once there’s a peace deal signed. Could you explain what that means?

MS. PSAKI: I think he gave a pretty extensive speech outlining what he meant.


MS. PSAKI: Broadly speaking, what he is --

QUESTION: But in this particular instance – I’m sorry, Jen, but in this particular instance --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, and I have to run in a moment here, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. I just --

MS. PSAKI: Broadly speaking, you know what the contours of what the Secretary hopes to see in a final status agreement – that is a more secure, a more economically prosperous region, and so that was the broad point he was making. I’m sorry, I have to finish, because I have a meeting I have to go to. But we’ll continue this again tomorrow. Thank you so much.

QUESTION: I didn’t get a question even during the budget. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:17 p.m.)

DPB # 39